A Nut in the Cutlery Store

Many people ask me, "What was it like working in a knife store?" Good question. I had a lot of fun, and the clientele at such places is... well, to be honest odd. The majority of people are just lookers, our store was a museum of curios to them. The most commonly said things were: "But Punkie, did you ever get anyone really weird in your store?" you ask.

Ohhh yes.

They were rare, but we got them. Once you get past the guys pretending to be Navy Seals, filter out the gun nuts, and shake out the anal-retentive gourmet chefs, you had a few gems. One lady always comes to mind:

It was 5:00pm, on a Thursday. My boss Chuck (Army Ranger Qualified) and our part timer Joe (still in High School) were spending the evening shift together, as was often the case. Joe was preparing for the next night's rush by wiping all the fingerprints from the blades, and Chuck was making sure all the floor stock was out and neat looking. All was normal.

Joe was cleaning a knife when he noticed a lady on the bench outside. She was dressed rather oddly in torn jeans, and half a blouse sticking out from her waistband. She was talking to herself. Rather loudly. A small child came up to the lady, and said something like, "Hi, I am free years old." The woman's uncommon response was, "SHADDAP!!!" followed by growling and barking noises.

"Please don't let this lady come into the store, please don't let this lady come into the store..." Joe whispered to himself.

She came into the store.

She rushed up to Joe behind the counter, head tilted, and snarled, "Do you have anything REAL SHARP????"

Joe turned pale. Chuck, assessing the situation professionally, said to Joe, "I'll handle this..." and he did. He managed to sell the woman only a small pocketknife, which she paid by check. Now, we had this Telecheck service that would approve checks, but if the check amount was under $100, we were told to just accept them with the proper ID without running them through the ZON terminal. After the woman left, Chuck looked at the check and thought, "Yeah, this'll clear..." with an edge in his voice that suggested when hell froze over. But Telecheck insured us, and both Chuck and Joe assumed that they had rid themselves of the woman.

But the evening wasn't over.

Around 8:00pm, about an hour and a half before close time, the woman rushed into the store again.

"Some bitch stole my knife!!!" she screamed. This time, she wanted the Limited Edition, pearl-handled, hand-made German Boker Hunting Knife. This fine piece was fully functional, but was obviously made more as a presentation piece. The hilt was made of fine mother-of-pearl, and the bolster had a signed edition number (like #233 out of 5000 made). It came in its own pine box, hand painted with the maker's logo, and lay in a soft pillow of dark green velvet. It was $350. She also wanted one of our Mag-lites, a rather pricey flashlight made from cast aluminum.

Since this purchase was over $100, and yes, she paid by check, Chuck ran it through the Zon. While this was going on, the lady was explaining to Joe some of her current problems:

"My doctor is trying to make me crazy. He gives me this medicine, but I don't take it. I can't take it. I am the daughter of Satan, and all my dark minions from the netherworld will come down upon the sinners and burn them all! All of them. Ha ha ha hahaheheheheeee!"

Or something like that. Joe did say that she was obsessed with her doctor and mentioned more than once that she was the Daughter of Satan. Name dropper.

Anyway, as you might have guessed three paragraphs back, the check was declined. It was actually declined at a rather high security code, suggesting that this woman was wanted for fraud or something. Not surprising, since I guess you don't have to be accountable for your finances when you are the daughter of Satan.

Chuck mentioned to the lady, "I am sorry, ma'am, but your check has been declined. We do accept cash or credit c-" but Chuck did not get to finish the sentence, because the woman wadded up her check, and threw it in Chuck's face.

Chuck just said, "Well, now, ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to leave-" but he was interrupted again by the woman. With one long sweeping motion, she cleared the entire counter with her arms, knocking tons of impulse items, small displays, and her attempted purchase to the floor. The limited edition knife spun from the counter, and the pearl handle and the box broke on impact with the floor. Then she made a dive for the knife.

Chuck was a ranger-qualified paratrooper, and had been trained in hand-to-hand combat. He wasted no time, and in one leap, jumped over the counter and grabbed the woman. The woman was just inches away from grabbing the knife, and as Chuck held her back, he screamed to Joe, "Call security!"

