Courage In The Line Of Defense


Evil monster known to attack trick-or-treaters on a specific day of the year.

Another day, another holiday at Phipps. Each one pretty much goes the same. We set the department month before any given holiday, people complain it’s too soon to put up [fill in the blank] decorations or purchase items for [fill in the blank need]. Little do people realize stores sell items way before you need them is so you’re ready when [fill in the blank] arrives.

I’ve been dealing with Halloween since the last week of August. Now I’m sending it on its way, but not before dealing with the public who finds non-stop hilarity abusing the goods for sale. Take, for example, those giant animal heads. Oh, yeah. Keep putting them on your heads, because they’re so filled with the detritus of kids drooling and sneezing inside of them. It’s really one way, a customer said to me quite acidly, to build up his immune system.

But I’m not immune to temptation, either. I enjoy turning up the sound on all those creepy critters that moan, rattle and tell horrible dead body jokes. I also make sure the sensor button is set. There’s nothing so delightful in watching someone wince or roll their eyes when they stroll past with their carts, eyeing the magnetic brain that sends laser-like beams of static electricity when you touch the glass that encases it. That green-headed decaying body? Just touch it. Yeah, go ahead. Oh, did its ear-piercing shriek startle you? Well, so did your ear-piercing shrieking child, who insisted s/he knock down all of the pumpkin trick-or-treat buckets and kick them down the aisle. Sorry if I smirked a little too obviously when said child turned the corner and met up with the shrouded twelve-foot wraith and scared the living daylights out of that brat.

I’m not mean. It’s just Halloween. Things are meant to be scary. Isn’t that the point?

Today, as I pulled even more glow-in-the-dark skeleton costumes from their shipping box and struggled to stuff them in the tiny space allowed, I heard a woman engaged in a conversation on her cellphone. Nothing new, just her discussing her kid’s costume was too small and she needed to get the next size larger. She came to the right place, I though. I turn to grab a few more and she makes eye contact with me. “I said,” the woman spoke directly into her phone, “I need the next size larger.”

I continued putting costumes on the pegs and stepped away from her. Woman edges closer, repeating herself, but now she’s getting huffy. I figure she’s having a tough time with the person on the other end, but apart from that, continue on with my task.

It isn’t until she tugs my sleeve that I realize she’s speaking to me. My first thought is she’s being exceedingly rude tugging on my shirt. The second is her phone is surgically connected to her hand and mouth, rendering it impossible for her to separate it from her body.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say, doing my best to sound apologetic. “Were you speaking to me?”

“Yes, I was.” The icy tone in her voice fits right in with the dead green plastic bodies piling up on the bottom shelves in the aisle.

“It seemed to me you were speaking to someone on your phone.” I glance at it, still firmly attached to her ear and hand.

“I’ve been told that before,” she says. Apparently she doesn’t get the hint. “Well, do you have that costume in a larger size or not?”

“I’m sorry again, ma’am. As I said, it seemed to me you were having a conversation with someone else. What costume you are seeking? Could you please describe it to me?” My replies grow more formal as her lips press together – perhaps the first time since she wandered into my area.

She yanks her phone away from her ear and holds up a picture of Chase from “Paw Patrol,” a child’s TV show wherein all the characters are various breeds of dogs that act as a crime-fighting force in some fictional town, presumably somewhere on this planet where animals speak English, fly helicopters and operate heavy machinery.

Oh. Him. You’ll find him in the next aisle over, with all the other TV character costumes.” And had you actually noticed where your feet were taking you instead of engrossed in your all-too-important conversation, you might’ve noticed yourself.

Next, I open up the boxes from Phipps’ distribution center.  I laugh. It’s Christmas decorations. Lots of them. Oh Christ, that’s right. Next week all the Halloween stuff comes down and the next holiday takes its place.

Back-To-School, Halloween, Easter, Valentine’s Day…none of these compare to the horror of the holidays. My back tenses up. Damn! I was supposed to be working another job by now…where did this year go? For a moment, I get upset. This is my fourth holiday here. I want so desperately to work elsewhere, full time. Yes, my new one-day-a-week job is everything I could hope for. I just need it to be four more and I’d be happy.

But Christmas? Ugh. I’m going to get beat up. It’s merciless.

There’s a customer trying to reach the 432-piece bag of assorted Halloween treats. He’s on his tiptoes, fingers tugging on the 16 pound bag. The wire fence holds it in place.

With a smile, I greet the customer, reach up for it and place the heavy bag in his cart. Sure, I can be cheery if I have to. I muster up the strength to put those decorations aside. I’ll have to gird my loins in the weeks ahead. Put up a good defense. Show courage.

“Have fun on Halloween!” I say, and this time, I mean it.

“Thanks,” he says, returning my smile. He means it too.

It’s nice to be appreciated, even for a moment.

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