Word of Mouth
How’s This for Word of Mouth?
© 2007 - Ross Williams
We ran out of stamps last weekend, and on the way home from the farm store I stopped at the post office for a roll of the conveniently-priced first class stamp. I used my debit card, which I had signed on the back like a good little do-bee. The postal clerk took my card, looked at the back of it, and asked me for identification.
This annoys me. This, in fact, insults me.
I glared at the postal clerk. Somewhat taken aback, he offered this rationalization: “It looks like someone had tried signing this, but it’s worn off…”
No, I have a large, sprawling signature that does not fit in the quarter-inch tall strip available to hold it.
The reason I had gone to the farm store was because the chickens were desperately low on chicken feed. While there I found a bag of beet pulp feed, and I decided to try that for the sheep. They love it. Finally, a use for beets that doesn’t include turning the mashed potatoes red.
This was the major piece of the Saturday morning errand-running before we took to the pasture and tended to the new lambs. Spring ritual. We’ve had two sets of twins so far this year which, with the typical mortality, has yielded three lambs. Two boys and a girl. There are two other ewes in the flock, both in what should be their first breeding. I’m expecting a couple singles here before too long.
In any event, the boys we’ve already got need to be castrated, all of them need their tails docked, their color-coded earring, and a tetanus shot. Busy busy.
This year, the older kids were going to round up the lambs and take turns holding them while I tagged and injected, and they’d get a chance to work the castrating bander. So after being insulted at the post office, we came home and started getting the livestock accoutrement ready for the afternoon.
When I went to the cupboard in the barn, though, the castrating bander was broken. The critical piece of equipment for docking tails was severely cracked. Well, double-damn. If I’d known that sooner I could have picked up another one at the farm store – twenty-seven miles up the road in Litchfield. I’m not going back there now, I thought to myself. We’ll tag and inject today, and see if we can make the broken bander work. If not, I’ll pick up another one on the way home from work at the other farm store in the area, and do the rest of it next weekend.
Well, we couldn’t make the bander work. As soon as I put a band on it and flexed it, the one arm broke clean off, leaving two of the four prongs on the ground at my feet. Can’t dock tails like that, let alone neuter the boys.
Ah, well, it was a cheap bander in the first place. Plastic. Under ten bucks. The all metal, heavy-duty bander costs around twenty-five. Two years ago I figured that with a small flock and only anticipating a handful of uses one time a year, the plastic one would suffice. Guess I was wrong.
So yesterday I went to the smaller farm store kinda sorta between the office and home. I found the castrating bander, the heavy duty metal one, and picked up a package of hypodermic needles to go along with it, and took them up front to check out.
Out came my debit card.
The one I signed on the back.
…in my large, sprawling way.
The check-out lady looked at my debit card, and looked at it again, and asked to see some identification.
I glared at her as well. I cannot overemphasize this: I really, really, really, really, really, really hate being insulted.
You insult me, chances are real good that I’m going to end up insulting you in fairly short order, and how you conduct yourself is critical at this juncture. I believe in payback-in-kind, in kindness and incivility both. And if you don’t like being insulted ...? don’t insult me in the first place. Couldn’t be simpler.
The reason I’m insulted when I have identification demanded of me is because I find it offensive to be told, essentially, that I must justify myself. In so many words: “We don’t trust you.” It smacks of a quasi-nazi police state tactic: “Papers, mein herr?!?”
First of all, we are supposed to be free citizens in a free country; freedom means not having to justify yourself to anyone. Second, if you want my business, the best way to get it is to not insult me and make me jump through your hoops. I’m not a trained poodle.
The check-out lady I glared at … she didn’t bother rationalizing her insulting behavior. She simply refused to make eye contact. That’s the best way to go, frankly. Simply accept that you just insulted me, and act contrite.
And don’t let it happen again.
Unfortunately, I know better than that; it will happen again. And again. And again. And again and again and again.
It’s happened so often that I know the insipid explanation that would be used against me: it’s for my protection.
