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Friday, August 22, 2014

Antisocial Media and Other Noble Experiments

I recently did an experiment, trying to start a blog/facebook group aimed at the public mockery and chastising of people who act like shit in public.  There wasn't a whole lot of participation.  A fair amount of interest, but not much participation.  I think it's that a lot of people recognize their own shitty actions when they start looking for them in others, and they didn't feel right reporting on things they know they themselves have been guilty of.  

At least that's what I want to think. In any case, I don't really have the time to keep up with Social Avenger weekly if it's something I have to go out and hunt down stories for, so I'm probably gonna stop maintaining it.  I still think it's a good idea, so the Facebook Group will remain up.  I just won't be writing summaries or taking emails any more.

So I brought the three published Social Avenger Blogs and put them together here, if you'd care to look back on the shit I mined up in just a few short weeks of not really trying too hard.  I'm sure there's a lot more out there, but it's down to someone else to find.  

If you want to join the group, click one of the hotlinks in the text below.


The society we live in has over the last thirty years taken its consumer culture to new heights of self-absorbed inanity.  We've gotten to the point where people behave any damn way they please in public, knowing that of all our convoluted social taboos, calling out a grown adult on their behavior is one of the greatest.  

This blog was created to draw attention to people who exhibit shitty, self-important behaviors in public settings and publicly mock them for it, in an effort to help them see themselves as they are seen by everyone around them: as total fuckers who are slowing down the development of the species.

People are encouraged to send in their sightings of rude, obnoxious and otherwise despicable people behaving in ways we thought our mothers all taught us not to.  I "curate" the submissions for your reading pleasure and post them here weekly.  Our goal is that you will get a few laughs and, more importantly, a few specific examples of how not to behave when going about your day's business in civilized society.  

The ultimate aim is to create such a public presence for this sort of reporting and public ostracism of awful behavior, that eventually there will exist in our community a certain social accountability for one's behavior, regardless of wealth, age, race, gender or station.

Through the Looking Glass

One type of customer every service industry worker dreads is the person with no life.  Santa Fe is rife with people who - whether because they are independently wealthy, have reached the age by which they assumed they would have absorbed all the knowledge in the world, or as a result of some social incapacity - have no one left in their lives who will talk to them.  So they go to businesses where the employees have to talk to them, just so they can continue to have the abusive, horrible interactions they were used to having with their friends and family before all those people told them to go fuck themselves.

A former employee of the alternative movie theater The Screen elaborates:

There was this crazy guy everyone called "Hat Guy" who was this miserable old man who always wore a blue baseball cap and aviator sunglasses.  He would throw tantrums if we played any trailers before the movie because, "I don't go to the movies to be advertised to!"  Once he walked up into the projection booth during a movie, which is totally off limits, and when my wife [who worked as a projectionist] told him he couldn't be up there, he threw a fit and stormed out.  I've seen him elsewhere around town, such as the post office, harassing other people.

Then there was "The Mudman".

He came to see a movie, stayed for the whole movie, then wanted his money back because the Pasatiempo review didn't mention a rape scene. My boss said no. He then proceeded to call once a month for 2 whole years, introduce himself as Robert "The Mudman" Johnson, and blabber on about how he has been boycotting us, but would overturn it if we could give him a refund. When we said no, he would become super passive aggressive, saying things like, "My condolences on your dying business".

"Mudman" has been sighted elsewhere around town as well, occasionally committing crimes against comedy:

He called in to buy tickets at the Lensic a couple times and asked us if we had any jokes today. Upon saying no, he told two of us the same joke.
"I'm in my garden and I see two bees. One of the bees is wearing a yarmulke. The other be
e says to the first bee, 'Why are you wearing a yarmulke?' The first bee replies, (in a thick Yiddish accent) 'You want, I should be mistaken for a wasp?'"
I'm assuming he means W.A.S.P. (like White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant)
I was embarrassed for him.

