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"May I help you?" He said.

Updated on October 2, 2014

Fitting the description

I am now nearing sixty years of age. Twenty three of those years I worked as a Police Officer in the concrete jungle of a major metropolitan city. I have been retired nearly as long. Yet, there is one stigma that I cannot shake. Everywhere I go, inside any store, I am constantly approached by store personnel looking to help me.

Of course, I know the reason. After all, I trained similar sales personnel for years as an expert in crime prevention for corporate entities. Sales personnel follow people that they suspect may be a shoplifter. The object of the introductory encounter is to let the person know that you are aware of his/her presence and you are watching. The reason this tactic is employed is usually due to a societal interpretation on manners of appearance. The apparent indecision, looking over materials of various means and the tendency to loiter is automatically a signal that the subject is "probably up to no good" in the minds of most store managers.

Since I am constantly approached; I have acquired the habit of carrying my old badge and identification card. The question is: "Why is a former Police Officer being followed or treated badly?" I have made the following conclusions based on experience:

1. It may be my habit of wearing an old jean jacket. A jean jacket is some sort of signal to an average sales representative who probably watched too many "Billy Jack" movies, that I am a rebellious hippie left over from the sixties, who probably rides a motorcycle and creates chaos everywhere he visits.

2. The curse of the unshaven. As a retired man, I sometimes forget that I need a shave. In this land, you must shave every morning to demonstrate that you are sane. A few days growth is automatically interpreted by sales personnel that you are John Dillinger coming to rob the place.

3. "Franken-shoe": A term I invented to describe the attitude of some restaurant hosts that examine your appearance from head to toe and automatically assume you don't have money if you are not wearing fashionable shoes or clothing.

4. The Bagman rule. If you carry a bag inside a store, no matter how small, you will be followed in expectation that you are going to slip an elephant inside your bag and attempt to leave through the front door.

5. The Island of Misfit Shoppers- If you take too much time making a decision over an item, you will be directed to a kiosk of helpful sales representatives who have some experience in social work. They will try to whirlwind your sale through normal delays to get you out of the store as fast as possible, because you are obviously a misfit that don't know what they want.

6. The Freaks and Geeks table! I have always interpreted this as the restaurant version of "The Island of Dr. Moreau". This is always near the kitchen, and hidden from the view of other customers in general. It is usually reserved for undesirables whose appearance is not what the restaurant is trying to show as their public image. You will never be seated by a window. You can never relax due to noises and doors constantly opening and closing, with the added appeal of a lack of attention by your waiter/waitress who serves only the minimum, and hands you a check before you can request a dessert menu.

7."Brute-beard". Don't you dare grow a beard! If you do, merchants who have known you for twenty years will pretend you are a new customer and potential robber. I went to my regular pizza joint where I had a pizza actually named after me because it was an off the menu item. When I came in with my full beard, the owner became frightened and asked me to pay for the pizza in full immediately, obviously in anticipation that I would run away when it was finished otherwise.

In light of this constant treatment, I decided to conduct an experiment. I wore a suit to various places that normally harassed me. I concluded that I must have been wearing camoflauge! They could not detect my movements for some reason, and I was allowed to loiter over items. There was not one: "May I help you?" addressed to my personage despite forty minutes of lingering in hidden aisles. I deliberately made noise. I dropped things on the floor and did everything I could to appear like a helpless person who was unsure of what they wanted. No luck! I checked out at the register and was given a smile by the female cashier. In this, the lesson to be learned is that old expression: "The clothes make the man".

I can tell you many tales of security personnel that unintentionally aided criminals in removing stock from stores due to the suave nature of the thief and the fact that he "fit in" with the general appearance of other employees. This however, is a matter for a follow-up article, because the laugh value you will receive from the stupidity of the mindset toward overall appearances, will make your sides hurt from laughing too hard. So, when shopping, remember, wear a suit and walk like you own the world. This will be interpreted by sales people as a signal that you don't need any help.


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