Reckoning

Dear Google Sniper,
There is only one thing more chickenshit than writing a blog incognito and that is leaving anonymous and false negative reviews for a business, my business to be precise, in a public forum. Here’s the thing though, I’ve figured out who you are and, since you clearly enjoy making good use of the Internet, I thought you would appreciate my latest endeavor. I’ve been conducting a little research project, you see. Doing a little Googling, if you will. It’s a fact finding mission of epic proportions! And this here’s the best part, you’ll dig it; not surprisingly, Internet searches for the key words “Hobo Flea Circus” predictably trigger your Adwords campaign to display prominently right up there in that yellow box. Over and over again, same search, same results. Rumor has it that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing, repeatedly, and expecting different results. I, however, expect exactly what I get, every time. It’s a minor variance but one that means the difference between being crazy or just plain evil. I gotta say, while the work on your website is not quite as bad as I’d like it to be, it’s probably not quite as good as you’d like it to be. I’ve heard that particularly agile fleas can fetch upwards of 25 cents per show but, despite that river of cash, you must be working those little fuckers to the bone just to keep up with your overhead. Even so, I’m sure the fleas’ sign language rendition of Joe Cocker’s “A Little Help From My Friends” must generate numerous phone calls from perspective clients. Anyway, I know you gotta be an all or nothing, balls to the wall gambler to wager the bids required to keep your campaign at the top of the Googles and I hope whoever you’re bangin’ can spot you some gas money next month cause this shit is about to get expensive.
Clicky click motherfucker.

Compassion

glos·so·la·li·a – noun
incomprehensible speech, sometimes occurring in a trance state, an episode of religious ecstasy, or schizophrenia.

In short, this word is used to describe all types of gibberish. Come to think of it, I should probably change the name of this blog to Glossolalia, but for now I’ll dish up this reference: Some venomous snakes are pacified by glossolalia but the ones that aren’t will bite you in the face.

I was on the phone with a miserable woman named Marnie Anderson. She was demanding that I tell her when Mr. Kline would be available to come to her house to take her album order from her daughter’s wedding. “Well…, never” was my reply. Even if he had time, which he didn’t, there was no way in hell he was voluntarily going to this woman’s house. Marnie was a repeat customer which, under normal circumstances, would have been considered a good thing. Mr. Kline had photographed her eldest daughter’s wedding a couple years prior and they were very pleased with the results so, when it came time to unload daughter #2, they knew who to call. Unfortunately, some tragic events had unfolded during the interim so, when we got the call from Marnie about Maria’s wedding, the conversation was heavy with “oh that’s terrible” and “we’re so sorry to hear that.”

Having been dealt an extraordinarily bad hand, it seemed that both Marnie and Maria were stricken with some type of inoperable cancer and they needed to get this wedding done pronto because no one was sure how much longer Maria was going to live. Naturally, they wanted Mr. Kline to do the honors but, due to the short notice, he was already booked. Carl was still available and we all assured the dying Andersons that Carl was an excellent photographer and that everything would be fine. During the initial consultation, while we sat around the table looking at photo albums and discussing logistics, Marnie hugged her arms around herself, coughed, hacked, rocked back and forth in her chair and got teary eyed. We all felt terrible about her situation and Mr. Kline tried to be as helpful as he could by offering her a very nice package, complete with bride’s album and two parent’s albums, all at half price. This pretty much meant that the studio was taking a hit in the name of good karma and barely breaking even.

