I got the surprise of my life when people were complaining about a DR editorial. You mean the BYH column is not the...

Have it our way, or go somewhere else


Jim Mullen


Sunday, May 19, 2019


Patty's Place is a small downtown restaurant that serves lunch from 11 to 4. The place is busy, but quick, clean and pleasant. Patty cooks everything herself, the menu is short and the regular customers love it.

Her specialty is a large wedge of crustless green-chile quiche with a side salad and a thick slice of her own bread slathered with butter. She has other items on the menu, but most people come for the quiche. It's all the regulars order.

Today, a man none of us had ever seen before walked up to her counter and asked if she had any homemade sticky buns. She said no, and then he asked, "Do you know where I can get some?"

"Yes," she said. "At your home." Did I mention that Patty is not big on happy chat?

The next customer wanted to know what she had that was gluten-free and lactose-free. "Crustless quiche, salad, fruit." Without a word, the woman turned around and walked out. The next customer wanted the quiche, but didn't want it microwaved. Patty doesn't microwave her quiche, it's fresh and warm, but regardless — you don't normally tell restaurants how to cook their food. What would Pizza Hut say if you told them "... and I'd like that pizza boiled."

I'm still puzzled why anyone would walk into a restaurant and ask for "homemade" anything. What answer was the sticky-bun guy expecting to hear?

"Why, yes we do. Even though we've never seen you before and we didn't know you were coming in today, we decided to do something different this morning and whipped up two dozen homemade sticky buns. How many do you want?"

He'd probably reply, "Oh, I don't want any. I just wanted to know if you had some."

It's like going to the Gas and Go Away and wondering why they don't have tofu hot dogs. I can just imagine what people behind the counter must hear all day.

"Where do you keep the fat-free, lactose-free milk? What? You don't have any? What kind of a gas station are you running here?"

"No Himalayan pink sea salt? I'm never coming back to this 7-Eleven!"

"No vegetarian plate? What kind of a steakhouse is this?"

"I'm never going back to that sushi place. They wouldn't make me a hamburger."

It's that old "Have It Your Way" slogan gone insane. "No pickle, no lettuce, no burger, and stand on your head while you make it." Then get all upset if they don't.

I'm sure you can find Walmart staffers who have had customers who act surprised to find they don't carry tuxedos, and clerks at auto parts stores who have been asked why they don't sell seedless grapes.

Ask anyone in retail and they'll be happy to tell you stories about difficult and wacky customers. They'll be happy to tell you about it as they knock back another stiff drink, trying to unwind after a day of dealing with "the public." Which brings up the unimaginably bad retail experience: working in a liquor store. I'm sure the homemade sticky-bun man has made special requests there, too.

"Do you have any homemade bathtub gin?"

"No, sorry, sold out yesterday."

"Do you know of someone who would have any?"

"You mean the post office didn't have any? Have you tried the public library or the pet store?"

Is this kind of behavior really about shopping, or is it some oddball psychological disorder like "asking for things you know you can't have syndrome," or "making other people crazy disease"?

I once had a boss who would go shopping when he was under pressure. He called it "retail therapy." But he could afford it, and most salespeople were happy to see him coming. No one is happy to see homemade sticky-bun man coming.

But I think that makes him happy.

Jim Mullen is the author of It Takes a Village Idiot: A Memoir of Life After the City. His column, The Village Idiot, takes a look at the curiosities of American life.


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