Some conversations with customers are a bit like a trip down the Wikipedia rabbit hole where you just kind of hold on and see where you end up. You know how it goes: one minute you’re watching a Hidden Valley salad dressing commercial with Jenny Garth and three hours later your roommate finds you rocking back and forth watching the Richard Donner cut of Superman II and you have a perfectly reasonable, logical and well documented explanation for how you got from point A to B.
It happens to us all. But that’s how these conversations can go; they’ll start with a perfectly innocent (albeit stupid) question and then it’s liftoff. That customer sweeps through and picks you up, and really, who knows where you’re going to end up when they’re done with you.
One customer confided in me in graphic detail how he would like to murder a Florida prosecutor who had convicted his son of having attempted to murder his wife. It wasn’t that the man doubted his son’s guilt, in fact, his crime was also described for me in great detail, but instead simply that this attorney had the nerve to punish his boy. I’d known the man all of thirty seconds when this happened and was only trying to recommend a nice supernatural teen series for his granddaughter. This happens. A lot.
“Does it matter what tablet I have?” the woman asked me when I noticed her at the ereader accessories display. “Is there a difference between the sizes for these cases?”
“Oh yeah. Everything’s a different size. Which device do you have?”
“I don’t know. It was my son’s—my older son’s. He got a new one and gave his to his younger brother, I don’t know what it is or what size. It looks like these.”
I explained that she needed to get the make and model of the device, that she should ask her son about it. He’ll know what it is, so as long as she writes it down, we can tell her whether there’s something in the store that would work, or if she needs to look elsewhere to get a case for her baby boy’s new toy.
At this point, I think we’re done. I think she thought we were done. We should have been done. That would have been cool, since up until this point, she seemed nice. And not crazy at all.
Nope. Nope, not done, because then she notices a display we have up. Ok, busted, it wasn’t a company mandated display but instead one we threw up because we had boxes of this teen series and nowhere to put it. See, we sold a handful of Asylum and its sequel Sanctum, so the company shipped us 60 more of each one. That’s how it goes. Sell one? Here’s seven! Returned four? No, you must have done that by mistake, here’s fifteen!
“Oh what’s this?!”
“That? That’s a cool teen series, I think this one’s the first one,” I say, pointing to it, “It’s about kids in a prep school who live in an old psych hospital. There’s all these photographs throughout the—”
“That’s disgusting when they do that, like that one, they shouldn’t be opening a hotel or whatever, they need to tear that place down, I used to work there, there’s no reason to keep it around—”
“Yeah, of course,” I said before realizing I had no idea what she was talking about. Now she’s fired up, she’s talking and she’s talking fast. There’s barely a space between words or a breath between sentences, there’s no space between thoughts. You’re going to have trouble keeping up. “Wait, what place?”
“The Richardson Complex. I used to work there, it was horrible, I lasted a week, I was in college, you should have seen the way they were treated there, the kids had to take care of other patients and most of them weren’t even crazy, they’d just been abandoned and no one knew what to do with them, you know who was crazy? The ones running the place, those were the crazy ones, and the ones who want to turn it into a hotel now—”
“That reminds me of a book we have in our biography section,” I said, hoping to bring the conversation back around to her spending some money, “It’s the State Boys Rebellion, about kids who were institutionalized in the 50s, most of them were just unwanted—”
“No, they weren’t there—”
“At the Psych Center, that wasn’t them.”
“Well no, it was a different institution, but it’s like what you were saying about—”
“It wasn’t them, I can’t believe they would do that, they need to tear that place down, whatever with it being a historical building, it’s disgusting what happened there, no, I don’t think I can read those, those kids shouldn’t even have been there, so I should talk to my son and see what kind of tablet he has?”
“Exactly,” I agreed. I was starting to get dizzy. “Ask him who made it and what the name of it was, the make and model, and we can figure out what kind of case you need and whether we have it or not.”
“OK, honey, you’re so sweet, I will, I’ll ask him and come back and see you, thank you for taking the time, I’ll see you soon.”
And then she’s gone, and you stand there for a few seconds. Sometimes you smile to yourself and shake your head, sometimes another customer who may have overheard a part of the conversation makes eye contact with you and you both laugh. Your laughter isn’t malicious. You’re not laughing to be mean or to make fun of them; you’re genuinely amused by this crazy person tornado you just experienced. In fact, you’re not even sure you helped this customer at all even though they left super happy about their experience in the store and the amazing customer service they received.
Well, at least from their perspective. You’re still wondering what just happened.
a fragment of a story…
Should you survive the journey by barge from the eastern harbors, you may find yourself murdered, robbed, beaten, assaulted, harassed, molested or unusually prodded by a variety of creatures, most of which are employed to prevent against such things. If you are fortunate enough to emerge from that cesspool of thievery and drunkenness and general debauchery that is Dante Place, you may be greeted by a rather unusual sight: electric streetlights.
