Monday, July 30

In Defense of Peggy Noonan. Plus, Prime Florida Real Estate at Bargain Prices!

Peggy Noonan, "I Love America, But The People One Is Forced To Share It With, I Mean, Honestly!" Where Else? July 27

OKAY, so Tom Hilton and D at LG&M have already worked this over sufficiently; I thought it might benefit from the perspective of someone who's been griping about declining service since the Ford administration and who believes the proper response to public cell-phone use is a marihuana-induced psychotic episode, followed shortly afterwards by a grand jury finding of justifiable homicide.

In short, Ms Noonan, the advantage you not-very-crypto-monarchists believe you carry into such conversations bounce off me like rubber guns bounced off George Reeves. Because not only am I a curmudgeon emeritus when it comes to service, I actually know, and, yes, associate with people who do that for a living. Really. Freely, too.

Wait. I'm sorry. You said something about my making an assumption you don't know and/or associate with the Timeclock Classes? Allow me to introduce Exhibit A:
It's funny. In a time of recession, you'd think salespeople would be more aggressive, because so much might hinge on the sale--a commission, a job. In a time of relative wealth, you'd think they might be less aggressive. But the opposite seems true.

Which is the sadder commentary here--that she knows nothing of anyone who actually works for a living, or that she's oblivious of the well-publicized fact that this particular Gilded Age has been balanced on the backs of the bottom 50% of the workforce? For that matter, how do you reach your mid-50s and not seem to understand the rudiments of the economic system?
I walk into a shop on Madison Avenue daydreaming, trying to remember what it was I thought last week I should pick up, what was it . . .

"Hi! Let me help you find what you're looking for!" She is a saleswoman, cracking gum with intensity, about 25 years old, and she has made a beeline to her mark. That would be me.

"Mmmm, actually--"

"We have summer sweaters on sale. What size are you?!" Her style is aggressive friendliness.

In another shop, as soon as I walk in the door, "How are you today? How can I help you?" Those dread words.

"Oh, I'm sort of just looking."

"I like your bag!"

"Um, thanks." What they are forcing you to do is engage. If you engage--"Um, thanks"--you have a relationship. If you have a relationship, it's easier for them to turn you upside down and shake the coins from your pockets.

It is like this in all the shops I go in now, except for the big stores (Macy's, Duane Reade drugstore), where they ignore you.

Maybe they just know you there, Pegs...

That's just a joke. I mean, just because a sizable portion of your own net worth came from lying about the Clintons, just because you've been known to pal around with the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, or appear on FAUX News, just because you once said you thought gardeners were "retards with spades", and that attitude obviously carries over to anyone you feel occupies a less exalted station that yours, or doesn't share your personal religious mania, is no excuse for anyone to be rude to you in return, and it's certainly no reason for some two-bit blogger, even if he is an avid gardener, to suggest that large sums of money would probably wind up in the mailbox of any restaurant worker, illegal alien preferred, who could prove he'd spit in your pinot grigio before you drank it. Care to hear about today's specials?
There are strategies. You can do the full Garbo: "Leave me alone." But they'll think you're a shoplifter and watch you. Or the strong lady with boundaries: "Thank you, if I need help I'll ask." But your reverie is broken. Or the acquiescent person: "Take me under your leadership, oh aggressively friendly salesperson." But this is bowing to the pushiness of the Gilded Age.

Look, Peg, let's just start with some simple math. When salespeople fire broadsides at customers the moment they enter the doors the odds are that that's what they've been instructed to do. Following instructions is, generally, something required of employees whether there's a recession on or everyone owns his own railway car.

There's also a small chance that such boorishness is the result of a personality defect in the clerk. Incontinently cheerful people tend--as do Republicans and the supposedly midlife-converted laity--to believe that their aggressiveness is entire justified by some sort of Cosmic Algebra. It is, god knows, a common enough disease in the service industry these past few decades, Peg, but we run into a problem right off the bat. Unless your New Best Friend also happens to be the owner, her boorishness is getting a pass from a supervisor even if it's not expressly ordered. Bad management, in other words. (We would assume that gum crackling pointed in this direction, but frankly, Peg, we're not sure this particular incident actually occurred in what others around you are apt to call "reality".) It's a concept which is as foreign to your ilk, enamored as you are of the megalomaniacal CEO, the dictatorial school principal, or the stark raving Acting President, provided they are sufficiently martinettish. At any rate, there is someone in that store (or "store") who is presumably responsible for customer satisfaction, and who might actually discuss the matter with you. Not that you and I combined can push back this particular tide.

