Forgive me. With my upcoming trip to London, the completion of my first manuscript and the fact that I am QUITTING my day job in just 48 hours, I’ve been too happy to muster up the requisite wrath to complain about The Shop.
But I would like to go out with a bang, and so, without further ado, it’s Holy Communion season in South Philadelphia. This means that in addition to the usual births and deaths memorialized in the South Philly Review, the paper now features page after page of congratulations to “Our little Adrianna,” “Our blessed Anthony” and “Our angel, Tony Jr.”
Before the matrons of South Philadelphia can replace their light-up shamrocks, Easter eggs, and Memorial Day flags with sparkly First Communion garlands, however, their darling candidates must construct the requisite First Holy Communion banner.
I know all of this not because I’m Catholic but because I work at The Shop. Last month, I was just getting ready for my lunch break when a woman approached the register with our official First Holy Communion Banner Kit. As far as I know, the Kit is not sanctioned by the Catholic Church, nor is it manufactured in the Vatican or sprinkled with holy water, but it’s still an essential component of the First Communion ceremony.
Examining the Kit as she pulled bolts of tulle, spools of ribbon and packages of sticky felt crosses from her cart, the woman yelled, “What’s the wood thing you put through this?” She yelled not because she was angry—not yet at least—but because she was also on her IPhone. The yelling was to indicate that she was talking to me, as opposed to the person on the other end of the phone, as if the “Ma! Ma! You’re not listening to me, Ma!” wasn’t enough of a give away.
“It’s called a dowel,” I informed her, scanning another package of sticky felt shapes (Jesus fish, this time) and loading her items into the first of three bags.
“Do you sell those?” she yelled back.
“Yes, in the wood section.”
“Okay, I’ll be right back.”
On account of the First Holy Communion Banner Kit, I decided to wait for her to return rather than calling a manager to void the sale. The mother of a communicant, I figured, would want to set a good “Christian” example for her daughter (whose named, I learned, was Adrianna by the way). She wouldn’t be the type of customer who bullied the staff, argued her way into extra coupons, stashed unwanted items wherever she pleased and ignored the fact that there were actually other customers in the store, would she?
I found out soon enough.
“What was it that I need again?” she yelled, catching one of my co-workers by the elbow as she rounded the floral counter.
“A dowel,” I called back.
With a personal shopping assistant (and Jesus on her side), the woman disappeared. I was left with three bags of her First Communion paraphernalia, mid-sale, and a line of customers slowly forming.
I smiled my best “I feel your pain” smile and called a manager to void that transaction. Helpless until he arrived, I took cover behind a sale circular. Between grouchy managers and hostile customers, my job can be downright dangerous sometimes.
Miss Holy Communion, for her part, latched onto her next victim: the shop’s florist. Fortunately, he knows how to handle South Philly folk.
At last, a manager arrived to void the sale and Miss Holy Communion returned a few moments later, still shouting on the phone and arguing with her daughter, Adrianna, about the flowers on her Communion veil.
“Do you know the products here?” she demanded.
“Most of them,” I replied, although I wasn’t sure what else she could possibly need. Wouldn’t the bolts of tulle, spools of ribbon, sticky felt (crosses and Jesus fish), fake flowers, the First Holy Communion Banner kit and the requisite “wooden stick” be enough to demonstrate Adrianna’s devotion to the Catholic Church?
But this time, it wasn’t Adrianna who needed help. It was “Ma” who was still on the IPhone with a burning question about ceramic pots. “Talk to her,” she commanded, handing me the phone. Turning to Adrianna, she instructed, “We’ll write ‘Thank you Jesus’ with those sticky letters on the felt, and then we’ll stick that wood stick thing through the top, okay?”
Then, as she noticed that I was emptying the bags I had already packed onto the register so I could rescan their contents, she cried, “You mean you have to re-ring everything?”
“Yes,” I replied, resisting the urge to point out that I was the one stuck with the re-ringing, the grouchy manager and the impatient line of customers, not her. But then a small miracle occurred: she paid, took her First Holy Communion Banner kit and left. As I watched her go, I couldn’t help but think, “Thank you Jesus, thank you very much indeed.”