The red mist descends

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if you want to experience the pretence of peerless customer service, but an experience that’s as much fun as having your testicles scraped with a rusty razor blade, New York City is the only place for you. Despite having lived in the city for well over two years now, it still somehow comes as a surprise to me when I’m inevitably regarded as an irritant by somebody who makes their living from ensuring that I hand over cash to the business which they represent.

Take, for example, a discount department store that shall remain nameless. We’ll call it “Century 22”, which should be enough to confuse at least 75% of the staff that work there. I would normally avoid it like the plague, but had the recent misfortune of being dispatched to explore its dubiously stocked aisles for some curtains for our new home.

As an aside, I would like to make it clear that The Special One had rightly not trusted me with making an aesthetics-based selection on my own – asking me to pick out appropriate curtains would be akin to asking Joseph Goebbels to judge the prestigious Humanitarian of the Year contest. But even I couldn’t mess up picking up some pre-selected curtains.

Inevitably the course of true drapery never runs smooth, and having discovered that the store only had four of the aforementioned curtains, I looked around for somebody who could help me. I can only assume that nearby staff had seen me piling into the racks of carpets with befuddlement and frustration on my face, as by the time I glanced up, I could have been forgiven for believing that an announcement over the loudspeaker regarding an imminent outbreak of anthrax had caused all employees to scatter to the four winds.

Now, at this point, I should point out that the staff of “Century 22” all wear a badgebutton on their uniforms reading something along the lines of “I care – just ask me!”. So when I finally found somebody, I gave a winning smile and asked if she could check to see if they had any more curtains in stock. The response of “you’ll need to find somebody in drapery, I work in homeware” was almost certainly coquettish flirtation, although the fact that she turned on her heels and walked off would seem to be playing too hard to get, if you ask me.

After five minutes of wandering around, a manager finally and reluctantly disappeared off to a computer before returning to tell me triumphantly that they had fourteen more sets in stock, and introduced me to a colleague who would help me find them.

Which is when I met the true hero of the story. As long as the story we’re talking about is “How To Turn Customers Into Mortal Enemies”.

We’ll call our hero Marcus. Largely because that’s his name. When it came to ‘effectiveness’ being handed out, Marcus was infront of the mirror preening himself and making sure he could still fit into his skinny jeans. And let’s just say that he hasn’t exactly taken out a lifelong subscription to Enthusiasm Monthly, either.

After five minutes of sorting through the entire curtain stock of the store (something I had done myself in around three minutes flat), Marcus went back to the computer to check that a mistake hadn’t been made. On his puzzled return, he spent ten minutes repeating the entire process once more. And then he disappeared upstairs to check the stockroom.

By this point I’d already been in the store for half an hour, and there was a vague chance that the smoke coming out of my ears could have set off the sprinkler system. But safe in the knowledge that returning home with new curtains would bring a smile to The Special One’s face, I swallowed my impatience, and hung around pretending to be interested in pillowcases.

Twenty minutes later, and there was still no sign of Marcus. Store customers couldn’t get access to the kitchen appliance or luggage sections, such was the unbearable angry heat radiating from my cheeks and making it impossible to get within twenty feet of me.

And then I saw him. Marcus. Standing and laughing with some colleagues near the bathroom towels, about thirty yards away. My guess is that they weren’t discussing curtains. I’d go as far as to say that he would have struggled to tell you what a curtain was at that precise moment. As I approached with my face full of thunder, I began thinking of all the things I would say to him to make sure he never treated a customer like that again. I was almost looking forward to it.

Then I realised that I was English, and meekly asked him if he’d found anything. He told me that he’d have one last look through the stock on display. You know, just in case. And I let him. Fifteen minutes later – an hour or so after my arrival – I left emptyhanded, having thanked him for all his help.

I showed him who’s boss, I can tell you.

7 thoughts on “The red mist descends

  1. Brooklyn

    Dylan:

    I’m afraid you have just “outed” yourself as a NYC newbie. You’ve been here two years, but how many classes did you cut (is there a different UK universiy term for skipping a class)?

    Everyone I know is aware that Century 22 (How many hours did you spend coming up with that clever alias? Submit your application to for membership in the Algonquin Round Table tout suite) presents a Faustian offer: Save money if you consent to the torture of poor service, and at the Manhattan branch, hordes of tourists from every continent except Antarctica.

    My wife won’t even step in the door. I limit myself to customer service transparent purchases like socks and belts.

    How would a Londoner react to American complaints of rain and fog, or a Parisian react (if he or she even bothered to) to American complaints of indifference and condescension?
    Each would say: “What did you expect?”

    Bad service at Century 22? What did you expect?

    What you did was begin an assault on Mt. Everest and gave up halfway to the top when you first realized when you were on the slope that the summit was too high. No wonder you complain about the conditions, you did’t prss on to the payoff. Who knows how much you would have saved if you persevered?

    Come to think of it, Century 22 is a metaphor for life for those who are not born with a silver sppon in our mouths: Success takes effort and life can be “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

  2. Silverback

    Well done, Dylan. We’re proud of you. Two years in NYC and you still retain all the traits of a civilized and uncomplaining nation.

    I do hope you turned at the door as you left and in true Rhett Butler style, uttered a very loud ‘tut’ just to REALLY show those people that they’d upset a person of superior breeding.

    Her Majesty (or more likeley Phil The Greek) will no doubt be in touch with news of your New Year’s gong.

  3. Lisa

    Your fellow New Yorkers haven’t properly assimilated you. 🙂

    We went into No Frills looking for porcini mushrooms. The guy went to the dried mexican food section, did not find mushrooms amongst the chilis and tamale wrappers, and gave up entirely.

    At least we had his attention for the duration of his brief attempt to help us.

  4. Expat Mum

    Ha ha – you big girl’s blouse. Actually taking the “mean” approach doesn’t work either half the time. They have what you need and if you piss ’em off they just walk off and leave you. I used to write lots of letters complaining about this type of thing, and naming names. You’d be amazed at how much free stuff you can get my way of compensation!!!

  5. Iota

    I think the whole story sounds like a fairy tale. You, the ardent suitor of The Special One’s, so anxious to win her favour that you take on a challenge that lesser mortals would think impossible. You battle giants, solve riddles, slay dragons, and purchase curtains.

    Except you didn’t…

  6. Iota

    And now you say you secretly like it in Walmart! Get on your dashing white charger and joust your way over there, then. They do curtains, I’m sure (though perhaps not ones that would tickle her ladyship’s fancy).

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