Because, y'see, Peg, there is a Higher Truth involved in the maneuver, and fighting off possessors of Higher Truth is a thankless task, as you would know if you were forced to actually read your stuff. (Ironic, ain't it?) This vexatious familiarity is, in fact, what has been largely passing for service since sometime in the 70s, by my reckoning, and so it's more than likely that the manager in question has grown to adulthood knowing nothing but. It's also likely that he believes that acknowledging every customer at the door is a deterrent to shoplifters--yes, that horrible suspicion you imagine is allayed by "playing their game", except it isn't, and they'll suspect you or not, as they see fit. Plus you're already on camera, so who gives a shit? You might try actually answering people as though they're people, and telling them something approaching the truth--"Thanks, I'm just shopping," say. You'd be amazed at how the common folk respond to English, even if they don't speak it very well due to all that gum.

But there's more to say about this than "You're full of it," Peggy. I strongly suspect a connection between overly-familiar salespeople and the whole Entrepreneur as Hero business, and you know who I blame for that, Peg. Over-familiarity is frequently--let's make it "directly" --correlated with a sort of lazy, cost-cutting, no real training approach to service. Look around you sometime while you're shopping (I'm trying to maintain the illusion that you actually do your own shopping Peg; give me some credit). Gushy salespeople are always off somewhere gushing with someone else when you need one. They generally have poor product knowledge, since they get by on charm, and as a result they'll sell you anything, anything, especially the crap the boss has decided they should push at you because they're overstocked. I'm not sure how you can reach middle-age and not understand this, unless you live in whatever small town it is Wal*Mart hasn't taken over. If I need hardware advice, I don't go to Lowe's, I go to the Mom & Pop operation across the street. And yes, there is a Mom & Pop Hardware two blocks from my Lowe's, and they've stayed in business all these years because there are plenty of other people who realize this. I sure don't go to my local Marsh "Where Quality Is A Slogan" Supermarket for prime cuts of meat. The butcher's five miles away, and worth the trip. I go to the big boxes for convenience and selection, and if they happen to have a squad of cheerful people on duty I smile and tell 'em, "I'm just looking, thanks." And it works every fucking time. With them. Not with the Christians who pound on my door to let me know they know something I don't, or the cell-phone Yuppies chattering away instead of watching where their personal Panzer is heading, or the people who insisted that George W. Bush was the Second Coming of the Lord of the Dolphins. Especially them.


D. Sidhe said...

Thank you, and I think you should add "Curmudgeon Emeritus" to your title bar up there.

Is it wrong of me to want to slap Peggy for this column? Very wrong? Because I just know she's the kind of bitch who runs hotel maids ragged with a billion special requests, leaves the "Do Not Disturb" sign "Maid Service Please" side out and then insists the maid must have turned it around to justify knocking on her door at seven thirty AM, and then leaves a snotty comment card blaming the maid for the missing sunglasses she later finds in her car, and doesn't even tip.

There are Ways to deal with people like this. I bet Peggy's blissfully not seen any of them even as they happened to her.

Donna said...

For god's sake, was she short on something real to bitch about? I actually like it when salespeople ask if they can help and they, invariably, respond appropriately if/when I say "just looking".
I NEVER get offers to help at the big box stores like Lowes. I have to hunt a customer service rep down and beg for help in those joints.
Perhaps Peg should do all her shopping in these stores where the employees are grossly underpaid, have few benefits (if any) so, therefore, really don't give a shit about whether the customer finds what he/she needs.

Julia said...

I myself am gleefully imagining the scene when next our Pegs bumps into John Derbyshire's wife at a party.

Heydave said...

Personally, I'm surprised the staff didn't point and laugh openly when the Dolphin Lady wandered in, eyes crossed, listening to the voices in her head and just enjoying her own mental fugue.

Anonymous said...

It's funny. In a time of recession, you'd think salespeople would be more aggressive, because so much might hinge on the sale--a commission, a job.

It's funny. In a time of recession, you'd think patrician, educated white women who write for a living would have something to say about the economy beyond scathing missives about the corporate-speak parroting of minimum-wage perfume squirters.

In a time of relative wealth, you'd think they might be less aggressive. But the opposite seems true.

In a time of relative wealth, you'd think a person claiming to have a soul would care about whether the distribution of said "wealth" might somehow influence the treatment of said patrician white ladies. But the opposite seems true.

