Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Did I say *Always* Right?...

It seems we’ve created a colossal monster. Or, to be more exact, we’ve created millions of lesser monsters that, when considered individually, are really just singular off-shoots of (maybe roughly the size of the fingernail of) one, big, sweaty, ugly, snaggle-toothed beast: The Customer.

And how did we do this? Well that’s easy. Someone, somewhere, in some fluorescent lit conference room came up with the phrase that would become the bane of retail and restaurant workers from then until somebody comes up with a truer (and yet equally profitable) phrase…the phrase, of course, being “The customer is always right.”

Whoever came up with that phrase couldn’t possibly have been in contact with any actual customers, or at least not the kind who hang around bookstores. I know what you all are thinking (I used to think it myself)…The bookstore—what a mellow place to work. What a nice environment. Books. What could be better than working around books all day? And to be honest, that’s mostly true. But there’s a definite, lurking danger hidden below, around, and inside words like “mostly”—that danger being what “mostly” doesn’t include.

Some examples:

1) Golf Club Guy, who’s been an everyday regular since the first time I worked at Barnes and Noble, about 3 years ago. He earned his nickname by bringing (you guessed it) his golf clubs to the store with him and practicing his swing in the parking lot. As far as I know, the man has never purchased anything more than a cup of coffee, and yet he still feels it’s his right to remove an entire shelf of books from the poetry section and use the then-empty shelf as his personal coffee table. He comes to the store in the evenings, but when he was a morning customer, he was joined by the likes of:

2) Motorcycle Man, who is also still a regular and who earned his name because of the dirt bike attached to the back of his truck. The truck, it seems, is his bedroom, while Barnes and Noble, he seems to think, is his living room. Then there’s

3) Obsessive-Compulsive Lady Part 1, who used to grab a stack of books, sit on the floor in the children’s section, and tear tiny pieces off the corners of every page, creating a sea of tiny white scraps all around her. She was soon asked to leave and was replaced by

4) Obsessive-Compulsive Lady Part 2, who comes in every morning and has to move a table in the children’s section over about 1 ½ inches before she can comfortably sit and do whatever the hell it is she does all day.

5) Que Buena, a Hispanic man who hangs around the magazine section and, when a girl he likes walks by, stares her down and says in a thick accent, “Oh…My…God” real slowly, the words dragging out and morphing together in one long, creepy mantra.

6) Thank goodness, not a regular, is the man who was sitting in (again) the children’s section of all logical places, and masturbating while reading (naturally) a math book. Yes, I said masturbating. Yes, I said a math book. Somehow, this escaped the notice of not only all the employees working, but the plainclothes security men as well. He was only discovered, in fact, when the fruits of his labor landed (yes landed) on the leg of a woman sitting nearby, who screamed and went home to change, sanitize, and tell her husband. She returned shortly thereafter to tell the manager, who was amazed to find the man still seated right where she’d left him, still reading the same sexy math book. He was shocked to be asked to leave and insisted on a full explanation of what was wrong with his being there.

7) There was the man who was caught stealing but who managed to escape security losing only his backpack. They opened it to see what all he’d taken and also discovered hypodermic needles and a small stash of what they figured must be heroin. He returned a little while later, asking for his backpack, and ended up going into a full-on seizure in, of course, the children’s section.

It’s a wonder there are still parents willing to take their kids there. Luckily, I was not there to witness those last two incidents.

Once, an employee found these romantic items in a lady’s bathroom stall: an empty half-bottle of champagne, an empty box of stolen Godiva chocolates, and a pair of lady’s panties. If that doesn’t make it into the Date Hall of Fame!

These are clearly the extreme examples and not a fair representation of the knowledge-hungry folks who comprise most of our clientele. And it’s not even them who prompted me to write this. It was the woman who called the other day with a four-book long list of requests. The first book, we had in the store. The second and third I happily ordered for her, but the fourth was one we couldn’t get because there weren’t any in our warehouses and the publisher information was not provided.

Her: What do you mean you can’t get it?!
Me: Well, it’s not available from any of our warehouses.
Her: Can’t you call the publisher?!
Me: Sometimes we can, but this publisher’s information is not provided. It’s possible you’d have better luck at Borders(?)
Her: What’s Borders?
Me: Another bookstore, like ours.
Her: Can you call them, then?
Me: You want me to call Borders?
Her: Yeah, call them.

I should say here that her request might have stood a chance of being honored if she weren’t so rude.

Me: I’m sorry, we’re not really in the practice of making business for our competitor.

And this is where the non sequitur of all non sequiturs came:

Her: Can’t you call them for me?! I have a bad back!

I think the fact that most customers are familiar with this “Customer is always right” business just works to perpetuate their spoiled, demanding behavior. A person should be able to work in the service industry and still retain a decent amount of integrity, no? Just ask the manager who was lucky enough to have to clean up what didn’t land on the leg of sexy math man’s poor victim: Some customers are not only not right: They’re just wrong. Just really, really, really wrong.

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