Some folks are just oblivious to how far out of touch with normal human behavior they are.  The most frustrating thing about dealing with them is that your refusal to acquiesce to their demands enrages them and often makes them worse.
I had a woman come in and say, "I just stepped in some gum in the parking lot, can you peel it off my shoe?" She then held up her shoe and wanted me to get on the ground and scrape it off, and was appalled when I refused.  

 My wife had to tell a woman to be quiet during a movie, who then proceeded to call her everything from "cunt" to "bitch" to "whore". Sweet old lady who's breath smelt of death. 

I had a man threaten to punch me in the face for not turning up the lights during the credits.  When I explained that our patrons liked staying for the credits, he reeled back his fist and yelled, "The movie's fucking over!" His wife had to pull him away.

Most of my memories are just people being stupid, like after seeing a Kazakhstani film about goat farmers living in yurts, coming out and saying, "How wild, no one actually lives like that!" That's like "Rich Entitled White Santa Fe Lady", the quote.

Add a little liquor to the equation and you have a perfect recipe for memorable interactions:

My favorite was working in the ski shop at ski Santa Fe. Hot tip; they have to take your returns. It's policy. Even if you buy the cheapest pair of gloves on the shelves and ski in them all day till they are soaking wet, ripped, and covered in tequila.  You just walk in and demand a refund because they aren't tequila proof. And also, you're belligerently drunk. And you have a lit cigarette in your mouth.
'Sir, there's no smoking in the building anymore. It's 2012.'
'Uhhhh these gloves didn't work gud. They's wet. Uhh I wanna refund.'
'Alright sir, I would love to help you with that just as soon as you put that cigarette out, outside, and finish that cheap beer that you aren't supposed to have up here... Sir...'

And the occasional drug addict always livens up any minimum wage closing shift, as one former Subway employee points out:

I would just say don't come to Subway so high that you're shaking uncontrollably.  Also don't ash the cigarette that went out in your hand somehow into the food bins.  Also don't carry your half smoked cigarette into the restaurant in the first place and don't lean over the glass to point at the food bins, we can see just fine when you point at the food through the glass... 

Moral of the Stories

The point here, ultimately, is try and affect a change in the way people in our community behave toward one another in public settings.  The important thing to remember is that the people who serve us are more than just "the help"; they are people, and they have feelings, and they have dignity.  And while this often involves remembering that the bureaucratic maxim regarding the Customer being Right is a load of marketing bullshit, treating people with dignity will often help you have a more positive experience, and sometimes, after admitting you're wrong, you may come out ahead.

One employee at a local optical store gives the perfect example of how:

We offer free adjustments and cleanings as a regular service to people who just walk in.  A lady came in and, after I fixed and cleaned her glasses, she asked for one of the little microfiber cloths we sell at the counter.  Bear in mind, at this point, she'd bought nothing, just come in and taken advantage of a free service.
"Those are $6," I told her.
"Oh, but couldn't you just give me one?"
"No... They cost $6." 
"But they gave me one when I bought my glasses."  At this point, she was already in a huff.
"Actually, that cloth and your case were both included in the price you paid for your frames."
At this point, she was visibly angry, "I can't believe you won't just give me one.  That's preposterous!"
"Ma'am, we sell those.  I can't just give you something we sell..."
She looked to my coworkers to back her up, but at this point, everyone realized she was just calling attention to herself for the sake of said attention, and she wasn't going to win the argument.  Slowly it donned on her, too.  She yelled a few more frustrated insults and stormed out, screaming how she'd never shop there again.
I'll point out again that she had at no time actually shopped there.
And the kicker?  I give those little cloths away all the time.  You just have to not be a dick.

Context and Perspective

It's hard to deny that in the country we live, we take a lot of things for granted.  As Americans, even the poorest among us have relatively plentiful access to clean water, some sort of sustenance, and - even if it's at the hands of charity - some degree of shelter against the elements.  Even in our country, there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands that struggle even to provide themselves with what they need to survive on a daily basis.

We're all aware of this on some level or another, but when trying to function on a day to day basis, we keep it in the more obscured recesses of our minds, because it would be very difficult to live in a first world society if your every action was accompanied with the reminder of the millions world-wide who would quite literally murder another person for the food we throw away on a daily basis.

