You will of course find out by the end of this story that the title is a bit of an exaggeration, but it's an exaggeration that suits my purposes today and is therefore totally legit.
I've mentioned a couple times here that I was an optician in a past life. For those of you who don't really know what an optician is, we are the professionals who help you choose eyewear and lenses, and sometimes fabricate the glasses to one degree or another depending on the store and what equipment is used. Opticians do not have to be certified by the American Board of Opticianry, but the best ones are - and I was. I was very, very good at what I did, even though I hated it like cancer.
I enjoyed the work when it didn't involve customers, and I think anyone who has worked for any length of time in a retail business would agree that customers are the main drawback to that type of career. People who enter stores to spend money are often rude, selfish, snotty, and occasionally less than clean. Add in the vanity one must appeal to when helping one of these people choose a pair of eyeglasses, and you have a big misery stew. There were, of course, wonderful people - people who still hug me when they see me and who sent baby gifts when my first child was born, and thank god for them. But the bad ones could erode not only your good mood but, I am convinced, your health as well.
I could regale you with a bajillion stories about various bad customers, but my recent foray into quilting has reminded me of one in particular. She came along in the last few months of my career, and I do give her credit for adding to the general misery which made me eventually say, "Fuck all y'all," and walk out the door for good.
You can tell a lot abut people, and about what their shopping experience with you will be like, by the way they answer the question, "How can I help you?" This question might also be phrased as, "How may I help you?" or "What can I do for you today?" However you ask the question, it is intended to open the transaction and indicate that you, the humble salesperson, are at the service of the customer. The normal (i.e. not evil) customer will respond in kind and the work goes forward from there. And, believe it or not, there are multiple reasons a person could be in an eyeglass store, so the question is actually germane.
The evil customer will respond in a way that suggests, not only that the question itself is stupid, but also THAT YOU SAID IT WRONG. "You can help me choose a pair of glasses." (said with a withering look.)In other words, "It should be obvious what I'm here for, missy, and I believe the word you were looking for was SERVE."
The next question-and-answer rally will cement the customer's asshat status, as if it needed cementing. Again, believe it or not, even the best opticians cannot take one look at a person's face and immediately select the perfect frame. For one thing, people have questionable taste - okay, variable taste - and, in general, are prone to reject the first pair outright (though I would say that a good 75-80% of the time, they will end up choosing that pair anyway). I may think the gentle upsweep of the modified cat-eye style brings out your cheekbones and widens your eyes - you think that anything called at cat-eye will make you look like your Aunt Delores. Better for me to try to engage you in a little conversation about what you like or don't like, what you may have seen that you are interested in trying. If I'm whipping out plastics and what you have been dreaming of is rimless, we've missed a communication opportunity. So, I might start with, "Is there any particular style or look you are interested in?"
"Well, aren't you supposed to be able to pick the frame that looks best on my face? Aren't you supposed to be the expert?" (Evil people use a lot of italics.) So, clearly what I should have done, when she first darkened my door, was run up to her, gaze at her face intently, then declare "I HAVE IT!" and grab the frames that turn her from a 60-year-old bitch into Grace Kelly.
So this is how my transaction with Evil Quilter Lady began. Suffice to say, it never really got any better, though everyone eventually begins to defer to my expertise. I have a very gently authoritative way of speaking, and can generally convince almost anyone that I do in fact know what I am doing AND I also know more about it than you. However, towards the end of the deal (and she was buying something) she expressed some concern about the size of the glasses to accommodate the no-line bifocals she needed, "because I'm a quilter."
Like a fool, I decide to leap on this. "Oh really? My mother and sister are quilters..." And before I can get that thought out, she is giving me another withering look. "Oh? And do I know their work?"
Do I know their work? What the fuck does that mean - and who asks a question like that? Do you know how many quilters there are in this world, lady, and that the vast, vast majority of them are doing it anonymously? How dare you imply to me that the the work my mother and sister do for their craft might not be worth it if that work isn't "known"? And how dare you take a pursuit that is KNOWN for being populated with friendly, welcoming people and try to turn it into another way for the upper classes to act like snots?
I replied that, no, she would not be familiar with their work, that they quilt for the love of it, not the glory. We finished the transaction. She left a deposit. She called and canceled it the next day.
A few months later, I quit. I walked into the store, and realized I had had enough. And I turned around, and walked out, and never went back. Best decision I ever made.
Oh, and another really great decision - writing this blog. I've received so many kind and encouraging comments, and I never thought I'd actually have any readers for this thing. So, thank you all. Thank you for being welcoming and friendly and everything I knew quilters and sewers would be. And for not being a bunch of snotty asshats.