Believed to be something between a miracle of the new scientific age and a modern day form of witchcraft, my father was the first man to be electrocuted by these marvels of the technological age.
The news account of the day varied as the journalists volleyed their outrageous claims of the dangers of the untested and unreliable phenomenon to increase their own paper’s circulation. But the general opinion, reinforced by the police inquiry’s official determination, was death by misadventure.
I assume most people have their own quirky habit for dealing with stress or bad days. Some people will go to the pet store and look at puppies, my friend has a cache of cute bunny pictures; some might go to the mall or a park and wander, just needing the presence of people and conversation surging around them to balance out whatever negative energy had thrown their day off.
Me? I like to wander around office supply stores.
Of my local options I prefer Office Max to Office Depot. I always have, but especially now that many Depot stores have closed or downsized. There’s also an Office Max in the plaza where I work, so its proximity to a constant source of my own mental unbalancing may have something to do with my affinity for it.
There’s something very calming, very soothing about office supply stores. I found a similar feeling a few weeks ago while wandering up and down the bourbon aisle at Premier, checking out interesting bottles, reading the manufacturer or employee write-ups that accompanied many of them. It was similar and led me to identify what it was I like so much about office supply stores, even as it wasn’t as intense a feeling. It was the possibility. Where the bourbon aisle offered great variety and possibility, it did so at the threat of my losing a night of productivity if I got carried away.
(I ended up with a bottle of Jim Beam that was on sale and a couple small sample bottles of Woodford Reserve and Bulleit Frontier Whiskey that I took my time trying out—a surprisingly responsible outcome considering my state of mind walking into the store).
But office supply stores offer possibility of another kind. The possibility of organization. I don’t consider myself a very organized person, despite being someone who really, really wants to be organized, and even was once. Briefly. I think. (That was an amazing ten minutes of my life) And here is this magical place, this world of office supply, where everything I could possibly need to get my shit together is there, it’s all there! If I went wild in that store with its plethora of options; clicky pens, whiteboards, cork boards, bookshelves, cabinets, trays, stack-able boxes, desks, corner desks, corner desks with bookshelves—don’t even get me started on the pens, there’d be no stopping me. I’d rule the world, and I could too because they also sell coffee and Twizzlers. Everything I need to survive is in that store. Have I mentioned their inexhaustible selection of pens?
This goes back to childhood, and running errands with my mother. Across from K-Mart was a little pair of stores, The Paper Cutter and Fay’s Drugs. I was always partial to the Paper Cutter, mostly due to the wall of pens they had in the back corner of the store near the photo counter. I think I learned to spell my name finally by trying out each and every pen they had over and over until I found the perfect one. I was very particular about pen tips, even then.
The Paper Cutter was where I bought a discounted copy of Lord of Chaos, one of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, because it had a cool cover. I’ve never read it. Why did my mom even let me buy it? That’s book six in the series. It’s also where I purchased Gordon R. Dickson’s Other, which is part of his unfinished Childe Cycle. Recently I bought a cool old paperback edition of the first book in the series published under its original title, The Genetic General. I’ve never read either book. I would routinely lose feeling in my legs from sitting so long under the spinner rack of comic books. One day I will buy a copy of that 30th anniversary Amazing Spider-man with the hologram on the cover that I read there. It was a big issue; it was too pricey back then for my mom to buy me. $3.95. And that’s 1993 dollars. Man, that was a good run of comics. One day Spider-man, one day.
And next door was Fay’s. Which, whatever, it was a drug store. We had to go there for my brother’s inhaler, but other than that, it didn’t appeal to me too much. I wanted to go next door to read comics. All of the comics.
The thing you should know about Fay’s, was it had the best bag. I know that sounds strange to say, but mention a Fay’s bag to anyone over thirty that lived in Buffalo. This might extend to more than Buffalo actually, since the company started in Fairport, New York and had their headquarters in Syracuse. This wasn’t just a local Buffalo thing.
I don’t know what it was about those plastic bags; that they were yellow when everyone else used white or brown? Or was it the plastic they used, weren’t they thicker than most other stores’ bags? Could have been the colors, the yellow bag and black design? It jumped out at you.
These bags were used and reused and reused, and they held up. Ten years after Fay’s was sold off and turned into Eckherd’s, I saw a homeless guy walking down Hertel Avenue with a Fay’s bag stuffed full. They’re still around. There may still be one in my parent’s hall closet full of winter hats and gloves. Those bags are indestructible. They’re legendary.