The Unnamed Column

I have always been somewhat of a cynical person. Somewhere around the 6th grade I began to lose my faith in the goodness of people, and the lessons of my life have yet to convince me otherwise. I hate people more than ever, as I slave away in the hell of retail. On a daily basis I witness behaviors that range from rude to obnoxious to just plain ridiculous and moronic. When working for a retail chain in a position that requires you to interact with customers is a lot like prostitution. In retail you have to swallow your pride, and in prostitution you may have to swallow a bit more, but other than that there is very little difference.

A retail worker receives roughly the same amount of respect as a prostitute. Many patrons view retail workers as their own personal servants. They expect an employee to know not only the exact location of every product in the store, but also it's price, when it will be on sale, and when a new shipment will arrive if the item is out of stock. Customers also tend to think that retail employees should know the answers to all of their technical questions about any given product. Even if an employee somehow knows the answers to all of their questions, most customers still tend to talk down to the worker as if he or she had just stepped out of the short bus.

I work in the one-hour photo lab of a major retail chain. As an employee of the photo department it is part of my job to sell cameras. I am supposed to answer any questions a customer might have about digital cameras, film cameras, or video cameras. Luckily photography has always been an interest of mine, and I am therefore fairly well equipped to answer the barrage of stupid questions that are lobbed at me everyday. My level of knowledge is far higher than any reasonable person should except out of someone in my salary range, especially when considering the technical nature of the products in question.

Yet many customers still expect more out of me. Often times when someone realizes that I know what I'm talking about it provokes them into playing a sadistic game of "stump the poor retail schmuck who has to stand here and put up with my stupid ass". The rules to this game are simple, the customer asks a question, I answer the question, and then the customer asks a harder question, and then I answer, lather, rinse, and repeat. The game can end several different ways. Either the customer will run out of questions and leave, I will fail to answer one of their questions to their satisfaction and they will leave, or in most cases the customer will start to use fictitious techno babble to make up questions that are impossible to answer. After I explain things such as film speeds, lens apertures, depth of field, mega pixels, and compression ratios, the customer will generally look at me as if they are amazed by the degree to which they are mentally superior to me, say thanks and walk off.

At this point I try to continue my work developing film or making prints only to be interrupted by someone wanting to pick up their pictures. These people rarely understand what happens to their film when they drop it off to be developed. Most are under the impression that some sort of night crew comes in and completes their order while the store is closed. Most think that their film never leaves the building. People have trouble understanding why their film is not back 24 hours after they drop it off in the 2-day service box. Although there is a large prominently displayed timetable that clearly explains when film will be ready, I am still eyed with suspicion when I tell people that their film is not back yet. They somehow think that I have their film and because of some random act of sadism I just don't want to give it to them.

I could go on and on for pages and pages about all the anal behaviors I have to deal with on a daily basis, but there's really no point. This has been a pretty dismal debut for my column as it is, and I wouldn't want to bore you any more. Just remember the next time you go into your local discount super store that the person working behind the counter is not paid enough to be your own personal bitch.