CENTRAL NEW YORK — I was wheeling my return cart into the heating aisle today, looking to unload bird guards, when a man suddenly appeared out of nowhere. He displayed the classic wearied-irritated expressions and arm movements common to our shoppers. He wanted to know where the vents were for the bathroom, you know, the dryer.
I paused, because he wasn’t making himself clear whether he was really looking for venting for a bathroom or venting for a dryer. He was highly fidgety and irritated that I wasn’t following him, and he became sarcastic. “Jesus,” he said, “Um, you know, the bathroom fan.”
I said, “Oh, the bathroom fans? They’re over here.” I walked away from the heating aisle, proceeded down a few more aisles, and pointed to the display of faucets. I told him they were on the opposite side of the display. He said, okay, and then left.
I returned to the heating aisle.
A few minutes later, the man came race-walking up to me and, with a very serious expression on his face, said, “You’re a liar. You lied to me. There are no bath fan vents over there.”
I said, “You told me you wanted a bath fan, that’s where the bath fans are.”
He said, “No, I didn’t.”
I said, “Yes, you did — I wouldn’t have sent you over there if you hadn’t said that.”
He changed the subject.
The man was almost jumping out of his clothing, running around, picking up things, putting them back in the wrong spots. He said, “I need, I need, I need a, you know, a Wye vent, you got a Wye vent, and what about the venting, too, do you have the white kind or just this here metal kind, because what I want to do, you know, is to hook it up, you know, oh, here’s the white, like this here, this here picture, and I need the Wye vent, do you have that, because the Wye vent is needed for me to move it the way I want. Do you have a Wye vent?”
I was looking for the Wye vent while he was going through the entire talk. I found vent elbows and vent tees, but no Wye vents. I still kept looking because I thought I saw them a week ago.
He was about ten feet away from me, searching in the dryer vent area, picking up vent couplers and reducers. He moved into the shelf area then darted back to his cart, often holding the same item in his hand without putting it back on the shelf or in his cart. He was rocking, really. It was in this state of movement that he suddenly began a stream of talk that consisted entirely of the phrase, “Wye vent. You know, a Wye vent.” This lasted a good fifteen to twenty seconds. In the middle of it, I thought there might be something wrong with him, like his synapses were stuck.
During my searching and his weaving, my store manager called, telling me to come to the kitchen and bath display area, so he could show me how to special order a faucet. I told the man that I couldn’t find a Wye vent, and that I was needed elsewhere. I asked if he was all set with everything before I left the aisle.
He said, “Really, you don’t have a Wye vent? What about a tee, you got a tee?”
I said, yes, that we did have tees, and asked whether he wanted a three- or a four-inch one. He chose the three-inch. As I was getting the three-inch tee for him, my phone rang again. It was from the woman from Returns — she wanted to let me know that my return cart was full. I said, okay, and hung up. I handed the tee to the man, and again asked if he was all set.
He started to make some incomprehensible sounds, sounds that still somehow told me he needed me. I had given up getting to the kitchen and bath area for the lesson in special ordering faucets. As I waited for him to say something, the phone rang again. It was a local call. The man wanted to find out about hot water heaters, how much they were. I told the man in the heating aisle that I would be back and walked over to the hot water heater area. I gave the man on the phone the information he needed. I answered a few more questions from customers in the same aisle and then became sidetracked by a woman who needed a peephole for her door. I walked down to the Doors aisle first, where an associate told me they were in Hardware. Then the woman and I walked back to Hardware, and started looking for peepholes. I couldn’t find them, so I called an associate in Hardware to help me. He came over and pointed to where they were.
It was now about fifteen to twenty minutes since I had last talked with the Wye vent man in the heating aisle. I felt relieved that I wasn’t dealing with him anymore, because I was getting nervous around him. I decided not to return to the heating aisle for at least another half hour. By then, I figured, he would be gone.
As I was walking down the plumbing aisle, which is my home area, I saw the man talking with another associate. As I came closer, I saw the bewildered look on the face of the associate and the wide-eyed look of the bath fan vent man. He was asking the associate if we had any Wye vents.
Two hours later I found a three-inch tee vent in my return cart.