Random Memories of Customer Service

Reading the “customers suck” community is such a vicarious pleasure now that I no longer work retail.

Time has blunted my outrage from the days of customer service, and so I only remember a coupla gems, like the woman who called the streetlight outage hotline (yes, I worked on a hotline where you reported streetlight outages. Astonishingly, this was NOT the most tedious job I ever had.) to tell me that her streetlight had been crappy ever since the gaslight was replaced with electric, and she wanted her street’s lights torn out and replaced with the old gas ones. Now, St. Paul may be a quaint little metropolis, but even we had stopped doin’ that whole gaslight thing in the thirties.

As with all such imponderables, all you can do is hit hold, turn in your chair, and carol in that high, mad sing-song that means your manager is about to suffer as you have suffered, “I have a customer that needs to talk to yoooooooouuu…”

Mostly what I remember now are scenes. Peculiar visuals. The guy who came into the drugstore once a week, who was–I kid you not–a transvestite Benjamin Franklin in a walker.

Now, obviously one cannot help needing a walker, and one probably can’t do much about resembling Benjamin Franklin, and if you want to be a transvestite it’s none of my business, and if you wish to limp slowly through the makeup aisle and buy one tube of bright red lipstick every week, then wonderful, whatever makes you feel pretty, dude. And you wish to communicate in grunts while purchasing your lipstick? Fine, fine. Wear it in good health.

Things like this have made me realized that nobody who waits on me sees me at all. They have forgotten I exist as soon as I leave their line of sight. I have to get out The Cool Hat with the floppy brim and giant pink flower to have even a hope of registering, and that’ll only work on a slow day. The Transvestite Franklin Walkers of the world have defeated me before I even begin. Unless I’m rude, of course.

I think the job at the vet had some of the most memorable scenes. (That was a weirdass place. Loved the dogs, hated a lot of the people. Years later, one I’d rather liked wrote me to say “Yeah, was that place freaky or what?” and was relieved that it hadn’t just been me.) When we cleared the waiting room once a month, when the savage Dalmation, “Buddy” had to be hauled in, foam dripping from around the edges of his muzzle, claws scrabbling on the tiles, making the low mad snarl of a dog that has gone way past that whole “growl” thing and is now planning on taking as many people out with him as possible.

“I’m sure he’s a different dog at home,” I said, in an attempt to comfort the red-eyed and embarassed owner, an attractive middle-aged woman.

“Not really, no,” she said reflectively.

But the best was the boxer, and his owner, and the board.

I am ambivalent towards the boxer breed. We had neighbors who’s two horribly trained and badly cared for boxers would chase the car, CATCH THE CAR, and cling to the bumper with their teeth, frothing. My impression is of dreadfully high energy wrapped up with dreadfully little brain. And yet, I once stood at a bus stop with a general assistance dog and her owner, a tiny, stooped woman with a befuddled gaze and a definite sense that the lights were not really on, never mind anybody being home. The boxer, however, was carrying groceries in a sort of saddlebag arrangement, and was waiting for the bus as alertly as I was. The bus stopped a bit short. The dog got up. The owner appeared confused, and started to wander towards the crosswalk. This did not faze the dog. The dog was a professional. The dog stood like a rock until the woman realized she was not making any forward headway, looked vaguely around, and discovered the bus. Then carefully herded her back, around the bench, up to the bus door. I got the distinct impression that of the three of us at the bus stop, the dog was probably the most on the ball. So that changed a lot of my opinion toward the breed.

But the one that came into the vet…

It was a visual more than anything else. A young male dog, not a malicious bone in his body, not even any grumpy cartilage. More energy than a sack full of weasels. Leaping around at the end of his leash with the good-natured enthusiasm of a very, very excited dog who sees PEOPLEPEOPLEPEOPLE! who will pet him and tell him what a good dog he was, a big, sloppy, cheerful animal, dumber than a sack of wet mice, who wanted to go see all the people RIGHT NOW and couldn’t decide what order to see them in first.

Attached to the other end of this rather short leash, an elderly planet orbiting a drooling star, was his owner. His owner was a silver-haired woman of perhaps seventy-five years old, weighed less than he did, and was immaculately dressed in a fire-engine red coat and an enormous purple hat, which had fake plastic cherries on it, and a gigantic black and white houndstooth handbag.

This woman could no more have out-muscled this dog than she could have flown to Brazil in her hat. The dog came plunging into the waiting room, saw PEOPLEPEOPLEPEOPLE! and went mad with delight. He charged behind the desk to see the receptionists, gave us each a quick swipe of a massive tongue, panting with absolute delight, while we squawked, was gone again before any of us could hope to catch his collar, saw one of the techs OH GOD PEOPLEPEOPLEPEOPLE!, charged in, saw another receptionist, charged out again.

At the same time, his owner is yelling at him, naturally. Dog ignores owner. Owner hauls on leash. Dog ignores negligable weight. Owner reaches into handbag and produces a wooden paddle of the sort popular in schools a century ago, which reads, in flowing scripts “BOARD OF EDUCATION” on it. Owner smacks dog across the ass with the Board of Education, producing a resounding CRACK!

Dog does not even notice in his effort to get to the next PERSON who he hasn’t sniffed yet. Owner whacks dog again. Dog tears by receptionist desk. Owner sails by on the end of leash, saying “It doesn’t hurt him!”

Receptionists watch, absolutely paralyzed by this scene. Board of Education is used again. “It doesn’t hurt him!” she cries again, as the dog hauls her off to go sniff somebody else. “The noise gets his attention!”

The noise was not getting his attention, believe me. This woman had about as much chance of getting the dog’s attention with the Board of Education as I would of getting the Great Wall of China’s attention with a kazoo solo. Whack! went the Board. Pantpantpant! went the dog. “It really doesn’t hurt him!” cried the woman, sailing past at high speed again.

At last, when he came in for a second round of sniffs, he slowed down a bit, somebody got his collar, and the woman dusted herself off, readjusted her hat, tucked the Board under her arm, and strode confidently into the exam room behind her ecstatic dog. And I sat on the floor beside the other receptionists and sobbed with laughter until we about ruptured an appendix.

It has been over a decade, and this memory is still breathtakingly vivid. She was a charming woman, she loved her dog very much, and he was, fortunately, a terribly nice dog, and I cannot help but go into hysterics whenever I remember THE BOARD OF EDUCATION.

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