Thursday, April 23, 2009

Keep the customer satisfied

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a pile of coupons that entitle the bearer to a $2 discount off any used item at Amoeba Music.

I didn't see any sign saying "Please Take One," so I scooped up as many of the coupons as I could stuff in my backpack.

Later I read the fine print of the coupons and learned that they are "Void After 4/31/09."

April 31 is a date that will never arrive. As long as the Gregorian calendar remains in effect, those coupons are like a wad of $2 bills direct from the U.S. Mint.

So lately I've been spending more time at Amoeba than many of its employees.

I popped by Amoeba again on Wednesday night. Sure enough, within minutes of entering the store I found a used CD I simply had to own: "Skeletal Lamping," by the band Of Montreal.

I walked up to the counter and handed the CD, a coupon and a $10 bill to the clerk, a young guy with curly hair and a bright smile.

At this point in the Amoeba shopping experience, the clerk often validates the customer's selection by saying "Cool choice" or something similar. (That doesn't happen when you buy a Liza Minnelli album, however.) This time, the clerk handling my purchase stared at my neck and asked "How long have you have the trach, man?"

I felt my neck and realized that I left my scarf behind in the car, leaving my trach tube and collar visible.

I made a gesture to the clerk that indicated I needed to write down my response. He unspooled some blank paper from the register and handed it to me.

About three months, I wrote.

"How come?" the clerk asked.

Cancer, I wrote. Can't talk or eat through my mouth.

The guy's eyes widened. "Wow!" he said. "That sucks."

I nodded.

"Is your cancer caused by smoking?" the clerk inquired.

I shook my head. No, I wrote. I never smoked. Just luck of the draw, I guess.

He looked at me silently for a few seconds, then said "I hope you get better."

Me, too!
I wrote.

He then rang up my purchase and handed me my change. "I'll meet you at the end of the counter," he said.

He and I both walked to the spot where Amoeba clerks hand over purchases to customers.

"Good luck to you, buddy," he said, before giving me a salute to send me on my way.

I looked at my receipt and saw that the clerk's name was Trevor.

Chances are that Trevor forgot about his interaction with the guy with no voice and a hole in his neck as soon as the next customer stepped up to his station, but maybe not. Maybe he smokes and will take another look at that warning label on his pack of cigarettes the next time he lights up. Or maybe he never came face-to-face with someone with cancer before, and our exchange will stay with him a while.

I'm sure it won't be long before I see him again. I have about 40 $2 bills in Amoeba funny money to spend, and the way I see it, I'll be expiring long before the coupons do.

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