Sunday, January 08, 2012

Barnes & Ignoble

At store #2908 I approach the customer service kiosk seeking what its name promises. The person manning the booth -- hold it -- the woman womanning it looks me in the eye and greets me with stone-cold silence. I wait for the customary customer service query "May I help you?" Zilch. I grant that this is subjective, but I interpret this as aloof aggression, as condescension, as gameswomanship. Her look says, "Well?" But I silently insist that the protocol calls for her to speak first. I consider silently walking away. Minutes after the event, at this moment I am distrusting my own memory. Who spoke first? Did I break the perceived iciness by saying, "Are you going to ask to help me?" Or did she relent and ask me something -- anything? I wish I could remember more clearly this "event" at Barnes & Ignoble.

"I was wondering what happened to a book I ordered."

"What's your phone number?"

I gave her my phone number.

"Your cell?"

"That's it."

"We don't have anything."

Long pause as she pretends to be an airline ticket representative and looks at a computer screen. The computer screen can veil all problems and save her.

"When I ordered, they asked for my email. I can give you that."

Which is what I do.

To continue, and underscore her aggression, she repeats "M-A-C" as if instead I might have said M-A-C-K. This gives her a chance to appear efficient and official and smart. On top of things.

"Yes."

"I see it might have expired on December 28."

"Expired? I ordered it just before Christmas. Why would it expire?"

"It was returned to the publisher or did not arrive here or it might mean it was put on the shelf."

"Why wouldn't you -- I mean Barnes & Noble -- have called me? Excuse me -- why wouldn't someone have emailed me?"

"That's why we ask for your phone number, as a backup."

"I was asked for my email, and that's what I gave."

I resist saying more, lots more. I am silent. But not stoic. I follow her as she walks to a shelf in the Religion section.

She finds a single copy of "Holy Holidays" by Greg Tobin. "My" copy.

I am determined not to buy it from this store at this time. (I already have a copy anyway, from -- wait for it -- Amazon.)

I take the single copy of "my" book and put it prominently in a display area, promoting it, hoping a stranger buys it.

A stranger not in need of a holiday from the balmy warmth of customer service.

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