Chances are, if you read this blog you also read Faith in Ambiguity. Where I tend to dance around an issue, or make light of it, Tara rips off the mask and lays it bare, then pokes it with a stick. Tara makes you think, even when it's uncomfortable. It's what keeps her readers coming back, knowing that they'll walk away with something to think about. I love this story, because I love stories about people, and I love Tara. I think you will, too.
Employee of the Month
Before I reached the peak of fame and fortune working as an instructional assistant in the public schools, I worked for many years in customer service. From my junior year of high school to the year I became pregnant with my first son at twenty-one, I smiled, schlepped and mopped. My point is that like anyone, I had humble beginnings. I have worked my way up. America is great that way.
My first paying job aside from babysitting was at Fairfax French Cleaners in San Anselmo, California. It was my job to stand at a counter, to retrieve clothes for cleaning from customers with directions, receive their money and then, having labeled these with name and instructions, stuff them into bags to be sent off. At this part, I was relatively skilled. The problems arose on the other end. A man named Jose would arrive at four each day with large quantities of dry cleaned items, bagged and labeled, which I was supposed to place on a device; a carousel according to number so that when customers came to pick them up, they could be retrieved. I had a nasty habit of joining two hangers together and then not being able to locate the clothes because they were in the wrong location. This caused a certain amount of consternation within management. Myself, I was satisfied to believe that these items had simply disappeared. These things sometimes happen. No one really knows why.
At sixteen, I also had a somewhat skewed sense of the appropriate. I worked six hours by myself at the counter and should I need to go to the bathroom, I knew a customer might be standing up front waiting for me in my absence. This caused me some distress. One day, I hit on a solution. Neatly, I created a little triangular pyramid of paper and wrote upon it:
"In the bathroom. Back in a minute. When you've got to go, you've got to go."
I looked at this for a moment skeptically and then added a smiley face. Perfect. I was very annoyed later to find that the manager had removed my sign from the premises. Clearly, she did not share my commitment to customer service.
On one occasion, a well-dressed gentleman was rude to me. It is a sad truth of customer service that people are frequently boorish. To work behind a counter is to viewed as a Pez dispenser for services, a sort of service-laying chicken that might need to be culled for poor production. I probably made a mistake in dealing with his order. This sort of thing, I'm afraid, was frequent. I don't remember his words, only his tone, which clearly said that I was an imbecile, a nitwit, a waste of land, air and water. I, on the other hand, was used to thinking of myself as rather special. I quietly wrote up his order, gave him his change, and looked up to make the following remark:
"Not everyone is rich enough to be an asshole like you, sir."
"No, they're not," he agreed.
When I was let go from Fairfax French Cleaners, I was greatly annoyed at the injustice. Clearly, my employers failed to appreciate the unique skill I could bring to bear on the project of collecting dry cleaning. So, I couldn't balance the cash drawer. So, what? So, I came to work reeking of cigarette smoke. Picky, picky. I had lots of good ideas. What someone needed was to groom me for management.
When I was eighteen, I found myself working as a kennel assistant. This is a job that is not hard to get. It primarily involves the willingness to scoop up vast quantities of dog shit and to learn how to empty anal glands into a large tub. What I learned from working as a kennel assistant is that everything will wash off except skunk smell. This was excellent preparation for motherhood. Initially, one of my primary jobs was to go to the veterinarian's on Sunday and let myself in, feed and medicate all the animals, clean the cages and runs and generally prevent calamity on the one day the vet office was closed for business. I did OK with feeding, medicating, cleaning, but I let the door shut behind me and found myself locked out. Lacking both a cell phone (it was 1993) and the name and number of my new boss, I thought hard about what to do. To simply fail to care for the animals would be unacceptable. That much was clear. Staring at the closed glass door, I hit upon a solution. The door was labeled with the name and number of the alarm company which protected the office. I found a pay phone nearby and called them, explaining that I was a new employee, where I was, that I had locked myself out, that I had forgotten my boss' name and that I needed them to please call him. They did.
A while later, the pay phone rang.
"Hello," said Dr. Archinal. "I just received a very strange call."
And so continued my work life. Through restaurant service with impatient customers who wanted tofu mixed with pesto instead of beef mixed with marinara, through cafes with women who ordered by way of telling me,
"Let me share what I am visualizing so that you can help create that with me."
I ended up having children. These would frequently try to send their food back to the kitchen, but I was never required to smile politely and apologize about the broccoli.
"Go ahead and get diabetes. See if I care," I tell them.
So, customer service has prepared me in every way to be a better mother and, in dealing with other people's children as well. I never did earn Employee of the Month. I maintain that this is only because this distinction was never bestowed on anyone in the organizations for which I worked. Oddly enough, every year that I have worked at my school, I have received glowing evaluations. Perhaps this is because I have a certain problem-solving skill. Not just anyone, after all, would have thought to phone the alarm company.