Rewriting the Script

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

23 comments… add one
  • And you can tell a story! Phil/Max didn’t know who they were messing with. I had something similar happen with my daughter’s glasses–the frame broke when they were trying to fit them to her face (more than a little disconcerting seeing the frame bust so easily). You’re on to something not only are frames pricier–they don’t seem to last as long. And don’t you love the whole “frames for $50”; yeah and the lenses are $200.

  • I run into what you have described here so often in life. It occurs to me that younger people do not realize this is new, that once upon a time this type of thing did not happen on a regular basis. At least these vision “specialists” are in the USA. I get even more irritated when the incompetency is taking place at a distance, say in a call-center in India.

  • Priceless! Uh, well, I guess not exactly since you put down a load of cash. And why couldn’t he apologize? Some of us Southern women even apologize for things that we didn’t have anything to do with! And some folks, younger and older, act like they never never ever think there is anything they should apologize for. From laughter at your entertaining rendition, I have now turned myself into a grumpy old woman . . . and my progressive lenses don’t do everything for me. To read normal print or thread a needle, I have to take them off and hold the page or needle and thread about an inch from my nose. See, I told you I had “transitioned” into a grumpy old woman.

  • One of the utlity companies we have must have a policy in place about this very thing. The first thing they say when you call with a problem is “I’m sorry” and it really defuses the situation I’ve found. I don’t understand this guy’s reluctance to apologize. What’s it matter to him? Will it damage his ego to say those words? I’m glad you walked out.

  • Ugh. This is SO frustrating. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. They’re all perfect, you know. Seriously, how hard is it to say you’re sorry and at least admit it’s a total pain.

    At the same time, I find those it’s-in-the-script apologies so fake too.

  • I couldn’t even count the number of times I’ve apologized for things that were none of my fault. Must be the Southern politeness tattooed on my soul as well. You apologize, your customer is happier (not HAPPY, but happier) and everyone goes about their business. Sigh.

  • Cindy A Link

    I have a darker view. It’s a man thing. Somebody should do a study about apology rates in men versus women. I bet the diagrams would be off the chart.

  • Cindy A Link

    Oh, and look. All the commenters so far who feel like the unapologetic dude was a jerk — are women. We are SO much higher on the evolutionary ladder.

  • So you can. I’m waiting to hear whether or not the girl who looked like Paris Hilton gets indicted.

  • I’m furious at them for being such idiots and then not even having the decency to apologize. It’s truly unbelievable. I’d like to write all sorts of expletives here. Do write that letter, and send this link to anyone and everyone so they know NOT to EVER BUY ANYTHING from that store. You didn’t ask for a refund. You didn’t ask for a discount. All you asked for was an apology. And for these jerks, that was asking too much.

  • When I worked in customer service, our mantra was “the customer is always right, even when they’re patently bloody wrong.” But that was a long time ago, and times really have changed. I’m not so sure it’s a generational thing, more a fear of litigation if an apology is construed as an admission of liability?

    Paris Hilton, good-looking? You really do need those new glasses!

  • Cindy D. Link

    I don’t know what it is with the “never saying you’re sorry.” Some men act like an important body part would fall off if they said “sorry.”

  • I apologize for the unfortunate delays at Austin Vision Center. Were I actually affiliated with Austin Vision Center, I would gladly offer you a ten percent reduction on your tab.
    I’m Southern and, too, was raised on the kindness of apology. I also was raised on the concept of putting myself in the shoes of others. Therefore, I seek ways to commiserate with one’s discomfort in any situation. Evidently, those that are filled with the “Me” concept do not bother to stretch their minds to imagine any other person’s feelings or situations,
    However, I find it beyond my capabilities to commiserate with you on the beauty of that Paris Hilton look-alike. I agree with Tessa, you do need those glasses– or perhaps a blindfold.

  • We have a small business and the motto is: the customer is always right. Even if the customer is wrong, the customer is right. You always apologize, even if it’s not your fault.

  • I applaude you for writing the letter to the boss (let’s just say you already did). I used to be diligent with this and I copied everyone I could think of, but nowadays it seems that more than half the people working in customer service are either inept or rude, and I find there are too many letters and too little time.

  • Cynthia Link

    Taking responsibility for anything seems to be anathema in our society. Who me? It wasn’t my fault….is so commonplace and meaningless. Without a sense of responsibility there isn’t any customer service. I say we need to wage a “customer service” jihad!!!

  • Seriously, they did not know who they were messing with (and that’s a customer service lesson right there – you never know who’s going to write a scathingly witty takedown of your business, so kill ’em with kindness!).

    And yes, when did glasses become so expensive? I’ve had the same lenses for years because I’m too cheap to buy BOTH contacts and glasses.

  • You’d think it would be obvious to say two simple words to diffuse a situation like this. What is wrong with people?? As soon as they figure that out, the world would be a much nicer place. I’d be furious, too.

  • This has happened to me a lot lately, and it never fails to stun me. I choose to patronize a local business, paying considerably more because I’m trying to do the right thing and keep my downtown from becoming a row of empty storefronts, and then the service is shoddy or they make mistakes and the attitude never stops! I’m not sure what’s going on, but sometimes, sadly, I think small local shops need to take a page from the larger retailers with their emphasis on customer service training.

  • You know so much ill will can melt away with those two little words.

    I’m learning not to reply “don’t worry about it,” or “not a problem” because it usually is. Accepting an apology graciously is a skill you have to learn too.

    But what a more peaceful world we’d live in if we could all practice both, don’t you think?

  • Argghhh! How frustrating. Both Max and Phil are JERKs of the highest order and hopefully their boss will explain that to them after he receives your letter. Let’s hope they give you your glasses for free. They should.

  • I continue to be absolutely amazed at businesses who are offering shoddy service in THIS economic climate. Customers are hard to come by – they should be bending over backwards to keep their customers happy. And if all you needed was an apology? He could even have crossed his fingers behind his back if he really felt that he didn’t owe you one…

  • Robin Link

    Just found your blog and your archives, a treasure-trove of well-written, thought-provoking material, with insightful and supportive commentary as well. Thank you.

    Of course it’s dangerous to generalize — as I’ll emphasize shortly — but my belief is that, by and large, women have mastered the art of the apology. My husband has taken to gently chiding me for apologizing for anything and everything. And while he often confuses an expression of empathy that begins with the words I’m sorry such as “I’m sorry you didn’t sleep well last night,” with an apology, as in “I’m sorry my coughing interrupted your sleep,” he has a point: Apologizing seems to come pretty naturally to me.

    The following observation is intended for author and commenters alike. No, this apologizer is not a child of the South. I was raised in and still reside in the Midwest. I’ve traveled widely in the U.S. and I’ve experienced charm, manners, and gentility as well as the opposite in equal measure in every region. If you would please drop the southern qualifier when taking ownership of the finer qualities of humanity, I would be grateful.

    I’d like to apologize in advance if the tone of my observation is anything but constructive. : )

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