“I just need to know when Mr. Kline can come to my house so I can tell him what pictures I want in my album” Marnie groaned at me. I’m not sure if her condition also rendered her hard of hearing so I repeated myself, again. “I’m sorry but he is not able to come to your house. You can either send your order in with someone else or you can tell it to me now over the phone.” “Well”, she continued, “I need to talk to him about these photos so you find out when he can come to my house!” I see, too sick to visit to the studio but not too sick to talk to me like her bitch. I was beginning to wonder if I had a speech impediment and that maybe she had I thought I said “if you make vague implications while raising your voice, I’ll find a time when he can swing by.” Mr. Kline, by the way, was sitting right in front of me refusing to take the phone and making it quite clear he wasn’t going to her house. I decided to try a different tactic. “Ok”, I said, “Mr. Kline can come by your house at 1:00 in the afternoon on November 15th”, a date that was approximately eight weeks in the future. As expected, she didn’t like that so she said “you tell me when Mr. Kline will be in the office so I can call back and talk to him directly!” Yeah right, like he was ever going to speak to her directly. “He’ll be in tomorrow” I told her and hung up the phone.

All three of us; Mr. Kline, myself and Carl, had gone through the photos prior to sending them out and we all knew they were fine, or at least as good as they could be. There was nothing spectacular about them but that wasn’t Carl’s fault because, as he explained to us, there were a number of obstacles he had to overcome just to get any shots at all and a lesser photographer probably would have hidden in the bathroom and cried. Upon arriving at the Anderson residence, where the photos were slated to begin, it was obvious that it was going to be a bad day. The house was in total chaos with all kinds of people running around yelling at each other and no one even close to being ready. Carl was told to wait in the living room. After clearing a pizza box and some empty soda cans off the couch, he made himself at home and spent a few minutes admiring the Christmas tree. It was July. After awhile a diapered, but otherwise naked, toddler came and sat down on the floor to watch TV. By the time the girls were actually ready there was no time left to shoot at the house, which was a downright shame with the trash and Christmas decor and all, and so they went on to the church and spent the rest of the day playing catch up.

There is only one customer service policy at Kline’s Photography and that is : unfounded complaints are not tolerated.

Eventually Marnie gave up on her mission to coerce Mr. Kline in to making a house call so she agreed to make the the trip across town to place her album order and talk about the photos. Despite being the newest, smallest and weakest member of the team, I was left to deal with the Andersons by myself, a slight that motivated me to set my sights on Carl’s position in the company which I acquired a couple months later. I mean, the way I look at it, if I have to do his job then I should have the title and the paycheck to go with it. Right? I refuse to take orders from anyone who would hide behind me.

I sat across the table from both Marnie and Maria. Marnie sat at the edge of the leather couch while Maria huddled with a blanket in the corner. Both of them looked rough but Maria was in especially bad shape: emaciated, completely bald from the chemo, black circles under her eyes and a catheter taped to each arm. Clearly, she had gone downhill since the wedding and I don’t understand why Marnie even brought her to this appointment in the first place. Maria never said a word but I could hear her labored breathing over the gravelly drone of Marnie’s griping. Marnie didn’t look too hot either but she did still have hair and, as far as I could see, only one catheter. She opened with “I wish we had hired a different photographer. I should’ve known what would happen if Mr. Kline didn’t take the pictures himself.” Honestly, given the circumstances, I don’t see how anyone could have done any better. When I didn’t respond, she followed with “I can’t believe we paid all that money and this”, pointing at the proof book, “is what we get. When Mr. Kline shot my other daughter’s wedding, the photos were soooo beautiful.” “Actually”, I said looking up and making eye contact, “you only paid half.”

Freeze frame right here. So what is this? Some kind of sick cosmic joke? A moral test of compassion? Have I become the proverbial Job while God and the Devil are making bets as to how long I can tolerate this trash talking corpse? Can I look past her rough exterior and see through to her inner pain, thereby cutting her some slack, or will I reach across the table, yank that catheter out of her arm and stab her in the fucking eye with it?

