Tuesday, September 28, 2010

He Said, She Said.

I can't walk into a copy shop without thinking about this classic sketch from the Chappelle Show. Not fair, perhaps, but copy shops are like the DMV, the post office, economy flights and HMOs: You go in braced for the absolute worst.

It was very quiet at the FedEx Print & Ship tonight -- like the calm before a storm. One placid-looking guy was waiting behind a confused old lady at the register. All of us waited patiently while the lady talked her issues out with the cashier. No worries! Our short line advanced, and then... something happened.

I don't have any experience with retail registers, so I don't have much insight here, but it seems that the cashier rung placid guy's purchase on his coworker's number after she had already closed her register. A lot of discussion ensued. "Wait. How did it end up on my register? You entered the wrong number," said the coworker. Cashier guy seemed very confused and kept asking how to void the transaction.

There would be no voiding.

"Just give him his change. My register will be short, and yours will have a surplus. You'll have to ask Julia what to do." Cashier man did not like this answer. He immediately raised his eyebrows in a look that said "Oh no you didn't just refer me to JULIA" and gave a small, persecuted sigh.

"I don't know how this all becomes MY fault, Juan! You're the one who made a mistake," the woman said. It was escalating to open conflict, a state that always makes me retreat, despite the many years I lived in New York City. I immediately occupied myself with my phone while Placid Guy continued to wait impeccably for his change.

"Do you want to talk outside?" Juan asked his coworker in a conversational tone. "No I don't want to talk outside," she said. "This is ridiculous."

It was quiet again as Juan managed to deliver Placid Guy's change. My turn. "Hello, may I help you?" Juan said, as if nothing at all had happened. Oh but something had happened. I warily stated my business.

While Juan attended to my request, his coworker (let's just call her Juanita) was mouthing words to herself with a neutral expression on her face. I saw "not my fault" pass through her lips. At first, it was hard to tell who had the upper hand in this fight. Juan was bespectacled and obviously had a better sense of how to behave in front of customers; Juanita was on the defensive and attitudinal, but seemed more knowledgable.

Juan, meanwhile, screwed up my request, and then got slightly defensive about it. That was the last piece of evidence needed for this Judge Judy: The court finds Juan guilty of screwing up Juanita's register, and of being an ineffectual d.b. about it.

I guess my relationship with open conflict is love-hate, because now I was waiting and hoping for the brewing dispute to erupt in my presence. And it did.

"I'm not signing anything! YOU'RE the one who made the mistake." Now really free to let loose, Juanita was going OFF. Juan's murmured, calm replies only brought more heated denials from his adversary. "No. No. Juan. No. I DID close my register. I DID close my register." Juan, in turn, was getting quietly sassier. "Next time, you need to make sure you fully close your drawer when you end your shift."

I had to hand it to Juanita, even though she was being totally unprofessional. Juan's doltish obstinacy would have had me in tears by now, but she was unbowed. Meanwhile, this dispute wasn't worth more than $5, if I remember Placid Guy's purchase correctly.

"No, YOU'RE unacceptable," she was saying, as I left unnoticed. Another poor sap stood bewildered at the register, not knowing what he'd walked into.


  1. That Chappelle clip is one of my two favorites from the show. The other is the one with Wayne Brady.

    Your story exemplifies customer service in this country: indifferent morons using needlessly complicated technology they are too ill-trained to operate. A store should pay ME every time there's a problem when I want to pay cash. It's cash! Take it! You don't need my phone number! It's a fucking twenty!

    Which is why I try to confine my shopping experiences to online or small O&Oed shops as much as possible.

  2. "It's cash! Take it!"

    So true.


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