Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

My Relentless Pursuit of the Obnoxious Newly-Appointed Assistant Bookstore Manager

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bob at 7:13 am on Saturday, January 29, 2022

by Robert M. Katzman © 2021

In 2007, I owned a back-issue magazine store known as Magazine Memories which existed from 1985 to 2016.

At its peak of success in late 2000, the store carried 150,000 periodicals going back to 1576, served a range of people around America seeking old magazines as birthday gifts and as far away as Hong Kong, where a lovelorn Chinese clerk at an Internet company once called me to purchase a rare 1952 American Vogue to give to a woman he greatly admired to gain her affection. Cost was no issue to him, and I never learned if he was successful after giving her what seemed to both of us to be the last available issue of that Vogue in the world.

In my career of over a half a century of waiting on people in a range of situations – always politely – seeking to provide them with whatever they wanted, I had been carefully tutored by my highly adroit Father Israel, an ace salesman born in 1912 to be a good salesperson:patient, good-humored, flexible in my pricing if possible and appreciative of making a sale sales.

At the same time, as a 14-year-old runaway who suffered years of physical abuse from a deranged mother, I also resolved as a teen-ager to never again accept abuse, from anyone.

This may seem contradictory at different times in certain situations, but life formed me to be what I became and this is a story about how I responded to a nasty sales person who was unaware of my willingness to respond to his bizarre behavior, no matter how long it took, because…well, to me, he had it coming.

Sometimes, I chose to invest small amounts of money in current magazines which had cover personalities which I felt might one day become collectible periodicals. Better odds than Las Vegas, small loss if the magazine never became something in demand after it was removed from sale; it was my gamble in hoping for significant returns on something that was freely available for a brief period, but after that very difficult to find again.

On balance, looking over my span of years in these tiny investments I was correct many more times than wrong, as my inventory gradually grew to humongous proportions. More was better in my World of Print.

So, on this one day, I went to a particular bookstore which carried many periodicals and decided that the current month’s issue of Playboy had a great cover with a popular model on it, and so it warranted my buying ten of them to squirrel away until the time came when someone far away from my Chicago-area store wanted one but simply wasn’t able to locate it. By that time, a year or more later, the sale of one of the ten would cover the cost of all of them, and if and when I sold a 2ndone, if that were to happen, my return on investment would be more than one-hundred-percent. 

To my thinking, my risk deserved reward and generally people realized they were paying for my time, insight, perspective and investment, and not just paying for the magazine itself. They were paying for the ease of getting what they wanted at a fair price, most people felt. That was partially how I made a living. I sold a service.

So on this one spring day when I walked into a large national bookstore with numerous customers roaming around, I spied a stack of Playboys near the store’s entrances, and I counted out ten, my normal level of risk of  what I felt might be a winner one day, like choosing a new young horse who might run faster at a track one day, I brought all ten to the register to pay for them. 

Generally, I never identified myself as a fellow merchant of old magazines, requested a quantity discount or said anything more than “How Much?” to the cashier.

But on this day as I approached the young female cashier and then carefully placed my stack of Playboys on the counter, a plump young man emerged from the office door behind the cashier, noticed the stack, then saw the display shelf they came from was empty. His face began to change from pink to purple. Then he erupted, shoving the young woman aside, then screaming at me:

“Who the hell do you think you are? Those Playboys are for everyone, not just you! How dare you grab all of them! You can’t do that!”

He was pretty loud, advanced toward me in a threatening manner and overall it was embarrassing to have strangers informed I was buying ten Playboys. However, I stood there, fascinated by this insect, who wasn’t aware of what his future was about to be, because of his incredibly stupid public behavior towards me.

I felt like I was in a kind of laboratory where strange people were being offered as exhibits for discussion.

But I wasn’t in a laboratory, wasn’t someone who could be intimidated by a total jerk and I stood there silently with my neat stack of ten Playboys. I waited for the young man to finish. At the time, I was fifty-seven years old, and little in retail was new to me anymore.

