Personal Thursday: Retail Horror

Oct 30

I asked on the Twitternets, as you do, what I should write about for this week’s Personal Thursday entry. And I got a request for retail horror stories. So here is an entry about that.

After I got that request, I started thinking about horror stories from my retail days, at Borders and then Starbucks. Let me tell you, I had many unpleasant interactions with customers, despite my efforts to give good or at least adequate customer service at all times. I’m too much of a Boy Scout to actually be a dick to a customer no matter how tired or angry I might be. I used to type up long, angry screeds full of expletives at whatever the lastest customer idiocy was.

But as I mentally chewed on those, trying to decide which ones to write about, I realized I’ve cooled off on them. I may retain some bitterness about some of the common threads of retail work, but the individual stories have faded enough that I can’t muster up the energy to fill them with “colorful metaphors”. Mostly they serve to remind me to be kind to the retail workers (and everyone else) I meet in my day to day existence.

Some people dismiss retail work as “trivial”, “not real work”, or — in the current debate on raising the minimum wage — “not worth real money”. In their minds the retail worker is a fumbling high school student, a college student in a “fluffy” major, or someone who has somehow failed at life and is therefore not worth the dignity of basic humanity. The numbers show of course that this is not true, and that for many retail workers it’s the one thing putting food in their, and their families’, mouths. But let’s put that aside for a second; let’s pretend that entry-level retail is all surly high schoolers too lazy to competently perform basic tasks. Even in that weird parallel universe, they are still worthy of compassion.

Many horror stories from retail workers have a common theme: a rude, oblivious, condescending or downright hostile customer. Why is this? Why do so many people feel the need to be jerks to someone who’s not only there to provide a service, but is literally forbidden to defend themself? It takes almost zero effort to be a little understanding, so why do so few people stop to do it?

I don’t know. I feel like it’s similar to bathrooms. No no, hear me out — just about everyone here in the US has a bathroom at home. And most of those people don’t pee on the walls, smear poo on the floor, or leave their vomit in the sink. Most people have a bathroom that, while probably not spotless, is safe for visitors to use without coming into contact with bodily fluids or trash. They don’t break the fixtures. They don’t put holes in the walls. They don’t scratch things up.

And yet … someone does all those things in public restrooms. Someone who wouldn’t dream of leaving an unflushed turd on the seat at home has no problem leaving that little landmine in a restroom that other people have to share with them. A restroom you share with roommates or family or pets gets a certain amount of respect as a shared space. But a public restroom shared with strangers, and cleaned by strangers? Some people just can’t be bothered not to shit the place up. It’s not their problem. They don’t need to clean it up. They’re not gonna sit down and find their ass suddenly wet. Unless of course the person before them thought the same way and the workers hadn’t had a chance to clean it up.

And it’s the same thing, it seems, with retail workers. You don’t know them, you don’t have to deal with any consequences for being a dick to them, so it’s not your problem. So hell, might as well be a dick, right? It’s your chance.

Not all customers think this way. Not even most customers, depending where you are. But you know what? It only takes one person. Or two, or five. Like a turd in the urinal*, even after they’ve left and the physical evidence of their assmillinery has been cleaned up, the stench lingers.

There’s a flaw in my analogy of course, and it’s this: people aren’t restrooms. They’re not made to be shat on even if you aim in the right spot. And I’ve found that 99% of the time it takes zero goddamn effort to treat them with kindness. The person behind the cash register may be performing an outwardly simple task, but even the simplest of tasks becomes harder when you have to balance rules, management, customer desires, the current status of the store, and the inevitable turd in the urinal.

So I guess what I’m trying to say with this rambly mess is — be kind. Have compassion. The sting of being poorly treated will eventually fade in a person’s memory, but being an asshole will stay with you for life.

*Turd in the Urinal is my Marcel Duchamp cover band.

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Personal Thursday Oops It’s Friday Edition: Things I Recommend

Oct 24

Okay, okay, so I missed a Personal Thursday. But it’s always Thursday somewhere, right?

Instead of some kind of long, well-composed entry on something personal today, you’re getting a bullet-pointed list of things that I’m really digging right now. If any of them seem like they’re up your alley, give em a try!

Book: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I read this book after a recommendation I read on a blog and man it was good. You can read the blurb on the cover or on the book-purchasing website of your choice, so I’ll skip that and instead tell you that it has some excellent SF world-building, well-executed use of flashbacks, linguistic details that warmed the cockles of my ex-ling-grad-student heart, and an interesting use of Ursula K. LeGuin-style gender ambiguity. The sequel, Ancillary Sword, just came out and I can’t wait till I have time to read it.

Music: Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1. Okay look, I haven’t seen this movie because I don’t go out to movies but I know the basic details behind this mix. It’s a fun listen, and great upbeat music to work to. Also, it has the Baby Seal of Approval (seriously, my fourteen-month-old loves it).