But Joe had already dialed the security number, and in a panic-stricken voice, he hastily told the officer at the other end of the line that a crazy madwoman was running amok in the knife store. While this was going on, the woman was giving off Godzilla-like shrieks, attempting to claw at Chuck. Finally, Chuck gave her a kidney punch that floored her. The woman sat in a cross-legged position, and at the top of her lungs sang (no lie) the theme song for the Mounds Candy bar. You know, the one that goes, "Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't!" along with a jeering chant that said, "I'm the daughter of Satan! I'm the daughter of Satan!" over and over.

Mall security, after hearing the knife store had a problem, were at our door in no time at all. A large crowd had gathered, and while one of the guards called for county police backup, the other tried to get a story from Chuck. When Chuck was halfway through the story, the woman started shouting "He's a dirty liar! All men are dirty liars!!!"

The guard, after about three interruptions of this, finally stopped and said to the lady, "Look, I am going to get his story first, and then I'll get your story!"

But the lady jumped up and started shadowboxing the guard. The guard, in a mark of unprofessionalism that would show up in court later, said in a voice dripping with amused sarcasm, "Okay, lady... take your best shot."

BAMM!! She did! With a lightning-fast blow, she sucker-punched the guard right square in the face, and blood started pouring from his mouth. The other guard grabbed the lady, and in one Judo-like move, slammed her to the floor. Now, our store was on the ground floor. Under our thin carpeting was concrete. But she was thrown to the floor so fast and hard, that everyone felt her hitting the floor, even outside the store, with a solid WHUMP! The blow knocked the breath out of her, and when the police arrived, they handcuffed her, read her the rights, and hauled her off. Then the ambulance people took the guard to the hospital where I heard he had to have his lower lip and gums stitched up.

Well, everyone cleaned up, and a month later there was the court date. The lady was under her medication at the time, and she heavily apologized for the incident. She actually paid us, in cash, for the damages (which included the first check purchase, w hich also bounced). Our company then dropped the charges, but the mall did not, and carried through with aggravated assault. I'm not sure how the case ended, but at least the former daughter of Satan got her medicine.

In our Baltimore Harbor store, a man came in and bought one of our cheesy $200 katanas (like a Samurai sword, but this was more of a wall replica than an actual sword). The district manager, who always told this story, added her that the man paid in cash , which was important. The sales girl asked him if he wanted her to hold the sword until he was done with his Christmas shopping, but the man simply replied, "No," and then ran himself through with the sword sepukku style.

Now, contrary to what you might think, this man did not die on the spot. In fact, he fell to the ground on his knees, and then just knelt there, waiting to die. Which he didn't. In fact, when the ambulance arrived, he was still conscious, and apologetic since he was under the impression the death would be quick. The EMT's cut off the tip and the hilt of the blade, and there wasn't much blood at all. Afterwards, we found out this man, despite running 36 inches of cheap steel through his body, missed every vital organ and was released a few days later. The man later wrote a letter to the company, apologizing for what he had done, and explain he had been very depressed because his girlfriend left him.

These two incidences alone are support enough for mental health programs.

Then there were the people who were crazy and harmless. I once had a customer who wanted a knife "to stab deer." No, not a gutting knife, he wanted to chase deer and stab them, since his parole forbid him to carry a firearm. I had a 19-year old kid try and convince me he was a government assassin, and I should give him the assassin discount. I had a 16-year old customer, who with the permission of her mother, collected some of our most expensive handmade pieces, some ranging up to $1000. I'd sure hate to be the boyfriend that crosses her! She was a sweetie, though. I also met some of the most famous chefs of Washington DC, who purchased our fine drop-forged blades.

One chef owned two restaurants, and was the head chef at a third. He was this short, hyperactive Asian man who always dressed well, but had a bouncy, bubbly personality. He would bring in his apprentices, and show them what knives to buy and why. He was one of the few customers I let behind the counter, because this guy knew his stuff. The days he came in were like a show. He never hid is true feelings, either, since he often referred to his assistants as "The Bumbling Student Masses."

Then there was John. Judo John, as he called himself. This sprightly German man was 60 years young, and apparently a Judo champ. He'd come in, show us pictures of his latest meets, and brag (humbly) about his medals and belts. We had this one full timer, named Ed, who didn't believe a man of this age could flip a guy. Ed was our resident cynic, and while smart to the word in many ways, in others he needed lessons. He once dared this guy to flip him, and the guy said, "Only if you rush me." So Ed did, and in a move that was so fast, I didn't even see it, Ed was suspended inches from the floor on his back. The man simply said, "I didn't want to hurt you, but let me show you how vulnerable that move was to being attacked." Ed needed no further convincing.

