I went to a craft store today. I needed red paper for Christmas cards, which they don’t have–you can only buy “shades of red,” so all my cards will look different, but it’ll do. Apparently a solid package of red is just not done anymore. I wanted envelopes, which I got. and I wanted a solid silver string for tree ornaments, so if Baby A pulls them down she won’t put a hook in her eye. This I did not find; I made due with thread, but I don’t know if it will work. You may wonder why I didn’t ask someone about string. The short answer is there was no one to ask, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They were hopelessly, horrifically busy. I was listening to The Most Wonderful Time of the Year over the intercom while a woman loudly berated an employee about the fact that none of the Santas came in sparkly blue to match a snowflake she’d made, while two teenagers ran past waving tinsel and nearly crashing into a woman in a reindeer sweater who was staring blankly at the floor.
I understand this very well. In college, I worked in the fabric department of a craft store. No matter the time of year, people who frequent craft stores are crazy. There are people who give their children baskets and let them “pick out things,” which are invariably tiny, so that the employees can put 2oo skeins of embroidery floss back. There are people who hang dolls heads on hooks in the aisles and spend an inordinate amount of time placing one wrong skein of yarn in each section to screw it all up. One woman would walk through the store and turn every doll to face the wall. There are people who walk up to the counter and yell, “I need to make a dress!” and have no pattern, sewing machine, or idea what size they are, and then ask if you can make the dress and have it done by four. (No.) I once watched a woman try to see if a shade of fabric looked good on her by winding it around herself, getting tangled up and pulling the entire display to the floor. And this was summer.
Christmastime in a craft store starts around September. Suddenly, the weirdness gets exponentially higher. There are the clueless people, who return a cross stitch kit because no one told them they actually had to make it when they bought it. I often wondered what it would be like to describe every product to someone as they checked out. There are the perfectionists, who insisted that everything match, and by god it better all be free if it didn’t. There are harried grandparents who brought every item in the store to me to ask if their grandchildren would like it. There are detail oriented people who stopped me to ask about every box of tinsel we had and which were the most durable brands, and could their dog die from eating it. There are those who unwound five yards of ribbon to decide they didn’t like the color and threw it on the floor before unwinding another. There are people who yell at employees, “Cheer up! Don’t you like Frosty the Snowman? What’s wrong with you?” There are people who try to drink those little bottles of candy flavoring extracts and throw up on the floor.
As Christmas grew closer, people grew more frantic. I had a conversation with an elderly man that went like this:
Man: I want ten skeins of yarn in this dye lot*, but there are only two.
Me: I’m sorry sir, there are only two left. but I’d be happy to order you ten skeins of a new dye lot, and they’d be here next week.
Man. No, I need ten RIGHT NOW.
Me: I’m sorry, but those are the only two of that dye lot left.
Man: Go look in the back.
Me: I’m sorry, we don’t have a backstock. Everything we have is here. (Not technically true. We had a back warehouse, stacked floor to ceiling with hundreds of unlabeled cardboard boxes. It looked like the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the fabric section, there was a stack of boxes ten feet high, and one was labeled with a Post-it that said, “Fabric or Floral?”)
Man: But Walmart has a back!
Me: I’m sorry, but we don’t.
Man: But Walmart has a back! Go check the back!
Me: I’m sorry, but– (Here, I’m thinking about going to check the back and opening every box.)
Man: Walmart has a back! You’re just lazy!
Me: Sir, I–
Man: I need them RIGHT NOW! I’m making a blanket!
We had the same conversation about five times, before he ripped the labels from the yarn, flung them on the floor and stormed out,. yelling about Walmart.
By Christmas Eve, the few people that came in were beyond help. About an hour before closing, a woman came storming up with a cart full of ornaments, hollering, “How come there’s no wrapping paper that I like? Go get more!” When told there wasn’t any more, she grew irate, demanding to know when there would be a delivery. We explained there would be no delivery, as it was Christmas Eve. She spluttered and shrieked, “Nobody wants my kids to have a happy Christmas! nobody cares about people who need wrapping paper! And nobody said Merry Christmas!”
One of the cashiers piped up, “Merry Christmas!”
The woman overturned her cart and stomped out, yelling about ruined Christmas gifts and using very un-Christmasy language.
At last we could go home. When I arrived, I promptly found a radio station that didn’t play Christmas music, as one more round of Frosty would have made me jump out the window.
I was thinking of that today, watching the poor employees field sparkly Santa questions, knowing it would only get worse, and that having The Most Wonderful Time of the Year playing in the background was a special kind of hell.
At least it wasn’t Frosty the Snowman.
(For you non-knitters: a dye lot is a batch of yarn. Yarn is dyed in numbered batches, and if you’re making a blanket or sweater, you want all the yarn to be from the same dye lot, or else the colors will not match exactly.)