That said, it's important to have perspective sometimes when we start to complain about the little hiccups in our otherwise conveniently manicured lives.  Working in retail, you see a lot of people who - whether for a moment, or as their regular way of life - seem to forget how unbelievably good we have it.

One local grocery clerk relates:

Lots of the things we sell, especially in the produce department, are grown seasonally.  There are different growing regions, with overlapping seasons, that generally allow for things like tomatoes, avocados, and other things you simply can't grow around here year round to still be available most of the time.
What many people don't seem to realize is that this is all made possible by a massively complicated logistical network, spanning not just international boundaries, but entire continents, corporations, and even different industries (growers, shippers, warehouses, and others are all involved, along with whatever store you're shopping at in the end), many of whom have the same retail relationship between one another as the store has with their customers: They're trying to make money off each other.
Naturally, along the way there are a myriad of things that can go wrong, from people failing to do seemingly small parts of their jobs that snowball into large shipping backups and delays, to acts of God that simply make it so that there is no product to ship.
It is perfectly reasonable, therefor, that every once in a while, a product that seems like a staple that should be readily available at all times will disappear from our inventory for days, or even weeks.  These issues happen far above the level on which anyone in the store could have any influence.  And yet somehow, a staggering 30% of people react to the news that their "favorite" heirloom tomatoes are out of stock by taking personal offense and threatening to stop shopping at our store.  The really funny part is that 50% of those people shop more regularly than the ones who roll with the punches and realize that the world does not spin to serve their every whim.

More food retail employees share similar tales of oblivious entitlement:

A lady started yelling at me from 30 feet away, waving a package of basil, asking if it was the largest one we sold.  I told her it was, and she got right up in my face and screamed, "SHAME ON YOU!!"  Because somehow, it's my fault that the (independent, local) supplier decided to package their wares in only two sizes.  And buying multiple packages is totally out of the question.

There's a woman who called in a few times about ten minutes after we opened in the morning.  She's always already furious, and without asking or any modicum of politeness begins listing demands:  We will get the following items and have them waiting for her at a register when she comes in, so she doesn't have to do any shopping, and can just walk in and check out.  She'll be here in an hour, and has no intention of waiting around if we don't have everything ready by then.
The list is just as crazy.  Two pounds of ground turkey split into quarter pound portions and packed separately on ice.  Three bell peppers, "But only the best ones."  She's clearly an important person.

What's worst is that it's honestly easier for the store to acquiesce to that kind of absurdity than deal with that person calling regional customer service.  The people who work in regional complaints departments are given no context to the complaints except the rage of the person complaining.  There is no such thing as the business' "side" of the story, as far as their disconnected superiors are concerned.  A lost customer is a lost customer, even if they were an insufferable twit who at every turn tried to scam and pilfer every free service and sample they could, while offering as little actual patronage as possible.

That is what we aim to counter with this blog.  With the constant vigilance and contribution of the decent folk among us, we too can hold accountable those who would otherwise behave in whatever way they please with impudence.

Local resident Rick Cormier dropped a few gems this week on the Social Avenger Facebook page.  Here they are, if you weren't paying attention:

Today, I was at the Tesuque Flea Market when a middle-aged, affluent-looking couple were checking out African imports. The woman approached the vendor (who is from Guinea) and began making conversation: "What is that language where they make that clicking noise with their tongue? (insert her repeated attempts at clicking noise here.) Isn't that African? You know... that clicking noise... That's African, right?"
That's just embarrassing.

We talked with a really great guy who runs a consignment shop in Taos yesterday. He told us a story of a couple who came into his store. The woman said, "The last time I was here in Taos I ate the best cookie I've ever tasted in my life. Would you have any idea where I might have bought that cookie?"
The store owner named every shop he could think of that might sell cookies. Finally, he asked what kind of cookie it was, in case that might help narrow down the possibilities. The woman snapped, "It was a COOKIE! A COOKIE is a COOKIE!"
The store owner said, "I'm trying patiently to help answer the most stupid question I've ever heard, and you're getting angry with ME?!"
The woman stormed out of his store. Her husband lagged behind just long enough to whisper to the store owner, "I have to listen to her EVERY DAY!"

