If you have ever worked in retail, there are a couple of unspoken rules that I'm sure we can both agree on: 1) the customer is not always right; in fact, a good majority of customers are idiots, and 2) not only is the customer not always right, they can also be mean about it. The customer comes in, already angry because you didn't greet them at the door with exactly what they wanted, and starts getting snippy with everyone. Most times, they'll huff their way down the aisles, trying to sniff out something they don't even know about. If you ask them if you can help them find anything, they get grumpy, "I've been looking for [the item] for five minutes and no one has come to help me! This store is a mess, why don't you people organize it better?" You calmly try to lead them to the item they want, and they bitch about it until you find it. Once you do find it, they bitch about the cost all the way to the counter where you ring them up for their "insanely overpriced" whatever. You say, "Have a nice day" and they grunt, reduced to primitive forms of communication because of how inconvenienced they were by you and your products. That's ok though, because what you really meant when you said, "Have a nice day" was "Fuck off and die."
Everyone in retail has experienced this at one point or another. You think you can only bite your tongue and help the customer to the best of your abilities, doom looming in the distance because you know they'll be back in a day or two and there's nothing you can do about it. This is where you're wrong. No matter the job, no matter the circumstance, there's always something you can do to strike back at the asshole who never tips you or the vile woman who refuses to use words like "please" and "thank you." It doesn't have to be big, but there's always a way for store justice to work.
I used to be very patient at the liquor store. I would take whatever abuse the customers would inflict on me because I operated under the false law that the customer is always right. I believed that I needed to do whatever I could to make a customer happy. Like a rock at the bottom of a river, my patience was worn away by the constant buffeting of customer aggression until it was little more than a grain of sand.
My first truly maladjusted customer was a man that everyone else loathed. I didn't know his name, and I didn't care to. He walked into the store one night, shoulders hunched and face scrunched into a scowl. I greeted him and he said nothing, he walked by without acknowledging my existence. I shrugged and carried on about my business behind the counter. A minute later, he poked his head around the aisle and mumbled at me. I'm not entirely sure what the distance from the counters to the first wine aisle is, I'm terrible at determining distances, suffice it to say that it was far enough that a mumble was easily lost in the ambient store noise. I asked him what I could help him find. He stomped up to the counter and put his hands, palms down, on the counter top.
"Cabernet." He mumbled again, more forcefully this time.
"Oh, sure, they're over here." I replied and led him to the cabernet section.
Once we arrived in front of the vast selection of cabernets, he mumbled incoherently again. I began telling him about the cabs we had in stock, and he quickly interrupted me.
"I grew up in Napa, I know what a cabernet is. Sheesh." He growled and reached for the worst bottle on the bottom shelf. Obviously, he didn't know about cabernets.
I was sorely tempted to say, "I'm sorry, sir. My telepathy is on the fritz today so I haven't been able to read peoples' minds as well as normal," but I somehow managed to choke that comment back. He and I had several more encounters over the next couple weeks. For each one, I said little to him simply to avoid making myself grumpy. Even when I said little beyond the prescribed pleasantries, he found a way to be a jerk. It was this customer that would begin to change me from the patient girl I was to the vindictive beast I would later become.
On his second to last visit, a little voice rose up from the back of my mind, so small it was a miracle I heard it at all. This small, awakening little voice, in the barest of yawns, whispered, "Charge him Asshole Tax." For those of you who don't know, Asshole Tax is what you charge someone who has been a complete and utter asshole. It isn't a noticeable tax, probably only 5-10% more than normal. The easiest way to do this is to deny a discount ("The computer won't let me discount the item...I'm not sure why, but you could come in tomorrow and my boss will have it fixed for you"). I never actually charged someone Asshole Tax aside from denying the discount, but the first whisper was all it took before I began thinking of other ways to make the customers' lives difficult. The most petty, satisfying way to fight back against customers who can't be bothered to be nice is simple and ridiculously cathartic: shake their beer.
I can't remember who told me about shaking someone's beer before giving it to them. Everyone in that store has a story about shaking a customer's beer, whether it's theirs or someone else's. For my first beer shaking, I didn't just shake one beer. I shook thirty.
Mr. Punkbowser was a regular customer who was notorious for being an ass the first few times anyone met him. So long as you proved you were more than willing to help him and you cared about how he was doing, he would warm up to you and was actually rather decent. Until that point, he was icy as an Alaskan winter. After putting up with his bad attitude three encounters in a row, I'd had enough. I went to the back of the cooler to get his thirty pack of Natural Light. The same voice that had urged me to charge the Napa-know-not-at-all Asshole Tax crept down my arm as I reached for the cardboard handle. The small, barely awakened sense of malicious intent was now a maniac. This time, I didn't resist. I grabbed the thirty pack by both sides and shook as hard as I could. Side to side, up and down, I shook until I got to the front of the cooler again. Images of Gollum grabbing the beer and shrieking, "The Precious! Shake the Precious!" come to mind when I think of that first beer shaking in the cave-like cooler.
