09/28/2012 05:17 pm ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

How I Got Rid of a Customer Who Scared Me

I worked at a little pastry shop called Dippy Donut the summer after my freshman year in college. I was by myself on the four-to-midnight shift, and one night a customer lingered while I closed up. He scared me. So I did what the manager had suggested. I called the guy at the convenience store next door and asked him to bring me over a pack of cigarettes. That was code for, "Help." This man would know what to do, how to encourage the customer to be on his way.


The man next door was new to his job, and no one had told him about this arrangement. He brought over a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches, laid them on the counter, and left before I could even say hello.

My customer just sat there with the same gaze that had so unnerved me. Now what? Time for that smoke, I decided. But I'd never even opened a pack of cigarettes! I had as much trouble getting the cellophane off as I would many years later, unwrapping CDs. I kept my back to the customer as I fumbled, hoping my nervousness would play into my new role as chain smoker. Getting the cigarette out of the package was nothing compared with trying to keep it lit -- I had never inhaled, after all -- or puffing away without giving myself a headache from coughing.

The next time I turned around, the man was gone. Grossed out, probably. The plan worked!