Lesley looked nice that day.
She had on a loose-fitting black two piece — flared sleeves, with white floral embroidery at the cuffs, and slacks with just enough stretch and hug to give a suggestion of her curves as she moved behind the cluttered counter inside the gas station.
But clearly something had happened between the time she had selected her work outfit and this moment, about 9 a.m., which is weekday crunch time at the gas station in my neighborhood. Lesley looked nice, but she was acting sort of… prickly — her shadowed eyelids cast down, shoulders bound in a clench, voice tight and monotonal.
Not that I expect a balloon-drop or anything when I duck into the gas station for smokes, but generally speaking, those at the front lines of commerce give off some air of cordiality, even if it’s just a simple nod.
No, something was off with Lesley. And I’d have bet every doughnut in the case that it had something to do with the nametag.
It was right there on her chest: a strip of white register ribbon Scotch-taped to her blouse, her name, “Lesley,” applied in a hasty scrawl with blue ballpoint.
In that moment, a ballcapped micromanager had been instructing Lesley while he monitored the slushy machines, and it all clicked.
This was the kind of job where Lesley could pick her own clothes, but the nametag was policy. She must have forgotten hers. And because there was a manager in the store, Lesley was forced to improvise. By all signs, it was not an entirely acceptable solution, as far as her boss was concerned. But I sensed he enjoyed the punitive factor of humiliation, as so many ineffective managers do.
All this registered in a few seconds, as I waited to make my purchase and watched Lesley avoid small talk and eye contact with each customer before me.
My request was simple: a pack of smokes, with cash in hand; Lesley completed the order with the efficiency and demeanor of a vending machine, leaving my change on the counter.
“Thanks,” I said as I scooped it up, adding, “Lesley.”
That’s when she cracked a grin that blossomed into a full-blown chuckle. She looked up, let her head drop to the side.
“My twins got ahold of my other one,” she said, smiling now. “I can’t find it anywhere.” Then we all had a nice laugh.
Except for the micromanager, who seemed of the type to believe that having fun at work is the same thing as stealing from the company.