Someone erroneously speaks, but you lack an immediately warranted rebuttal. Later in a quiet moment, the perfect response reveals itself. Yeah, but that ship sailed. But every once in a while, you get it right.
It’s like connecting the sweet spot with a fastball. It’s like striking the perfect resonant chord on a guitar. It’s like, well, you get the point. And it did for me long ago on a Friday night.
I worked my way through college at a liquor/convenience store counter. I was a skilled clerk that could overcharge and short-change someone in one nimble-fast transaction.
However, I was an honest clerk who reserved this retail skill only for thieves.
On this long-ago Friday night, I did with a complementary string of just the right words.
Friday night at the liquor store was party night in the neighborhood. One particular group lined up weekly at my counter with a case of beer, chips, dip, requests for cigarettes, plus impulse counter beef jerky. It was a group purchase.
One member of the group Charlie, always stood hidden well behind his friends.
Yet I could still see him crouched at the candy rack as he grabbed at items that magically ended up in his jacket pockets. I did not confront him. I estimated his take.
Working the NCR cash register like a concert pianist with a hail of fast-talking banter, I added his ‘purchase’ and short-changed the group.
This event was a weekly exchange.
OK, it revealed my dark side. But I did justifiably maintain store profitability.
The counter banter included each item logged via the mechanical cash register keys. It also included a timely repeated vocal mumbled slur, “And another 50¢ for what’s in Charlie’s pocket. Log in another legit item, then “And another 50¢ for what’s in Charlie’s pocket.” Friday night party noise covered my repeated mumbled slurs.
This weekly scene continued until Charlie eventually heard me. Charlie asked, “What did you say?” I responded, “What?” He said, “You called me a thief?”
I replied, “No, it’s not stealing if you pay for it. And you always have.”
Fortunately, his friends laughed. But Charlie was not happy. He was angry.
So I repeated, “It’s not stealing if you pay for it.”
Charlie says, “You’re calling me a thief.”
So I continued, “Charlie, look. I sometimes see a child pilfer bubble gum. As they grow, some move from penny bubble gum to 10¢ candy bars. Some move on to steal cars and rob banks. A select few become Congressmen. But Charlie, you’re still stealing penny bubble gum.” His face exploded into a shade of flaming red.
I wasn’t just calling him a thief. I exposed him as a pathetic bad thief. Charlie charged and attempted to jump the counter. But his friends caught him in mid-air. They offered, “Wow, Ed!” as they carried Charlie and the beer out the door.
The following Friday night played out like normal, except for a defeated look in Charlie’s eyes.