Assumptions

The Longest Checkout 5.4Originally, I planned to title this post “Prejudice” and joke about how I’m prejudiced against customers, but I decided that was in bad taste to go to such a place for a joke (and an admittedly bad one, at that), so I’ll just get to the real root of this post’s sentiment right off the bat. I know I’m a condescending ass, but I like to think I’m a bit more considerate than that. Anyway…

I don’t care who you are, what you look like, whenever you first walk into my store, I will always assume you’re an idiot. I’m sorry if that comes off as a shitty attitude (which, I’ll admit it, it is), but this is a self-preservation mechanism that most shopkeepers develop over time. Far too often, we assume that any given customer is an intelligent being capable of navigating this world with ability and ease, only to be stricken completely wrong. For years, I was shocked when that happened, and sometimes, I still am.

So, why do we just go to this base assumption of a lack of intellect? I mean, this person drove here, so they have enough skill to pass a driving test. (Yes, yes, I know that our driving requirements are not that strict here, but it’s operating a complex machine while multitasking, so I think that’s worth noting.) Going beyond that, they were able to figure out our location, and they were able to get food for themselves, and they were able to dress themselves. That’s a quality skill set right there (even if it is setting the bar low, but then again, this is dear customer we’re talking about here). The bottom line is: they’re capable.

If you’ve read anything on this blog about my time working retail, you know I’m harder on my customers than most. This isn’t a store that sells general goods, like groceries or DVDs; this is a store that caters to people who do something where rigorous standards required and applied to them on a daily basis, and I can’t emphasize this enough: They. Want. To. Fly. You. Around. In. Airplanes. That’s why they get extra scrutiny. They want to be airline pilots, which is why I get concerned when they can’t even figure out which chart is for the Albuquerque area, despite the facts that they are 1. labeled as such and 2. come at the start of the frigging alphabet.

I really don’t think I’m wrong in being concerned with that. A private pilot’s license will cost you around $11,000.00 and will take you around three to four months to achieve, and that’s just so you can putter around in a little Cessna. To fly the big jets, you’re talking years of training, thousands of flight hours, and well over $50,000.00. That’s an enormous commitment. It requires incredible diligence and fortitude to get up to that upper rung of the aviation world. So, you cloud imagine my shock when I hear them be confused by which oral exam guide is the correct one for their particular flight test, despite the fact that those are extremely well labelled and straightforward.

More troubling still is the large percentage of shoppers who cannot for the life of them read price tags or basic signage. From hours of operation to sale signs, so much of it goes unread or outright ignored, despite the their being read as their exclusive reason for existence. My absolute favorite (or is that “most loathed”) moment is when a shopper yanks on the locked door of a shop with a sign that reads “CLOSED”.

I still remember one morning pulling up to the shop about ten minutes before opening. Seeing as it didn’t take but a few minutes to run through my opening procedures (and the fact that I wouldn’t get paid for anything more than that), I never showed up earlier. On that morning, I watched a customer walk up to the door, yank on it, then stand there dumbfounded. As I walked up, he approached me and said, “There you are! I have been waiting for you for a while! I was wanting to buy something but I didn’t know when you opened!” I politely informed him that we did not open until ten. “Well, how was I supposed to know that?!” I then pointed out that we had a sign on the door outlining our hours of operation. “Oh.”

Honestly, I find that to be a bit amusing, but the great bane of my existence will forever remain: “How much is this?” Did you even look? I get it that sometimes, products get mispriced or missed altogether, but when they’re on there, they’re on there.

I’ve touched on the reasons behind this before. Often it just boils down to laziness. Whatever it is, I’m not getting into it here. The main problem is that it happens often enough to the point that I just gave up. It was far easier to assume they could do nothing and knew nothing. If they want to be treated like children, I was going to do it. Part of me still refuses to hand-hold fully capable adults like they’re toddlers through an area designed to make their experience as simple as possible. However, assuming I will have to do that with everyone who walks into the shop lessens the impact when that assumption becomes the reality. Then there’s the added pleasant surprise when it turns out that they actually are capable adults.

There’s no problem with asking for help. Sometimes, things are laid out differently from what you would expect to be the logical footprint. Sometimes, stores are so massive that it’s difficult to figure out where something should be found. That’s okay. That’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is the shopper who enters a shop, takes a look around, spiritually throws up their hands, and gives up all hope of doing anything on their own. If you’re unable to flip a product over and look for a price tag, if you’re unable to figure out when we close, if you’re unable to read a package, I am perfectly happy treating you like the lost, helpless toddler you’ve shown yourself to be.

Shopping is not difficult. It can be challenging, yes, but not difficult. There are people whose entire job it is to study the interactions of customers with their stores and how they can improve their layouts and policies to better help customer shopping experiences. Customer service and sales reps are there to make it easier, as well. But as I’ve said before, I assume that they will be able to do nothing. I assume that you will be difficult, that you will be lazy, that you will be useless, because I’d much rather not waste my time and cut to the chase or be pleasantly surprised. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh or anything, but that’s how I’ve been twisted by years of dealing with the laziness of a customer base that really shouldn’t be lazy or aloof. I’ve been warped. I’ve been jaded. I’ve been broken. Now, I just assume it’s going to be a rough time from the moment you leave your car. It’s just easier that way.

-The Retail Explorer

Curiosity

One of the greatest storytellers of our age has left us. It’s amazing to think that our time basking in the rays of greatness has left us, but that’s wrong; that’s incorrect; that’s a disservice.

It’s also more complicated than that.

No one would blame you for saying that the world is a little bit darker today without someone once they’ve left us. When you think about the magnitude of character, the body of work, the incredible talent that had been offered to the world and then wrenched so violently and suddenly from it, yeah, there’s a gaping hole, a massive wound. The world is in fact darker as a result of their departure.

