Spells Trouble

By Craig J. Clark

Roger didn’t like spending much time out on the floor. That was because there were customers out there and they always had questions for him, most of them inane. Still, he had to make the occasional sweep of the floor to keep his clerks on their toes.

While he was finishing one such sweep, a middle-aged woman caught him as he was on his way back to the employee’s only area. From her dazed look, it was clear that had never so much as set foot in a record store before this moment.

“Do you work here, young man?”

Roger gritted his teeth, but he was used to being patronized.

“Can I help you find anything?”

“A few things, actually.” She brandished a detailed shopping list. “I was wondering if you could look a few artists up.”

“Sure thing.” Roger moved over to a terminal and the woman followed. “What’s the name?”

“It’s Barry Manilow. Let me spell that for you. It’s like ‘manitou,’ only with the ‘tou’ and with a ‘low.’”

“Thank you. Was there anything in particular you were looking for by him?”

”Oh, dear. Does he have a lot?”

“Yeah, kinda.”

The woman sucked her teeth and shook her head.

“I wouldn’t know where to start. Maybe we should come back to that one. What about Neil Diamond? Let me spell that for you.”

Roger, who had already started typing the name, froze. This had to be a put-on.

“Let’s see, it’s ‘Di’ as in Princess Di, ‘am’ as the morning only without the dots, ‘on’ as in the word ‘on’ and ‘d’ as in Di again, only without the ‘i.’”

“I see. And how do you spell ‘Neil’?”

“Oh, my! Let me see.” She held the list very close to her face. “Are you ready?”

“Like Freddy.”

“It’s Neil, but not kneel like what you do in church. It’s N-E, but not the word ‘any,’ and I-L, but not the word ‘aisle.’ Got it?”

“Got it.”

Roger wondered how long he could keep his sarcasm in check.

“It appears that Mr. Diamond has had quite a career himself.”

“Oh, golly. Maybe I should pick somebody more recent.”

“It’s worth a shot. Who are you shopping for, by the way? That is, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Oh, not at all! This is for my nephew. He likes music, so I thought I’d get him some.”

“I see.” Roger thought about asking where she got her list, but decided it wasn’t worth knowing. “What have you got?”

“What about Britney Spears? I’ll do both names. It starts out ‘Brick’ as in a brick wall, only without the ‘ck,’ then the postal abbreviation for Tennessee. I would say the symbol for tin on the periodic table of elements, but that’s actually ‘Sn’ for some reason. Anything, that’s followed by ‘hey’ without the ‘h’ – and that’s ‘hey’ as in not what horses eat. Are you ready for the last name?”

“Hit me.”

“Okay, ‘Spears’ is like ‘speakers,’ only without the ‘ke’ in the middle.”

Roger blinked. It took him a few moments to realize she had finished.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was expecting you to hold up a picture of a bear with ‘minus B’ written next to it or something.”

“Oh, no. There’s no reason to make things so complicated.”


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I would love to read a sequel where the lady comes back and asks about Engelbert Humperdinck.

The Barry Manilow bit was extra-funny unto me as I have loved mispronouncing his name since childhood, probably as a cheap tool to deny the fact that I kind of do like the song Mandy.

I escaped the retail abyss in 1999 (just in time to party).

You seem to have a knack for capturing the clerking experience, Craig. Moments like these help make the life of a counter jockey a bit more entertaining if said register dude/tte is of the proper mindset. Too many young and often underpaid customer satisfaction specialists tend toward a more overt brand of rudeness in contrast to Roger's sly and ironic condescension. The latter leaves one with a self-satisfied feeling whereas the former only seems to engender bitterness in both parties. I have a friend who so deftly talked down to customers that he could basically tell them that they were complete morons and they'd walk away smiling and giddy. It was a true superpower.

I like this one alot. I think that lady's head might have exploded had Prince, when he was just the symbol, been on that list.

This may not have been your intention, but I liken this instance to people who say things in a roundabout way, instead of getting to the point.

This lady on a crisis hotline would make for a funny skit, trying to describe how to apply a tournaquet and the like.

"This may not have been your intention, but I liken this instance to people who say things in a roundabout way, instead of getting to the point."

That was part of what I was going for, but mostly it's about people who go out of their way to make things more complicated than they need to be. Sadly, there are times when I'm one of those people, usually when I'm trying to make plans with a group of people. My curse is that I can foresee all the options and end up trying to factor them all in instead of just making one plan and then adjusting if a contingency crops up.


When I worked a transcriptionist, typing up the names and addresses of people who called into customer hotlines and left messages to be called back, I found that the people most likely to painstakingly spell out their names letter by letter in the "__ as in ___" format were the people with the simplest monikers. After a while, you just knew the simpler a person's name was the MORE likely he/she was to spell it out, letter by agonizing letter. What was especially frustrating was when a person couldn't immediately think of a word which started with that letter, and you could all but hear the rusty gears turning in the person's addled, cobwebbed brain. I especially cherished hearing a customer say, "I as in eyeglasses." First, you'll notice that there is no I in the word eyeglasses, and secondly, it's "I as in igloo." IGLOO, DO YOU HEAR ME, IGLOO?!?

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This page contains a single entry by Craig J. Clark published on July 24, 2007 6:44 PM.

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