Monday, April 26, 2010

Because, Sometimes, You Can Judge a Book by its Cover

Just a warning here--this one has nothing to do with comics. It kinda has something to do with books, but only because it's about an incident that took place in a bookstore. The actual books involved are of little (read: no) relevance to the post, or to the overreaching story.

With that in mind...

I saw something this weekend that really annoyed me. But let's get this straight--it wasn't one of those things that I saw, shrugged my shoulders at, and forgot about. Quite the opposite, really, as I am still pretty annoyed with it come Monday morning, when I should be leaving for work.

And I'd like to talk about the incident here, if I may, because I need to vent about it before my head explodes. No more preamble or set up to this one, folks. Just out with the story.

After an incredibly fun day of watching Firefly, eating hearty tavern food, and buying things at a comic book store, Nathaniel and I parted ways. Our long-overdue day of geeky nonsense was great, but as with all good things, it needed to come to an end.

He went to visit college friends, and I went to make a quick trip to the local Borders store before returning home to watch some baseball.

Our story takes place at the Borders, and it begins with me finding what I was looking for, and heading to the counter to pay for my wares.

In front of me, there was this guy. And believe me, you know the type of guy I'm talking about. Jeans with sandals, collared shirt with sweater over it, obnoxiously expensive watch, and car keys to something that costs more than most people make in a year.

Oh, and that look that says, "I'm better than you. And you. And you and you and you." Because that's the most important part of this guy's "look."

But as we all know, you can never judge a book by its cover. And, besides. Surely this guy wouldn't fit perfectly into the whole, jerky rich guy stereotype, right?


Classic jerky rich guy. Like he was cut from a jerky, rich guy mold, and then served with a side order of fried arrogance. Let me explain.

This guy--the jerky rich guy-- has a couple of books stacked up on the counter as the bookstore employee (a very nice guy who has gone out of his way to help me find some obscure titles in the past) rings him up.

"Sir," the bookstore employee asks. "Do you have a Borders Rewards card?"

"No," says the customer, in a polite but completely dismissive manner. Which is pretty normal, since most folks hear "store card" and associate extra fees and spam mail with it. (Of course, in the case of the Borders Rewards card, all you get is a free membership and weekly--and hefty--coupons for books.) Still, most folks dismiss the card out of hand, not wanting to give personal info to anyone.

And who could blame them, right?

"Well, sir," the employee continues, in a friendly and non-aggressive fashion. "Just so you know, the Rewards card is free and quick to sign up for. We send some pretty good coupons each week and--"

"No," was the customer's response, except this time, he was a little annoyed with the employee and he had abandoned eye contact (and not to mention, basic human courtesy) and instead decided that the man behind the counter was clearly not worth his jerky, rich guy breath.

From my location one spot back in the line, I could tell that the employee knew he was getting on the man's nerves. Still, he had a job to do.

"No problem, sir," the employee answered with an honest-to-goodness smile. But it's part of the job description that he ask just one more question before completing the transaction, and so he did.

Except, this question was important.

"Sir, we're having a book drive for children," he started.

The customer continued to look down at his wallet, at the door, and anywhere but the employee's eyes. Because, y'know, he was so clearly just a clerk, and he was so clearly beneath this gem of a human being.

"Would you like to donate a book to--" the employee was cut off.

"No," was all the man said.

The employee handed the man's credit card back to him.

"Thank you, sir," the employee said from behind the counter. "Would you like a bag for--"

But the customer--Mr. sandals and jeans and watch and sweater-over-collared-shirt--was already on his way to the door.

Now, please. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that the man was a jerk because he didn't donate a book. Let me repeat that--a person is NOT a jerk because he or she decides not to donate a book, or some money, or some time, to a charity or whatever. I am certainly guilty of not giving enough of any of those things to charity, and I would never dream to judge another person in that regard.

What annoyed me about this guy was not that he didn't donate a book.

What annoyed me was how dismissive he was of the bookstore employee behind the counter. He couldn't even manage to make eye contact with the guy, for goodness sake. And, honestly, I don't think the customer ever even heard the employee behind the counter ask about donating a book.

Sure, he knew words were coming out of the guy's mouth--but he had stopped listening to the content of those words after the initial, "hello." He was just pre-programmed to say no to whatever the cashier was going to say.

And, sure, maybe I am being judgmental (and, if so, then certainly hypocritical, considering what I said above), but I saw what I saw. That is to say, the way I understood it to happen is the way I honestly believe it to have happened.

That the guy was too important, and too high above the guy behind the counter to listen to what he was saying.

I don't know. Maybe I'm overreacting. Like that's never happened before. But I was honestly annoyed with what I saw. What can I say? It just got under my skin, is all.

To his credit, the Borders employee was as friendly to me as he was to the man in front of me. I guess he's used to people not showing him respect, and not looking him in the eyes, and not treating him the way he should be treated.

Goodness knows I've been treated in similar fashion by people in both personal and professional settings in my life.

And I felt bad for the guy behind the counter, because he was just doing his job. And, like I said, he does his job well. Go back up in this post and re-read the "conversation" between the two men. It took, like, ten seconds, tops. For ten seconds, this guy couldn't act like a person?

He couldn't be polite, and sociable, and downright decent?

For ten seconds?!

If you can't even manage to fake decency for a ten-second exchange, then I'm glad I don't know you. And that's how I want to end this post. I'm glad I don't know that random customer I saw one time at a bookstore on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the springtime.

I'm glad I've never watched sports with him, I'm glad we've never gone out for a beer, and I'm glad I've never--and will never--shake his hand.

I'm also glad that I saw what I saw.

I was raised in a manner that taught me to be the opposite of that guy. And I hope--I honestly hope--that when my last day comes, no one who knew me will ever say about me what I'm saying about the jerk I saw that one time in Borders.

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