Here's a story of my own.  It's on the less horrible end of the scale, but it points to a type of privilege and laziness that's more prevalent than most people would care to know.

A man came up to me today to let me know that "someone" had spilled a bunch of grapes and they needed to be cleaned or "a person could slip and trip and fall."
A reasonable request. Never fear, good sir, I will address this immense peril. Though I may not be presently equipped to clean up this great mess of fruit, I will surely be able to address it and summon my fellows to my aid if necessary!
Then I turned the corner, where there lay a single cherry, which he had run over with his cart, and then walked a good 20 feet to inform me of, instead of just picking it up himself or kicking it aside like an normal human would.

Food For Thought

This one's a bit hairy for me, personally, as I've never been on the other side of that interaction, and a lot of the horror stories I heard from the people I talked to were things I know I have done before. So researching this was a very personal learning experience, as far as seeing the other side of a few disagreements I've had in the past where I probably wasn't in the right, but definitely felt like it at the time.

That realization leads one down an interesting wormhole. "Does this mean all the people who were balefully horrible fuckers to me at work were simply ignorant of what my perspective of the situation might be at the time?" "Did they think I was being just as huge of a fucker?"

The reality check is a sturdy, "Yes, probably, sometimes." Well how do you know if you're in the right or just having a bad day at work? I had several (and one very long) conversations about these topics and more with some local hosts, servers, bussers and bartenders, and here's what one said on the matter of that double-edged sword.

It goes both ways. I know a lot of terrible servers who probably shouldn't be working in that industry. But at the same time, you get people who walk in and are ready to complain about everything before anything even happens. Why do you even come into my restaurant, if you're going to just hate everything regardless of how hard we try? Why are you wasting my time? Sometimes I don't feel like being there, either, but I have no choice, so I put on a smile and fake it. But why come in just to be an asshole?

It's those people we're hoping to focus on in these entries; pointing out that, while everyone gets in ruts and shitty moods, it doesn't give anyone the right to inflict their bad disposition on anyone else.

Maybe it's that they're off work, and we're at work, and they feel like they can do to us all the shitty things that have been done to them.  
First of all, I think that people don't know how to take out their frustration and anger in the correct way.  
Secondly, you have to have a certain amount of money to even be able to afford to go out, so right there, you're at least working class. And I think a lot of more affluent people have a sense of entitlement because they've been getting things their whole life, or they started from nothing, worked their whole lives and got to where they are and now they feel they're owed something by the world.
But it doesn't matter how much craziness you've been through, you do not have the right to make another person feel like shit. Ever.

So there are a thousand possible permutations of the ways awful people specifically degrade and abuse their servers, but it generally comes down to the engrained belief that the money they plan to spend entitles them to behave in an unacceptable way towards the people catering to their every whim. From people with outlandishly convoluted demands to the (usually same) people who use the knowledge that most servers make the bulk of their wage off tips as a psychological manipulation game, or some sort of ageist "lesson", taught to a broke college student whose attitude they don't like. These are the kind of stories I encourage you all to post in real time on the Social Avenger Facebook Group. You'll feel better, we'll all laugh, and who knows, one day, those fuckers might read about themselves.

There was a guy during the World Cup who was sitting with a huge table, but he kept coming up to the bar to order. And I have a full bar (12 stools plus several tables) to tend to, but I'm cool with it, and everything's going OK for a while.
About halfway into the second game, things are getting fairly hectic, and at one point, I'm making a drink order for a table (New Mexico's draconic liquor laws require all drinks to be made by the bartender and then only served by the server, so most bartenders have to pull double duty, both waiting on their customers at the bar and making the drink orders for the entire rest of the establishment. Holy fucking shit.), and he comes up and orders a Frozen Margarita. I tell him we don't do blended drinks, but we have a Margarita "on the rocks".
"That's not a fucking Margarita," he quips, but I smile politely, explain again that it's the closest thing we have and tell him to let me know when he's figured out what he wants to order. I then take two steps away from him (still well within conversational range) and continue to make the other drinks, and he snaps, "Hey, don't walk away from me, I want a Frozen Margarita, it's what my friend is drinking."
"Sir, that's impossible, I made all of the drinks everyone here is drinking, and we don't make a Frozen Margarita. We have no blender."
I was still new at bartending, so I didn't just kick him out right there (bartenders have that one advantage over most service workers; the authority to serve at their discretion), but with the backing of everyone at the bar explained to him that he had no right to talk to me like that. Of course, minutes later I was immediately undercut by my manager buying him a beer because "He's a regular."

