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Between Birthday and Sympathy: What I Heard and Saw in the Greeting Card Aisles

Feb 252014
 
 By , February 25, 2014

I was once a “Card Guy” – or rather, a greeting card merchandiser.

The transition of greeting cards is much like watching the seasons change: Halloween in the fall; Christmas in the winter; Valentine’s Day and Easter in the spring and so forth.

I was once a “Card Guy” — or rather, a greeting card merchandiser.  In between the brightly colored cardstock, replete with glitter, music and faux gemstones are the aisles where the customers walk.  Watching the customers has always been more fascinating (and humorous) than watching the product change.

Here is what I observed:

Birthday, Sympathy, Greeting Card AisleBirthday Blackout

There is an interesting phenomenon that happens to people when they browse through a greeting card aisle: short-term spatial memory disappears.

For example, Brenda the Browser spends a good 15 minutes pulling out one card after another, chuckling, evaluating, and then putting the card back into the slot; the wrong slot. Now, you would think it should be easy to look at the card in your hand, find the slot containing identical cards, and reunite the card with its brothers and sisters. But, no.

Cards pulled at eyebrow level somehow end up in slots at knee level, backward and upside down. How can this happen? It’s as if gravity multiplies by a factor of three and the card suddenly became overwhelmingly heavy, forcing the customer to let gravity pull the card downward into a slot near the floor before the card smashes the customer’s toes.  I especially liked watching the customer who pulled a card from a slot 12 inches from his nose, reviewed it, and then got a thoroughly confused and perplexed look on his face as his eyes darted up, down, left, and right looking for the correct card slot; then, that gravity I mentioned kicked in.

Oh, the Agony!

There is nothing more humorous than watching a grown man being forced to help choose a card (and accessories) that he has little or no interest in . . . at all. To the credit of the men who find themselves in this predicament, I acknowledge the discomfort and pain your faces and body postures display.

The cards I’m speaking of are baby and wedding cards. Since the events attached to these cards are usually awkward and uncomfortable for guys, it stands to reason that selecting cards to celebrate these events is tantamount to reopening old scabs and scars with a rusty screwdriver. I applaud you for doing your best to feign interest in front of your woman. You may fool her (which you’re probably not doing), but you can’t fool me.

I’ve been there and barely lived to speak about it. “Oh, honey. This card is sooooo cute. It’s perfect for Tricia’s baby shower. What do YOU think?” Be careful, men! It’s a trap. You want to say: “I don’t give a rat’s whiskers about Tricia’s baby. The ultrasound already showed it’s got six fingers on each hand and vampire fangs.” But you’re smart and you won’t say what you really think. Instead, you’ll say the smart thing: “Sweetie, I like your choice.”

Atta boy! This will earn you a snuggle later tonight. One last caution: The fancy gift bags and wrapping paper are less than six feet away. Start thinking of your response now, because as soon as her radar picks up on those items, you could be a goner.

A Sandwich for Mother’s Day

Store items make their way into the greeting cards section on a regular basis. It’s not unusual to find small toys, clothing, makeup, jewelry, food, and occasionally a dead raccoon or two.

Leaving items around the store is not uncommon. I’ve done it before myself (and am now paying eternal penance for my actions).  A bra hanging from the sympathy section could just be a lazy person’s second thoughts about a pending purchase, though psychologists would probably have something to say about the particular section that item left.

It’s not that I particularly mind clearing out the gunk from the card aisles now and then. It’s archeological proof that humans—potential customers—have been going down the card aisles. However, I really have to object to the half-eaten Panini sandwich stuffed in the humor section. Was this, too, a subconscious message?

Daycare for Daddy

How and when the card section of the store became a day care drop-off location for husbands, I will never know. What I do know is that if there ever were a place to tame the troubled beast within husbands, the card section is it. I have seen countless examples of wives, young and old, dropping of their irritable don’t-want-to-be-there-shopping husbands or boyfriends to be entertained for a few minutes so the women can shop in peace.

Though I’ve never heard it said directly, the message the women are giving the men is crystal clear: If you promise not to whine about shopping with me, I’ll let you play in the card aisles for a while so I can finish shopping. I’ll be back in 15 minutes, so be good. Momma loves you. (Kiss.) The very least these men could do would be to straighten a few cards as they peruse the card shelves . . . while eating Panini.

The Wanderers

When I arrive at the store, I sign my name in a binder for guest merchandisers. About this time, a kind woman approaches me, hesitantly, with a small basket of rogue cards that somehow escaped the confines of the greeting card aisles and made their way to all parts of the Store. The woman has an apologetic look on her face. Her expression seems to say, “Please forgive us. We’ve failed you. We let these cards escape.” I smile at her, thank her, and ask her for the most exotic location where any of the cards were discovered. “Garden equipment,” came the reply one day. Garden equipment? A card was discovered atop a small stack of bagged fertilizer. I looked at the card. No wonder. It was one of our Election 2012 cards. Well, that just figures, doesn’t it?

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Michael Larson is newly minted Texan. He is a retired teacher, current university librarian, and a future 'great American' author.
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