I looked at the angry young man, the nervous girl standing behind him, was aware of the dozen or so people watching this scene unfold and I replied to him, quietly, evenly,

“I can buy whatever your store offers to sell in whatever quantity I choose. There is no sign limiting me from doing so. I am paying full price and asking no favors from you. Ring up this sale so I can leave. What I buy is no concern of yours.”

The young man snorted and fumed, muttered some other derogatory comments, then coldly commanded the young woman to ring up the sale. People continued to watch, though I offered no more drama as I took the bag and my receipt, in a friendly inquiring voice, ignoring all which had just occurred,

“Say, I don’t recognize you, your name tag is covered. Are you new here?”

The young man looked down, quickly turned over his employee ID hanging on a chain around his neck, showing me his name and position in the store. So I noted that in my mind and deliberately said to him,

“Gee, are you a new clerk here? Because I guess you and I never met before?”

He responded, with some obvious pride,

“No, I am no mere ‘clerk’. I am the newly-appointed assistant manager for the periodicals department. I am responsible for this area and you should not have taken that whole pile of Playboys, mister.”

I smiled at him, then I said to him,

“That’s a lot of responsibility, isn’t it, being the newly-appointed assistant manager of this department, isn’t it?”

The young man’s plump chest swelled, again, name ID now prominently visible and he smiled, then turned away from me — not responding — back into his office with more important things to do than waste any more time on me. 

The young woman behind the register silently mouthed the word “sorry” to me but otherwise said nothing. She seemed very nervous. I smiled, nodded to her and left the store.

I thought about this new situation where I was publicly excoriated by an embarrassingly incompetent employee of the big national bookstore corporation. More fascinated than miffed, I decided the young man should apologize to me for his behavior, after being encouraged to do so by his company’s management. I felt I’d be doing him a favor, but also, I intended to get the asshole’s regrets as well.

The game begins.

I looked up the corporation’s home office in New York City, found their customer service number, very aware that regardless of the name for it, very few companies are worried about the behavior of their employees’ customer service. After a bit, someone picked up. A pert voice chirped,

“Mount Everest Bookstore Corporation. May I help you, please?”

I responded that I had a complaint about one of their management employees working at one of their stores near Chicago and wanted an apology. Was she the person to help me obtain what I wanted?

Pause.

“You want what? She asked, a slight hesitation in her voice. 

I repeated my request, asked for her name, told her mine, and asked if she could…or would…help me? 

Or not?

She then responded dismissively, like I was a crank and was there something she could help me with, besides my request for an apology, because apologies were not her department?

I responded, “No, there wasn’t, but if you are too busy, could you please transfer me to your manager, to whom I would explain that I had a problem which you were unable to help me with?”

The woman exhaled audibly, then snapped, 

“Hold, please.”  And she sent me to someone else in New York City

When another person from some other nameless department picked up the phone, I repeated my request, told them the name of the previous person I spoke with was who transferred me to them, after not responding to my complaint, then asked what was the name of the person I was now speaking to, and enquired if they would help me, or not?

The person did not, but did offer to transfer me, again, to another department when I requested the next manager’s name. And then I repeated all that had happened so far, again, listed the names contacted to date, since I called their New York City office. So far, no one asked me about what had happened. Just that my problem was another department’s to deal with. I politely thanked the person and was transferred to a new name somewhere in the corporation’s building.

It would be perhaps humorous to think I am writing a funny story with a punchline, but I was not.

I was being bounced around the large book company’s by people who perhaps assumed I would quickly give up and hang up, and leave all of them alone. Mistake, big company. Mistake.

And I kept going, because it fascinated me, the ignorance of how this company allowed their employees to treat a complaining person from a thousand miles away. And I kept getting transferred.

Unbelievably, this went on for months.

Not continuously.

I kept the list of names and dates of the calls, firmly believing that one day I would come across the one person in the company who would realize how much bad will all the prior people had caused their corporation.