Ed was also famous for gassing himself. We sold CS Canister tear gas in a tiny pump spray for like $12.95 as a self-protective device. The little black canister was covered with warning labels. This was not pepper spray; soap would not remove it. This was as close to the real thing as you could legally sell. Ed wanted to see if it stung the skin. As his supervisor, I told him not to. He did it anyway, and sprayed it into one of his hands. "This doesn't sting," he said. What he (and I) didn't know was that one of CS's properties was that it traveled in a thick cloud. It took about five seconds for the cloud to hit Ed's face. Then it burned. In a reflex action, he put his hands to his face. Yep, the one with the Gas. "AAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!" he screamed, running for the bathroom. "Ha ha ha! I told you," I taunted. What a maroon! "Now you see why--ah, FUCK!" The gas hit me. It must have been heavily diluted when the cloud hit my face, but it burned all the same, and my nose and eyes started running out of control. I had to sit down for a few minutes before I could see. Ed fared far worse, his whole face swelled up like a puffy peach, and he had to go home. Poor Ed.

I had two managers. One of them was a guy named Chuck, who as I mentioned earlier was a Ranger-qualified paratrooper. After Desert Shield looked likely, he went back to school to avoid getting drafted. He was replaced by Tina, a spritely middle-aged woman with many children, and a mouth like a sailor. Tina had problems sometimes convincing men-folk that she knew anything about knives, not because she wasn't knowledgable, but for the simple fact she was female. We also had a district manager named Pat, who I last heard in now Vice President of the company. The end of my career there was just as interesting as the beginning. I don't live in a world where many people play practical jokes. I love hearing about them, reading about them, but I have not pulled off many of my own, and haven't had many pulled on me. The last elaborate practical joke played was at the end of the my cutlery-selling carrer, and the repercussions were stronger than I had ever imagined. Towards the end of this wonderful job, we had this manager at another store named Steve. Steve was a nice enough guy, but he wasn't very bright (his most famous moment occurred when he demanded to become a manager and be paid $13,000 a year. They were going to pay him $17K, but... oh well, sure! they thought), and had a slight problem with arrogance. One of his assistants was a good friend of mine named Beth, and she was "amused" at times with her boss. She one day wished aloud to me that someone could prove how gullible he really was, and put him in his place. I probably wouldn't have taken the challenge, but a friend of mine and his brother came in from Texas. This friend's name is Neal, and he'd been my best friend since grammar school (and still pretty much is), and taught me a lot about humor and self-respect. We had been talking about jokes on the subway, and a plan that I had in mind earlier came to light. We were going to be near Steve's store, and I thought it might be a funny idea to send in Neal to ask for an impossible product. Then we'd send in his brother Glen. Then I would come in, and see if Steve had fallen for it. Simple, yet I had no idea how Beth's description of her boss was not an exaggeration.

The product that I made up was a Heinkel's Knife Serrator. For those of you not in the knife industry know how, the gist of this gullibility test was that:

  1. Serrated knives (like Ginsu and the like) are looked down on in the knife industry as cheap pieces of poorly manufactured crap. The only reason they work is that they saw instead of cut, but they can never be re-sharpened, and are commonly made by companies who are fly-by-night.
  2. Heinkels is a very well known, 350 year old German Knife Forger. They make knives for professional chefs all over the world. Heinkels is the Rolls Royce of cutlery.
  3. Electric Knife sharpeners are to your fine knife what Jiffy-Lube is to your Ferrari.
So in effect, it would like be asking a Lamborghini dealer if he could replace the engine with the one of a Ford Festiva. So in went Neal, and asked for this impossible product. He was laughed at. Then Neal added a part about the store name in an ad in the Washington Post (our company had been having an advertising blitz in the Post at that time). Steve still said no, Neal must be mistaken. Neal left, and told me how Steve reacted. Then we sent Glen in. Glen, a master bullshit artist, came in and hammed it up. As I recall, he added things like, "I didn't bring in the coupon, can I still get a discount?" Both Steve and Beth were amazed (I felt bad, because I wasn't able to tell Beth about the joke beforehand). Two people came in and asked about the serrator. Then I came in. Steve knew me, but before he could talk to me I said, "I just came from Springfield, and we're out of the serrators. The distributor only gave us three, and we sold them an hour after the store opened. Does your store have extras? Someone should have warned us there were coupons!" Steve fell for it hook, line, and sinker. "Oh my God, there really is one? How come I didn't get any?" He then became very upset that his store was always the last to know anything. Then I said, "Well, then I should tell you you've been had" He laughed, Beth laughed, and I thought it was over. I should have thought different. Beth later told me that Steve was furious, he took it so personally, that he couldn't stop talking about what a jerk I was. Now honestly, I didn't want to up set him that badly. I told his manager (who was also my manager) to tell him I was sorry, which she did and she said he accepted my apology.

