Several years ago, back in my young, single, pre-parenting days, I spent some time working for the Mary Engelbreit Store. If you don't know who Mary Engelbreit is, you obviously haven't spent enough time around middle school English teachers, teapot collectors, quilters, grandmothers, nuns, or progressive lesbian-owned independent bookstores.
I have actually met Mary myself, and yes, she is really about as nice as her work makes her seem (though I'd estimate, not quite as cutesy). My co-workers at the store were nearly all easy to work with sorts of people. And my primary job there was to help sell lots of cute, cute, so-cute-you-could-almost-go-blind-from-the-sheer-cuteness-and-in-fact- years-later-I-still-question-my-ability-to-judge-colors merchandise, mostly to teacherly, grandmotherly, teapot-collectorly, etc. sorts of customers, the vast majority of whom were already TOTALLY, MANIACALLY, RABIDLY OBSESSED with collecting the merchandise I had to sell.
In other words, in a lot of ways, my job was pretty easy.
But it was still retail, and, as anyone who has ever worked in retail (or for that matter, anyone who has ever worked in food service, health care, or as a club bouncer) knows, no matter how generally pleasant to work with your establishment's target demographic may be, if you spend eight hours a day interacting with a variety of people, eventually, you run into people who happen to be totally insane.
People who know me casually tell often me I seem exceptionally nice. People who know me well inform me that I am indeed very, very nice a good deal of the time, up until the point I get in a mood about something and morph into a poison-tongued passive-aggressive bitch who could probably verbally lash the U.S. Congress into stunned submission if given the opportunity.*
But apparently it's first impressions that count, because after my first six months or so of employment at the store, an unspoken consensus was reached among my co-workers that whenever an angry crazy person called, I would be given the phone.
Once, a woman called the store several times asking to speak directly to Mary about a complaint she had regarding an entire line of Mary Engelbreit dishes. When it finally became clear to this woman that Mary herself was not in fact answering phones in the customer service department, she asked to speak to the store manager. The store manager, of course, handed the phone to me.**
"Are you aware," the woman I'd been warned was crazy asked me, with the cool patience of someone who is certain the listener is NOT aware of the facts about to be stated, "that the [blah blah line of] dishes being sold in Mary Engelbreit's name were manufactured in China?"
"Yes," I said. "Those dishes are made under license by the [blah blah company], which is based in the United States, but manufactures in China. Do you have a problem with some dishes you have purchased?"
"No!" The woman replied, "I haven't purchased any of those dishes. I am calling to tell you, and would you please pass this message on to Mary-- I am calling to tell you that I am not purchasing any of these dishes, because they are made in China."
"Well, I'll be sure to pass on a note--"
"I will not buy any dishes that are made in China. I don't buy any food containers that are made in China."
"I'll be sure to pass on your concerns, but I do want to let you know that Mary Engelbreit does not own that manufacturing company. She has licensed some of her images to them, but she is not in charge of manufacturing. She is simply the artist who created the artwork they used on the plates. It's that manufacturing company that chose to have the dishes made in China, and if you would like to complain to them directly, I can give you their phone number--"
"Do you KNOW what the problem is with dishes that are made in China, young lady?" At this point, the woman's voice had reached almost a religious fervor.
"It's not just that the Chinese are taking manufacturing jobs away from hardworking Americans. It's not just that the dishes get shipped halfway around the world, which is bad for the environment. It's the Chinese government. There's a conspiracy, you see. The Chinese government is conspiring to poison American children-- with LEAD PAINT! They put lead paint on the dishes, on toys, on everything. Our own government doesn't test things properly. They don't bother to test things, because the big businesses that built these factories in China don't want their goods tested, so they pay off the government to stop testing. Then our children eat off of the plates, they play with the toys, and they get brain damage. This is all part of a plot hatched by the Chinese government to take over the world by poisoning America's youth! And our own government is turning a blind eye!"
At a loss for words, I gave the woman the dish manufacturer's phone number politely, and hung up.
Then I said to my co-workers, "You were right. That woman was batty. She was prattling on about some Chinese government conspiracy to poison American children with lead! Can you believe it?"
Yeah, so, these days I think to myself, maybe this woman wasn't quite so crazy, after all . . .
*I really ought to try this sometime.
**Yeah, for those of you who have never worked in customer service: when you ask for a manager on a customer service line, and they transfer you to someone who sounds vaguely important but can't seem to actually do anything to help you with your problem? That's not the manager. The manager is actually sitting in her office bidding on Coach purses on eBay or playing solitaire, making some poor underling answer the phone for her instead.
Of course, said underling may actually have a better knowledge of the computer system and the phone transfer system than the manager, anyway, so you might really be better off.