Crow's-Feet Chronicles: Hello? Anybody there?
By Cindy Baker Burnett
Jan 15, 2018
Print this page
Email this article

I remember when sales clerks were in numbers too great to count. They swarmed about from the moment you entered their territory to the moment you moved on. At times they were pesky and you wanted to spray them with something, but the upside is they were there when you needed them.

Everyone thought the American salesperson would last forever. She knew where the other sizes were buried and the assortment of colors in the back room. She would special order for you, process returns, and discreetly open the dressing room door half an inch and slide another garment inside.

Then the salespersons turned into the hunted and shoppers became the predators. To find one was nothing short of bagging a trophy. I’ve wandered up and down the aisles staring at breasts in search of a name tag. I once went up to a young man and asked, “Are you in bras?” and he said indignantly, “I beg your pardon.”

As their numbers decreased, their security increased. They would put you in a dressing room and lock the door. I had a recurring nightmare that someday they would forget I was behind the door, everyone would go home, and I would be sentenced to twelve hours of staring at my cellulite.

What brought the extinction of the salesperson? Technology. A microchip could talk to us on elevators, and machines could serve us beverages and sandwiches. We could paw through the merchandise ourselves, and if someone was tempted to take it without paying for it, you could have an ugly piece of plastic that set off an alarm and dangle from the hemline for the rest of your life. We began stripping in public. We were talking to ourselves.

Salespersons weren’t the only ones to disappear from the workforce. Human bank tellers were replaced by drive-up machines that spewed out money as you stood there. We could pump our own gas and check out our own library books. Factory workers diminished.

If Dustin Hoffman was pulled aside on his graduation day and given one word for success, it wouldn’t be “plastics,” it would be “funeral director.” I know it doesn’t translate to a cute license plate, but that is the hottest job going now. According to government projections, the number of deaths will reach 3.1 million in 2025.

I would advise my grandchildren to consider pizza delivery. Americans will always be too lazy to go for their own pizza. Of this I am confident.

We’re getting so crazy. I called my friend the other day, put down the phone to turn off something on the stove, and when I returned I started to tell her about a woman who ordered thousands of dollars in catalog stuff so she could see her FedEx man. Before I could take a breath, I realized I had been talking to her answering machine for 25 minutes.

Every day in our society another of the human species ends up on the endangered list. But it’s the salesperson I miss the most. One day there will be a monument to her, with a plastic ID covering her chest, sturdy shoes, and keys to the showcase around her waist. A small plaque will identify her and contain four little words that will ring unfamiliar to most gazers:

 “May I help you?”