I know this identifies me as Old as Dirt, but sometimes I just don’t give a damn. When did we move from that wonderful old maxim of “The Customer Is Always Right” to “The Customer is a Tasteless Moron Who Needs a Lifestyle Dictator or Dominatrix to Correct His Poor Choices”?
I’m pretty sure it may have started with high-end restaurants that serve steaks. Several years ago, their menus began to sport little notices that they would have to protest and hold their noses if customers wanted their steaks cooked well-done. They would over-cook the meat (read: completely ruin it) reluctantly, if the customer insisted on it.
That didn’t bother me at first. After all, I was younger and insecure and desperately needed the approval of any sneering waitpersons and restaurateurs in my life. Besides, I liked my steaks medium-rare. Wasn’t that the mark of a would-be sophisticate?
The years passed and I still liked my steaks rare, but those snotty little notices began to irk me. I come from a long line of people who cook their meat till it resembles a shoe. They’re called Midwesterners, and they also commit other grave culinary faux-pas such as creating casseroles made with cream-of-mushroom soup and dumping Lawry’s seasoning salt over every dish. Those regrettable character flaws aside, they’re also wonderful, salt-of-the-earth people who work hard and tithe at church and lend their neighbors a hand in time of trouble.
And someone in the “service” industry has the undiluted gall to tell them how they should order their steaks? Hasn’t somebody gotten a little confused about who’s serving whom?
From restaurants, it was a short shuffle to the hauteur of chic boutiques and beauty emporiums and, worst of all, spas. I once got a facial from a young woman who ostensibly worked at a local spa, but evidently moonlighted as an Eva Braun clone. Staring down at my complexion, she gasped. “We have got to do something about those eyebrows,” she wheezed.
Those eyebrows? I’d always liked my eyebrows. But clearly, I’d been tragically mistaken. The young woman — Brunhilda, or whatever her name was — whipped out a mirror so I could look at the offending parentheses below my forehead. They looked pretty much the same as they always had. Not bad, I thought naively.
“I think my eyebrows look all right,” I said. Tentatively, of course. Down deep, I knew I was wrong, wrong, wrong. What was I doing in a spa, anyhow? I should have been at WalMart, shopping with my Own Kind.
Brunhilda sneered in my direction. She sighed loudly, making it clear her life was a senseless tragedy, overflowing with yokels who had unfashionable eyebrows and enlarged pores. Then she started attacking my face like it was a misshapen chunk of dough she had to mold into something presentable. Fat chance.
At the end of the torture — I mean, facial — Brunhilda took one last look at my sorry eyebrows and grimaced.
“I’m going to wax them,” she said.
I started to protest. Weakly, of course. Pathetically weakly.
She shook her head. “This will be on the house,” she said. She applied hot wax around my eyebrows, let it cool, then yanked it off.
Looking at me, Brunhilda smiled for the first time that day. “Check this out,” she said, handing me a mirror.
I stared at myself in the mirror. I looked like shit. I looked like I’d been on the losing end of a fistfight, with reddened eyes. And my eyebrows? — or what was left of them? The way they arched up, skinny and barely visible, I looked surprised. As a matter of fact, I looked surprised for weeks, till the damned things grew out.
Which is probably the exact reaction I — and the rest of us consumers and customers — should be having. Surprised that we get judged and bullied by the people who are supposed to be serving us. Even more surprised that we take it as often as we do when we’re spending our hard-earned money.
If I didn’t like rare meat so much, I’d now order it well-done just to court the look of disapproval from haughty waiters. Then, I’d stare back at them and look fierce, which is easy to do when you’re old as dirt and you’ve got eyebrows like mine.
Brunhilda should see them now. They look even worse than they used to — a little misshapen, with a few stragglers, a bit messy — just like my life, just the way I like them.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)