FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T TURN YOUR BRAIN OFF
You may recall that before my publishing house really got going that I used to do promotions and marketing for Comix Experience. Part of my duties as writer/editor of their newsletter back then was also that of printer; when I finished writing all of the reviews of upcoming comics, completed the scanning and layout of the issue, and trafficked the other columnists’ work, one final injustice was that I couldn’t just rest on my laurels… I also had to xerox the damn thing, too. Printing the 750 copies each month was more than a right of passage; it was a sacred duty that I used to abhor and now look back on through the rosy glasses of… no, that would still suck, I’m pretty sure.
Anyway, in addition to printing the damn thing, I also had to go get the paper, because store owner Brian Hibbs doesn’t have a car. Can you believe it? The guy’s 33 years old and doesn’t have a driver’s license! So, one time, I scooted over to the store where we got all of our business supplies. It’s a wholesale shop that’s also “open to the public” … you know, one of those big-ass stores where you can get anything from boxes of paper clips to cans of Jolt. Comix Experience has an account there; they’re not their biggest account, but neither are they the smallest. I’d guess they probably spend about a grand a month on paper, supplies, and whatnot with this place that shall remain nameless. Ah, why do that? Why can’t they take responsibility? It was Arvey’s, OK? A nationally-known chain of office supply stores, not unlike a Staples or something.
So, all right, I admit I was in a bit of a surly mood (some might say, “as per usual”), but all I wanted was to go in, get that month’s paper supply, sign for it on our account, and leave. So, I’m sporting my Astronauts in Trouble writer’s jacket, my officially-licensed Channel Seven baseball cap, and my scooter gloves and backpack. This is a scooter backpack; the kind that rides way up on your shoulders and nestles right in your back between the shoulder blades. Not one of those side-slung ladies’ things. This is important for later, so pay attention.
So I stride in purposefully, first thing in the morning, nobody in the store, and the functionary behind the first cash register says, “Sir, I need your backpack.”
Never having had been asked for my backpack in this place before, which I’ve been going to to pick up the damn xerox paper for the previous four years, I say, “Why?”
The guy says, “because it’s our policy.”
“What’s your policy?”
“I gotta take your backpack.”
“No,” I say.
“Get out,” he says.
Now this lights my fuse.
“Why?” I say.
“Because you won’t give me your backpack,” says the functionary.
“What do you need my backpack for, though?” I ask.
“Because,” the guy says.
“No,” I say again.
“Then get out,” the guy says.
“Well, it seems we’ve got a bit of a Mexican standoff here,” I say.
Now this totally makes the guy’s train of thought jump the tracks. I mean, he kinda doesn’t know what to do with me because I’m not following the script that he’s been trained with in the first place, and now I’m using terms he’s not familiar with. “You know that bit in old Westerns when the good guy has a gun on the bad guy who’s also just pulled his out and pointed it at the good guy at the same time?”
“Yes,” says the guy slowly.
“Well, that’s a Mexican standoff,” says I. “What’re you gonna do?” I say.
“Gimme your backpack,” the guy says.
By this time, all of the people who work there (who aren’t really working yet, because there’s no one in the store, and it is first thing in the morning) have gathered around to listen to me give this guy a hard time.
“Look, man; I feel your pain,” I say. “I work in retail every once in a while, myself. I know that you think I’m gonna steal a whole bunch of stuff, just fill this poor little backpack up to overflowing with White-Out and hanging file folders, and you’re gonna be all embarrassed when the little alarm goes off and you have to potentially chase me down the street because I’ve stolen my body weight in rubber bands.” At this point, the guy just doesn’t know what to do, and I take pity on him.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Wayne,” says Wayne.
” Wayne, I’m Larry; and I have nothing better to do than make your life miserable today, so why don’t you go get the manager, and I’ll have him tell me you don’t trust your customers, and you think everybody’s out to rip you off.” Now, what Wayne doesn’t know is that Comix Experience has an account there, and I could get one of everything in the friggin’ store, and they’d have to ring it up and Bri would pay for it, because that’s the kind of guy he is. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got a fat blank check. No reason to steal anything at all, because it’s on account. OK?
Wayne says, “I am the manager.”
And I pop a cork.