But there are also the situations in which people truly don't realize that what they are asking for or suggesting is unreasonable, and it seems like some of the more uncomfortable grey areas of food service are the moments where you're not really sure if you should be offended, or even if the person would notice if you were.

I just had some customers say to me, "We're Christians and we are about to bless our food, can we pray for you for something?" Is it just me or is this a very inappropriate question to ask your server?

Working in any service industry often puts you on the front lines of areas of heated public debate. In my retail experience the most horrifying examples of the general public's inadequacy as responsible humans would invariably come up whenever faced with children and the inept parents that follow them helplessly and cluelessly around. From "The Feral Family" to the woman who crouches down to her sugar-fitting toddler and says things like, "I would really appreciate your cooperation," there's a never-ending gauntlet of terrible parents willing to subject you to the shrieking nightmares they brought into this world.  

It's bad enough when these terrible parents descend on your workplace with their abominable brood for an hour or two, but worse yet is when those oblivious overpopulators are the very people you work for. The fact that many restaurants and bars are privately owned establishments lends to a certain old-timey small business feel. It's not surprising that many of these owners, children of a bygone era, behave much as they remember their parents doing, letting their children roam free around their place of business while they conduct their duties outside business hours. And somehow while they're preoccupied doing their job, responsibility for their children's well-being falls squarely on their employees shoulders (the same shoulders that are at the same time trying to, you know, do the jobs they're being paid for).

My boss's kid will go behind the bar and pretend to pour herself drinks, or run around the kitchen and reach up on the stove. He'll tell her to stop if he sees her do that, but then lets her run around the whole rest of the place without a blink. If I ever try to stop her, she says things like, "Don't make me get my dad to fire you."

My manager's daughter is kinda tiny and she'll hide in impossibly small spaces. It's a game to her and she's having a great time. Meanwhile, everyone else is freaking out. On a few occasions she's run outside and down the street. Luckily she came right back, but he didn't even notice.

Other restaurant owners are simply "miserable humans", as one Social Avenger related to me on Facebook a few weeks ago:

I worked for Santa Fe Bar and Grill when we first moved here and the owner is a miserable human being who enjoys making others' lives miserable.
I was cutting lemons one day (after I had already given my 2 weeks because working there was pretty awful) when he approached me and told me I wasn't doing it right and that I had wasted all of his lemons and had to throw them away: I apparently made them too fat and cut too much off the ends. 
I let him know that I didn't think we had to throw them out and that most people probably didn't really care what their lemon looked like as long as it added flavor to their water. 
I was super frustrated and walked away. He proceeded to egg me on and demanded I come back over so he could show me the right way. I quit on the spot and walked out and he chased after me as I left, shouting...

Eventually, when you're talking about the food service industry, everything comes back to other people's perceptions of you. When your lifeblood is tips, it doesn't matter how nice you think you're being.

When I first started bartending, for the first maybe 9 or 10 shifts, I would just be myself. I'd get you your drink, be nice about it, talk to you if you talked to me, and just generally leave you alone as you drank your drink. Then one day, my manager pulled me aside and said, "Do you have any idea how many complaints we've had about you being stand-offish and rude behind the bar?"
"I would assume none." I was wrong. 
So now I put on this big smile and start stupid conversations I have to the feign interest in, because apparently that's what people want.