Stay tuned next week for another exciting episode of: Mayberry Manhattanite Theater.

Right after Curmudgeon Emeritus. Check your local listings.

Anonymous said...
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R. Porrofatto said...

In next week's column she'll complain that the New Wealth enjoyed by sales people has caused them to ignore her altogether.

What I can't understand, given her power to read their minds, why Peg doesn't know exactly why sales clerks behave the way they do. A fun Noonan clerk comment came in a typical insane column just before the Bush invasion of Iraq during some "age of anxiety" terror paranoia in New York that she totally made up:

I went to the local liquor store and asked the clerk, "Are people buying liquor for their safe rooms, and if so what are they buying?" He started to laugh and said actually no one had mentioned that, but business sure was good. We talked about what alcohol might help one through a siege. We looked at brandies in pretty bottles but I chose a 10-year-old single-malt scotch. I have never had an expensive single-malt scotch, and under siege might be a good time to start.

I suspect that he patronized Mad Peg about the "siege" business, especially since she'd already depleted his entire stock of Duggan's Dew Thirsty Man Gallons.

billy pilgrim said...

I answered the door in my underwear this weekend when The Christians Who KNow Something I Don't rang the bell.

it kept their spiel pretty short.

Hogan said...

how do you reach your mid-50s and not seem to understand the rudiments of the economic system?

Ooh! Ooh! I know this one!

Spend your thirties writing speeches for President Supplyside.

Tom Hilton said...

Good stuff. And I'm with you on the proper reaction to public cell phone use.

By the way, I appreciate the mention, but that link is broken.

D. Sidhe said...

Meh. People should have you bookmarked anyway, Tom.

Woodrowfan said...

you just know that on Sundays she eats out, then makes snide remarks about the waitresses who work on Sunday instead of going to church...

Morgan P. said...

I worked for an upscale home furnishings store for 5 years during summer and winter breaks while attending college; we'll call it "Blottery Farm" here. On a given day, you were assigned to one of a number of tasks, such as restocking the shelves or running a register. The worst job you could get, the job you dreaded, was Greeter. It was miserable. You were UNDER ORDERS in a very "Ja wohl!" kind of way to greet every single customer that came in the door, be friendly, and offer help. The awful part was that people hated you, and you knew it; you KNEW that people entering the store didn't want some chipper 20 year-old coming over and saying hi to them, but you had to do it anyway because the management firmly believed it was necessary for the two reasons you mentioned: loss prevention and supposed customer service. The magic words, the only thing a customer had to say to get me off their back, were "I'm just looking." There. Done. Was that hard? I sod off and bug the next person. Somebody inform Peggy.

It was especially maddening when the rich white suburban women in groups would say, "No thanks, I'm fine," and then turn to each other before you had even walked away and say something like, "I just HATE when they corner you as soon as you walk into the store, ugh!" Everybody freaking hates it, bitch! My, what an original thought! You are an Original and Thoughtful "Person"! I hope the boys from the stockroom dent your Panzer as they're loading your new Portsmouth Dining Collection into the back! ARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGH!

Sorry this is a bit incoherent, but even thinking about Greeting generally reduces me to a screaming, crying mess, so I'll blame my incoherence on that. At any rate, go Doghouse! Shoot this bitch down.

Morgan P. said...

For the record, I, too, doubt that a clerk was chewing gum. There is no way that that would fly in any retail setting, whether it's Wal-Mart or Henri Bendel. I'm going to go ahead and call Ms. Noonan a LIAR.

candy said...

"I answered the door in my underwear this weekend when The Christians Who KNow Something I Don't rang the bell."

Works like a charm, doesn't it? I was on my enclosed patio, sunbathing topless and drinking a beer, when a pair of Mormons or Witnesses (I don't know which, they didn't stick around to chat), came around the corner. Absolutely priceless! They actually backed away slowly...

I detest Nooners. She makes me think longingly of the French Revolution, and I'm normally a peaceful person.

kate said...

Ms. Marcotte over at Pandagon introduced me to this fine piece of Noonism.

I believe she's expressing the frustration the rest of her class feels, that so far the Reagan Revolution - Bush Reconstruction periods have not relegated the lessers to averting their eyes and bowing their heads to their knees upon her entrance.

But they're working on it, one executive order/tax cut at a time.

Cynthia said...

Every time I think Noonoo has reached the nadir of her talent for reasoning, she comes up with something like this. How low can she go?