I decided to try, key word being try, to be compassionate. I can hardly imagine the horror the two of them, mother and daughter, must feel while watching each other die of the same disease. I have no problems that could even be called problems when viewed in comparison to something like that. The thing was though, like a blood sniffing jackal, Marnie could smell my sympathy, was turned on by it, and evidently felt compelled to use it against me; prying at my conscious like a lever, until something gave. I then said the stupidest thing ever. I said “What is it about the photos you don’t like?” Que flood gates at stage left. I may as well have given her a sack of hammers and said “here, throw these at me.” What followed was a deranged critique of every single image in a 30 page proof book. A mind blowing shit storm of ridiculous nonsense which was only made worse by my calm explanations for why certain photos were shot the way they were. I had lost my respect for Carl when he left me with this bone crushing hyena but I still wouldn’t throw him under the bus for Marnie because she was wrong and that’s all there was to it. Like a two year old that asks “why?” all day, Marnie’s interrogation went on like a broken record. “Why is this picture so close? It cuts off Maria’s hair.” Maria’s “hair” that day was an ill fitting brunette wig of the Marge Simpson beehive variety. It sat askew on Maria’s head and the bangs were too long. There was no way to get a close up portrait of Maria’s face and not crop out part of her hair which, given how bad the wig was, should have been interpreted as a favor. “Well, why is that one so far away, you can’t even see Maria’s face.” Yes you could. “Why is this photo slightly crooked, why is that one in front of that ugly wall, why is this one so far from the building, why this, why that, why why why???” She just wouldn’t stop, or listen, demanding explanations for nearly every single image in her proof book and accusing me of unjustly defending the quality of the pictures. Somewhere around page 6 was a whole set of very nice portraits of Maria with an old guy in a tux. In an attempt to create a pause in the bitter machine gun fire spilling from Marnie’s mouth, I said “Aww, look at all these great shots of Maria with her dad.” “Maria doesn’t have a dad”, Marnie spat at me, “that is the groom.” Stifling a chuckle I said only “oh”. Right then I heard a rustle and a thump as Maria slid into a coma and her head bounced off the arm of the couch. Marnie didn’t seem to notice. “why is this one in the sun, why is that one in the shade? I thought you said Carl was a good photographer? Well let me tell you these are the worst pictures I have ever seen! Why is this one vertical, why is that one horizontal, why does this one have square corners?” She was relentless in her attack of rhetorical questions and never once did it seem to occur to her that most of the things she was upset about were her own fault for completely disregarding the time line on the day of the wedding.

I tried hard to hold on to my compassion, to remember that she was hurting and angry, but god damn, this situation was getting out of hand. Is it possible that being a psychotic, irrational bitch actually causes cancer? Because that would explain a lot.

Marnie continued turning pages and berating me. For awhile I stopped listening, tuning in to the sound of Lydia’s raspy breathing and wondering if she was going to die on my couch. Marnie talked a blue streak, barely pausing to breathe. Having shifted her voice into the background, she sounded like the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon, wonk wonk wonk. This was probably the only time in my life I actually thought to myself “what would Jesus do?” Oh, I dunno, maybe swoop down from the sky on a magical dragon and smack her in the face with his sandal. I don’t know if that’s what Jesus would do but that is definitely what I would do if I were him. I didn’t hear anything at all from pages 15-19 and focused instead on the transformation of Marnie Anderson into a talking donkey pinata; beaten by a child with a stick and a Kool Aid mustache until her side split open and candy rained down, delighting both kids and parents alike. Somewhere on page 20 I felt my seal start to slip. Like a pressure cooker, it only takes a small breach in the seal for pinto beans to spray 30 feet across the room thus coating the whole house with a mutilated version of your dinner. She was going on about why, and how much they paid, and being disappointed when I surfaced from my trance and said “look, if you don’t like that picture then don’t pick it!!! You have over 900 images here and your album only includes 48 so figure out which ones you want and write them down! You can mail this form back when you’re done.” I snapped the book closed, signaling a premature end to this little convo, and pushed it, along with the paper work into Marnie’s lap. Then I locked eyes with her and folded my arms until she started gathering up her things, including Maria, muttering something about how she was going to tell Mr. Kline about the way I had treated her. “Yeah”, I told her, ” you can tell him all about it when he comes to your house.”

I guess everyone has a breaking point.

A few weeks later, Marnie mailed in her album order. Maria died before the albums were complete. Marnie passed away 3 months after receiving her order.

