I am sitting in the little waiting room of our nearby optical store. Beside me, a video runs. It’s about a really good-looking girl who looks a lot like Paris Hilton, with the blond hair and long legs and boots. Sometimes, she tries on sunglasses and prances around, even though she’s not outside in the sun. She takes the dark glasses off and on and blinks at the camera.
Then the video switches to a very good-looking guy. He’s staring out at an enormous picture window at a distant skyline. He must be farsighted, since he’s wearing regular glasses. He stares and stares at the skyline and he seems to be thinking.
Then the guy and girl get together, both of them in dark glasses, and they climb to the top of a tall building. They stare at each other. They stare at buildings. They stare at the camera. The girl takes her sunglasses off and on a lot here, too. I’m thinking that must be her signature movement.
I see this video over and over — oh, maybe about eight times. If you ask me, it kind of lacks a narrative drive, even if you count the glasses maneuver as showing character development. But I keep watching it, since I don’t have anything better to do.
I first came to this store about three weeks ago. Why not? It’s a neighborhood store and, like everybody else, I want to patronize local shops. So, I came in to get my prescription filled for my new glasses. A guy in his twenties helped me and he was quite nice, steering me away from unflattering frames. I think his name was Max.
By the time I left, I’d unloaded a fair amount of cash (didn’t glasses used to be cheaper than this?), but I’d ordered a snazzy-looking pair of glasses. They had progressive lenses, which means you can’t see the line on the bifocals, and they turn dark when the sun is out (transitions lenses, Max calls them). I am progressive, I am in transition, no wonder I am spending so much money.
Ten days later, my new glasses are ready. They look great. I pay for them and leave the store. The day is blindingly bright outside. The lenses stay clear.
“Oh, that’s right,” Max says when I re-enter the store. “You ordered transitional lenses. I forgot to include that on the order.”
We stare at each other. I am waiting for something I don’t seem to be getting. Something like, Gee, I’m sorry about this. If I were on the video, I would have taken my glasses off and on to make a subtle, yet indelible point.
“The good news is,” Max points out helpfully, “you can keep your glasses while I order the transitional lenses. You won’t have to go without.”
Actually, I don’t consider this to be particularly good news, since I’ll be traipsing around with the sun boring holes in my eyes for 10 days. But, as I have pointed out many times before, complaining effectively is not one of my great talents; I am far better at sulking and brooding.
Ten days pass. I sulk, I brood, I squint in the bright sunlight. I get a call from the optical store. My new lenses are in!
So, here I am, watching the video, seeing the good-looking man and woman cavort and flirt, while my new transitional lenses are installed. I watch it eight times, nine times, who’s counting? I would read, of course, but I don’t have my glasses.
The new eye guy comes out. What’s his name? Phil, maybe? He’s polishing my glasses. He tells me there’s been a little glitch. Unfortunately, the supplier has sent them lenses that don’t fit my frames. “We’re going to have to wait a little longer,” he says.
We? I’m telling you, I’m Southern, I’m middle-aged, I’m female, and politeness has been drilled into me like a tattoo on my soul. But that doesn’t mean I never get pissed.
“Hold on,” I say, trying to keep my voice low and reasonable. “It’s already 10 days late. How much longer will it be now?”
Phil or Bob or Harry or whatever his name is says well, yeah, but that’s the supplier’s fault. They goofed. It’s not the optical store’s fault.
I tell him, in my same low, reasonable voice, that it was the optical store that messed up in the first place. And, also, that I had trusted them to work with competent middlemen on the matter.
He stares at me. I stare at him. Once again, I’m not getting what I want.
“What do you want me to do?” he asks, finally.
“You might try apologizing,” I say.
“But it’s not my fault,” he says, as plaintively as if I’d slapped him. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Your business did,” I say.
We stare some more. Like the couple in the video. He looks uneasy, but he doesn’t say anything.
Maybe, I now realize, the girl who looked like Paris Hilton was thinking all kinds of thoughts I never gave her credit for. Maybe she was staring at the guy, thinking what a tragic loser and dim bulb he was, a veritable gutter ball of a human being. Didn’t he understand, didn’t he get it, that a small, sincere apology would have made all the difference in the world to her? Didn’t he realize what a cheap date she was, emotionally speaking? All he had to do was mutter how sorry he was — and she would have been placated.
But no. Oh, no. That was evidently too complicated for his tiny mind to comprehend. The girl, rightly upset, had to take her glasses off and on to signal a nearby contact, a minor member of the Mafia, who would resolve matters to her satisfaction.
Or maybe she doesn’t know anybody in the Mob. Maybe she’ll just push the good-looking guy off the top of the building. Come to think of it, it’s her new signature movement!
I turn on my heel and walk out. I’m writing Phil’s boss. I’m telling my neighbors about the poor service at Austin Vision Center. I am telling total strangers about their shoddy service, their failure to take responsibility for their mistakes.
I may not be in show biz and I may not be violent. But I like to think I can be dangerous in my own quiet way, when necessary. No wonder Phil looked nervous. Maybe he knows I can tell a story.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about why I’m crazy enough to blog