Under the Radar

Read a short story from my book, “The Colossus of Rhodesville:”

Under the Radar

“Excuse me. I’m looking for a video game for an eight-year-old girl. What would you recommend?” I say.

It’s a simple question, but I can already feel the apathy surging through him. Just like my worthless ex-husband…I can’t wait to hear what he has to say. Something stupid, no doubt. Something foolish, disinterested, or insensitive…Of course he is a teenager working in a giant, anonymous store. What do I expect?

“What system does she use ma’am?”

Ma’am? That was an unexpected courtesy. I’m shocked every time a retail employee remembers simple pleasantries.

“I think she has a Nintendo.”

Oh shit. You hesitated too long, Diane. If you dropped your pretense, he’ll sniff out your imposter status. What he says next will clue me in to whether he’s on to me.

“Are you sure? I don’t want you to have to make an extra trip.”

“Yes. I’m sure it’s a Nintendo. She’s always dancing around with that little white controller.”

“Sounds like it.”

His words seem genuine, maybe a tiny bit over-the-top, but this ingratiating attitude usually comes from sincerity. He’s actually being helpful. I can’t mark him off for that. Damn.

“If your niece likes dancing, we have several titles she’d really like. Let me show you a couple.”

When the first department does well, it’s usually just a fluke. By the time I get to the next department, their polite façade is already crumbling. Let’s see, where am I off to next? general merchandise, eh? Perfect! There’s rarely anyone around. If there is someone working, they’re usually overwhelmed or inept. I may not love with this job, but I am damn good at it. All this secret authority starts to grow on you. And here Don thought I was helpless. Screw him.

Ready or not, here I come, GM.

As I suspected, there isn’t a soul in sight. What’s the meet and greet time limit again? Four minutes, I think. Another minute and a half before they get a zero performance rating. Damn. There’s someone around the corner, and they see me. Alright, time to look as cranky as possible.

“Need something?”

“Yes. I’m looking for a new comforter. My old one got chewed up by moths while I was on vacation.”

I’ve found that a long, pointless story is a great test of an employee’s customer service skills. Trying to sneak an eye-roll past me, eh. Your greeting was already flat. 10 points off your score. Let’s see if she can stay friendly though the bitter end.

“Around the corner in Aisle 16, I think – on the left hand side.”

Hmm…her directions were precise, but she didn’t offer any additional assistance…

“You want me to show you?”

“No, that’s okay. I’ll find it myself. Thanks.”

Okay, so she offered to take me there. Merely speaking to me seemed to pain her, though. I’d call that an automatic five points off…which brings her to eighty-five percent. Hmm…still a pretty decent score, though. So far, the store is still performing above average. What a shame.

I’m supposed to weed out rude and lazy employees, but so far I’m not coming across a lot of them. Maybe they’re just having a good day. Crap. The only way to ruin their score is if the service desk messes up badly, and they’re only cranky during the holidays.

Why do I feel the need to destroy stores with bad customer service ratings? Where does my Schadenfreude come from? I mean, I know I’m just doing my job, but I really get a sick pleasure from watching stores fail. I’m not trying to punish these people for my failed marriage, or my empty life. Someone has to keep the employees in-line, right? I’m just doing my job. If they didn’t pay me to snoop around here, they’d pay someone else…maybe someone more sadistic than me. In a way, they’re lucky to have someone so nice doing their evaluations.

There’s simply no trust left in the modern workplace.

Holy crap. That lady at Customer Service is throwing a genuine tantrum. I wonder if brandishing a doll as a weapon could get you arrested. Something stinks like old pizza. Suddenly I have an odd craving for Italian. I’m impressed with the customer service girl. She talked that lady down from the edge of near-violence. For all the times I’ve been in places like this, I honestly can’t imagine doing her job. I mean, snooping around undercover is no cakewalk, but being jammed into this volatile cauldron of emotions every day would turn me into a hopeless drunk…assuming I’m not one already.

Amazing. That angry woman just left with what appears to be a smile on her face. Now that’s what I call anger management.

“Afternoon. I’d like to return this video game. I think my niece wants a different one.”

“Did you want to exchange it?”

Hmm… no greeting and a lackluster response. That’s not a good sign. What happened to her magical customer service skills?

“No, I don’t have time. I need more information first.”

“Yeah, kids can be pretty particular.”

Banter…that’s a little better. But she was kind of rough when she took my receipt.

“Here you go.”

Hmm. No departing platitude…she didn’t even mutter goodbye. That’s a pretty bad score. Her bad score will pull down the store’s overall ratings. When her supervisor gets this, he’ll probably go ballistic.

God, I recognize that faraway look in her eyes…tired and hollow…that last customer must have drained every ounce of her resolve. At least she made an effort to be friendly. A weak smile is better than nothing.

That soul-bound weariness reminds me of my face in the mirror the day when the divorce papers came in the mail. I wanted to be cordial, but there was nothing left. Don stripped me of my social charms…my energy. This girl deals with these emotionally charged situations 40 hours a week…likely for little pay. I can’t believe I’m thinking this, but she deserves another chance.

“I think you’re doing a great job. Thanks for all your help.”

“You’re very welcome. Thanks, ma’am. Have a great day.”

That’s much better. Maybe it’s time I let things go as well…one piece at a time.

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