I wasn’t always self-employed. Did I ever tell you that I used to work retail?
If not, this is why.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad gig — I learned a lot, especially about nutrition. The management was often a nightmare, but the work was decent enough to keep me doing it for several years.
I also had a number of customers who seemed to think I was pretty neat. One lady managed to avoid putting down her son’s dog after I made a dietary recommendation (he had been medicated for severe allergies of unknown origin, then needed phenobarbital to counteract the seizures his medication gave him. It turned out to be a severe allergy to corn). One couple straight-up told me that, when I changed stores, they would continue shopping at whichever one I ended up working at.
Those times were nice. The other days, though? Ho-lee crap.
One of the locations at which I worked was located right next to a barbershop. Barbershops aren’t always exactly like hair salons — they’re as much a chill spot and center of community as they are a place to get your hair cut. So, this place was always busy and had a small contingent of satellite businesses that kind of popped up around it. (Which was somewhat of a problem for our more skittish customers, who didn’t really know how to handle overly friendly strangers trying to sell them bootleg DVDs out of a car trunk.) Point being, a lot of people were in, out, and about this barbershop basically all the time, especially on weekends.
One day, my store’s dead. It’s Sunday, nobody’s coming in, the radio’s playing whatever insipid top 40s mush was in rotation at the time. People are still going in and out of the barbershop, as per usual, but nobody seems particularly in need of my services at the moment. Even the sandwich place next door to us is quiet.
Then the door opens.
“There’s a baby locked in a car in the parking lot.”
The woman is rushed — hurried and upset, but not frantic. I can’t leave my store, I haven’t seen the baby, I don’t know when the car pulled up, how long she’s been out there, or who either car or baby belong to. Neither does this woman. We could wait around for the mother or father to return, but what if it’s too late? Is it really safe to assume the baby hasn’t been forgotten and everything is okay? What if we’re wrong?
Headlines flash through my head. Interviews with parents who, after one sleepless night or minor disruption to their morning routine, managed to forget their children in the backs of cars to tragic result. Bad things happen, even to loving and attentive parents. Neither of us know this person or this child, but nobody wants that for them or the rest of their family. The worried woman doesn’t have a cell phone, so she asks if I can call for help.
Strangely enough, having to do that wasn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence. We had to call 911 when a customer experienced a grand mal seizure in front of the cash register, another time when a customer had a heart attack, again when another overdosed in his car, and again when I had a very weird episode of tachycardia. This store was not exactly a stranger to the local paramedics.
(In retrospect, it may also have been cursed.)
So, I call 911. I’m not even off the phone yet — I had just asked for an ambulance, just in case — when the I hear the door chime again.
It’s the baby’s mother.
And she is pissed.
I still don’t know how she found out that this other woman spotted her baby in the car. Maybe she’d gone into the barbershop to ask before she came in the store? I don’t know.
Now, this woman is probably a loving mother who was only stopping by the barbershop for a grand total of three minutes, but nobody else knew that. What the other lady saw as justified concern for a child’s safety, she doubtless saw as some random busybody’s scathing indictment of her abilities as a mother. And, once again, my store was completely dead. Apparently, the lack of other witnesses allowed these ladies to lower their inhibitions enough to begin the most bonkers verbal throwdown I have ever seen in my life.
The mother, fuming, shouts at the other woman to mind her own business. The other woman shouts that she can’t leave a baby alone in a car. The mother begins to shout to God. The other woman shouts even louder explanations for why you can’t just leave a baby in a car.
“I WAS ONLY THERE FOR FIVE MINUTES. YOU DON’T KNOW MY BUSINESS!”
“DO YOU KNOW HOW FAST A BABY CAN OVERHEAT AND DIE?”
“LORD, PLEASE BLESS THIS WOMAN WHO OBVIOUSLY HAS SO MANY PROBLEMS-”
“BABIES CAN’T REGULATE THEIR OWN TEMPERATURE!”
“EXORCISE THE EVIL FROM HER LIFE-”
And I’m standing there, slack jawed, with the phone in my hand.
“Miss?” I hear a tiny voice. “Miss?”
“I, uh. I don’t think I still need that ambulance, thanks,” I murmur into the phone.
“COVER HER IN THE BLOOD OF JESUS-”
“YOU CAN’T LEAVE A BABY IN A CAR.”
“… Are you sure everything’s okay?” The 911 operator asks.
“… Yeah. Yeah, I think so,” I respond, struggling to be heard over what has turned into some kind of Jesus-vs.-Baby-Death-Statistics free verse poetry slam, reasoning that I can always call back if/when one of them starts throwing elbows.
“GO TAKE CARE OF YOUR BABY!”
The mother stormed out.
The other woman bought a bag of horse feed.
The baby, presumably, was fine, though I really hope her mom was mad enough about the whole thing to avoid letting her stay in the car again.