Posted: March 7, 2014, 9:30 a.m. EDT
By Elizabeth Creith
The phone rang while David was still putting out the "Open” sign. I answered.
"Animalia, how can I help you?”
"Can I speak to David?”
"It's for you,” I said as David came back in. He took the phone.
"How can I help you?” he asked. There was a pause. "Seven o'clock. You're welcome.” He handed the phone back to me.
"Is there a reason I bother?” I asked. "I could have told them the store hours, but everyone wants to hear it from you. What've you got that I haven't got?”
He shrugged and smiled, and went off to do water changes.
Bearded dragon. iStock/Thinkstock
It's a rhetorical question. I know what he's got. He's magic with people, as long as it's only one or two at a time. It was a surprise to both of us, because he's naturally quite shy, but when he's talking about something he knows, there's something about him that inspires confidence. When he worked at a local nursery, customers would beeline past the other staff to him, bringing festered twigs, pests and problems, certain that he would know exactly what was wrong, and what to do about it.
That same magic happened in the pet store, even while David was still working for the previous owner. It was David they came to for advice on dog food, aquarium maintenance, terrarium lighting, anything.
Occasionally I felt like the Invisible Woman, or maybe just some kind of receptionist, because everyone wanted David. Most of them call him "Dave”.
The new store name threw some people into a tizzy. Change of ownership, change of staff, I'm sure they were thinking, and a lot of them came cruising around just to make sure David was still here. Most of them strolled around the store, or asked casually, "Dave in?” But there were two I particularly remember who were not so casual.
Towards the end of our first week a woman charged into the store, stopped halfway down the aquarium aisle and looked around frantically, positively wild-eyed.
"Is Dave here?” she demanded. As it happened, David was out getting mouse boxes – a.k.a Chinese food take-out boxes – at the local wholesalers.
"No, he isn't,” I said. "Can I help you?”
"They didn't fire him, did they? Where's he gone?” Now I could hear the edge of panic in her voice.
Uh-oh. "Um – out to get mouse boxes,” I said. "He'll be back shortly.”
"Oh!” She put her hand on her heart and blew out a long breath. "That's a relief. Sorry, I saw the new sign. I thought he was gone. I just needed to know my filter expert was still here.”
We had a friendly chat about her aquarium until David returned and she nobbled him with a list of questions.
"When she first came in, I thought maybe she was a groupie,” I said. He just smiled and shook his head.
"Groupies,” he said. "What an imagination you have!”
The other one I remember came in with a question about a bearded dragon. David was deep in conversation with another customer, and I'm pretty good on lizards, so I offered to help. She heaved an I'm-putting-up-with-you sigh and said, "No, I need to speak to Dave.”
When I didn't take the hint, she turned and looked down her nose at me. It was a really good trick, because she was four inches shorter than I was, but there was no mistaking the look.
"I really know Dave very well, you know,” she said. Her tone of voice said, "Go away, you're interfering.”
"Ah. Right, then.” I made it to the stockroom and got the door closed before I broke out laughing. David might be oblivious, but it definitely wasn't my imagination.
David might be oblivious, but "Dave” had groupies.
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