“Wayne,” I say, “you mean to tell me that we’ve spent this whole time going back and forth and you’ve got a customer that wants to go get something…it’s right over there,” I point at the big pile of paper I want to get, “and you’re holding me up because of an empty backpack that I’d have to be some kind of contortionist to put something in?” At this point, the assembled Arvey’s workers are starting to laugh, because it’s clear that I’m going to give Wayne a hard time until he smartens up.
“I need your backpack,” says Wayne.
“What are you, some kind of android?” I say. “Just tell me you think I’m going to rob you, Wayne; just be honest about it.”
“It’s our policy, Larry.”
“Look,” I say. “I know what you’re saying; I work behind a cash register, too.”
“What would you do, then, if you were me?” says Wayne.
“I’d get one of those guys who are laughing their asses off at your toeing the company line to follow me around to make sure I don’t steal anything, so we can make fun of you while we walk right over there, Wayne, to pick up this paper and come back and put it on our account.”
“Just give me your bag. If you go into any store in San Francisco, they’re gonna ask you for your bag.”
“Maybe,” says I, “but at this point, most people give up, Wayne. If I take off this backpack, and give it to you, and you give me a little ticket to prove it’s mine, which, if it stayed on my back, I note, there would be no doubt of whose it is, and I take my little ticket, and walk over to that paper, and come back, and give you my ticket, and you get my backpack, which has been sitting there, for, what? Two seconds, and then I put our stuff on account, and then I have to put my backpack back on, and then I leave. And then I go home and write a letter to the president of Arvey’s about how you, Wayne, made my shopping experience extremely inconvenient. And then I post it on the Internet, or publish it in some other form, God forbid, and a whole bunch of people laugh at you, you poor bastard, having to deal with me.”
“Give me your bag, sir.”
So I do.
And then, I gave my backpack to Wayne, and he gave me a little ticket to prove it’s mine, and I took my little ticket, and walked over to that paper, and went back to the cash register, and gave some other sniggering flunky my ticket, and he got my backpack, which had been sitting there, for, like, 35 seconds.
In the time this took, some woman comes out of nowhere and loads up a big cart full of office supplies and gets ahead of me in the line of the only cash register open. She starts to explain how some stuff is for resale, so she’s not going to pay taxes on that, but the other stuff is OK, and she’ll pay the sales tax on this, blah, blah, blah. I say to her, “Lady, just tell them it’s all for resale, and you won’t have to pay for any of the tax.”
“But,” she says, “that would be dishonest.”
“They think you’re stealing all of this stuff anyway,” I say, to make the cashier laugh, who had overheard Wayne and me.
“Wayne,” the cashier says, with a little to much relish, leaning into a store-wide P.A. system, “can you open another register, please?”
So, now, poor Wayne comes back, and I’m not kidding this is maybe a minute after his conversation with me and says, all perky-like: “Can I help you?”
I am incredulous.
“Wayne,” I say. “Get my backpack.”
He finally focuses his addled brain on the task at hand, sees it’s me, blanches, which I’ve rarely seen a person do, but each time I’ve seen it, I’ve caused it, I have to admit, and leaves to get my backpack.
He comes back and rings up my purchase and tells me it’s like, twenty-three dollars and change.
“It’s on our account.”
“But, I rang it up wrong,” says Wayne.
“Wayne,” says I. “I told you we had an account here. I told you I was gonna be, like, two seconds. I told you all you had to do was let me go on my way. But you had to follow your script. What’s your script tell you to do now?”
“Well, why don’t you clear it all out and ring it up again?”
So he did. Fuming. The whole time.
And you know what he said to me, on the way out? Without irony or sarcasm?
“Have a nice day… Mr. Young.”
I just don’t want to live in the kind of world where this drudgery is not only tolerated, but encouraged.
Lesson? None that I’m aware of. Except, of course, don’t turn your brain off. If somebody makes you question your script, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Go back to your script, after I leave, with my blessing, sure; but things aren’t going to go according to plan while I’m around.
I like to keep everyone on their toes.
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Updated new content at http://www.ait-planetlar.com, featuring some awesome art from Brandon Star Wars: Episode Two McKinney on the upcoming Planet of the Capes, as well as the editorial slate from September 2001 to April 2002.