I forgot about the affair, but Steve didn't, and he took advantage of a situation to get me back. I only wish he had thought of this instead of another guy, because it was brilliant. Months later, I had to sub for him at his store. I was working with Beth at the time, and we had a busy lunchtime crowd. I was with a customer (a browser), and suddenly, this guy came in. He looked like a homeless guy with a face very similar to Charles Manson. Now, this store was in an underground shopping mall, actually, an underground community, so seeing homeless people wander downstairs to us was not unusual. Especially since we were right next to the subway entrance. Usually these people would wander about, barking to themselves, but never really did any harm. This guy was different. He came right up to the counter, and demanded the largest knife we had. I swear to God, this guy looked like Charles Manson, except scarier. He was a six-foot tall man, dressed in a large floppy coat with a lot of pockets, and a wooly hat stretched over his wild hair. He fingered a 13-inch chef's knife, and said he wanted to buy it. He scared everyone out of the store, with the exception of Beth, who decided to be elsewhere. I told the guy the knife was $207, and the guy, believe it or not, had it in cash. He pulled a cold, greasy, crumbled five dollar bill from one shaky hand, then a ten from his wooly hat, then several ones, and a lot of silver from his assorted pockets. So much for that. How could I tell this guy, "Sorry, I don't sell knives to scary people!" Because, honestly, I was scared almost to the point on incontinence. You just had to see this guy to understand. My morals said, "Don't do it, he's insane for God's sake! If you sell him a weapon and he stabs a guy, it's on your head!" But another part of me was petrified to do anything. Where did Beth go? The guy paid for the knife, didn't even wait for his receipt, and ran off into the bathrooms. I called security right away. When security finally sauntered over an hour and three calls later, they didn't see anyone fitting that description in the mall, or the men's rooms. Lust like mall cops, completely useless. Beth was terrified to go on the subway alone. But I never saw the guy again... or so I thought.

Days later, I got a call from Arlington County police. A man had been stabbed to death outside of his apartment, and they found the murder weapon and a bag with a receipt. It had made local news because the stabbing was so brutal and no motives were known. They wanted to talk to me so I could describe the man to an officer. We arranged for a meeting later that week. No one showed. I called back, and the number was non-operational, so I called Arlington County Police, and asked to speak to the officer who was handling the case. They transferred me to his voice mail. I got a call back, but the man said he hadn't spoken to me, but if I have details, I should arrange another meeting. So we did, and after that meeting, both of us were very confused. He said I was never initially contacted, that I had the facts of the case wrong, and wanted to know who spoke to me. I told them names, and they checked out to work for the department, but not in homicide. So they sent an officer out to speak with me, but the officer they sent was the Fairfax County officer who patrolled the mall (a very friendly guy I got to know). His name was officer Boykin, and we talked about the case, and what he had been told and so on. He said not worry about it, that the whole thing was a departmental snafu, and I would most likely never hear from them again.

Wrong. The corporate office had been contacted by the police, wondering why we had sold their suspect a knife, and informed them that an investigation was on the way The company talked to me, stating that I wasn't allowed to talk to ANYONE until they gave me a lawyer! Then my manager Tina looked very alarmed said she would take care of everything, and not to mention this incident to anyone else. This was getting to be confusing. To add to the confusion, the store the man bought the knife from still had the receipt and was being very non co-operational with the authorities. Why would Steve act this way? Beth wasn't very talkative about this, and said I had been involved in a bad mistake. Bad mistake, yeah! I sold a murder weapon. Then Arlington County sent some more officers to my house, who were very pleasant, and when we got the whole thing settled, it was established that someone in their department must have contacted me in error, and that my description of the weapon I sold did not match the knife wounds and so on. I felt a lot better.

