Aug 10, 2004

These people & the art of clerk

“Hey Boss,” they call me. Working the counter without a nametag, working with guys named Joe, John and Dave, I’m selling gas, tea and Coke, rolling lists of lottery numbers and candy bar prices with the station-clerk patter of “how’s it going” and “good luck” and “have a good night.”

I tell them stories I’ve heard and lived and made up. I befriend them. Make this one grin and that one laugh. Just making these people like me.

A few of them know my name, the woman who asked and the neighbor who saw me in the street and the guy I loaned three dollars, and the rest of them just make themselves comfortable, settle in and say hey.

Dude, they say, Man, Brother, Chief, Bud, Buddy, Mac. Gov’na, said a cool one. Pal, said a salesman.

For a while there were Chief days and Boss days – not that I could tell why which days were which – and then everyone settled on Boss.

“Hey Boss,” they say now, truck drivers, retirees and cabbies, highschoolers and mothers and nurses, the black kid and the Korean grandma and the wrinkled Italian. “How’s it going Boss?” they say, counting quarters to gasoline and reading the kabala of winning numbers, grabbing a soda for lunch and getting directions to the turnpike.

The career planner thinks I’m a dropout, the IRS a clerk. Former friends think I’m dead, former acquaintances I’m a failure, former enemies I’m provenly incompetent. But to these people I’m a wit, a wag, the guy who tells a story and sells you a line, can help you calm you save you serve you. To these people I’m the boss.