I worked at a bookstore once upon a time. It was an enormous, even intimidating place, but I soon learned my way around the labyrinth. I had a really sweet coworker. I recall when she was still fresh out of the gate, barely three weeks on the job. A customer walked up to her and asked her if we carry dinosaur erotica.
That’s right, dear friends and neighbors. Dinosaur erotica. And lo and behold, after doing a little bit of poking around in our database, we did! The look on my coworker’s face was priceless. I didn’t even blink once; I simply pointed him in the direction of where he needed to go and thought that would be the end of that.
This same customer returned the following day. “I’d really like to return this book,” he told me. “Certainly, sir,” I replied. “I must ask: Was there anything wrong with the book? It appears to be in good condition.”
“Oh,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. I’ve just used it already.”
The holiday season is pretty much upon us and stores are even beginning to bring out the Thanksgiving and Christmas stuff—if this fact has somehow managed to evade you, you are one of two things: You are either A) a hermit with a penchant for whittling down rocks with his teeth or B) a master in the art of disassociation who is taking a rather successful stand against holiday commercialism and rampant consumerism. More often than not, the customers, who come out in droves, are far more entertaining than they themselves realize.
The customer is not merely always right; the customer is the exalted emperor of coherence. The following recollections are just a tiny sampling of what I’ve experienced in my time in customer service. I’ve since graduated from customer service to working for a software developer (but don’t think those skills I took away from dealing with the public on an endless basis don’t come in handy here, because they absolutely do). Sadly, I cannot look forward to more episodes of dinosaur erotica.
Remember Rule 34 of the internet, children: If it exists, there is porn of it (and if there isn’t any, there is now).
Once upon a time, I worked at a supermarket because I was super depressed. KIDDING. Not really. Sort of. Everyone I worked with hated to be there and the policies were this side of Draconian. I had just finished running a very long stream of customers through my register when I was greeted by a considerably older gay man who commented on my “nice” lips and asked me if I could meet him in the parking lot at the end of my work shift.
“I see what you’re implying,” I said. “But if you’d really like to comment on my services, you should take part in our customer satisfaction survey, which is at the bottom of your receipt. Put in a good word for me and I can keep my job. Then you can come in again and comment on something else, which I will kindly deflect.” He thanked me and you know what? He did just that. He was a regular afterwards, though the sexual harassment was noticeably absent (for the most part).
I worked, temporarily, as an enumerator for the United States Census Bureau. I was that guy from the evil government who wanted to walk into your home and harness all of your information.
A quick aside: Those are LIES, my friends.
I don’t know where people get this idea that census workers are like the Gestapo to the immigrant population either, but I certainly dealt with my fair share of terrified individuals who shrieked obscenities at me in broken English while reaching for objects with serrated edges. Anyway, one of the nicer people I dealt with was a middle aged woman who answered the door entirely in the nude. ‘Oh, my!’ she said. ‘I am so sorry…I was waiting for my husband.’
I was busing tables at a restaurant. I was tired all the time. Of course I was. I suffered each and every day through a nearly three hour commute to suburban hell where kids ate free on Tuesdays and where I had to take out the trash (restaurant trash is the worst). In the eyes of management, I’m pretty sure insects are higher up on the food chain than a busboy (insects have exoskeletons!).
Morale at this place was at an all time low. I didn’t make enough to afford a decent meal off the menu, but I was regularly bitched at for going to the Five Guys next door, which isn’t exactly cheap either. At the end of each work day, I’d cry because Five Guys would be the closest I’d get to five guys in months. (I’m sort of kidding; I was pretty wild and loose during my time there; you had to be; it was so STRESSFUL.)
One day, a customer asked me if I had dreams of being somewhere else. “All the damn time,” I replied. “The market sucks right now. By the way, I think you should be somewhere else.” “Does this place blow?” the customer asked. “This is the BEST PLACE EVER.” I answered. “I get your point,” he said. He handed me a $20 bill, told me to take care of myself and went off to parts unknown (hopefully to Five Guys next door).
I waited tables at a seedy little diner owned by a man whose idea of bathing was buying soap, letting it sit in his office and occasionally rubbing a bar quickly up the sides of his neck with the same proportional force which results in car tires burning rubber on hard asphalt.
He had dried flakes of soap on his collar. He was also Greek. He was hairy. He shed flakes and hair like the feathers off a molting duck’s ass. Some of these hair feathers fell into the Manhattan Clam Chowder. I spent the day recommending New England Clam Chowder instead. “I know you have Manhattan Clam on the menu today and I want some NOW!” bleated one irate customer. “The recipe’s a bit off today,” I said. “The soup is…um…flaky.’ ‘FLAKY?’ he tells me. ‘Did you get that shit out of a BOX?”
Susan Sarandon came into the bookstore one month. She was at the registers and I, at least at first, did not recognize her. Her mane of fiery red hair threatened to destroy my homosexuality in one fell swoop. She was wearing thick sunglasses at 9:30 PM.
“I haven’t read much Raymond Carver,” she said. “What do you recommend? Do you like Raymond Carver?” “I do like Raymond Carver,” I said, “and you can’t go wrong with Short Cuts.” She peered at me over the rims of her sunglasses. “I’ll make a note to get it next time! There aren’t enough hours in the day, I fucking tell you!” We had a good laugh, then she went on her merry way. “Holy shit,’ said one of my coworkers. “I knew that was Susan Sarandon! That was Susan Sarandon!”
“HOLY FUCKING SHIT!” I cried.
“Paparazzi, ya’ll better take note. If Susan Sarandon is photographed on a beach in some awesome tropical locale reading Short Cuts in the future, it was I who gave her the recommendation!” I smiled the rest of the way through my shift and wondered if she’d bring Geena Davis with her next time; my fandom would have killed me if she did.
(Would you be surprised if Susan Sarandon kept a collection of dinosaur erotica in her home? I can totally see her cutting some pictures out and pasting them in the bathroom stalls on the set of her next movie. She seems mischievous enough…)
If there’s anything my time in customer service has taught me, it’s to quell my annoyance and avenge my family name by drowning myself in the pleasures of my outrageous employee discount. And to go to Five Guys. And to be nice to every poor sap who has to put up with my shit this holiday season, or any day of the week.
We’ve all been THAT customer, whether we meant to be or not.