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The dreadful phone rings, jolting me like a vicious Taser and its high-pitched tone drills straight through my head. I have exactly 5 seconds before it rings a second time and this is when the soulless mainframe in the bowels of a nondescript, huge steel-and-glass monstrosity in some equally nondescript downtown, hundreds and maybe thousands of miles away, will begin its vile countdown. The mainframe will gauge accurately my response time between the first and the second ring, then will listen dispassionately at the tone of my voice, measure my breathing and vocal patterns. It will count the number of times I have grasped for breath, clutched forcefully my fist, linked it mysteriously with the number of times I have rolled up my eyes in exasperation, caught on a high resolution camera from every possible angle. In a split second it will compute some concocted, fancy ‘Index of Employee Frustration and Total Job Satisfaction’, sold to the top honchos by their $1500/hour frat drinking buddies as the latest ‘Company-wide Productivity Augmentation Suite/Team Building Endeavor’. Then this index will be tabulated, crosschecked, referenced and averaged across every ZIP code with every imaginable demographic, weather, stock market and other data. At the end of the month, my puny, microscopic ‘bonus’ will shrink beyond recognition, cutting my bottom-line and improving the bottom line of these same well-heeled, highly paid executives. Thus, they can have more quality time for corporate jetting with their trophy wives and all-expenses paid golfing with politicians from every stripe and creed .

“Thank you for calling Global Delivery and Printing, where our color copies are just short of two quarters and our black and white copies – less than a dime – how may I help you today?”

For good ten seconds nothing happens at the other end, then a barrage of sounds – the crash of five hundred plates fiercely hurled to the ground at the backdrop of loud thumping and stomping, mixed with anguished hollering assault my eardrum. A crime scene? The latest ‘TV Reality Show?’ The newest variation of what passes for music in some circles? Guess some things are better left unknown. Then a sleepy morose voice destroys the remnants of the tiny bones inside my ear – “We apologize sir, but a negligible 50 percent hearing loss while servicing our valuable customers is not considered a covered event as far as workmen’s compensation is concerned!”

“Ummm…. Do you guys deliver?

“Yes sir, we are Global Delivery – can you please tell me the initial and final ZIP code so I can quote you a price?”

“Hmmm… Don’t know anything about no ZIP code, I was just axing. And what about your color and black and white copies – do you umm… have any specials, hmmm?”

I just feel atmospherically euphoric when an adult begins their well-thought inquiry with a meaning-laden, ominous sounding “Ummm” and then asks me a bunch of dumb questions I have already answered – “Yes, we deliver, yes, our color copies are so and so and black and white – so and so”. I don’t know about you, but every time I hear “I was just axing” – tremors of horror run down my back as I visualize some “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” wacko wielding a chainsaw or an axe in my face.

Under normal circumstances I would have politely pointed to the caller that all of his questions have been answered in my greeting and if he intended to “axe” me, and not “ask” me, I would have to call the police, as I felt my physical safety was threatened. Working retail under the mighty arm of a global, ‘six-sigma certified’, ‘employee-empowered and invested’, ‘family-friendly’, ‘customer-oriented’ global corporation with inscrutable procedures and protocols, enthusiastically deployed, enforced, monitored and modified by battalions of Ivy-league educated managers, supervisors, advisors, chiefs and department heads does not even marginally scratch normalcy. 

I have barely suppressed an anguished sigh of vexation, avoiding the all-seeing camera that doubtless is feeding the remote computer matrix of ‘unacceptable employee behavior’ so that at the end of the month the unknown management gurus will have yet another excuse of shriveling my barely visible paycheck. Another bell pierces the air from the corner booth – yet another management fad, measuring ‘employee responsiveness time and customers’ concern handling’ with the proper procedures and protocol, again feeding the insatiable computer appetite for all sorts of irrelevant data.

A tall kid of several ethnic backgrounds and spiked hair with at least five distinct hues, menacing tattoos on his neck and a T-shirt with the logo of the computer department of a well-known technical university is frantically gesticulating and screaming his lungs out:

“Hey dude, is the Internet down?”

In my parallel life, away from the joys of retail I am a network administrator, so when someone is asking if the Internet is down, that rings an impossibly loud bell: “Did the Chinese or the Russians or whoever is the next designated enemy of the day mount, an all-out nuclear attack, knocking off the power grid from Maine to Florida?” Or, “Did some weirdo chop off a major fiber optic trunk, bringing down servers and equipment from California to the Great Lakes?”

As always in life, this was a trivial, non-starter, non-event – the kid from the well-known technical university was trying to email a file, just about fifteen times bigger than the size allowed by email systems – try pouring a gallon of water in a pint sized bottle. So, after about a quarter of an hour of politely going back and forth, the kid stormed out of the store, blaring as if someone was pulling his hair, instantly drawing amused smiles from other customers:

“This customer service sucks and I am writing to my senator to close this store!”

Gradually the Great American Shopping season of Labor-Day-Columbus-Day-Thanksgiving-Christmas came to a crawling close at the end of a dreary, cold, gloomy and generally miserable December. In a hopeless, desperate effort to bring some commonsense during this insane season, management inevitably puts out a big bold sign, showing guaranteed delivery times for packages based on shipment date. There are also big bright letters literally yelling: “No delivery on Christmas Eve, No delivery on Christmas Day!”

Signs, or no signs, there is always the lost soul who righteously demands delivery on these special days, inevitably bringing the wrath of God, the merciless long arm of the law and all sorts of man-made calamities, with portentous threats about stopping to sign our paychecks. Makes me wonder, is the customer always right?


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