The Cost of an Enemy

A Good Man – Chapter 12 – JohnA Passaro

‘Tis best to weigh the enemy
More mighty than he seems.

William Shakespeare

There were two kinds of customers who brought back empties to the store.

The first kind was the customer who washed out each bottle or can before bringing them back.

These customers were also the ones who neatly stacked each can in a case tray, making it quick and easy to get an accurate count.

The transaction was clean, quick and accurate.

This type of customer was a pleasure to serve.

The second type of customer was the one who returned unwashed cans in a garbage bag.

A garbage bag that had been sealed and left to ferment in the summer sun.

We called this the “empty juice.”

When a customer brought their empties back this way, I was trained to politely remind them that it was the store’s policy for the customer to place each can in a case tray so we could get an accurate count.

Either one of two things happened with this type of customer.

Either they took the empties out of the bag when they were reminded to do so, or they didn’t.

If they didn’t, and there were other customers waiting, they would have to wait until all the other customers were helped before we reached into their bag and pulled each can out for them.

With every reach into the garbage bag, the

“empty juice”, would get all over your hands and arms.

This second customer type was to be avoided at all costs.

They were not fun to wait on.

There were many celebrities that came into the East Hampton store during the summer.

On any normal, day it wouldn’t be surprising to see Dudley Moore, Ralph Lauren or Billy Joel trying to blend in as normal folk.

As hard as they tried to act like locals, you still knew who they were.

One day there was one celebrity who blended in as a local all too well.

As customer type #2.

This unrecognized celebrity threw his garbage bag full of empties up on the counter and looked at me, waiting for me to take each can out of the bag for him.

I reminded him of the store’s policy that in order to make the transaction as fast and accurate as possible

it would be helpful if he placed each can in a case tray.

He stared at me.

A blank stare, sort of a Frankenstein – looking stare.

He muttered something inaudible.

I went on to help the rest of the other customers who had properly placed their empties in case trays.

After helping all the other customers, I realized this man’s empties were still in his bag.

He was waiting for me to reach into the bag and get each empty out.

Which I did.

“Empty juice” galore dripped all over my arms.

After I completed my count of his empties, I handed him a receipt for $2.70 for the 54 cans he had returned.

He looked at the receipt and said,

“I had 55 cans.

This should be for $2.75.”

I stared at him.

He stared back at me.

Being that he didn’t put each can in a case tray to be accurately counted, I bypassed this step and kept count in my head.

Maybe I made a mistake.

That was quite possible.

No problem. I would just correct the receipt to reflect 55 cans returned and the problem would be solved, I thought to myself.

Then it dawned on me. This guy did the same thing to me last week and the week before that.

He was the “You shorted me a nickel” guy.

I corrected “my mistake.”

I handed him a new receipt for $2.75.

But with this new realization, I also reached into my pocket, took out a quarter and said,

“Let’s save some time. Take this quarter as the upfront payment for the next five times you come in.”

He stared through me this time, his veins bulging on both sides of his neck.

He took the updated receipt and the quarter from me and headed to the front of the store to find the owner to complain to about me.

“Are you the owner?” He said waving the quarter in the air.

“Yes – I’m Billy.”

“Holy crap, Billy! That boy back there tried to cheat me. He shorted me a nickel.”

“You mean John?” Bill said pointing in my direction.

“Yea, that one back there.”

“Is everything straightened out?”

“Yea, but he tries to cheat me every time I come in here.”

“Nah, I find that hard to believe. John is one of my best workers. If he made a mistake I guarantee it was an honest one.”

“You should do something about him.”

“The only thing I’m going to do with John is give him a raise,” Bill said downplaying the event as best he could.

It was only later in the day when Bill and I spoke about the situation, I learned the “You shorted me a nickel” guy was a movie star.

He starred in some monster movie in the ‘70’s.

After learning the identity of the “You shorted me a nickel” guy I said, “I don’t care who he is, he comes in every week and does the same thing. He’s wrong.”

Bill said to me,

“You’re right. He is wrong.

But you probably should have kept the quarter in your pocket.”

It took me a really long time to learn “to keep the quarter in my pocket.”

So many times that quarter has gotten me into trouble.

The problem may have already been solved moments earlier, but before I can let it go, I have to get my jab in.

That jab turns into a counter punch and all of a sudden it’s a fight.

An enemy is made.

Knowing how to solve a confrontation without escalating it is a gift.

When I learned to leave that quarter in my pocket, unnecessary enemies were averted.

When I learned to add kindness to a confrontation, I realized that instead of making an enemy, I could gain an ally.

“I’m sorry sir.

55 cans it is.

Here is a new receipt for $2.75.

Have a great day.”

It is not worth making an enemy over a nickel.

Even if you are right.

It is better to kill your enemies with kindness.

They hate that.

Read the next chapter – Ask, Listen, Implement

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