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Service With A Mouthful 

Gift shop Frito breath & other atrocities

"Excuse me for eating my lunch," the saleslady said to me, while hovering behind the register over a plate of take-out, and crunching as she spoke on something that sent out the stink-bomb odor of Fritos. "Oh, sure," I answered, but I felt like saying, "Put the feed bag down and get your little Lilly-Pulitzer-print-covered ass out here to wait on me."

This was in an upscale Myers Park gift shop, the kind of place where costly doodads crowd dainty tables, and where I expect the salesperson to at least pretend that my walking in is the highlight of her day, instead of an interruption of her scheduled feeding. Actually, it wasn't an interruption, since she didn't let something as trivial as a customer keep her from grinding through those Fritos. She did eventually unglue herself from behind the register and stand, still chewing with the zeal of a zoo resident, at the head of the aisle where I was browsing, but this was probably for security reasons and only made me feel like more of an intruder.

The whole service industry is munching, and they're doing it right in my face. In no more than a week, I had several other encounters with the consuming class. Later that same day I stopped in at a doctor's office, only to be greeted with hand motions by a receptionist struck mute by a mouth so full that one side bulged out like that of an animal stocking up for the winter. She nipped into the back and returned with even more provisions, a big hunk of something brown, and snuggled down happily with it in front of the computer. This lady was no more likely than the other one to let my presence get between her and her goodie.

When I walked into an optician's, the woman at the front desk had jaws working away like no gum ever required. Seeing me, she slumped down behind the desk, still obviously chewing. Another person waited on me, and at one point indicated the eating woman as someone who could help me on future visits. I turned to smile at her, but she just slid her eyes away and kept pumping those cheeks, as if I was violating her private time with whatever she was gobbling.

The feasting didn't end there. The moment she finally swallowed she snagged the bowl of assorted candy sitting on the desk and started brazenly unwrapping pieces and popping them into her mouth. Maybe she wanted to be seen publicly chomping, maybe it was some kind of personal statement for her, but it struck me as unsavory for so much salivating to be going on among the eyeglass cleaners and sample frames.

Just when I was starting to feel like every place I went to was staffed by gluttons, I dropped by the drugstore and encountered a pharmacy clerk (boy, they get the trolls in that position, don't they?) who was just a-pullin' from a big ol' bottle of orange soda, and, honey, she wasn't about to put it down for me. She took another defiant swig just as I stepped up to the counter, as if to make it clear that she didn't care whether I, a mere customer, saw her or not.

Note to all salespeople, wait people, and front-desk personnel: I don't want to witness your consumption any more than I want to witness your elimination, and I find both almost equally distasteful. While acknowledging you as fellow human beings, I basically don't want to have to think about you apart from your function to wait on me, and seeing you swallow and swill forces me to do so.

Back when I was a clerk in a department store, we wouldn't have dared to so much as chew gum on the sales floor, let alone entire meals. OK, I did occasionally have a little mixed drink going on the side while waiting tables, but hey, that was alcohol, which is different -- I was discreet, and I needed something to be able to stand watching all those masticating customers.

Maybe the workday in America has become one long noshing session because of our urge to always have something in our mouths, and our loss of cigarettes as a workplace option other than to be consumed outside by the dumpsters. Maybe it's too bad that smoking can't rise again from ashtrays set out on desks and discreetly behind registers, like it used to, since at least it doesn't leave artificially colored gunk between greeters' teeth.

There needs to be that pane of separation between the serving and the served, and anything too graphic happening on the part of the former breaks it. Recently in Petsmart, the girl ringing me up was crying, actual tears splashing down from her rabbit-red eyes as she scanned my rawhide bones. My first thought was that maybe she'd lost a pet, so they let her sob on the job, since it was Petsmart. My second, stronger thought was that I really didn't want to know.

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