Then, an odd thing happened. I got a call from a friend of mine who worked for a huge company in the local area. He said the following, "Man, I heard that someone down in the mailroom scared the [poop] out of some dweeb in your company." He then described what had happened to me. I had been had, and in the most crafty way. When I explained the dweeb was me, he made me promise I would never tell on him. See, this guy who came to my store, his name was "Chase," and he did look like Charles Manson (I saw him a year later at a friend's wedding). This was a practical joke set up by Steve and a friend, and they did their research! But now the real police thought this was involved with a real case, the corporate office was panicking, and when it was all over, Steve was in a lot of trouble. Was Steve scared of being fired? Yes. Was he angry I had found out? Yes. But you know what? Steve was convinced I was some black-magic occult priest of some kind, and was TERRIFIED I was going to get him back. His boss told me that he turned white when she informed him that I knew about the joke (and this was before the corporate office and local lawmen knew). Why did Steve think I was some evil wizard? I never knew, but afterwards, he was so scared, he kept asking people if I was going to put a hex on him. Looking back on it, I think Beth (who was a full-fledge pagan witch) may have given Steve the opinion that if I was a friend of hers, well, I was some voodoo power not to be trifled with.

Those last few months at the knife store were pretty awful. The company was hit hard by the recession, and they started laying off people left and right. And although I liked working there, they deserved the stupid error of letting me go. Whenever I want to illustrate a story of "ye reap what ye sow," to someone, I tell them of my last days at the knife store: There was a new man in charge, an idiot with an idea. He found out how to use a spreadsheet program, and entered anything he could into it. His desk was littered with taped-together spreadsheets, and he determined, by a computer process, that he was going to lay off people in spreadsheet cell E34 or something. All our full-timers were laid off without warning. I had to tell one of my full timers he was gone, and thanks for opening the store, and sorry, he wouldn't be paid for the time he worked today. That bit of bad news still haunts my karmic soul, and I don't blame him for being pissed off. Later, they realized the mistake, since stores had varying staffs, that removing all the full-time salespeople was not exactly wise. So some of them were hired back. Most did not come back (the smart ones).

Then I was asked to train this guy named Alan. Alan was a greaseball of a man; he was short, stocky, wore crushed velour shirts and cut-off corduroys. He smelled like flea powder (I was later told it was patchoule), and his long, greasy hair hung down in thick strands, mingling with his beard. His personality was even less pleasing. What was the first thing he said to me? "I don't like you, and I don't like your kind!" What was my kind? Well, fandom, of course. How did he know me through fandom? I asked my friends. "His name is Lord Dark Silver," finally said one, "and he's wanted by Manassas City police." Apparently he was wanted for falsifying jewelry appraisals and grand theft. Fun! The day I got back, Alan made a comment that he was replacing me. He was a jerk and a half. Then I called the corporate office, and it was true, I was hiring my replacement, but that's because they were transferring me. I told them what I had found out about Alan, and in not so many words, I was laughed at. A month later, at another store, I was laid off. They disputed my unemployment claim, but the deputy in charge of my case suspected a tax evasion scheme, and quickly I got my unemployment checks. I later found out anyone making over a certain amount (which was all the top salespeople) were laid off. I got it easy. They fired one guy, claiming he stole money from the till, but had no proof (he won his case in court), and several other people were fired for relatively minor infractions. A few months after I left, Alan was caught attempting to steal large quantities of knives by making false purchase orders, and sending them to a Mailboxes Etc. address. Man, they really screwed themselves there. The staff that eventually replaced all of us were the bottom of the barrel as far as employees went. Minimum wage type of help.

I still visit those stores once in a while. The help isn't so bad anymore, maybe because they get paid more or they have a different recruitment process, but there is a certain caliber of person who works in a knife store. He is usually a he, carries a Leatherman (I opted for a Victorinox Swiss Champ myself), has facial hair, and a slight "holier-than-thou" attitude about his wares. I suppose I was like that when I worked there. I think the number one skill I learned from working there was learning how to use a butterfly knife. That was cool. I must have spent countless hours flicking one of those things around. I have one at my desk at home that used to be the demo knife (we dulled the blade after Ed cut his palm to the bone attempting a toss-twirl-catch). A Valor 520 (cheap piece of crap - no longer sold in the US). So what was it like working in a knife store for two years? Mostly boring, but then there were those days that sometimes you felt like a nut, and sometimes you didn't.

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