I was elated, euphoric with the feeling of vengeance. Sure, I knew the beer would probably have calmed down again by the time he got home to drink it. I also knew that I couldn't have possibly shaken that thirty pack enough to make any can he grabbed explode when he opened it. I didn't care. The feeling of making his beer worse (if possible, given that it was Natty Light) was delightful. Even though the awesome power of shaking a customer's beer was enticing and alluring, I held back. I reserved the force of my shaking for those who truly deserved it.
The closest I have ever come to kicking a customer out of the store was with a woman whose beer was shaken with a force few have ever seen. She and I never got along. She came in and would get three 40-ounces of Budweiser and then bring them to the counter. Instead of going back or grabbing a basket when she first came in, she would stand there and say, "I also need two Cobras, and I'm in a hurry." A Cobra is another variety of 40-ounce that tastes like foamy piss water. At the time, the 40's were up near the front of the store, close enough to her that it would be easier for both of us if she just grabbed them herself. She expected me to get them for her, without actually asking me to do so. As I started walking around the counter, she stopped me, "I need some cigarettes too."
Let me stop here and say that I hate it when people say that like I know which ones they want. Yet another instance where I'm not psychic and cannot simply correctly guess what people want when they don't tell me anything about it. And yet, people thought that I should know which cigarettes they were after when I'd only met them once, or not at all before that moment.
"Which ones?" I asked, heading back to the cigarette caddy.
"The Marlboro's." She replied.
Again, very vague. There are at least 9 kinds of Marlboro's ranging from Reds to Menthol Ultra Lights. From there, there are hard pack, soft pack, 100's, shorts (the regular ones), 72's...There are more decisions to make beyond the brand name. I finally got it out of her that she wanted Red 100's. I grabbed a pack and she stopped me again, "I wanted a carton. I'm in a hurry, come on."
This was when I decided to shake her beer when I got to the cooler. I got her cigarettes and then went into the cooler for her beer. I pretended that I couldn't find it and spent 10-15 seconds shaking her beer. The trick to making sure a customer doesn't see the foam in a bottle is keeping your hand wrapped around the very top where the air is, at least until you bag it for them. She kept getting in my face after that, asking me for more things and telling me to hurry, until I nearly pushed her beer off the counter and told her to hit the road.
Having coworkers who both understood and sympathized was what really enabled the beer shaking. When one of us would feel the need to shake some jerk's beer, the rest would look the other way. If we saw the offending customer, most times we actually encouraged one another. "Did you do it?" we would ask, and the person who did the shaking would nod with a mischievous grin. We operated within a network whose motto was "They didn't do it," even if we knew otherwise. The last beer I shook wouldn't have been possible had it not been for the reliable cover of Braby, one of the last Babies hired during my time there.
A customer came in during a rush and wandered over to the Coors section. He was portly and a little taller than me with dark hair. He walked back up to the front in a tizzy, unable to reach a six pack in the back and wondering if we could get it for him. I acquiesced and walked back into the cooler to get it for him. My quandary was this: there were three six packs that had been pushed far enough back that customers couldn't reach them. One was Coors light bottles, one was Coors light cans, and one was regular Coors. I grabbed the bottles, hoping they were the right thing. Apparently, I was wrong.
"I wanted cans." The customer says, getting irritated with my lack of psychic abilities.
I went back and grabbed the light cans. He was more irritated with me when I came back up.
"I wanted Original." He said, clearly incensed this time.
"Next time, please say so." I answered and went back to the cooler.
Braby told me afterward that while I was in the cooler, the customer said, "I sure hope she doesn't shake my beer..." Braby was a great sport and told him that I don't normally do that.
I shook the shit out of that guy's beer. I shook that beer like it was the last thing I would do on Earth and I enjoyed it just as much. As I stood in the cooler, I thought, This is right. Shake. What I'm doing now is just. Shake. I do this for liquor store employees everywhere. Shake, shake. I am vindicated. Shake, shake, shake. For every man who made me go back and get different beer he never asked for, SHAKE. For that woman who walked all the way to the end of the cooler doors to make sure her beer was still on sale, walked all the way back, and made me go get her beer for her, SHAKE. For every liquor store employee who ever had to put up with some guy who read the "Brewed on" date as the expiration date and demanded a new case of beer even though he drank all of the first one he bought, SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE. For back room retail vigilantes everywhere, I shook that man's beer.