It points to a terrifying trend you may have noticed if you work in any field with mandatory customer interactions. There are people who will come to your place of business specifically because they know that you have to talk to them. Many of the patrons of the above bar (and, honestly, in my experience, 75% of the people that sit at the bar at any bar, anywhere) fall into that category. They're either so boring, or so self-involved, or so insufferable, that nobody in the "real world" will listen to them prattle any more. So they go to the bar. Or they go to Trader Joe's. Or they go anywhere that they can have a captive audience.

What's terrifying about the policies many of these places institute to "improve customer service" is that they demand their employees engage in and indulge that kind of mindless yammering, leaving it to them to find a way to still accomplish their logistical duties while giving them exactly zero options for disengaging from friendless zombies.

It's a very worrisome trend in our culture, and you can blame it on social media, technology, chem trails, fluoride in the water, or whatever else strikes your fancy, but the fact remains that more and more members of our society have absolutely no comprehension of how to interact socially without being creepy or overbearing.  

And it's fine for the weird cat lady who comes to my work and asks me if I know what the Niel Diamond song, "Sweet Caroline," is REALLY about, but put it in a setting where your pay is based on how well you play along and make this annoying stranger feel like you're their friend, and it takes on a more sinister feeling altogether.  

And God help you if you're a beautiful woman working as a server or bartender in our society of condoned chauvinism and double standards.

I have a giant mason jar full of cards and phone numbers and creepy notes from like a year's worth of being a hostess. These are people that I literally spoke three sentences to over the course of ten minutes. What they have to understand is that when I'm at work, you're my customers, and even if you're my friend and you come in, there's a brief moment of acknowledging that, but then I'm still at work, and the nice things I say or do thereafter are by no means a reflection of how close we are.

But by all means, if you're ever looking for quickest way to demonstrate exactly how shallow you are, feel free to give your number to the pretty girl that told you where to sit. If you're hot and she's as shallow, maybe she'll call you. But the line to not cross is right beyond that, after she doesn't call you.

There was this older guy that came in one day when I was bartending and saw me across the room and yelled my name, "OH MY GOD, I HAVEN'T SEEN YOU IN MONTHS!! I've been looking for you!"

Uh oh.

So I smiled nervously, and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I don't remember meeting you. Where do I know you from?"
"Oh, we met here [6 months earlier]. I think you were hosting then."
At that point, I realized he was probably some guy I seated who thought it was more than that, so I tried to dismiss it nicely and hoped that would be that, "Oh, yeah, sorry. I work at two restaurants, so I don't remember most of the people I meet here."
No dice. "Oh, no, we really hit it off. I came over and talked to you at your station and everything."
"A lot of people do that."
"Well, I just really felt like we had a really strong connection, and you seem like just such an interesting person and..." He went on and on and on, and really just couldn't believe that I had no recollection of that one time he came into my work and I did my job.  
He asked me out again at the end of it all, and I turned him down flatly, sighting the fact that he's in his 60s and I'm in my 20s. And it was weird, but I didn't think much of it. Happens all the time, right? Can't blame the guy for being shallow and oblivious.
Then I went to my other job the next day. And a few hours in, I turn around from dropping a check at a table, and guess who's standing there, grinning like an asshole!
"Hey! I heard you were working here." I seat him and offer him a menu, and he replies, "Oh I'm not hungry."
"OK... would you like something to drink?"
He orders a glass of Pinot Grigio and I bring it and move on to help my other tables. But for the next hour, every time I come in from the patio and pass his table, he talks to me about an endless list of God-knows-what, and how he really wants to get to know me, and I seem like such a fascinating person (bear in mind, to date I've told him nothing about myself), and blah blah, and every time I go back outside, it's like a break from having to hear this garbage.
When he showed up at my other job yet again the next day, I finally did something about it and told my bosses about him.  
I've had this happen a few times, and it's always worked out without any crazy drama or having to actually call the cops, but it shouldn't have to get to that point in the first place. It's terrifying that that's a possibility. 
People seem to think that while they're sitting there and you're serving them drinks, it's like they've rented a girlfriend for an hour.

And to one extent or another we've all been guilty of that attitude. "This person is serving me, so I have power over them, so they belong to me." But it's not true. These are people, God dammit. They're just doing jobs. Keep that in mind at all times.

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