By the fifth month, a person requested my number and address and decided that a $20 gift certificate was the answer to my many calls, but I protested I didn’t want a penny from their company.  I wanted the newly-appointed assistant manager to call and apologize to me for his atrocious public behavior months ago. That was all I wanted. 

By this time, many people in the large book company were quite aware of the name of the newly-appointed assistant manager’s name and where he worked. The corporation was also aware of all the people who had sent me off in a new direction instead of responding themselves. Perhaps the young assistant manager was becoming a celebrity within the company. 

I received the $20 gift certificate which I immediately traded in for a large phonebook sized guide to old movies, which fifteen years later I still have. Might even look at it someday. 

But meanwhile, I periodically kept up my calling. 

Six months had elapsed.

It was a really big company.

Then, one day, a woman called me, a woman with a business-like voice who first expressed her regret that it took her company so long, and my complaint had continued through so many people because she had the long list of names in front of her on her desk, for my quite reasonable complaint to reach her, the Regional Manager of the Midwest States.

She informed me that besides my determined quest for an apology, the company had reorganized its manner of responding to persons like myself, that all my calls and the time passing had not been for nothing and that in the name of her company, she thanked me for causing the changes to come about. She was also aware that I wanted nothing more from the company except the employee to call me.

Was that still true?

Was there nothing else she could do to make amends for all that had never happened so far?

I told the woman — whom I now admired — what I did for a living, how much I spent over the years in her company’s stores and that that it was clear to me that I had finally reached the one person in her company who was worthy of her responsibility. If she wished, I would write a letter to whomever she designated to express my appreciation for her call to me.

Except for one thing.

“What is that”, she asked.

I responded that I think she already knew.

Pause.

Oh.

I could hear a slight smile in her voice.

She said, 

“Oh, yes, I see. Long time coming.

I’ll get right on it and thank you for being so patient with this strange experience with my company.”

I thanked her, wished her well and told her I hope her company appreciated who she was and promoted her.

She laughed and said good-bye.

A couple of days later, my phone rang in my store.

I picked it up saying the name of my store and could I help them, like I always said, for decades.

A voice responded; hesitant, stuttering, almost too soft to hear.

The voice told me his name, that he was the person I had met six months before in his bookstore and was the one who had yelled at me in front of many people, because I bought a stack of Playboys. 

I waited.

The voice then said he was very sorry and never should have done that.

A pause, and then I filled the gap in our conversation.

I told the young man that I appreciated his call and that I accepted his apology, and that I felt it must have been a difficult thing for him to do.

He responded that, yes, it was difficult.

I asked him how things were going and was he still the newly-appointed assistant manager of his store?

A pause, then some breathing. Then he responded,

“No, I am not.” 

Suddenly I felt unexpected empathy for this poor lost soul.

I told him I was sorry about that turn of events, but that I wished him well in his future.

He thanked me, we both said goodbye and hung up.

I got what I wanted.

No point in being a schmuck about it.

And that was the end of it.

5 Comments »

Comment by bruce matteson

January 29, 2022 @ 12:19 pm

oh you brute…

Comment by bruce matteson

January 29, 2022 @ 12:21 pm

…takes my breath away

Comment by Kumari

January 29, 2022 @ 1:40 pm

Whelp! That was a good story – I love this blog post

Comment by Stephen Veenker

January 29, 2022 @ 2:43 pm

Bob, I really appreciate this story. Sometime later I was head periodicals clerk at a nearby Borders store. I would have recognized you immediately and reordered more copies.
Before I met you, I was at the Tribune for several years, in Community Relations. Wore lots of different hats. But the Trib phone operators knew I would listen and help people. I often got a call from them, “Got one for you!” and the caller would say “You are the FIFTH person I have talked to and I can’t get any help!” I would say, “And I am the NEXT to the last you’ll talk to. Tell me what you need, and I will find out who can help and they will call you.” Worked time and again.
I always write down the names of people who answer the CS phones. If they do what’s helpful, I give them creds on the survey.

Comment by DJ Smith

January 31, 2022 @ 2:09 am

AWESOME story! Thank you from one of the little people that feel the same way you do.?

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