Friday, August 10, 2007

Esprit d'escalier

or Spirit of the Staircase. It's the French term, probably spelled incorrectly, for the perfect retort to something someone said to you that you think of when you're on your way up the stairs to bed, far too late to actually use the response.

I had that kind of a moment yesterday. I had ordered pictures of the kids from Ofoto and had them printed at the CVS on Guadalupe so that I could use one of the prints for my m-i-l's birthday present. I stopped in at the CVS on the way home from fetching Lily, so I had all three kids with me. The photo counter had a self-serve (and why does every store feel the need to let us serve ourselves? I do enough serving of others around the house. I go to stores so someone else can do things for me, for a change) basket, but I didn't find my pictures in it. So I gathered a few items and stood in line with three impatient kids while the apparently only employee in the store slowly rang up people's purchases.

When it was finally our turn, I asked if she could look for the pictures for me. She drifted over to the photo counter and rummaged around for a moment before remembering that she didn't know what name to be looking for. After poking around for another moment, she came back and told me she didn't know where they were and that I'd have to come back later when the manager was in the store - he was out on a coffee break. My jaw literally dropped. I asked for the store number, paid for my purchases and left, trailing kids and muttered curses behind me.

A few hours later I called and asked for the manager, who put me on hold for ages so that he could look for the photos. He finally told me they were ready and that I was free to come by any time and ask for him so I could pick them up. I drove over to the store, fuming. When I arrived, the manager, Ben, was sitting in the photo lab doing nothing but twirling slowly in the spinny chair even though there was a line of customers at the check-out register.

After he handed me my pictures, I thanked him through gritted teeth and he responded, "No problem at all!" You know the scene in "High Fidelity" when John Cusak fantasizes that he punches Tim Robbins in the face and one of his staff members clobbers Robbins with the cash register? That's what I envisioned doing to the guy. So I stomped out before I really did throw a punch.

About halfway home, the perfect response came to me. Here's what I should have said:

No problem? Of course it wasn't a problem for you. You're just sitting there twirling in a chair. It was a HUGE problem for me. I had to make two trips here, once with three kids in tow, because apparently you're such a lousy manager that you can't provide quality customer service. Instead of telling me it wasn't a problem, how about thanking me for coming back and apologizing profusely for the the problem that you caused.

But of course, it was too late for that. And I wouldn't have been able to deliver the speech in anything resembling a calm, rational manner. I would have ended up screaming and cursing. So instead I vented to B when I got home. And now I'm blogging about Ben, the horrible manager.

But to all you reading this in Austin - stay away from the CVS on Guadalupe and 29th!

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