Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Mexican Standoff 

The other day I overheard a library tech and patron argue over a fine for 45 minutes. This is an astounding amount of time because the fine was ONE DOLLAR. The fine was for a DVD, which in our system can be checked out for 10 days and then renewed once. The patron, a young woman, had renewed it a day early from its original due date, and didn't understand that she only got 10 days from the date of renewal, not 20 days from her original checkout date. She returned the DVD 20 days after she had checked it out so she got fined a dollar. I can understand her confusion, but she was informed of the new due date when she renewed the item, and so sorry, thems the breaks. The tech patiently explained what had happened, but the patron refused to concede. Perhaps the patron believed she could wear down and exhaust the tech into waiving the fine, but no matter how the patron wheedled, raged, threatened or pouted, the tech remained unmoved. She had obviously never had a run in with a civil servant. Even though the patron’s tenacity was impressive, she was no match for the tech. I watched in fascination as the patron banged her head over and over against this civil service brick wall. After wasting a good part of her Saturday morning, the patron finally left. She then called an hour later, disguising her voice, and tried to get me to waive it, but I transferred her right back to the tech. I admit that I found this little human drama compelling and wanted to see it play out. They continued to debate the fine over the phone for another 30 minutes. The grim satisfaction the tech derived from arguing with the patron was palpable, and arguing with the patron over the fine was keeping her from less enjoyable tasks. I had the feeling that they would be locked in this argument until Judgment Day.

When I was in high school I worked as a cashier at the not-so-Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company in New Jersey. One afternoon I was at a register next to my friend Christine, who was ringing up an amazingly obnoxious woman. When it came time for Christine to bag the groceries, the customer completely micro-managed her, in the rudest voice, without lifting a finger to help. Do this! Don't do that! Don't put them in the same bag! Use plastic for that! Paper for that one, and double-bag it! It was relentless. Finally Christine put everything down, slowly leaned across the counter, got into the customer's face and said, "Would you like me to eat it for you, too?" The horror on the woman's face was absolutely priceless.

I loved that moment so much that it still makes me smile seventeen years later.
Relentless blow-hard aside, why is the policy like it is? I would also have expected to get 2x the time, no matter when I renewed.
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