"Do you have puffy watchbands?" a shopper asked a ZCMI salesclerk midway through Friday's biggest-shopping-day-of-the-year frenzy.

The clerk gazed at her in bewilderment. "I don't like these stiff ones," explained the shopper, bending the band of the watch she had been trying on. "I like puffy ones better."While the clerk began rummaging through the drawers of watches in search of a band that might meet the standard of "puffy," another shopper tapped her on the shoulder.

"Excuse me. I really like the face of this watch, but I don't like the band. Do you trade bands and faces?" As the clerk began to answer that question, another shopper dashed up and asked breathlessly if ZCMI would be willing to match the sales price from an early morning Weinstocks sale even though the Weinstocks sale ended an hour ago.

The clerk produced what she hoped would be a puffy band, explained that ZCMI could not interchange bands and faces and went in search of a supervisor to find out if ZCMI would match Weinstocks' morning sale price. She couldn't have been more distracted and overextended if she single-handedly managed a preschool.

Salesclerks mother us through the Christmas rush. They answer our endless questions, help us when we are confused, assure us they have the perfect gift when we are discouraged and give us our money back when things go wrong.

By the end of the day Friday, they had all the symptoms of exhausted mothers: aching feet, strained backs, lips weary from smiling, rough voices and ringing ears.

"How much are your phones?" one shopper asked an exhausted clerk. "The pay phones are back by the elevator," the clerk recited. "No wait, I'm asking about these phones," the shopper said, tapping the glass case full of novelty telephones.

"Oh," the befuddled clerk said, mentally switching gears.

She was a floater. She floated from watches to jewelry to telephones to small novelty gifts. But no one had asked her about phones for nearly an hour, so she forgot the store sold them.

"I just came from the Cottonwood ZCMI store, and they had these marked down to 25 percent off," one shopper complained, holding up a floral box at the downtown store.

The clerk gave the Cottonwood discount to the shopper and hunted up a pair of blue crystal earrings to match a blue crystal bracelet a man had fastened around his wrist.

"I'm just trying it on for size," he said.

The clerk explained to one woman how to use the sun dial watch and tried to find a black Guess watch just like the hot pink one another woman was holding.

"I know grandma would love this," the woman said, tilting the pink watch. "She would just like it better in black."

Asked if she dreaded this day, salesclerk Nancie Beeton rolled her eyes. "Honestly? Yes! No matter how much help you have, you never have enough people to take care of what every customer needs."

But Beeton and her colleagues made a valiant effort to take care of as many needs as they could Friday. And after they were done, Beeton went home to lie down.