Man of the Moment

Sean William Scott

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

"Dorian, you must clearly be in the wrong on all things, because you only ever talk about the bad customers you have."

Er, no, it's just that the good, reasonable, polite and sane customers don't make for very interesting stories. "You'll never believe this: a customer came in to the store with a well-organized list of back issues he was looking for, and was very understanding of the fact that we were busy and so let us take our time helping him. In between fetching boxes of back issues we had a pleasant conversation about Golden and Silver Age comics that we wouldn't mind seeing reprinted, because we both felt that DC's and Marvel's emphasis on only reprinting the popular material from those periods is allowing higher quality material to languish. For example, anything by Lou Fine is better than Golden Age Green Lantern, but good luck convincing DC of that."

So in the efforts of balance, here's my Worst Non-Comics Related Customer and my Worst Rude Clerk stories.

Worst Non-Comics Related Customer: I used to work in a shoe-store, right out of high school. There is quite probably no more soul-deadening retail posistion to have other than shoe store clerk (expect, possibly, liquor store clerk). At this particular store we had a price-matching policy. If another store had a current, advertised sale for the same kind of shoe we carried that was lower than our regular or sale price, we would match the price. Pretty simple stuff. Except for one fellow who came in with a flyer for another store. "I want this shoe" he told me. I looked at the circular. It was advertising a very fancy pair of sneakers for about $10. And I'm looking at the circular, and I realize that a) this isn't our store's circular, b) that's not a brand of shoe we carry and c) this particular circular is about five years old. And I politely tell the customer that, while we do match our competitor's prices, that's only on items we have in stock and for current advertised sales, not ones from five years ago. And in any case, we don't carry that brand of shoe, though I can show him several similar styles of shoe if he'd like.
Which, of course, is when he starts screaming about how I'm trying to rip him off and that he's going to call the Better Business Bureau because we refuse to abide by our advertised sales prices. Literally screaming at the top of his lungs, making a scene in the entire store. Which is not a good sign for me, because this particular store had an over-broad "The Customer Is Always Right" policy which states that if the customer is unhappy, for any reason whatsoever, it is explicitly the fault of the clerk. By the store's definition, in other words, there was no such thing as an unreasonable customer request.
So yeah, that was a fun day at work. I never did get that guy calmed down and he left, still screaming. In hindsight, I'm just glad he never threw anything at me. It wasn't until I started working in comics retail that I needed to develop an ability to anticipate when customers would throw things at you because you refuse to meet their unreasonable demands.

Worst Rude Clerk: I was in the LA area, shopping around, looking for bookstores while I was on break from school. Specifically, I was looking for bookstores with either new or used editions of "pulp" detective novels from the post-war period, or books of commentary and reviews of the same. All in purpose of my senior thesis, "Representations of Masculinity in the Pulp Detective Story." And so I had a pretty good nest-egg of several hundred dollars built up to use to buy material for this project, since I was having little to no luck finding these sorts of things through libraries. And I eventually wandered into a neighborhood in Santa Monica which had several used and new bookstores. My first stop was an upscale store which advertised that they carried lots of first editions. It had a monstrously ugly steel and glass facade, and when I went in they had fancy leather couches in their "reading" area, plush carpets, air conditioning, and classical music playing. The clerks were quite a bit older than me, very smartly dressed, and I felt immediately out of place in my schlubby poor college student outfit. Both clerks immediately gave me the evil eye, and when I asked them were they kept their older mystery novels I was given a vague "in that direction" wave by one of them. Looking around the store, I didn't find an actual mystery section, but I did notice that they had a special section set aside for leather-bound first editions which was organized by the color and size of the books. Which meant that this wasn't a book store for people who actually read books. After about ten minutes of trying to find something I could use, one of the clerks came up to me and said "We have a very exclusive clientele here. Perhaps you'd like to shop some place else?"
So I left, and a block or two later, find a somewhat run-down, plaster-facaded bookstore which was over-flowing with books. They had techno music playing and the gal behind the counter had colored hair and piercings. I asked for the mystery section and she took me to it, asked me specifically what I was looking for, and when told went into the back room and got out more of the exact kinds of books I was looking for. She even gave me a good discount on everything I bought that day because it was for school.
On my way back to my car I went back to that first store. There were still no customers in the store. I showed the clerk my receipt for several hundred dollars worth of books and asked him how much business he'd done since they threw me out. I didn't get an answer. Not that I really waited for one, to be honest.


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