Inside a frantic crowd of last minute shoppers mirroring the vehicular mayhem in the parking lot outside jammed every isle. Standing tall, I boldly began to pick my way through the maze of harried customers angling for the lay away desk at the back. As the desk came into view I noticed two lines one moving and one not moving. Obviously, I took a place in the line that was moving and was soon at the cash register.
"Wow, that was fast”, [comma inside quote] I remarked to the young clerk behind the register.
She smiled curtly and asked for my lay away card in a distinctly mechanical manner. I obligingly handed over the card and a $20.00 bill. She raced through a practiced routine pushing several buttons then announced in a disinterested flat tone, "that'll [capitalize] be $17.79". I smiled and pointed out that she already had my $20 bill in her hand. As if on auto pilot, she pushed several more buttons then dropped some change, my card and a cash register receipt that had THANK YOU, PLEASE COME AGAIN printed across the top into my extended hand. I smiled and she excused me with “step to the line to the left; Next?”
I turned around in search of the end of the line to the left which wound around women’s apparel, through the toy department and ended in sporting goods. A bit dejected, I took a spot at the end of the line, adjusted my hips and proceeded to wait.
After a reasonable 20 minute wait, I inquired of those in front of me how long they had been in line. One person said she had been in line for about half an hour. Another said he had been there over an hour. Soon the entire line was engaged in a lively conversation consisting of hours and minutes expressions [awkward]. As the odd conversation subsided, a person several spaces ahead turned around and offered, "I heard that the person who just got to [at] the front of the line has been here since the store opened this morning a 7am [at 7:00 a.m.]”.
"7:00 am”, I mumbled in disbelief. I left my coveted last place in line and walked up to the lady at the front and casually ventured,
[move to previous paragraph]
"...so I heard you came in six hours ago...” [No ellipses here. "So, I heard you came in six hours ago?"]
“Yup”, was her disinterested reply.
“...and you paid for your lay away...”
“...and you’ve been waiting in this line ever since...”
“And still haven't gotten my lay away”, she added very matter-of-factly completing my obvious question.
I expected some additional verbal banter from the lady and when none came I wandered back to my spot in sporting goods, set my hips and continued to wait.
For the next 45 minutes I watched the mechanical clerk at the cash register take in a small fortune in admission fee’s [no apostrophe; plural, not possessive] to the line to the left which had now extended beyond sporting goods into home improvement. While the clerk took in cash several store employees walked by and engaged her in casual conversation. Numerous calls for ‘help in the lay away department’ were announced over the intercom. But the line to the left refused to move and just grew longer.
A very frumpy looking store manager dressed in a dingy white shirt, crooked tie and baggy trousers appeared from a room behind the clerk and asked how things were going.
"Fine, I guess”, she said in her flat absent tone. “We do need to start retrieving again though, I guess. The line is getting pretty long."
The manager eyed the long line, shook [nodded] his head in agreement then walked over to a popcorn machine on the candy isle and watched the freshly popped kernels fall into a big tub. Obviously no help was coming soon.
My patience, like the heated popcorn
Turning, I calmly replied, "I thought I would help you out by getting my own lay away”.
"Well, you can't do that," she said, her concern increasing. "Only store staff can retrieve your lay away”.
"Unfortunately," I reacted with a chuckle and a smile, "I bought these gifts for Christmas this year not for next year”.
It was obvious from her irritated look that I was not winning her over with my charm and humor. After a quick standoff marked by narrowed eyes and a deep sigh from the clerk, I shrugged my shoulders and continued up the stairs. By the time I was at the top of the stairs the clerk was frantically yelling into the intercom phone, "security to lay away, security to lay away".
I figured it wouldn't take long before my chance to retrieve my packages was over so I started jogging down the center isle of the loft. Not to my surprise, store security turned out to be the frumpy manager with the popcorn fetish [not the right word]. He scurried up the stairs as I was jogging past the rows of package laden shelves.
"You know," he said in a labored voice, "you can't come back here."
"I didn't see any signs telling me to specifically not come back here," I said. "I got to thinking that maybe Lay Away is self service.”
Like the mechanical clerk, the manager didn't like my humor. He motioned for me to follow him back down the stairs.
"Unfortunately," I replied, "I can't. [can't what?] "I am not prepared to spend the night”.
"You know there are others who’ve been in line long before you got here," the manager snorted, "you [capitalize] could be more considerate of their feelings".