Video Game: Elder Scrolls Online. This is an MMORPG entry in the Elder Scrolls series (of which Skyrim of “arrow in the knee” fame was the previous installment) and it’s my current game obsession. On my therapist’s advice I’m making sure to include some video game time in my schedule almost every day, and this is what I’m spending it on. The graphics are fittingly pretty for a Skyrim followup, the voice acting is great, you don’t have to interact with other players if you don’t need to, and best of all it’s better than any other MMO I’ve played at actually, you know, telling a story. With other games I’ve stayed up late to finish a quest because I wanted the reward for finishing it or whatever — with ESO I’ve stayed up late to finish a quest because dammit I want to find out what happens! Also notable is the inclusion of LGBT characters in the game. Not just in the “you can marry characters regardless of gender” sense but in the “my female character got asked if she was trying to marry the countess”, “lizard lady asked me to look for her injured girlfriend,” “helped a man rescue his husband” sense. There are actual, canonical gay/bi NPCs in this game and it makes me happy. See game companies? Diversity is not fucking hard. Also, John Cleese is in it. This game could be an blog entry of its own but as you might imagine I don’t want to write too much about games right now.

Coffee: Sun-Dried Ethiopia Yirgacheffe (Starbucks). That’s what I’m drinking right now as I write this — brewed on the Clover machine, two pumps of classic syrup, and some half-and-half. It’s got a very interesting and complex flavor. It’ll set you back some extra cashmonies, being a Reserve coffee, but it’s very tasty.

Hobby: Learning to Sew. I’m still doing this and guys, it’s fun. Even IKEA sells an inexpensive sewing machine and fabric by the yard! Even if all you end up sewing is rectangly things (that’s pretty much all I do with crochet), who doesn’t need more pillowcases and napkins? I even have a pretty good pattern for a reusable grocery bag, and since I live in a plastic-bag-ban area that’s always a bonus. It’s a lot easier for me to fit in some sewing here and there than knitting, which is more time-consuming.

TV show: Sleepy Hollow. I haven’t gotten a chance to watch this season but I watched last season (mostly late at night while sitting up with the baby) and it’s fun. It has the kind of story you come up with late at night when you’re hanging out with your buddies and hyper as hell. Every time you think it’s getting a little over the top, it gets even crazier. The leads have a nice Scully/Mulder vibe (and one of the leads is a black woman — ridiculously rare on US TV!) and it balances well between humor and drama. When I first started watching, I felt like they spilled too many beans in the pilot. Beans that should have been trickled out over the course of the first season. But as time went on I discovered that they spilled all those beans right away because they had a HUGE stock of beans still left to go! Good lord. It does suffer from lazy writing here and there (Lt. Mills: “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” VERY NEXT SCENE: Lt. Mills: [talks about it in great detail, with flashbacks]) so if failures in writing quality make you itch it might not be the show for you. Elsewise, give it a try — and start from the beginning.

 

So there you go. My unsolicited and possibly dubious opinions on things that I like, right at this moment. They’re not my favorites of all time … who can really pick a single favorite book ever? … but if you wanna try something new and you think like me, give ’em a shot.

 

What about you guys? What’s your favorite things right now?

 

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Personal Thursday: Why I Can’t Write About Me

Sep 25

I’ve kept an online blog since 2002. When I was younger I’d occasionally try keeping a diary, but I’d always forget about it after a page or two. Something was missing. Then, as an overcaffeinated undergrad in my early 20s, I discovered that LiveJournal had the missing element: an audience.

LJ has the setup that most social networks have now. You have a place to post your own updates and a feed of updates from people you’re following. So even my most boring, inane blog posts — and there were many — were still read by my friends. I had an audience, and it was easy for them to comment on my posts to give me feedback. I had someone to aim my words at.

Today LJ is a quiet place. I haven’t posted there since November 2013. Instead of my LiveJournal I now have this blog, hosted on my own domain and prettied up with WordPress. When I first set it up I made a few posts about mundane personal things like my Thanksgiving preparations. But since then it’s been strictly “business” — and by business* I mean coffee.

Why is that? Several times I’ve decided to go back to posting personal stuff, but each time I’ve run into a wall made up of two questions:

  • What should I write about?
  • Why should anyone care?

The answer, of course, is that it’s my blog. I can write about whatever I want, and it doesn’t matter if anyone cares.

But even after telling myself that, I hesitate. And I think it’s because I’m back to that missing element: audience. Without the social networking of a service like LiveJournal, and with RSS feeds apparently going the way of the dodo, I can’t shake the feeling that anything I write is just vanishing into the void.

It’s not so much a need for validation (though of course I crave that like anyone else), it’s that without an audience I have trouble finding a voice. I don’t need to write for myself, I know all my mundane personal crap.

That’s why I’ve been able to keep doing coffee posts. There’s a clear goal, obvious content, and I can just look at my Google hits to see what works and what doesn’t. The trick is getting the same sort of feel for my non-coffee stuff.