But that is not to say there is no sun. That is not to say that all light has vanished, and we are plunged into eternal night. There is the point where we do a disservice.

Anthony Bourdain was found dead Friday of an apparent suicide. I felt a deep sadness when I was told of it. Then I felt anger. Then I felt selfish. Why? Fuck, this is complicated. It leads down so many roads. What is selfish, and what is truly selfless, and is there any crossover that could possibly be allowed? I can think of no better word than “complicated.”

So, I want to explore this for a moment. A person comes into the world and gives freely of themselves that which they can offer, whatever their talents may be. Anthony evolved from a chef to a conduit for the world. His writing was amazing. He was a complex man, plagued by demons all his life, but through his battles with them, he found tranquility and he found that this world is remarkable. He gave us his incredible viewpoints through prose I can only describe as vivid, poetic, beautiful.

But through his passing, we are robbed of any more of his thoughts. We are no longer able to understand the world through his lens. Is it bad to feel selfish for that? I’m instantly now drawn to one of my other favorite writers, who also took his own life: Ernest Hemingway. Another complex man (though, arguably, a man of less redeeming qualities than Anthony), when I think of him, I don’t feel angry for him taking himself from us early. I accept his body of work as complete, because that’s the only way I’ve known it.

Is that it though? Is that why this bothers me? I knew Anthony as a living person but never knew Ernest as one? Why should such a thing matter? A man is a man, and he is nothing more. We should be lucky to have him and what he offers us, right?

Like I said, it’s complicated. There is no cut-and-dry. We spend our time in the sun, and we must use that time wisely. I believe we should use that time wondering and trying to understand what makes it so bright and why it makes us feel so warm.

Basically, I think the lives of others, like Anthony’s, boils down to this: what do you take away from their life, their opinions?

I was watching CNN’s remembrance special, and Don Lemon hit on a number of fantastic viewpoints. (Really, this is the importance of multiple opinions on any given subject; you just might find something you missed.) “It came to him naturally. He was just curious. Isn’t that what makes a good journalist?” That’s when I understood what I would take away from Anthony’s tragedy: his curiosity.

Working where I do, I am in a remarkable, fortunate position to learn so much about the world by encountering so many different kinds of people coming together to achieve the same goal of flight. But I don’t ask enough questions. I’m a writer who fails at learning, and that is far too remarkable in the wrong direction. We should be inquisitive about our world, and what makes are world are its inhabitants. They all have a self, and they all have a story.

Why don’t I ask more about those stories?

If I take nothing else away from Anthony’s life, it’s this: How to write with emotion and sense of scene and how to explore the world. Fuck, this hurts so much, but if I learn nothing, if I utilize nothing, if I squander all his expertise, then his loss is truly a void: Empty space. If we take nothing from one another, we stagnate, and they are invalidated, which is such a sad, horrible existence. It does a disservice to everyone.

Curiosity is what I will take from Anthony’s wonderful life. That is how I will choose to honor him. What do you do to honor a life cut short?

-The Retail Explorer

Flowers

Check out that flower! Isn’t it beautiful? It’s the first of the season for us, not flowers in general, but rather flowers actually grown from seed. When Holly passed a couple of months ago, the company that cremated her sent with her a packet of wildflower seeds on a paper heart. You plant the heart, and flowers grow. Symbolic and sweet. They finally began blooming yesterday.

It’s a lovely thing, but so what? What’s the point here? Well, it’s a simple pleasure, gardening, putting seeds and bulbs in the ground and watching them grow to something beautiful. It’s something you can come home to enjoy, which is incredibly important when you work in such a high-stress environment as customer service.

I was reflecting on this the other day, of the customers who have really stuck out for making my life particularly miserable, and how important it is to be able to shake their stench off you when you get home.

I still remember getting accused of stealing $20 from a customer because he couldn’t remember where he put it (because he’s an infallible customer and I’m a thieving shopkeeper, obviously). And I remember the time I got flak because a customer tried to return a non-returnable item a day after declining to accept a receipt (smart move). And the time I ruined a customer’s day by daring to run out of stock on two items.

This is just a sampling of the kind of crap service industry workers have to deal with on a daily basis, and that’s just in retail! I know for a fact that call centers, restaurants, and bars have far worse stories than these. That’s a terrifying thought. I was fortunate (in a way) to have worked where I had for as long as I did. The customers were generally good, which in the service industry is about as rare as a phoenix or a jackalope.

Customers excel at wearing you down to the point where you become little more than a nub, leaving you feel worn and useless and borderline worthless. These jobs require immense amount of humility, patience, dexterity, and thick skin, and even the strongest, most honed warriors of the industry find it hard at times to cope with the strain.

This goes for everyone, really, not just service industry employees. We all feel great weakness from time to time. This week has made that fact abundantly clear. Everybody hurts, and it can take us down. This world is cruel and painful, but none of us are alone. Lean on your friends and family. Let them help. That’s what they’re there to do. We’re all in this together. They’ll show you wonderful things, and try to get you back on your feet again.

The important thing is we find ways to strengthen ourselves again. No matter what, there is beauty in this world, and there can be joy again. I don’t profess to know all the answers. I’ve never been so low that I felt like nothing could save or redeem me, so I don’t know what the answer to getting out of that hole is. I know what makes me feel better, and I go from there. Sometimes it’s a good book; other times, a baseball game; and other times, it’s sitting with a beer in my backyard and looking at the flowers that grow there. I know for some people, it’s far more complicated than that, and I wish I understood that better. All I can offer is go into the world knowing that you are loved and appreciated.

-The Retail Explorer