Thursday, June 20, 2013

Customer Service, Part 11.

Okay, this is bad.  This is really bad.  I would like to state for the record that I know what I did was bad, that if I had been caught I could have been fired.  Maybe I should have been fired.  Maybe I still could be, I don't know.  But this was years ago, and thinking about it still makes me smile, half sheepishly, half triumphantly.

It all started with the fart book.  Farts: a spotter's guide, by Craig S. Bower, had been on our shelf for a while.  We had a lot of fun with it; our favorite thing to do was broadcast the fart sounds over the store intercom after we closed for the night.  I liked button number nine, the long, drawn-out fart.  And it was always a treat to watch customers discover the book for themselves.  Occasionally, we would put the book on a promotional table, and we would get to see customers pick it up, look it over, and experimentally push a button.  Then, they either dropped the book in disgust, or started giggling like children, and taking ten minutes to push every button and thoroughly enjoy themselves.  Age, race, and sex did not matter; all types of customers enjoyed this book.  I don't think any of them suspected that one day that delightfully silly book would be used as a weapon against them.      

But one night, near the end of my rope and desperate to get home as soon as possible, I conceived a diabolical plan.  Of course, before we can go home, we have to clean up the store.  We try to get started on this as soon as possible, but not too soon, so the customers don't sneak in behind us and mess up the shelves we just straightened.  I thought I had gotten my timing down just right, only to find myself stymied by a gaggle of six teenagers in the graphic novels.

They were not reading, they were not shopping, they were just standing around talking, long after kids their age should have been home in bed.  They were led by a Lone Pontificator, a young man so arrogant he could not help but style himself the intellectual head of his little clique.  Skinny, nerdy, with a large nose and thick-rimmed glasses; his voice was loudest.  The boys laughed at his jokes, but the girls laughed harder and all the kids were heady with the joy of being young and smart and away from their parents.  If I had been in a better mood, I might have remembered feeling like that as a teenager, but it had been a very bad night.

So, how to get them moving?  I don't know why I didn't just try to sell them books, there's nothing our customers hate more than service, until they're desperately frustrated, anyway, but in my exhausted, frantic state I thought of the fart book first.

So I went and got a copy out of the humor section.  Then, I situated myself one row behind them, in Science Fiction.  I put the book up on top of the shelves, so I could reach it and they could hear it, but none of us could see it.  Then, I hit a button.  Of course, since I couldn't see the book, I didn't know which one I hit.  I was hoping for nine, but I think I got, like, six.  Anyway, they didn't react.

I straightened another shelf.  Then, I hit it again.  This time, they noticed.  I heard the pause in their conversation, but it was short, and soon they continued talking.  I straightened another two shelves.  I hit another button.  This time, the Lone Pontificator, smarter and more functionally assertive than I gave him credit for, asked his friends, "Is that one of us?'  They all denied it, of course, and for a moment it looked like they might turn on each other, and that would have been interesting, but instead, they continued their conversation, but hesitantly and with less enthusiasm.

All right, one more try.  I hit the button again, and this time, jackpot!  I got button number nine, the fart noise that goes on for ten seconds straight.  And with that, the Lone Pontificator had enough.  He led his whole posse around the corner to confront the interrupting farter.  And he caught me.  But I didn't have the book in my hands, obviously, because that really would get me in trouble, so he just saw me.  And assumed that I was farting.

I blushed.  And when he asked if had heard anything, I stammered my denial.  But he clearly thought I had, and my suspicious behavior didn't help.  He knew I was responsible, in a far more personal way than I actually was.  I was surprised that he confronted me directly, and when he left, leading his posse with him, he seemed confident in his victory.

I felt sheepish in my victory.  Even now, years later, I still have to remind myself that I will never see those people again, and I have no real reason to be embarrassed.  Except it was so bad.