Well, I won’t learn that trick if I don’t write. I’ve been doing okay for the most part managing a coffee post at least once a week, usually on Fridays. So my goal is to do the same for non-coffee, on what I’m gonna call Personal Thursdays because I like the internal rhyme. Keep an eye on my Twitter for links to new posts, and hopefully I’ll find my voice.

 

*I use the term business loosely, since I make zero money off it.

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Once more unto the breach, with feeling

Sep 14

Yep, another “hey I’m still here” post!

For the past several months, all my creative juices have gone into creating this:

Tiny human

The tiny human, not the blanket.

I swear, I haven’t been able to write damn near anything while the baby was incubating. It really is as if every ounce of creative energy in my body was focused on making her little cells divide instead of making words come out my fingertips. But after a truly Sisyphean labor (which I may blog about at some point, without too much graphic detail), her journey from “tiny bundle of cells” to “independently breathing human being” is complete, so hopefully I can get the words out of my fingers again.

Don’t worry, this won’t become one of those dreaded “mommyblogs”* — I’ll still be posting about coffee-related stuff, mixed in with random personal stuff as it strikes my fancy. I have trouble remembering to use this blog for mundane personal posts, the way I used to use LiveJournal, but I’m working on that. You can see in the “Crap I’ve said lately” section in the sidebar, I still tweet random useless thoughts at random hours.

Posts currently brewing in my head include: the (in)famous Pumpkin Spice Latte, the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, bits and bobs on the new audio show I’m working on (stalled out during the great Babyfication process), and possibly the story of the Sisyphean labor. I might also copy some of my favorite posts over from LiveJournal. Any other requests, loyal readers**?

* Gotta say, I don’t like the derision usually aimed at “mommyblogs”. People should blog about what interests them, and for many women (and men!) that’s their children. I don’t see anywhere near as much internet scorn directed at, say, car blogs or movie blogs. That said, my kid will not be the main focus of this blog.

** All two of you

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Misadventures in phone purchasing

May 26

I have unusual cell phone buying habits for an American. I prefer to buy phones up front, unbranded, from third-party retailers for minimal pre-installed crap. No contract obligations, no “pay it off over your next several bills”, I just get a phone, slap a SIM card in it, and I’m good.

This is partly because my last few phones have been what I call “obscure hipster phones” — little-known models you can’t generally get at your local carrier store. If you go to the Nokia Live theater, they have a display of Nokia phones throughout the years … and not a single one of the Nokias I’ve owned are in the list*.

But as much as I love Nokias, it gets a little tiresome having obscure phones. And since Nokia threw the N9 under the bus in favor of the Windows Lumias, I was faced with a choice between sticking with Nokia and submitting to their hasty change to Windows, or getting an even more obscure hipster phone called Jolla. After much research, I decided to go for option C: get a phone with a widely-supported OS that hasn’t been abandoned by the manufacturer. Namely, the Nexus 4.

I knew T-mobile was selling the Nexus 4, so I called my local store to see if they had some in stock — they did. As soon as I walked in, the customer service guy asked me if I was the person who’d called, and went to grab a 16GB phone from the back. I asked if it was branded and filled with pre-loaded crap. “Nope, this is straight from Google.” Awesome. Then I asked the price. “It’s $49 up front, plus $17 off your next –” No no, how much if I pay for the whole thing right now? “$457”. Does that include tax and fees and whatnot? “Nope.”

… wat. $457? When pretty much everyone who wants a Nexus knows you can get it from Google for a hundred bucks less??

Now, I was willing to pay a markup for the convenience of having the phone right now, instead of having it shipped. And I like giving my money to local shops so at least a little of the money might stay in my community. But I am not paying a whole extra hundred bucks on a $350 phone for no reason.

And just like that, T-mobile lost the easiest sale they would’ve had all month. I knew what I wanted, I was ready to pay for the whole thing right there, they didn’t have to sell me on it or anything. But instead of getting their markup, they got $0**. Good job, beancounters.

Happened to be at Fry’s a little later, and checked their phone racks. If I read their crappy signage right (and let’s face it, at Fry’s that’s a big if) they were selling it for $550. Two hundred dollars over Google’s widely-advertised price. Even Newegg has a $100 markup on it. The cheapest price I found was some random retailer on Amazon — and if I’m looking at Amazon, I might as well buy from Google anyway since I’m not gonna save shipping time.

So in the end, Google got my money. I know situations like mine are rare, and most Americans have no idea of the real cost of their smartphones. But really? Nobody’s even gonna come close to Google’s price? There’s gotta be some weird kind of reseller agreement or something going on, because that’s just straight up weird.

And just for a little icing on the nerd cake, when trying to purchase the phone I found a bug in the Google Play store’s Wallet integration. Because when you do QA for a living, bugs come out of the woodwork at a moment’s notice. I’m like the pied piper of crappy code.

* The E71, N900, and N9.
** Well, besides the money they get from me every month anyway.

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