"You’ve got to be kidding?”, I shot back.
"Lt is our busy season, and the law says I have to provide lunch breaks to employees".
"Yea, and I hear that the popcorn diet is real effective for the manager on the move", I added pointing to a popcorn kernel stuck to his tie.
The manager pushed me towards the silver door and said he would get some help. I watched him slide behind the mechanical clerk at the cash register pointing my way with his finger.
"Nice try", the lady at the front of the line said.
"Oh I am not done yet," I replied with raised eyes. "If I don't see this line moving in a few minutes I am going to get really ugly."
I sauntered back to my place now in men’s wear and began to count backwards from 500. Soon an overdressed security guard passed by to receive orders from the manager. With their command session complete, the manager stared me down on his way back to the popcorn machine. When I reach one, I left my place in line and headed for the silver door again.
My second attempt at freeing my packages was easier than my first. The clerk was so busy mechanically taking admissions for the line to the left that she didn't see me sneak through the silver door. The security guard was so busy watching the clerk he had no idea I was on the stairs. And I can only assume that the manager was so mesmerized by the popcorn machine he hadn’t noticed I was no longer in line.
I got to the platform without interruption and raced down the center isle looking for the shelf with my package. I was at more than half way across the loft when the security guard yelled in gruff security guy language, "Hey you".
I glanced over my shoulder once then resumed scanning for my shelf. As expected, the manager came huffing and puffing around the security guard demanding to know why I was disobeying his instructions.
"I told you to be patient and I would get this problem resolved", he barked.
Turing I answered very methodically, "look [capitalize], I paid your clerk at the cash register almost 3 hours ago for my packages and it is clear that you aren’t going to get things moving. I am pretty sure my packages are right there," I said pointing to the first shelf at my right. "If you let me get my packages, the line to the left will have one less person in it and you can go back to managing your lay away problem from the popcorn machine”.
My intelligence did not impress the manager or the security guard, although the mechanical clerk now standing at the bottom of the stairs was snickering at my managing from the popcorn machine remark.
Hiking up his trousers the manager authoritatively announced, "you [capitalize] will have to leave or I will call the police".
With out hesitation I quickly replied, "not if I call them first”.
The manager brushed popcorn residue from his mouth. "Why would you call the police first”, [?"] he asked confused"? [.]
"This receipt says I bought and paid for $135.00 dollars worth of merchandise from your store and that you will surrender said merchandise when paid in full. Since I paid my bill in full over three hours ago I can only assume that you are holding my packages hostage. So, I demand that you surrender my goods at once or I will call the police"!
The manager and the security guard were taken back [aback] by my logic and didn't immediately respond. By this time a small crowd of folks from the line to the left had taken positions at the bottom of the stairs behind the mechanical clerk.
"I think he's right, [.] I'm going to call the police to" [, too,"] a customer yelled.
Another person started chanting ‘free [, "Free] our gifts, free our gifts’. Soon, others joined in the chant. It didn't take long before the customers waiting in line to the left were all joining in.
After an exceptionally menacing exchange of dirty looks, the manager grabbed my ticket, retrieved my package and seething with disdain said, "Leave. Now".
I smiled as the chanting grew louder. "Not so fast," I said
The crowd was electrified. The manager was soundly licked. He looked over his shoulder and barked for the security guard and the mechanical clerk to gather receipts. The chanting turned to a full scale stadium roar.
Moments later as I was loading my packages into my car, people driving by honked and waved. I felt pretty good. Winning on the holiday field of battle with a crowd of worthy shoppers was indeed satisfying. As I pulled away from the curb the radio began to play, 'Santa Claus is coming to town' ["Santa Claus is Coming to Town"] and I smiled hoping he would judge my recent antics as nice and not naughty.
Brush up on your grammar and punctuation rules. Punch up the humor. It gets a little confusing trying to imagine where things are here. You mention stairs and a silver door sometimes, and just the door at other times. Be very clear about place descriptions. Also, is this a man or a woman? I suppose it doesn't matter, but readers usually like to know. I'd like to see more interaction with those around him/her in the line. Also a little more contrast between expected Christmas cheer and the reality of the store.
What I liked best: We've all been there. Good to see someone finally doing what we all wish we had the nerve to do. I also like the last paragraph, bringing Santa in.
Magazine ready? No. Needs some work. FYI, an editor would reject this after the first few paragraphs. It needs too much clean up work. They don't have time to sit and correct for you, like I did.