I don’t care if the customer is right or not…but did she have to turn a simple transaction into a bizarre thirty minute ordeal??


9:01. An elderly woman approaches the customer service desk and tells me she wants to pay her bill. “How much do you want to pay?” I ask.
“All of it. The whole thing,” she says. “But I don’t have my bill.”
“I’m sorry, we don’t have access to your account information; all we can do at a store level is key your payment…if you pick up the courtesy phone (I gesture five feet to my left), it dials thru to the credit center and you can get the balance on your account,” I tell her. “You’ll be prompted for the last four digits of your social security number.”
“Oh, I have a broken hip….my husband is waiting…I don’t know my social security number…maybe I have it in my purse….” she goes on like this for several minutes. I’m thinking how in the world does someone who appears to be 145 years old NOT know her social security number? And her purse is the size of a suitcase and looks as if it has every scrap of paper she’s accumulated in the past 70 years.

It is now 9:10 and the entire contents of her purse are strewn on the counter(is that a lamp she just pulled out of there?) and I’ve managed to wait on several people and answer the phone about four times. She looks at me and says, “Can you just call them for me?” “I can, but I’m not sure how far I’ll get with an automated system without knowing your social security number…” I call and after pressing “1” for English, I fumble my way through various channels and reach a human. I explain the situation and she happily gives me the woman’s balance. So I trot my happy helpful self back to the register, tell her the balance while my line attracts several customers.

It’s 9:14 and as she rummages through a purse that  Mary Poppins would envy, she looks up at me with watery blue eyes and states emphatically, “I don’t think I put my money in here!” It’s now 9:16. “We take checks,” I tell her flatly. “Oh, no, I’m not writing a check…hold on, I know I have my money in here somewhere!” At 9:20 and four customers later she produces cash from an apparent super secret compartment in the purse from hell. She hands me the money, I quickly process the payment, give her a receipt, bid her a good weekend…and SOMEHOW get sucked into a ten minute discussion on how she broke her hip!! And it’s not a discussion, really, but rather, a monologue through which I suffer, smiling and nodding at appropriate intervals, all the while fantasizing about various ways I could  climb over the counter and silence her incessant prattling and how I would explain to the manager that would inevitably stroll by during one of her surprise managerial drive bys that “It’s not what you think…the heifer brought it on herself!” Lucky for her said counter is too high for my old, tired, out of shape self to hurdle!

It’s 9:30. My kingdom for a vicodin to wash down my gullet with my incredibly strong coffee. And people wonder why I’m always about to snap.

©Mary Flanagan Taylor June 4, 2010


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