Archive for the ‘Idiocy’ Category

Taking things personally

October 9, 2007

Saturday afternoon, while working at Barnes & Noble, I had a customer make a complaint to a manager. She wasn’t happy with my customer service.

I was in the middle of helping a woman in her early sixties who was looking for a book on vertigo. We didn’t have any in the store, so I recommended to her that she browse titles online, read their descriptions and any reviews, and try to decide on a book to order. As I was explaining this, a second woman — maybe fifty years-old and traveling with another woman a few years younger — came up on the line behind the woman I was helping.

The first woman, who it turns out was suffering vertigo, asked me what kind of books she might search for — books on cardiovascular topics, perhaps? As it turns out I know something about the subject.

I began to explain to her that my father had an episode about a month ago — he woke up dizzy and nauseous — and went to the hospital for tests. I explained also that my brother was a doctor, and from talking with him about our father and the tests the hospital ran on him, I had learned that vertigo can come from a problem with your heart, your brain, your inner ear — lots of things.

My whole explanation probably took 30 seconds.

Right in the middle of this though, the woman who had come up on line with her friend stepped forward to interrupt: “Excuse me, where can I find the Nikki Sixx book?”

I did not take this well, for several reasons. Number one, I don’t like pushy people. Number two, I don’t like being interrupted. Number three, I have some kind of responsibility to the customer I am helping — it’s not fair to let someone else steal my attention away.

And finally, there’s number four. Number four may take a little explaining.

Picture the scene. On my left I have a customer trying to find a book that might help her deal with a bona fide and somewhat debilitating medical problem. And on my right I have another customer unable to wait her turn because she had to have the lost diaries of a heroin addict from a 1980’s hair metal band.

I told the woman that I would help her in a minute. I would say that I used a fairly even-tempered tone of voice. The expression on my face, however, told the whole story of what I thought of her and her rudeness. It’s not my fault, really. It’s an occupational hazard of working in a middle school and dealing with bratty pre-teens on a regular basis.

In other words, she got my “teacher face” — and adults don’t take that very well.

The woman and her friend stormed off. About 10 minutes later one of my managers came up to me.

“Those two women weren’t happy.”

I had just about forgotten the whole thing, but it came back to me in a couple of seconds.

“What did they say?” I asked. What my manager told me almost caused me to burst a blood vessel in my forehead.

The women told him that they had asked for help only to be brushed off because — and this is how they characterized it — I was having a “personal conversation.”

On saying that, my manager had to act quickly to calm me down, because my protestations threatened to attract the attention of the entire first floor. I took a deep breath, composed myself, and calmly told him the entire story. He reassured me that he figured it was something like that.

I think my track record at work has earned me a reputation for dealing well with customers, even the difficult ones. So that was the end of it between me and my manager. I feel a little bad that he had to listen to her nonsense, but I suppose that’s why they pay him the big bucks.

There is nothing quite like dealing with the public — especially at the hourly wage paid to the average retail clerk.

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Enjoying the gorgeous mosaic

October 3, 2007

On the way back from a job interview that I had today, which I’ll write about after I know how it went, I stopped off at a nearby bookstore to relax over a cup of coffee. While on line waiting to place my order, I overhead the customer in front of me ask the girl behind the counter the kind of question that to me is a symptom of just how crazy things have gotten now that a good portion of the population goes out of its way to take every chance at demonstrating how progressive it is.

The young lady ringing up the coffees seemed nice enough. I chatted with her a bit after she rang me up. She was in her early twenties, and had cultivated a fun-spirited, quirky little look for herself, with green as her theme. She had green streaks through her hair. She had theatrically painted eyelids in a bright shade of green. She had big green earrings on as well.

I have no problem with any of that. She was cheery and friendly. My problem is with the politically correct goofball she was ringing up.

The woman she was ringing up seemed like an educated professional. In fact, I’m sure she was. I think that’s what explains her question to the counter girl.

She asked the young lady behind the counter what the green was all about. What she actually had assumed was that the green was an expression of the young lady’s “culture.”

I’m sorry, but what cultural heritage did she think the young lady was expressing? Is there perhaps a lost tribe of savages sequestered in some far-off corner of Ireland? Where on earth is there a culture that applies green hair dye and eye shadow, and tops it all off with giant green earrings?

Now, you can find me enjoying the food at an Indian restaurant, or watching a French film, or listening to Egyptian belly dance music — any number of things. But this woman, God bless her, has surpassed me and a good many of the rest of us in her enthusiasm for cultures other than her own.

For this woman, apparently, the world is still something like the “Dark Continent” of a couple hundred years ago, where around every bend is a wondrous new spectacle to behold — where one can even expect to find an exotic creature ringing up a mochachino.

So, the next time life seems a little drab, just take a look around, and indulge in the kind of childlike wonder I witnessed today.

Last one out turn off the lights

September 10, 2007

The college year began about a week ago, and at the bookstore we have students coming in trying to find textbooks and other materials. It is at times rather depressing to have to deal with these budding scholars.

Two young ladies came in, obviously annoyed over an assignment from their American history professor. The assignment? Here’s how it was explained to me.

“I need you to look up a couple of books using the keywords ‘Little Big Horn’ and ‘Wounded Knee.’ I think it has something to do with the Civil War.”

Now, I’ve taught social studies. And that experience has encouraged me to dial down my expectations. But is it really expecting too much to think that on hearing those two “keywords” together, a bell should go off in the average high school graduate’s head and trigger the thought, “Gee, doesn’t this have something to do with the Indians?”

I’m not sure I should have gone out of my way to help them. I mentioned General Custer and saw not the slightest flicker of recognition on their faces.

This did nothing to improve my mood.

Not long after, a couple in their early twenties came in asking for the Spark Notes for Bodega Dreams, by Ernesto Quinonez. As far as I can tell, the book was not published before 2000. Let’s assume it’s a wonderful book. Even so, do these people not understand what Spark Notes and Cliffs Notes are all about?

I’m waiting for a customer to ask me for crib notes to Harry Potter.

These two examples are from one eight-hour shift. For the past two weeks we’ve had similar examples every single day.

Parents routinely come in to buy college textbooks for their little darlings, who presumably are home studying their class notes. I had one father proudly tell me that his daughter was pre-med — at Johns Hopkins, no less. Somehow, I spent nine years as an undergraduate (enjoy that bit of irony on me) and managed to shop for books all by myself. Perhaps that father’s friends were tired of hearing it, and he jumped at the opportunity to come to the bookstore to brag to someone paid to listen.

Whatever the case, I’m not impressed. And I want to stay out of the hospital the daughter ends up working at — since I’d feel a bit uneasy lying on an operating table with Daddy ready to hand a scalpel to his little girl.