I had a fight with a friend today.
That friend is named Blockbuster Video.
“You and Blockbuster?! That seems like a rather Odd Couple to begin with, Nick!”
Yet, until last night we had a respectful working relationship.
Let’s back up a bit.
I’m a sensitive chap. I admit it. For better or worse, occasionally things IRK me more than they would a regular person (see: The time I shoved the Children International Girl, The time I yelled at the Mcdonalds Guy, The OTHER time I shoved the Children International Girl.).
So, yes, I am admitting I am more TUNED IN to the subtleties of modern aggravation.
That being said:
I like movies. I watch movies on TV. I watch movies on Netflix. I watch movies in theaters. It’s something I spend a lot of time and energy on. I love them.
A few months ago, F and I were on an obsessive jag. I think we were watching Glee or Quantum Leap, or Glee. The point is, we were out of discs! We NEEDED more discs! Netflix was going to take DAYS to deliver. This was an emergency of the restless division.
I remembered I still had this old Blockbuster card collecting dust in my desk.
“Oh, but that place is just awful, F. It’s going to hurt my sensitive emotional feelers just to set foot inside! What if they have a GREETER!? He’ll be all, ‘Welcometoblockbusterhowareyouthisevening?” and it will all be one word and he’ll have said it a million times and I’ll feel sorry for him and hate him at the same time!”
“We NEED Glee discs. Suck it up.”
So I sucked it up. Guess what? It was wonderful.
Michael, the manager, realized he recognized us from ‘The Old Days’ and chatted with us about movies and music. We didn’t want to leave. The option of genuine human interaction was suddenly somehow trumping our desire to continue watching a TV show.
We returned many times since then, often to Michael cheerily greeting us. Sometimes I’d go in just to look at movie boxes and consider things I might get from Netflix! They didn’t care. We were all just people existing in a similar space. Once we went in there and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure was playing. We just hung out with Michael and his staff and watched it for 20 minutes.
Last night, however.
Last night was bad.
You know when your tooth has a cavity, and the exposed nerve is okay as long as you don’t chew on that side? But then you forget, and you’re having a Frozen Strawberry Shortcake Bar and you bite into it and it feels like you traveled into a new dimension that’s only filled with pain and white light?
So that happened!
We entered and right away made a new friend! He wanted to know if we needed help finding anything! He wanted to know LOUDLY! No thanks. We’re fine.
Gee, that was odd. That fellow almost seemed less like he wanted to help, and more like a sniper had him in the crosshairs and would ‘take him out’ unless he followed instructions. You know, like that Colin Farrell movie Phone Booth!
No matter – we’ll just be polite to the loud man and go about our biz.
Loud Man was not alone though.
Loud Man had friends.
Loud Man’s friends also had snipers on them, and by the 5th friend asking us if we needed help finding videos in a video store, I started to feel a little bit like I was being threatened. Like I had exceeded the time limit for browsing and I was now doing something wrong.
Look. I’ve worked retail. It’s not fun. I know. I KNOW! I also know this isn’t the fault of the folks working at this video store. They are just doing what someone told them to do, and they don’t want to lose their jobs.
I went to pay and I made another new friend. His name was FRED. FRED TALKED THE LOUDEST. Fred had a number of sentences he had to say to me VERBATIM or he would not be doing his job. Watching people say things they have said ten thousand times is like watching a fish die to me. It’s just the least human thing I can imagine. It’s so close to relating, but so, so far away.
So FRED is monologuing at me about when my Dvds are due back and I asked him, quietly:
“So, did you guys – did you by any chance get new management here?”
“WHY YES WE DID!”
“Yeah. Because the staff – you know? The staff seems a little amped up.” I kept getting quieter, but FRED kept getting louder. It was like for all the polite words he was saying to me, I WOULD HIT YOU IF I WERE NOT WEARING THIS UNIFORM RIGHT NOW.
“YES! IT’S MUCH BETTER, ISN’T IT, NICHOLAS?”
(FRED had read my name off the computer, we were not on a first name basis.)
“Well, no. I – I just kind of want to not be bothered.”
“WELL THESE VIDEOS ARE DUE BACK IN THREE DAYS, NICHOLAS! YOU HAVE A WONDERFUL WEEKEND NICHOLAS.”
Faryl turned to me and said, “Where’s Michael?”
She’s very smart.
So I don’t know where Michael is. But I hope for his sake he has not had to sit through the same hours of corporate customer service drills the rest of these poor folks have. And I REALLY hope that if he has, I don’t have to see him that way.
I know this seems petty.
It seems like I’m a guy with the privilege not only to rent whatever movie he wants, but the luxury to complain about the nuances of customer service. But it’s not that. I don’t want a butler. I just want an Honest Hello. When I see people in jobs who are robbed of the opportunity to give an Honest Hello, it makes me sad. Because it spreads, and before you know it, the boundaries of earnest interaction fade, and people you meet outside of a capitalist environment say one thing and mean another. Everything gets muddled. People get lonely.
It all starts at the top. It starts when a management level guy gets told he needs to make more money and the best way he can think to do that is to do SOMEthing. A lot of times doing something seems logical, but is anything but human.
Communication is tough enough even when we’re trying our best. If you’re in a position of regulating peoples behavior for profit, I say, just go with what you’d want.
You would want an honest hello.
Until I get that, it’s back to Netflix and shoving people.