This Just In — The World Doesn’t Revolve Around YOU

Here’s a little background to set the stage.  My wife is a store manager for KB Toys, who, as many of you have probably heard by now, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December, a victim of the crashing economy and the banking industry’s unwillingness to lend money (fuel for a different rant, but that’s for another time).  My wife has worked for the company for much of the last 9 years, and it wasn’t just a job to her — it was a passion: for toys, for children, and for the family atmosphere she’d built up over the years with both her staff (two of her current assistant managers had been some of her first hires, back when they’d been teenagers getting their first jobs) and with others that worked for the company in our area.

I worked for KB Toys as a store manager myself, for nearly 5 years before I left the retail world to embark on a real estate career (cue my Ron Burgundy voice, I immediately regret this decision).  Since real estate traditionally slows down around the holidays, and since the restrictions on intra-family employment is relaxed at Christmas (due to a toy store needing to rapidly increase its staffing for just the last two months of any year), I’ve worked for my wife the last two holiday seasons, this year serving as her unofficial stock manager.  Believe me, it’s so much more relaxing when the buck doesn’t stop with you anymore.

We got the news of the bankruptcy filing in the second week of December.  We live where snow is pretty uncommon, but it snowed that morning unexpectedly.  My wife and I hoped it was a sign of a Christmas miracle in the making, as we had heard in the days prior that the company was teetering at the edge of ruin due to soft sales at Thanksgiving.  Sadly, it was nothing more than a sign that it was cold that day — financing the company needed to survive wasn’t forthcoming, and the store would commence a liquidation process immediately.

For my wife and I, it was almost like a death in the family.  We were numb for most of the next few weeks, navigating through the days as best as we could, trying to keep things normal even though they were the furthest thing from it.   The liquidation manager was in the store the day after the announcement, and pretty soon my wife’s store was reduced to the carnage you see at any business that’s liquidating.  I took it hard, but my wife was devastated;  she’d built the store into one of the most successful in the company in her time there, and here it was, defaced by the ugly “Everything Must Go” and “Nothing Held Back” signs now hanging in her windows, the monument to her hard work crumbling away in a sea of shoppers who, largely, cared nothing about what this meant to her or her staff (or to the 4000+ employees nationwide who were now faced with an uncertain future) — but only about what great deal they could snag on a item they were buying.

Well, now it’s past Christmas, and the discounts are 50% off and up.  That’s where our story begins, on Saturday, a night I’d rather have been watching the NFL playoffs, but found myself working instead, since my wife was short-handed that night.

In the storefront is a stack of radio control cars.  Attached to it is a sign that reads “60% off”, and with it a “before” and “after discount” price.  Next to it is a stack of Hot Wheels cars that happen to be radio control as well.   At the moment, Hot Wheels merchandise is 50% off, and there’s a sign attached to this stack that reads the same as the one above, except with a “50% off” label clearly stated.

Cue the middle-aged lady who gets my attention as I’m attending to something else in the vicinity. “How much is this going to be?” she asks, holding up one of the Hot Wheels cars.

“It’s 50% off, and it was originally $14.99,” I answer.  “So that’ll make it $7.50 plus tax.”  I’ll add that the car is actually a great deal at $14.99 — radio control that’s full function (can turn in all directions) and the size that this car is normally sell for at least $19.99 or higher — frankly, the car could have been priced higher originally, in my opinion, and still sold well.

“50%??” the woman hissed.  “The sign right there says 60% off radio control,” she said, pointing at the other stack of radio control.

“Yes, ma’am — that car is 60% off.  This one’s 50%.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well, this car’s both a Hot Wheels product — which is 50% off — and radio control, which is 60%.  But they classify it as Hot Wheels, which is why it’s 50%, like I said.”

Now that should have been sufficient.  A simple, “Oh,” would have ended it right there (but I wouldn’t have had need for this entry then, would I?).  I mean, both items were clearly marked with the percentages off and the new prices, and the radio control sign said nothing about all radio control being 60% off.  No problem, right?

“Well,” the woman said.  “That’s just ridiculous.”

Hmmm.

(Cue the inner voice telling me “Don’t do it, don’t do it …”)

Fuck it.

“Actually, ma’am, what’s ridiculous is you complaining about price during a liquidation sale.”

Sigh.

The woman gave me a look like I’d just spoken Greek to her, so I elaborated.

“The sign’s right there.  It’s clearly marked.  And what are we talking about, a $1.49 difference between 50% and 60%?  I don’t know what else to tell you at this point.”

The woman stormed off — and no, she didn’t buy the car.  And yes, I did have more I wanted to tell her, but I didn’t get the chance to.  But if I’d had, I would have said, “Look — the only reason you’re getting any great deal like this is because this company is kaput.  I know people who’ve worked for them for 20 years or more who don’t know where their next paycheck is going to come from.  I know people who don’t know if they’ll be able to hold onto their homes, or who have sick children and don’t know what they’ll do when their medical insurance goes by the boards.  I saw people who were absolutely devastated during the Christmas holidays, a time of the year when you should be anything but.  And you’re throwing a hissy fit over a fucking $1.49?”

The woman reminded me of a guest who used to come into the restaurant I bar tended at as a young adult.  The guy came in at least twice a week, and all the servers knew him because, without fail, he complained about his meal.  No matter what he ordered, there was always something wrong with it — it was undercooked, overcooked, cold, mushy, hard, soft, etc.  Half the time, the guy got something comped (either a dessert, a drink, or sometimes the whole dinner), and he tipped poorly if at all.  Any server that worked dreaded seeing him sat in their section.

Finally, one day the guest in complaining said to his server, “Everytime I come here, the food and the service are terrible.”

The server’s reply, “Then why do you keep coming in here all the time?  How stupid are you?”

That guest wasn’t just stupid for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results — he was part of the society we seem to live in today — a society where we and what we want are the only things that matter, and everything else can take a back seat.  A society where, more and more, people seem to think that everything revolves around them.

shes the big ball of gas in the middle

The solar system -- hint: she's the big ball of gas in the middle

Well, here’s a newsflash — it doesn’t.

Sadly, this woman only cared about her $1.49 (barely enough to by one a menu item from that stupid Wendy’s commercial that’s running now).  The plight of the store and its workers meant nothing — hell, even the fact that she wasn’t being cheated in any way because the prices on the items were clearly marked (meaning that the only issue at hand was a reading comprehension one on her part) meant nothing.  No, she wanted what she wanted, and when she didn’t get it, she threw a fit.

Now I’m not perfect by any stretch.  And I’m sure there have been times when I’ve been the “problem customer”.  But having seen enough of the service end from both sides of the equation, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a time and a place to show some righteous indignation — like when you’re really being screwed over and it’s being done maliciously or intentionally — and there’s time to look at the bigger picture and realize that, sometimes, things don’t always work out the way you want them to.  That’s a lesson any child should know already — now, if we can only teach some of the adult population out there the same, we’d be doing great.

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