During the last weeks of the semester/quarter, I give practice essay exams. This is especially important for the GPC students because they have to pass a Regents exam. To get a bead on the timing and to keep my own hand in (now that I'm "allowed" to write any way I want, I have to force myself to write as they must) I will occasionally write along with them.
Following the Regent's approved list of topics, I chose one about "a time you should have complained but did not."
Sometimes I worry that I've become the invisible middle-aged woman --- neither attractive enough to capture attention or dangerous enough to set off warnings. My invisibility is making me neurotic. Instead of being annoyed and energized by it, I'm humbled to silence. Instead of complaining about poor customer service at a Phipps Plaza jewelry store (Ross-Simon), I was reduced to passive-aggression and, a week later, am still smarting. Had I complained I might have shrunk my neurosis, learned something of how the store operates and even awakened the sales clerk to their power.
Do I look poor? My I dress up like a hooker's mother to shop at Phipps Plaza? Were my arty earrings too small? Had I forgotten to wear them at all? Was I wearing both?
Last week I stood at the Pandora counter in Ross-Simons trying to see onto the stacked trays of silver and gold charms. I was there to shop for Christmas gifts for my sister and sister-in-law. To the side, about two feet from the counter, stood two sales associates discussing the previous day's crowd. "It was dead," said one. It was dead today, I thought. No one was at the Pandora counter with me. In fact, throughout the store there was more sales help than customers.
I don't know why, but when the two associates continued to chat and ignore my obvious efforts to see the display, I grew irate. Rather than catch their attention, I played the counting game. How many seconds would pass before one of them sauntered over? One, two, three, four. The woman clerk left her co-worker, an older man in a suit who stared ahead as if captaining a ship---or a dining room. Eight, nine, ten, eleven. I ticked the seconds off wondering if I was being fair and simultaneously growing more angry. At one point I may have hoped no one would help me. Then I would be justified in this feeling. Twenty-one, 22, 23, 24, 25...How long a minute takes to pass.
I looked at the gold, the silver, the braided leather. Oh, they have earrings and rings. Is this some version of Brighton after all? (that chased silver collectable I detest?) Is the whole Pandora idea hopelessly suburban?
Sixty, 61, 62. A minute. How much longer will this take? By now I could not look up. I do not need to buy charms today and certainly not at Ross-Simons.
At 90 seconds I gave it up. A minute and a half. Should I complain? Should I ask for help? I felt so irritated but with it embarrassed. It's only a minute and a half for Chrissake. Wondering why I hadn't simply looked up and captured attention (something I knew well enough how to do) I simply left.
At the store where I work, (also at Phipps) we are required to engage a customer immediately and then again twice more. Sometimes this just doesn't happen. If a woman is short, hard to see, we might miss her until she's penetrated the store. If both clerks are busy with others, we'll miss a greeting. But this is reasonably rare. Sometimes we're confronted by women after they've left. These return to complain, having clearly bubbled with the same sense of irritation and shame I described above. We are always shocked when this happens. We never mean to offend. We're nice people who believe it's more fun to help (and sell) than ignore customers.
Is it possible the clerks at Ross-Simon just didn't see me? Or weren't responsible for Pandora sales? I could wonder why one didn't just let me know this or fetched the appropriate clerk, but having ignored customers myself for unavoidable reasons, it's likely I simply fell between the cracks of one clerk's attention span. Had I complained, they may have looked t me with the same wary sympathy we give our more neurotic shoppers.
At the same time, whenever a customer does complain about how she's been treated (or feels she's been treated) I am alerted to my own power. Like any good recovering Catholic, I rake my conscience for how I could have offended and usually double my efforts to please. I may spend more times at the front of the store or put down the endless folding and walk around rooting out the petites. At the register, I'll scan the entrance and wave or smile. Had I complained at Ross-Simon, could the same "wake up" have occurred? I'll never know.
For my next trick, I'll get this down to five paragraphs....or not.