Air

MELVIN DURAI'S AMUZING LIFE
SMILING AT EVERYONE CAN BE RISKY

     You have to feel bad for people with tough jobs.

     Some exert themselves so much, even their teeth start to sweat. Some get themselves so dirty, even their dogs run away. And some have to tell so many lies and half-truths, even the president is outraged.

     But all those people have it easy compared with the poor souls who, despite low wages and paltry benefits, are required to smile all day.

     It's easy to smile a few times a day, such as when your children make breakfast, when your dental appointment gets canceled, or when your boss calls off sick.

     But try smiling all the time, no matter your mood, no matter how crazy the person in front of you looks.

     Many workers, especially those in customer service, are expected to smile about 10,000 times a day, more than Bob Dole has smiled since he discovered Viagra.

     It's no wonder that 12 Safeway employees in Martinez, Calif., recently filed grievances over the supermarket chain's policy requiring them to smile and make eye contact with shoppers. The employees say their smiles are mistaken for flirting by some shoppers, people who obviously do not get out much.

     Yes, smiling can be risky business in today's world, where some people are so desperate for relationships, they're willing to date prisoners. They place personal ads that read: "Single white female, young, attractive and disease-free, searching for an eligible bachelor, especially one who's eligible for parole."

     Richelle Roberts, a produce clerk at Safeway, told the Associated Press that she's hit on every day by men who think she's interested in them. "Let ME decide who I am going to say hello to with a big smile," Roberts said.

     That would certainly be more spontaneous and sincere. And it would help all those clerks who have trouble acting.

     Some struggle just to remember their lines: "Thank you for shopping at K mart. Would you like fries with that?"

     Others get the words right, but make eye contact with the floor.

     I'd rather have a clerk who acts sincerely than one who does a poor job faking it.

     Under Safeway's policy, employees are also expected to anticipate customers' needs and take them to things they cannot find. This could pose some problems.

     Customer: "Excuse me, do you know where I can find a cheap motel?"

     Clerk, smiling: "Yes, sir, I can take you there. And perhaps you'd first like to buy a can of Raid?"

     To help smile-challenged clerks, a company will soon invent a special register that rings up a customer's purchase and then tickles the clerk. The bigger the purchase, the longer the tickle.

     Or perhaps a company will develop a transparent wedge that clerks can place between their lips to create permanent smiles.

     Male shopper to friend: "Hey, did you see how much that cute clerk was smiling at me? She really wants me."

     Friend: "You idiot, she's paid to smile like that. If we had all our teeth and could smile like her, we'd also have jobs. But did you see her making eye contact with me? Man, she was really checking me out."

     Male shopper: "You dope, of course she was checking you out. She works in the checkout lane."


Melvin Durai, a graduate of Towson State University and a former Baltimorean, is a humor columnist at the Chambersburg, Pa., Public Opinion.
Write to him at mdurai@mail.cvn.net or 77 N. Third St., Chambersburg, Pa. 17201.

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