I got into the fountain and water feature “industry” right after college. The economy was a big, steamy pile of doody back then ( though not as bad as today’s, which is a big, steamy, smashed onto the bottom of your shoe pile of doody) and work was hard to find. I responded to an ad for a store manager/bookkeeper position for a local retailer and manufacturer of concrete fountains and amenities here in Tucson, Arizona. I had recently ended my five-year stint as a pharmacy technician (though consistently and pleasantly pain-free during my employment there, I was only pooping twice a month, so it was probably a good time for me to leave), and was anxious to restart a new and remunerative relationship with an employer (i.e. I was broke).
Within a year the owner, a creative man completely lacking in any business acumen, sold his company to satisfy a tax lien. The new owner wanted no help counting his money, thank you very much (the fact that he kept it crammed so far up his southern-most orifice would have made it difficult in any event), so I became an installer and eventually a foreman. Eventually, the business sold again, this time to a cutthroat, nasty couple who quickly placed their son in charge and thankfully headed off to Mexico.
Their son was an interesting character. Short, portly, red-haired and bearded, most often dressed in a button-down or Hawaiian shirt tucked into Bermuda shorts, he looked like a leprechaun vacationing in the Catskills. He was pleasant enough, but decidedly oblivious to good retail practice. He claimed to be a great salesman; by way of proof, he often followed prospective customers around, playing his acoustic guitar (he was terrible). Other than the select few who enjoyed being annoyingly serenaded by a ginger-troll as they strolled through the display yard, this tactic seemed, on the whole, rather off-putting to most.
He claimed to have “The Gift of Gab”; he once told a customer and his young son that an albino catfish in a display pond was the result of a brief tryste between a channel catfish and a spotted koi. He received a letter from the same customer some days later chastising him for his dishonesty, stating that even his six-year-old son knew the fish were of different species and therefore incapable of reproducing, and that he would never spend a dime in his store. The letter bothered him only for the final declaration. On another occasion I was about to close a sale with a woman when he came up, introduced himself as the owner (puppet owner, more like), and proceeded to ask her when she was due. Her “I beg your pardon?” and my violent head-shaking did nothing to deter him, as he then offered that his wife was pregnant as well (this lady, though ample, was clearly not) and due in two months. She left in a huff, and he immediately asked me what I’d done. It took no short amount of time to convince him the fault was his.
His finest moment, however, came one summer morning when a customer came in, fountain pump in hand. She was in her mid-forties, very attractive and clearly sweet; I liked her immediately. Though all she wanted was a replacement pump, my boss took the opportunity to display his technical skills (he had none) by taking apart her old pump.
“See this part here? This has gone bad.”
She dutifully leaned over the counter to see and promptly plopped her cheek onto the spindle we used to hold our sales receipts (see image, above right). She quickly straightened and stared wide-eyed, the spindle sticking out perpendicularly from her face; several yellow invoice receipts hung from it and covered one eye and the affected cheek.
“Oh dear…oh, my.” She sputtered, and with that pulled the spindle (and invoices) from her face. A deep, 1/8″ hole appeared in its place; I stared, horrified and yet entranced by the bloodless cave, a good inch deep, that originated just below her cheekbone. It appeared that at dusk thousands of tiny bats might fly out of it in a black, curving torrent. Within a couple of seconds, however, the torrent that emerged was deep red and seemingly endless. I ran and got her some paper towels, which she held to the wound to stem the flow of blood. All of this time my boss stood silently (thankfully, lest he say he hoped the wound wouldn’t affect the baby) and stupidly unhelpful.
“Goodness, I’m such a klutz. I do this sort of thing all the time.” She politely refused any further help from me and managed to remain sweet and good-natured through the whole sordid affair. She bought a replacement pump (yes, he charged her), said thank you and goodbye with exquisite grace, and quickly left the store. I watched her pull away and silently prayed that she had received a tetanus shot recently and would otherwise be okay.
When I walked back into the store, my boss stared back at me, still silent. His bloated face shined redder than his hair, and then he burst into laughter. He laughed so hard he cried; it didn’t seem to matter that he had exposed himself to considerable liability, or that another inch would have cost her an eye. He did, however, manage to move the spindle underneath the counter.
To the lady with the spindle in her face, I hope you were okay. The fact that you were so kind and sweet made your wound nearly as painful for me; I wished there was more I could have done to help you. I have to admit, though, that had you been the type of customer I was used to dealing with in that store, I likely would have laughed even harder than he.