The Customer Is Not Always Right by Craig J. Clark

It was a typical Friday night at the store – or so Roger guessed. He didn’t really know because this wasn’t his usual shift, but he had always heard that Friday nights were generally slow and uneventful. The slow part turned out to be true, not so much the uneventful.

It all started when the woman approached him at the counter. He was in the middle of ringing someone else up, but that didn’t stop her from butting right in.

“Do you think you could help me over in the posters?” she asked.

Roger looked from her to the customer in front of him, then back again. “Sure thing,” he said. “I’ll be right over as soon as I finish with this gentleman.”

The woman nodded and walked away. Roger apologized to his customer, completed his transaction, took a deep breath – he found he was doing that more and more as time went on – and walked out onto the floor to find out what the woman wanted.

He found her kneeling in front of the poster display, looking through the rolls underneath. He asked how he could help her.

“I’d like this poster,” she said, flipping through the display until she found a tranquil-looking Japanese print. “I don’t see any under here, though.”

Roger knelt down next to her and checked the rolls. “Yeah, we must be out of that design. Sorry.” They both got up.

“Well, can I buy that one?” she said, pointing at the one in the display. “I’d really like to have that poster.”

“I’m sorry,” Roger said. “We don’t sell display models. Besides, I don’t know how to get it out and the person who does isn’t here right now.”

“Oh, I know how to get it out. I just want to know what you’ll sell it to me for.”

“Well, we’re going out of business, so at the moment everything in the store is 30 percent off.”

“What, you mean you can’t give me more of a break than that? It’s the floor model.”

“Right, and even if I could sell you the floor model, 30 percent is the best I could give you.”

“That’s ridiculous. Is there a manager I can speak to?”

“I’m the supervisor on duty. The manager has gone home for the day.”

“Well, call him, then.”

“He won’t be able to authorize anything more than I can. If we weren’t going out of business and everything was regular price, 30 percent is probably the best we would do anyway. If you want to talk to the manager, he’ll be back in on Monday during the day.”

“There’s no one above him I can talk to? What’s the number of the corporate office?”

“There is no corporate office. We’re being liquidated. Corporate was first to go.”

The woman thought for a moment – at least, it looked to Roger like she was thinking.

“Okay,” she said finally. “I’m going to keep looking around, but when I come up to the register, I want you to give me your manager’s phone number.”

“Very well.” With that, Roger walked away. He wasn’t too rattled, but he went into the back room anyway to get a drink of water. A couple minutes later, he was paged by one of his clerks. He picked up the phone.

“What is it?” he asked, knowing full well what it was.

“Uhh, yeah,” the clerk started. “That lady took the poster out of the display herself.”

Roger sighed. She was trying to force his hand. “Fine. What does she want?”

“She wants to talk to you again.”

“I’ll be right out.”

Dumping the rest of his water out in the sink, Roger gathered himself and walked out onto the floor for Round Two. The woman was at the register and sure enough, she had the poster in her hands.

“Here,” she said. “I have taken the poster out of the display – which you could not. Now, what about that discount?”

Roger stood his ground. “It’s 30 percent. That’s all I’m authorized to give anybody.”

“That’s ridiculous. I want to talk to your manager now. What’s his home number?”

“I’m not going to give that to you. I will try to get him on the phone, though.”

As he dialed, he overheard the woman talking to the clerk.

“Is there any way you can hold this for me until Monday?”

“No,” the clerk replied. “This is a liquidation. We can’t hold anything.”

“You mean you don’t have a place behind the register where you can stash this for a few days? That’s ridiculous.” Ridiculous appeared to be the watchword of the night.

After five rings, the phone picked up. Roger apologized for calling so late and explained the situation.

“What kind of discount can I give her?” he asked.

Back came the reply: “30 percent.”

“That’s what I thought.”

Hearing this, the woman cut in. “Is that the manager?”

Roger put his hand on the receiver. “It is.”

“I want to speak with him.”

Roger took his hand away. “She wants to talk to you.”

His manager audibly sighed. “All right.”

Roger handed the phone over and listened to the woman explain her side – skewing things to make it seem like she was suffering the most horrible of indignities. Finally, she handed the phone back and threw the poster on the counter.

“I don’t want this anymore. You can put it back,” she sneered and walked out.

Roger got back on the phone. “Okay, what do you want me to do with this poster now?”

“Throw it out. I don’t want you to sell it to her.”

“All right, then. Sorry to have bothered you.”

Roger hung up and took the poster into the back, where he unrolled it and took a look at it.

“Hmm,” he said to himself. “It is a nice poster.” He rolled it up, put it in his locker and walked back out onto the floor.


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This is really quite good -- it has a vivid Slice Of Life feel to it that makes me wonder if it's based on a true story. The imagery was very clear.

The bit about the corporate office being the first to go is pure genius, and the pacing of the words to describe it was excellent.

I'm glad that Roger netted a free poster out of the affair, too.

From beyond the accumulates, Craig is back.

It's nice to read a longer piece by you again.

I, too felt like this was walking that fine line between fiction and non-fiction. It felt very real and, as usual, nicely constructed.

The sense of entitlement this woman represents is all too present in modern society. Sometimes I wish self-destructive or poisonous versions of things existed specifically to be "awarded" to these types. Nothing that would maim or kill, but enough disintegration and nausea to teach a lesson.

Actually, this is based almost entirely on something that happened two Fridays ago at my store. All I did was condense it somewhat so it wouldn't be as repetitive as it was in real life.

Free market capitalism!
Everything and everyone is for sale and if it's not, raise a stink!

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