Ah, it's that time of year again, when fresh-faced, barely-trained, minimum-wage retail employees go head to head with customers who hate Christmas shopping, don't put anything back where it belongs, and want everything to be on sale. Speaking as a veteran of eight Christmas seasons in book retail, including one year actually working on Christmas day (which cut a holiday so-called getaway with an ex-bf and family mercifully short), the customer traffic can be relentless, but with properly administered doses of candy those eight-plus hours can glide by like a Hummer with bald tires on black ice.

Was I always nice to customers, you ask? No. I wasn't. I was nice to people who begged for my attention and asked, with averted eyes, "I'm so terribly sorry to bother your no doubt important and intellectually fascinating conversation with another employee, but could I ask you to point -- no, no! please don't come out from behind your elevated counter to show me! -- would you just crook your pinkie finger in the general direction of the cookbooks?" Thus approached, I would smile benignly and direct the appropriately obsequious customer toward the objects of his desiring. I believe Frank Burns summed it up best with that immortal line: "It's nice to be nice to the nice."

Yes, it's nice to be nice to people at the head of a thirty-person check-out line who will happily pay cash (don't you dare get out that checkbook, lady!) when the credit card machine breaks down. But if you, the customer, give off one whiff of frustration or indecision, well, you're on your own, pal, this register's closed and I'm going to go smoke a cigarette on the loading dock.

As a result of my gross neglect of the needs of those I've been paid in M&Ms; to serve, I've had to face my share of bad retail karma backlash. Oh, yes! And naturally, when you're on the receiving end of bad customer service, well, it's not your fault, this guy who's supposed to be helping you is a moron.

Absolutely Real Example #1

Me, in housewares department of large store: "Hi, could you tell me where your cheapest sheets are?"

Irritable Dispenser of Karma: "Well, normally people ask for sheets by color."

Me: "I'm sorry, I forgot, I must ask for your help in the mysterious and unknowable way that you want me to ask for it, for ye mighty retail gods are not flexible enough to respond to a variety of individual communication styles. I beg you to allow me to withdraw the question."

I.D.O.K.: "Granted. Be gone."

Absolutely Real Example #2

Me, in discount beauty supply store: "Hi, can you help me? I'm looking for something that will make my hair curly. It's normally kind of wavy, but this weather makes it frizzy and I thought . . ."

Lofty Dispenser of Incorrect Hair Products (interrupting): "Most people want their hair to be straight."

Me: "Yes, well, I could be mistaken, maybe I don't want bouncy curls, maybe I want to look like my mother pressed my hair on her ironing board, you're absolutely right, how could I want something different from everybody else! I must be insane! Thank you for bringing me back to my senses. Please sell me an overpriced jar of goo that does the exact opposite of what I wanted."

L.D.O.I.H.P.: "Here you are."

Me: "I'm not worthy."

That's why this year I'm doing all my shopping online.