Friday, March 29, 2013

Your Clerk (fka Clerking 6)

Clerking 6
Your Clerk

I will give you the benefit of the doubt, when you come to me instead of the self check out machines saying that you prefer the personal touch, or that you want to protect my job, you have the best intentions. You aren’t just avoiding doing the work yourself. You aren’t afraid of failing to manage a machine that 5-year olds and the developmentally disabled handle with aplomb. You just care. Thank you. I honor your kindly attentions. I do. I bristle only at that which you could not possibly have known: that machine is my colleague.

Just like me you are free to dislike certain of my colleagues, bemoan them, and be endlessly irritated by them. But also like me you are not free to reject them out of hand. When I look on the schedule and see that I am to work my shift with a colorless, inefficient and oblivious clerk, that is my lot. When you wander up to the desk and that same clerk is the person available to help, that, I’m afraid, is your lot too. There are conditions under which you can and, sometimes, should, with firm insistence, move on to another clerk. But let me warn you, these conditions are surprisingly rare. Of my hundreds of co-workers over thirteen years I have never heard one swear or even seriously raise their voice non-simultaneously with the patron. Also, I have never seen one threaten a patron. These would be times to move on and when you do I will be completely on your side. Indeed, it will likely be a fascinating and exciting event for me, but, like I said, I’ve yet to see a good incident of it. Likewise you can move on if you reach an impasse with your clerk and you are in the right. You must give it a fair shot- that is fully argue your case a couple of times, and, most importantly, you must be right. That done you are truly entitled to move on and I will be very kind, solicitous, and helpful to you, and very unbristly (except, perhaps, to the clerk who wronged you). But, as I said, you must be right, and this will be true in only about five or ten percent of these cases. This is not because clerks are smarter than you (some are, some aren’t), rather it comes down to two simple issues. One, we are vastly better informed as to policy, and, two, most importantly, we clerks are, except in very small ways, quite disinterested. I know in detail exactly what you need to get a library card and, except for either not wanting to do the work of getting you a library card or, as a decent person, wanting you to be able to get that card, I really, really don’t care. You, on the other hand, don’t know the policy other than you think it should be whatever it needs to be so that you get a card. This will seem the height of reasonable to you because you want a card, which is the most reasonable thing in the world. It is human nature and applies so strongly to things like fines that you will quite nearly be able to create false memories of dates and trips to the library.

Anyway, those are the conditions under which you may get yourself a new clerk (or, I suppose, if you must, a manager). Everything else, I’m afraid, is not just cause. Is your clerk too smiley or not smiley enough, deranged looking, is their head covered in scabs, are they sullen, slow, a chatterer, sporting a confusing accent, insisting on telling you about their spleen problems? Do you know they’re an ex-con, or see that they’re tattooed to look like maggots are crawling out of their flesh? Do they smell bad, or, perhaps, refreshingly of gin, are they completely armless, maybe devoid of personality? Are they a machine? I’m sorry, but they are your clerk until they fail you. I’m over here if you need me.

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