To: The World at Large
From: M-D
Subject: NO, I don’t work here.

Many years ago, I left the glamorous, go-go world of retail sales for a life more normal – one that affords me better pay, normal hours (supposedly), and a modicum of piece during the work day. Finally, I could just be a normal consumer, like the millions of others out there. Sure, I’d know a little more about the workings of retail sales (books, in particular) than most, but otherwise, I’d just blend in with the crowd. At least, that was the goal.

And yet, it seems that about every third time I’m in a retail store, I end up getting asked if I work there. (Or, in the extreme case, someone will just walk up to me and either ask a product question or start complaining about the service.) Sometimes, it’s due to the color of the shirt I’m wearing, and I suppose I should know better than to wear, for instance, a plain, button-down red shirt in either Staples or CompUSA. Sometimes, it’s just due to idiocy – I’ll be standing in an aisle in Borders, looking for a book on SQL, and someone will just walk up and start asking me questions, like I own the place. Yes, I worked at Borders once, and yes, I shelved the computer section, but I don’t work there anymore. I try to be as polite as I can, but sometimes it just gets under my skin.

The all-time oddest ‘do you work here?’ came about two weeks ago – following a luncheon with a client in Manhattan, I went over to 30Rock to have a drink with Margaret, one of my best friends from college. Now, bear in mind, I’m dressed in a suit and tie, with an ETS logo lapel pin on my jacket. I’m standing outside the visitors’ check-in center, waiting for Margaret to come down in the elevator, fanning myself with the program from the luncheon (because there’s no friggin’ airflow in the lobby of 30Rock), watching Rockefeller Center security harass the tour groups as they pass through the metal detectors, and occasionally checking my e-mail on my Treo. No fewer than 5 people walk straight up to me, get right in my face, and start asking me questions – “where’s the bathroom?”, and so forth. Like I’m a frakking NBC Page or something. Now, bear in mind, I’m standing outside the visitors’ center, and there’s an information booth about 10 steps to my left. So these people had to walk straight past the people who actually DO work there in order to get all up in my business.

Look, world, I’ll put this simply. No. No, I don’t work here. I don’t work at Best Buy, I don’t work at Circuit City, I don’t work at CompUSA, I don’t work at Borders or Barnes & Noble (any more, anyway). Unless you happen to catch me on the campus of ETS, or I’m offsite managing a scholarship review committee, the answer is always going to be no. Just because I’m wearing a shirt that’s marginally the same color or style as the employees’ uniforms doesn’t mean I work in that store; ditto for the fact that I might happen to have a decent knowledge of the products I’m shopping for – in fact, in most cases, that’s a dead giveaway that someone DOESN’T work in retail. And hey, you know what else is a dead giveaway? The lack of a nametag, or any other paraphernalia that would identify me as an employee.

I’m sorry if I seem a little bitter about this whole thing, but look at it from my perspective. When it happens once, it’s an honest mistake. When it happens over and over again, it just becomes annoying, like a wasp flying around your head or something. So this is your one warning. Next time I get asked “do you work here?” in, say, Best Buy, I’m still going to be polite, but I’m going to make sure that you buy the most overrated, overpriced TV on the market. (“1080p? Nah, that’s a terrible television. You want a lower number. The lower, the better. Here’s one that does 480i – that means the pixels are bigger and more powerful. And the ‘i’ stands for ‘incredible picture’.”) Because a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.