If there’s one thing I hate more than being insulted it’s being lied to. Lies carry with them the implicit insult: “You are so stupid that you will believe this cockamamie excuse.” While that may be the case for the majority of those being lied to, it’s not the case for me and you do not have the option of telling me that indulging your financial paranoias protects me from anything. I have made, and will make again, major scenes in public involving raised voices and much profanity when idiot clerks tell me that I’m being given a neo-nazi grilling “for my protection”.
I don’t care who or where. You do not have the option of lying to me.
When a person makes a purchase with a credit card, he’s either authorized to use that card – i.e., he’s the guy who owns the card – or he isn’t. The ratio is roughly 10,000 to 1. The vast, vast, vast majority of credit card purchases are authorized. The problem is in the rarest of rare cases where a credit card has been lost or stolen and someone else is using it.
Experts on credit fraud are fully aware that the items most commonly purchased using someone else’s credit card are not consumable items like groceries or gas, nor are they the large-ticket consumer items like big-screen televisions. Most credit fraud is seen, naturally, in the purchases of postage stamps and sheep castration equipment. It was only natural that I’d be pulled to the side twice in two days to have latter-day Waffen demand that I justify myself.
But here’s the way it works: when I get my credit card statement and I see purchases I didn’t make, I call up the credit card company and tell them, “I didn’t make charge number umpti-ump” and they won’t pay it. I keep my money, and either the bank or the store doesn’t. I’m protected. Who isn’t protected is the bank or the store. The store is out the merchandise that was improperly purchased, and they might also be out the money for it.
So when the clerk demands that I justify myself by providing identification to prove that I’m the owner of the credit card, he’s not protecting me, he can only be protecting the store – by annoying and insulting me: the customer. My initial response is to glare.
Which means that if he tells me he’s protecting me while he’s protecting the store instead, he’s lying to me: the customer. At that point, I do much more than glare.
Clerks tend to do one of a few things when I glare at them in these situations. First is to acknowledge their insult; they look away and remain silent. Good clerk! The second is to make an excuse along the lines of “the signature’s worn off…”. This is an exercise which is not so entertaining as a full-fledged fan dance, but which serves the same purpose: cover your ass. But the last option, alas …
If the clerk decides to respond to my glare with “…but it’s for your protection…”, he will be doubling the insult by calling me stupid on top of it, and I will dive into full-on righteous indignation. And no one wants that, not even me.
So the way it will go is this: if you own or run a store and you want to have customers, then you’ll probably need to accept credit cards. Many people don’t carry any more cash with them today than is needed for incidental purchases. If you’re going to accept credit cards, then implicit in that is accepting the risk of credit fraud. To catch one case of credit fraud, the clerk would have to nazily interrogate 10,000 customers with credit cards in their hands. Maybe it’s just me, but the risk/reward/effort-to-achieve-reward equation doesn’t balance out.
If the merchant doesn’t want to accept the risk of one credit fraud and instead force 10,000 customers to indulge the proprietor’s paranoias, the cost of that is, first, sermons like these from me; second, many people would rather shop elsewhere than to explain why they don’t want to come back to the store that just insulted them, and the store will lose some number of customers; and third, if the stores where I am insulted do not apologize for insulting me after I tell them about it, they will also lose me as a customer.
But I won’t go away silently.
I’m expecting apologies forthwith from the Postmaster at the Edwardsville IL post office and from the Big R Rural King in Highland IL. You’re on the clock, folks.
 The boys are named Stew and Basil, the girl is Curry.
 which is to say: he pays the credit card bill
 or, with the debit card, my bank statement
 hissy fit, whatever
 even by accepting cash, the proprietor accepts the risk of counterfeiting, so financial fraud is already part of their landscape. To pretend otherwise, for merchants to suddenly balk at a different form of financial fraud and thrust the customer into the spotlight of the merchant’s paranoia, is disingenuous at best and self-serving bullshit at worst. Grow up, folks.