Monday, October 02, 2006

The Genial Drunk

Alas poor Robbo... I intended to follow that opening with an observation to the effect that you aren't as old as you look. But then I realised how baseless such an assertion would be, and furthermore that in view of what I have to report tonight actually conceivably implausible.

Underage operators are a nightmare and I prefer to avoid them if at all possible in the evenings when we've no dedicated supervisor and trainload after trainload of commuters returning from London wanting a meal they can microwave and the cheapest 6 pack on the shelves. The problem with the Kiddies is that they can't be relied upon to do anything else.

So S**** is a godsend. She's perfectly content to sit on a chair at a checkout and basically do nothing unless a customer happens to need her to put shopping through the till. She won't let you know her till box is running low on change, or her till-roll supply is running short, or she's about to offer a needy customer her very last carry-bag. It won't occur to her to let you know about the ice-cream at the check out that someone decided they didn't want after all, until it has begun to run everywhere when she'll ask for a shop floor assistant to come and clean the mess up.

But she also has admirable qualities and these do frankly include her willingness to sit there, and sit there, and sit there right up to closing time.

She's 18 and the sweetest kid imaginable. She's also lovely looking; her hair is a gentle shade of red, her complexion is flawlessly rosy, she has a lovely shape to face, eyes, nose and lips. Between that and her lovely nature it is surprising she doesn't have a larger court.

Tonight when I was shifting the staff around she asked for a word and I took her to one side, expecting her to tell me she would be leaving. Instead she told me that last Thursday (when we were both working) she was accosted by a notorious town drunk who'd made her feel uncomfortable with what he said, how he looked at her, the extent to which he invaded her body space and finally by stroking her hair.

Mentally I processed this as: (a) she's 18, inexperienced and unassertive, (b) she's 18, inexperienced and unassertive, (c) he's always drunk, (d) when I next see his scrawny arse I'm going to kick it back to the gutter.

I laid out the options for her and let her consider them, hoping to guide her toward a middle path between one extreme which would have been back on the tills and put up with it and the other which would have been summon the law right now.

Robbo is a drunk. A rich, geriatric drunk who's railing against fate that has left him loaded and lonely. Some shred of what he once was struggles against dealing with the loneliness by drinking himself into a state of oblivion. Instead he drinks enough to loosen the constraints and then he sets about doing what he considers making himself the life and soul of the party but which most other people regard as being obnoxious.

Recently he's taken to entering the store in the early evening when we're extremely busy riding his mobility scooter and with his 'ghetto blaster' or 'boom box' or what ever we're supposed to call it this week thumping out something he thinks will endear him to the Kiddies.

The trouble is he doesn't just want to be friends though he's believed to be essentially harmless and that's why he was cut so much slack last night.* As S and I continued to talk it emerged that he'd asked her out, repeatedly and increasingly agressively; he wouldn't take no for an answer, even when S pointed out that she has a long term boyfriend and is far to young for him.

Two things kept recurring to me; firstly he's pretty much fried his brain with alcohol over the year (and lost a proper sense of proportion) and therefore, secondly, he isn't actually causing this distress deliberately. Nevertheless in terms of impact on S his behaviour constitutes harassment and border-like stalking.

As S was telling me I was keeping one eye on the tv screens and even as she reached her peroration he ambled into the store. He stood for a full 15 mintues by the entrance talking to the one remaining operator. He looked for all the world like a man killing time and the operator later confirmed he seemed most interested on where S might approach from. His brain might be largely fried but what remains is perfectly capable of retaining an imprint of S's shift.

Eventually he shuffled off and I told S she had to make some decisions. She also needed to remember that she was under no obligation to serve anyone she chose to 'black ball' and that I would keep a very close watch on her. Before we could get her on a check out the coven decended. A hard core of the evening staff are middle aged women and collectively they'd decided that S should do anything she wanted but no work the lane.

I got the other half of the evening management shift to take Robbo to one side - he went round to the other side and bewailed fate in a "I dunno what I dun to d'serve this" way (God knows what she actually said to him) and got everyone else back to work.

I still had it in the back of my mind that the guy's probably 70 but then someone pointed out he lives with his ailing mother-in-law. Now if his mother in law's alive, and looks old enough to be his wife then possibly he's not as old as he looks, and he looks as old as he does due to the effect of all the booze. Also what's to say he isn't as old as his mother in law, but that his ex or late wife is/was a lot younger than him.

Unfortunately that led me to wonder just what he has a taste for and how serious he might have been in his pursuit of S, and furthermore to question exactly why he spends so much time in the company of the town's youth.

Needless to say I didn't share any of this with S and the rest of the night passed off without incident.

In an ideal world S would now understand several things she barely knew of before. The first of these is that she works with a team that will actually rally round when it really is needed, and I think she got that. Whether she understood equally clearly that she has certain rights that she's entitled to exercise independently and in her own name I doubt.

I'd love to send her on an assertiveness training course before she's trampled underfoot by life in general. I've never met her boyfriend and I really hope he's a very decent guy because if he isn't she's in for hell and without any fire fighting equipment.

I suppose on the plus side dealing with the side effects of a visit from a genial drunk beats the hell out of dealing with an abusive shop 'lifter'.

*This passage has been subject to a certain amount of quite important redrafting since I first posted this story.


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