Last weekend was Memorial Day, the glorious three-day weekend in which summer unofficially starts, and those with 9-5’s nationwide kick back at the pool or in front of the grill. It’s really great…that is, unless you work at Half-Price Books and everything is 20% off! Thursday to Monday. Yeah, that’s right. While most people get a three-day weekend, we have to work a sale that lasts five days. I don’t understand how this is fair.
Luckily, I was off Thursday, but like most of my co-workers, I was stuck working four days of the sale. Ugh. Four days of near-constant madness from open til close. The weekends are usually busy anyway, but this was, like, five Saturdays in a row. Not cool.
Now, I will admit the sale part wasn’t actually that bad. When everything’s 20% off, you don’t have to worry about all the auxillary discounts—the random coupons, teacher discounts, old people discounts. And since you can’t combine discounts (haha! Take that, cheapskates!), punching everything in is as easy as letting the register do all the work. Granted your register line is eternally 10 people deep, but with practice, one can achieve a zen state where the chaos simply rolls off you like water. The customer may be foaming at the mouth with impatience, a stack of books five feet high in their arms and 10 rugrats pulling at their pant legs, but you are free to smile like you don’t have a care in the world.
This state of calm is worn thin when one actually has to deal with the customers on a one-on-one basis. Case in point: I had finally found some free time to run a section, and had settled myself in the World History section, happily shelving Irish history books. Above me, Earth, Wind and Fire played “September” or some other swingin’ 70s tune.
Note about our in-store music: it is a truth universally acknowledged that a lot of the music we’re forced to play is shitty. I remember walking into the store and handing in my application—oh, so many moons ago—while The Shins played, thinking, “I love this song! This must be fate.” I even mentioned this fact to the assistant manager during my interview when he asked about my music tastes. Shortly after I started, our regional manager sent down word from on high that our in-store music policies had to change. No pop music from before the 1970s. No “annoying” jazz (meaning, no jazz). No classical. Before, employees had been able to submit a CD to our manager, and granted it was age appropriate (from 8 to 88), it was OK. Now, our manager had to be twice as strict, and no one knew what to play anymore. And so the period of strange, awkward, and downright BAD music commenced. Occasionally, someone would sneak in The Shins or The Police, just for old times sake (and our sanity). But we were recently caught by the aforementioned regional manager, and so it’s been back to the oldies for us.
Now, the Earth, Wind and Fire passed our stringest guidelines, and even I have to say I was satisfied with this pick. I know not everyone enjoys “September” or “Shooting Star,” but Joel has instilled in me a nostalgic affection for the group. But even as an objective observer, EWF really isn’t that bad compared to what we’ve listened to before.
Back to my story. So this man enters the World History section, and stands behind me looking at the shelves over my head. I’m happily ignoring him until this conversation ensues.
Man: Let me guess, you use your in-store music to torture people at Guatanamo Bay.
Me: *Laughs awkwardly* Yeah, we have pretty strict guidelines for what we can play. It’s difficult to pick something everyone likes.
Man: But seriously, this is really bad. I mean, it’s so bad, it’s almost offensive.
Man: And this isn’t the first time either. I’ve had to leave your store four or five times because the music drove me out.
Me: …. *Gives him weird face, shrugs, runs away*
Seriously dude. I’m sorry you hate Earth, Wind and Fire THAT MUCH. And yeah, our music sucks sometimes, but why do you think I’d care about you or your problems? If you haven’t noticed, there’s a sale going on and about a MILLION people milling around in here. If we changed the music every time someone had a problem, we wouldn’t have any music left to play. And while you’re only here to browse a half hour, at most, I have to deal with this crap for 8 HOURS. Don’t tell me about your problems.
To top off my day, it was nearing the end of my shift and I was called to the register to help an older woman looking for “religious books.” I walked her over to the religion section, and—turning toward the shelf so that I could point to the section labels—I said, “Here are the religious inspiration or motivation books, and over here…”
Then, this “fine,” religious lady jumps in: “Excuse me honey, you’re going to have to look at me when you talk to me.”
When working in customer service, you encounter people like this on a frequent basis. There is no room for rebuttal or a simple defense of your dignity; the only choice you have is to smile and do as they ask. Which I did. This is what I would have liked to say, instead:
“Excuse me, but I was briefly turning away so that I could show you the books you’re looking for. And I’m allowed to look away, because I’m probably going to help more than 100 people, just like you, over this sale weekend. I’m nothing but polite, respectful, friendly and helpful. You see this phone on my hip? I have to answer the damn thing every time it rings until this hour is up, answering ridiculously stupid questions, all the while acting like “I have smile on my face.” I don’t have the time, energy, nor do I care to act like I’m personally interested in each and every person I speak to. This would be physically and emotionally impossible. Also, while I may be 23, I am fully grown, college-educated adult, and I’d prefer you didn’t treat me like your 15-year-old granddaughter. Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your day.”