There are other professions in the world, besides therapist and psychologist, that lend themselves to hearing other people’s problems, and maybe or maybe not, dispensing council or giving advise.
Priests comes to mind. They’re lucky. In their confessional, they are provided anonymity, although I could always recognize their voices, and I’m sure they knew mine. They could pretend to sit, void of judgement, as I confessed to hitting my brother, their smirks hidden behind a dark screen. When they asked me why, I always answered: because he’s incorrigible, which is a word I heard used at home to describe him.
I do think the darkness, their half hidden faces, and lack of eye contact, did help the ladies who went into the box before me. They stayed for what felt like hours! They must have had much juicer sins than mine, and truly sought his council and forgiveness.
I was ten, I was just going throughout the motions.
My friends who have tended bar, got their ears bent nightly, big time! They may not have had a diploma on the wall, but by golly, they have HEARD IT ALL!
Since they were not sworn to any oath of confidence, and often copious amounts of alcohol were involved, they had the BEST stories!
Tales of love, betrayal, treachery, cheating, twins with amnesia, men as women, women as men. If it’s been a plot on a soap opera, they’ve heard it, ’cause that shit is REAL!
I on the other hand, have been in some form of retail most of my life. This has made it very easy for “those that seek advice” to find me. I was captive behind a supermarket check out counter in my teens and early twenties, where the inventive, provocative and hilarious confessions I heard when guys purchased condoms or tampons, or both, could fill a book. Believe me, I never asked, they just volunteered the information.
Later, I was behind a jewelry showcase, and most recently the desk at my own store. Over the years I’ve had many regular patients…I mean customers, who would come by to seek an opinion or get some advise. Some just wanted to vent….I guess I just have that kind of face.
Here is what I know for sure: Everyone’s got a story. Most are interesting, many are funny, some are heartbreaking.
When I was working in Estate Jewelry, the store was in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills adjacent. When those stories walked in, they were no different than everyone else’s, just dressed up with better shoes and handbags.
I sold antique engagement rings, or rather, because of their beauty, they sold themselves, but I stood and told their story. Fifty percent of the time, it was just the man looking. He wanted it to be a surprise. Because of his nerves and the unusual circumstance of buying an engagement ring, I heard their love stories, their hopes, their fears, and often way too much information! Over twenty years, I have literally held their hands to calm them down, explained women and what we want, and I have even told half a dozen men: Honey, you’re not ready to do this.
One sweet guy brought his beloved with him on the third visit, she was acting so ungrateful, spoiled and awful that as he left, I passed him a piece of paper that advised him to “run for the hills”!
Another situation I’ll never forget.
A woman came in to pick up her husband’s watch repair.
Now, it had been repaired twice before, and this third time was NOT the charm.
We sold vintage watches, so they had to be wound and I couldn’t get the thing to tick!
Unfortunately, the woman was wound so tight she flew into a rage. She threw the watch against the wall, where it exploded into hundreds of tiny pieces, some even hitting her in the face. She called me and the store every curse word known to man…and then some.
Since our store was in an open mall sort of setting, the whole place could hear her, and everyone froze. So did I.
She stood there in her rage, her face red, her body trembling.
On life’s 1-10 scale of “How upset do I get about this”, the actual situation was a 3, maybe a 4. She was having a 25 reaction. THAT is always a clue for me. From working with the public for so many years, I can recognize that when the response doesn’t match the situation, there’s a backstory, something else is going on.
I slowly and silently walked around from behind the counter, and touched her arm.
I was shaking now too.
I gently pulled her out of view of the peanut gallery, and softly whispered, “what’s really going on here?”
She started to wail. That deep, low, wailing-crying that people usually do in private. “My husband is dying across the street at Cedars” she sobbed. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just hugged her…for a long time. Then we got on our hands and knees and started to pick up the pieces of the watch, just like she was grasping at the pieces of her disintegrating life.
I may not have been a professional, but this retail therapist knew better than to yell back or poke someone who was clearly on the edge. Thank God!
I know I’m not alone in this. If we deal daily with a large cross section of the public,
we really do get the opportunity, no, the the privilege to get a glimpse inside people’s lives. Hopefully we have the sensitivity to respond not react.
Everyone’s got a story. What’s yours?