One of the many jobs I had while in college was working at Things Remembered in Governor’s Square Mall. My job was to sell the many gift items we carried, but, more importantly, to sell engraving on those items. I was partially evaluated on my ability to sell more engraving so I became very good at convincing people to add more than the free engraving that came with each purchase.
Part of the reason I was so good at it is because I actually enjoy talking with people. I enjoyed taking the time to truly listen and determine what a customer wanted. It helped me sell more engraving because I knew what to suggest (and most of the time they took my suggestions). I never had any trouble meeting our daily AE goals.
One weekday night business was extremely slow. It was one of the rare occasions I wasn’t going to meet my AE goal for the day, so I initially perked up when two men who looked like brothers approached the kiosk. They looked like people ready to spend money.
“Can I help you?” I asked. Original, I know.
“I need a lot of engraving done,” said the shorter of the two. Excellent.
“Well, you came to the right place is it a gift or . . .”
“It’s for me. I need a medical alert bracelet.”
My heart sunk. We did sell medical alert bracelets, but we had to special order them and they took two weeks to arrive. I wasn’t going to engrave it that night even if he bought it. I explained the situation to them.
“But I really need it tonight. Don’t you have any?”
“I’m sorry, we don’t. We just don’t carry them in stock.” They both looked slightly alarmed and I began to understand that something may have recently gone wrong for the man who needed the bracelet. I knew I had to give them another option.
“Look,” I said, “Got to Wal-mart. They have medical alert bracelets in stock and you can get one tonight.”
“Do they engrave them?”
“Unfortunately, no. They’ll send it off for you and it takes a couple of weeks.” He looked crestfallen again so I quickly continued, “But, you can bring it back here and I’ll engrave it tonight.”
His friend/brother looked at me a moment and said, “Let me get this straight. You can engrave the same day, but can;t get a bracelet for two weeks. They can give us a bracelet tonight, but can;t engrave it for two weeks. Is that right?”
“Yes, and it doesn’t make sense to me either.” The both smiled slightly.
“How much will it be?”
“It’s a five dollar set up charge and twenty cents a letter.”
Their eyes widened as they calculated.
“Well, you have to have it,” sighed the friend/brother.
“Yes, I do.”
They left and returned about twenty minutes later with a newly purchased medical alert bracelet. It was large even for the men’s style. I soon found out why he needed a big one.
“What do you need on it.”
“This,” he said as he handed me a folded piece of paper. I opened it and stared at a list of drugs with ridiculously long names.
“All of that?” I asked, incredulous.
“Yeah, for the back. These instructions need to go on the front.” He pointed to a small paragraph on the other side of the paper.
“That’s an awful lot to fit on the bracelet. It’ll have to be small.”
“I have to have all of it exactly like it’s written. The doctor said it was best to get it all.”
He didn’t say “my doctor,” he said “the doctor.” Now I knew he recently got some bad news.
“It’ll be expensive.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“It doesn’t matter anyway. I just have to have it.” He said with defeated eyes. It must have been very bad news.
“Give me thirty to forty-five minutes. I’ll get it done for you.” That’s what we always said even though it usually took about five minutes. I knew that for this engraving, it might be a conservative estimate.
I prepared the bracelet and put strand of clear tape over it to protect the steel before I set it in the vise. Then I set the brass letter templates into the engraver. I ran out of letters on some of the names and realized just how dire a situation this guy was in. I took even more care than usual as I pushed the stylus down and cut the metal with the diamond tip. A chill shuddered across me as I reset the letters to continue a drug name and I began to think of a chilly night at Lylewood Christian Camp.
It was during a fall retreat, but the weather was warm all Saturday. I never needed a jacket, so I didn’t think to bring one to the evening gathering. The air was a little cool, but not uncomfortable on my bare arms. Then the sun went down. In the middle of the devotional I got cold. I did my best to ignore it, but I still shivered in the night air.
It went on until I felt soft fabric slip over my shoulders. I looked over at one of the counselors who had just put her flannel shirt on me.
“Don’t you need it?” I whispered.
“I’m fine,” she said, “Warm up.”
The thin flannel was no real match for the rapidly cooling air, but it did keep the worst of the chill at bay. I remember thinking that if I had come dressed that way, I would feel cold right then because the shirt really wasn’t enough protection. But since my arms had been bare in the cold, that shirt made me warm. I will never forget just how warm it felt.
Back in the mall, I looked down at the now finished back of the bracelet. I turned it over, reset it in the vise, and set the letters for the front instructions. I worked more quickly because closing time drew near and I wanted, needed to finish. Once I did finish, I removed the tape and inspected my work. I managed to spell it all correctly and fit on the impossibly small bracelet. Funny how big it seemed when I started.
The letters were still hard to read, so I grabbed the bottle of gravoxide. It’s a chemical that quickly “ages” some metals. It works especially well on freshly engraved brass and darkens the etching to almost black. It didn’t work well on the steel (there is a reason it’s stainless steel). I still wanted to increase the readability, so I got the gold paste and worked it in to the engraving. After, I buffed the bracelet. The gold letters now stood out sharply and were much easier to read.
I looked at the bracelet and completed the order slip just as they arrived back.
“You’re finished?” the taller one asked.
“Yes. Just in time.”
“How much do we owe you?”
I looked at the order slip and the bracelet with nearly $50 worth of engraving and extras on it.
“Nothing. You owe me nothing.”
“We have to pay you.”
“You really don’t.”
“Won’t you get in trouble?”
I took the order slip, tore it, threw it away, and said, “Honestly? I couldn’t care less if I do.”
Because I don’t want you to be cold, I thought. I said, “Because I don’t know what else to do.” I extended my hand and finished, “Good luck.”
“Thank you. Truly, thank you.” He took my offered hand and shook it twice as the other man expressed his thanks as well.
There was a brief lingering moment where all of us seemed to want to say more, but there were no words and they walked away. The free engraving definitely wasn’t a flannel shirt, but I hoped, that even in the unimaginable cold he faced, it offered a moment of warmth.