Not every stranger I meet is a weirdo & not every weirdo I meet is a stranger.
This is the tale of someone I wish was a stranger but at one point I had to see every day.
Now I think this person is still a Facebook friend of a friend of a friend. So let’s call him Jack. I used to work with Jack in a toy shop & I can honestly say it was one of the best jobs I’ve had. I met a lot of other people there who I still count as good friends.
In fact the majority of the people that worked there were (& still are) absolutely crazy. The good kind of crazy. The kind that make you laugh when you know you shouldn’t. Those people who can say just one random word to you & make you laugh til your sides hurt & tears run down your cheeks.
I mean that literally.
There were days I’d come home with sore ribs, exhausted from the fun I’d had at work. They are the kind of people you want to work 9 to 5 with because they make the day fly by.
To those people I say: Betamax, snaggs & pomme frites, waaaaaa! Okey Dokey, pig in a pokely…
There’s always one though. One bad apple.
At the time, I excused his strangeness on the folly of youth. But looking back, he was only maybe 2-3 years younger than me.
I started at the toy shop as Christmas staff on the same day as another girl, let’s call her Alice. I had been unemployed for two weeks (a record for me at that stage) & I was considering reapplying for my old job in the supermarket. I was so glad to get that job- so proud of myself that I found something so soon. Later I found out that they only had two positions open & Alice & I were the only ones who turned up for the interview.
The first day was filled with pretending to read health & safety manuals. Then after lunch, we were thrown in the deep-end. I had to build a smoby red car & Alice had to build a trike.
‘You’re doing it wrong,’ that’s the first thing we heard from Jack. He had been skulking around in the store room most of the day.
‘What? Who is?’ Alice was a little more direct than me. Jack pointed at my smoby car.
‘Well I’m following the instructions. That’s what it says to do.’ I said.
He scoffed & walked off. Later when Alice had bother trying to push an axle into place, we tackled it together rather than ask Jack.
As first meetings go, the one with Jack set me up for what was over a year of being told he knew better than I did. A year of eye-rolls & scoffing & a lot of lurking. He was always lurking.
At first I didn’t really know what to say to him or about him. He hung around one of the supervisors like a bad smell. Always two steps behind him. He was always looking for an excuse to not do any work.
‘I think I’m going to be Jewish,’ he declared one day while I was writing out information for a customer. ‘They get Saturdays off.’
‘That won’t work.’
‘We work for a Christian company and we work Sundays.’
‘So?’ He shrugged.
‘So if they don’t care too much for their own beliefs, I don’t think they will care about your new beliefs just so you can get Saturdays off.’
‘Well I’m going to try it.’
‘Good luck with that, Jack.’
It was one of a hundred conversations with him that always started with him turning up unexpectedly & peering over my shoulder or blocking me into a corner or catching me while I was up a ladder, so I couldn’t escape his inane ideas.
‘Hitler. Napoleon. Genghis Khan.’
‘OK. What about them?’
‘Three people who tried to take over the world but failed.’
That was all he had to say on that matter, if you were wondering. He just wandered off after that, leaving me up a ladder & completely mystified.
The part of the job I enjoyed the most was organising the little figures. I’m a bit of an introvert, so sometimes working in retail was a bit too much for me. I preferred forward facing the stock rather than being forward facing with the public. So I would take myself off to organise the figures on a stand because it was my little oasis. A bit of calm amid the noise. By the end, I would feel very zen. I imagine it’s how people feel when they meditate.
Jack would always find me there.
‘That’s a sharp-tooth,’ he said one day, pointing at the tyrannosaurus rex. ‘That’s a long-neck, that’s a three horn & that’s a flyer.’
‘Yes, Jack, I’ve watched The Land Before Time too!’ I allowed myself to think, but not say. Keep it zen, focus on tidying the figures.
By this stage, I was trying to maintain a vow of silence when he started on one of his rambles.
‘I really like dinosaurs. I think I could’ve been a dinosaurologist.’
‘What?’ Ok, a part of me couldn’t keep quiet.
‘I really like dinosaurology. That’s the study of dinosaurs.’
‘No. It’s not. Paleontology is the study of dinosaurs.’
‘I don’t think so. I saw it in a book.’
‘Yeah, a kid’s book.’ Tranquility ruined as per usual, I stormed off to the store room.
Jack was one of these people who likes to get things he imagined other people wanted. He always took the first lunch break because he thought I wanted it. When he found out I preferred to take a later lunch, he took the last lunch break. I don’t think it was spiteful, he was just a large toddler. He wanted whatever toy someone else was playing with.
As you can imagine, it gets pretty busy in a toy shop at Christmas so when we got round to December, the manager told us we would all need to work 2 out of the 4 Sundays before Christmas & it was all hands on deck for Christmas Eve. Everyone was fine with it, it was pretty much expected.
Jack was not happy.
He moaned about it to anyone who would listen. It wasn’t fair. He didn’t sign up for Sunday shifts. He had plans. He had to go to Church (must have converted from Judaism).
When he called in sick on his first Sunday, no one was surprised. I was drafted in at the last minute. The actual last minute, I was just about to sit down to a Sunday roast when I had to head to work.
The second Sunday, he did the same again & again I worked it as no-one else could cover. This time managing to take my roast with me to work. As I’d saved her bacon twice, my manager said I could take Christmas Eve off as a reward.
I didn’t mention it to Jack. Until we were locking up on the night before Christmas Eve, when I wished him a happy Christmas & slipped off with him following me & shouting at me about it being unfair. I just waved & said ‘if you turned up for your shifts it could have been you.’
He huffed with me for a few weeks, until he still caught me unaware while up a ladder.
‘I have been having feelings about someone recently & I think the person feels the same.’
Oh! No! Why was I up a ladder right at that second? I tried not to wobble.
‘Really? Is it someone I know?’
‘Yes.’ Oh no!
‘Someone we work with?’
‘Yes.’ Oh no! Oh no!
‘Do they have a boyfriend?’
‘I don’t think so.’ Phew! Not me!
Oh no wait! Alice!
‘I don’t think you should act on it. Working with someone you like is always awkward & bound to go wrong.’
‘I thought you met your boyfriend through work.’
‘Yes… I did… but we didn’t work together when we started going out. It would have been awkward for everyone.’
Turned out he had been bragging to Alice about beating up 8 squaddies single-handedly over the weekend, so she was definitely the object of his affection. The next day, Alice, our manager & I invented a wonderful boyfriend called Alan, who happened to pop in whenever Jack wasn’t about.
Not long after that he was sacked for reasons I don’t even care to mention.
I haven’t seen him since & to be honest, I’m glad. I hope he’s a dinosaurologist in the museum of his mind. However more likely than not, he’s in another job where he can lurk in corners & pounce at people unexpectedly while they are up a ladder.