All right, kids, here it is: the story where I’m not a complete badass and cool cat.
Yeah, I know: you all thought that I was totally wicked, with a heart of some kind of cold stone and nerves made of super-steel. If you want to keep that image alive, skip this post and re-read one of your favorite stories about me telling some guy to get back into his car.
I have a day job, and unfortunately, it’s not as a bank robber or a pirate. Instead, it’s dealing with the general public, trying to make a bunch of brain-dead morons happy. It’s called customer service by some, it’s called hell by others—particularly by the people that have this job. I recently got a promotion: customer service manager.
It’s really hard to describe to an outsider what this promotion means, but I’ll give it a try. Imagine that you’re at a carnival, and you walk up to the booth where you throw baseballs at the target, and if you hit it, the guy sitting on the little plastic stool gets dropped into the icy-cold water. That guy, he represents customer service people. He sits there, without any sort of power, and people line up to make him miserable for their personal amusement. Now imagine that you’ve been throwing balls at the target all day, the guy climbs out of the tank, and he’s like, “No more. I’m about to die of hypothermia, I’ve been falling into this tank of freezing cold water for eight hours straight. Someone help me.”
But you’re not ready to stop throwing the baseballs and you’re not ready to stop spreading your misery around.
Before my promotion, I was the guy dragging himself out of the tank, freezing cold, about to die.
Now imagine that there’s another tank, and imagine that the guy over there is just as cold and miserable, but when he finds out that you still want to throw baseballs and spread misery, he walks over and is like, “Look, man, just throw the balls at me. I’m busy at my own tank, so I can’t spend the time climbing up into this other tank. So just hurl the baseballs at my face and then I’ll give you this prize.” That’s my job.
So the other day, we had some higher-ups come in to check out or store, make sure everything was running up to specs, that kind of thing. People get all weird about this kind of thing, running around like coked-up lunatics with some weird sort of display tag fetish. Me, I don’t generally get worked up about it. I mean, I do my job all the time (and I do it pretty well, I think), no matter if there’s some important guy roaming around the store or not. You want to stand around and watch me work, power to you.
So this guy, vice president of something or another, he comes walking up with about half a dozen managers in his wake. Some of these mangers are from my store, some of them aren’t. I don’t know most of these people. The vice president guy, he introduces himself, I introduce myself, the usual, right? “So you’re the new customer service manager, huh?”
“Yes, sir,” I reply, in my heartiest, I’m-a-real-team-player kind of voice.
“Well I hope you take your position seriously,” he says.
“Yes, sir,” I tell him, and it’s the truth. See, they give me more money now, and I have a suspicion that if I don’t do something to earn this money, they’ll stop giving it to me.
The vice president guy, he’s still standing there. See, I meet people all the time, customers, managers, employees, whatever. The shorter these meetings, the better. Get you in, get you out, if you’re standing in front of me for more than three minutes, there’s a problem. This is generally a good thing, you know? A customer comes in, bitching about whatever, telling me his life story, I grab hold of the highlights, recognize the problem, solve the problem, next, next, next. Like that.
The vice president guy, he doesn’t know the drill, I guess. He comes around to my side of the counter, gets seriously into my space. Right up next to me, you know? And starts asking me more questions.
Let me tell you a few things I’m not very good at dealing with: 1) People in my space.
I used to be a plumber. Not actually a plumber, I guess, but a helper. What this means is, the plumber pays you six bucks an hour and bills you out at sixty-five bucks an hour and you end up doing all the shit work (no pun intended). Stuff like digging thirty foot ditches, or sticking your arm shoulder-deep in septic tanks, or slithering under a house into a crawl space that’s filled with raw sewage and spiders and snakes, armed with nothing but a flashlight and a pipe wrench. My plumber boss had two helpers, once. He sent us both under this house to hold a pipe while another guy welded it from under the kitchen sink. It was pretty messed up, man. There was only about eight inches of clearance from the ground to the bottom of the house—you had to keep your head turned sideways, or you would get stabbed in the face with one of the hundreds of nails that was sticking down through the floor. Also, there were all these weird supports—boards and bricks holding the house up off of the dirt—that were just sort of scattered around under the house. I ended up crawling about thirty feet under the house, and twisting around one of the supports, a chunk of wood stabbing me in the back, and dust falling down onto my face every time someone in the house took a step. I stayed like that for over an hour and a half, man. The other guy that was under there with me, he lasted about forty-five minutes, but then he just started moaning. “Uuuuuuh. Uuuuuuh!” Like this really freaky sound, like someone about to start screaming.
“What’s up?” I asked him.
“I have to get out of here. I have to get out of here!” He just kept yelling that over and over again. He panicked, basically. I wasn’t out there to see him, but they told me that he just sat there on the curb for a good twenty minutes, shaking and smoking cigarettes.
My point to this rather long side-note is that I’m not claustrophobic. Lock me under a house with barely any light and there are creatures scurrying around all over the place, whatever. Be sure to give me my six bucks, though.
Being around people is different, though. In case you didn’t know, let me tell you something: I don’t like people. From far away they’re all right, I guess. But close up, I just don’t like it. And when someone’s right up close to me, I get a little…well, I don’t know what you would call it: I just don’t like standing there, breathing someone else’s air.
2) I’m not good at being around authority figures. They make me uncomfortable. I don’t have a problem with authority, I just don’t like being the center of attention, you know?
3) I’m not that good at talking. And I’m not referring to public speaking or court hearings or anything like that. I mean in general, talking to others is just not one of my strong points. I write, man—there’s a reason for that. I stutter sometimes, I do the Spoonerism thing, and I curse incessantly (that last one isn’t actually an impediment, it’s just something I enjoy). I also lose the ability to annunciate and speak coherent sentences at the first sign of stress or alcohol.
So there, I am, standing there next to this vice president guy, he’s asking me questions, and I’m stuttering, unable to give him a decent answer, and sweat is just dumping off of me. Wonderful first impression. Anyways, that went on for quite some time—until a customer walked up. The group of managers and important people walked off, and I looked at the guy that wanted to return his DVD, and I said, “Man, I never thought I would say this, but I’m sure glad you wanted to return this.”
Anyways, so I made a total ass out of myself, completely froze up, and now I have to sit around hearing about it from the jackasses that I work with. Don’t get me wrong—some of my co-workers understand and are very assuring about the whole thing. Others just walk around, doing that thing where you’re pretending to cough, but you yell “Choke!”
So I’m forced to come up with really awful comebacks that deal with their mothers and girlfriends, and choking—use your imagination, if you have to. Although if you have to use your imagination with a set-up that easy, you should probably go back to Junior High.
So there’s my story about not being a total badass.