Empathy

“Kline’s Photography”

That was always how I answered the phone and no number of staff meetings or memos would make me bend to include my name in the introduction. The last thing I wanted was to identify myself prior to finding out the nature of the call.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Kline is not available at this time but perhaps there is something I can help you with?”

Uh-oh….

“I would be happy to take a message for him, can you please tell me what this is in reference too?”

No, of course not, she just really needed to talk to Mr. Kline. Somewhere along the way, a rumor got started that Mr. Kline actually gives a fuck. Let’s clear that up right now. He doesn’t.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but due to the high number of solicitation calls, Mr. Kline will not return phone messages unless he knows what they are about.”

Special code for: He will not call you back just so you can chew his ass.

“Uh huh, yes, so you want me to tell him that the photographer at your daughter’s wedding did not get all the pictures you had envisioned?”

She had uttered the magic word, “disappointed” and also threw in another inflammatory phrase, “your photographer”, as if the person in question were a rabid dog that had jumped the fence and eaten the neighbor’s cat. “Your photographer took a dump right in the middle of the church and we’re a little disappointed.” Well now, them’s fightin’ words.

“Excuse me m’am, he’s not actually my photographer. I just work here.”

That was not the answer she was expecting but I said it so nicely that it threw her off balance. I spoke slowly, in my best cheerful monotone, a technique that had come to be known in the office as “the calm voice”. My co-workers knew, when they heard the calm voice, to put down what they were doing and gather around for the show.

“Can you tell me specifically what it is that you’re displeased about?”

By all means, please, do tell me the way in which my photographer made the unholy union of an unfortunate young man to your truffle snacking, biscuit kneed, cow faced daughter somehow less momentous.

“Oh I see, so what you’re telling me is that my photographer failed to “snap” a close up photo of the flower girl’s shoes that you personally spent hours gluing red sequins and silk carnations to and that this was the only photo you really wanted from the whole day. Is that correct?”

No, apparently there was more.

“So you’re also mad that there are more photos of the groom’s family than of your own? Yes…, yes, I understand, you’re not mad, you’re disappointed because the day was just so special and, I’m sorry, what else? Oh, it also pains you that the photos do not in any way resemble the samples you were shown in our studio and you thought you were hiring a professional. I would really like to help you get to the bottom of this issue, but since the photographer is not actually here, do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions, just so I can try to understand what may have happened?”

I am not a musician, per se, I can’t tune a guitar by ear but I have perfect fucking pitch when it comes to voice diagnostics. While her accusatory tone gains momentum, reaching a frantic pitch, I can see her, clear as day; a heavy set cyclone of a woman who spends most afternoons watching court TV with a diet coke in one hand and a skinny menthol cigarette in the other. She has eye liner tattoos. Sunspots on her face and smoke lines circling her painted-on red lips, her personal motto is “flaunt it if you got it” and by that she thinks her mammoth tits are sexy enough to overshadow her back fat and she’s sporting a tube top to prove it. Aside from the time she spends flogging her husband like a trash digging chihuahua she rarely gets an opportunity to feel important. She’s got me on the line and now is her time to shine like the power tripping bovine that she is. By this point I have retrieved the file from the wedding and am reviewing the photographer’s notes.

“Ok, on the day of the wedding, was the bride ready on time?”

Photographer’s notes: Bride 45 min late, arrives with dress in bag, takes another 20 minutes to put it on. Flower girl’s parents do not deliver her to the church until 5 minutes before the ceremony. She is crying and says her feet hurt.

“No…, no, of course I’m not implying that anyone other than my photographer is at fault here. I just have to ask so I can have a accurate understanding of what happened. So, tell me, was the groom ready on time?”

Photographer’s notes: While waiting for the bride to arrive, shot all of groom’s photos, including extended family and friends from grade school.

“I understand that you paid for this and, by doing so, have elevated your family’s status to that of the utmost importance. If it would make you feel better, we could delete some photos of the groom’s family so that the distribution of images will be more equal. I would be more than happy to personally take care of this for you, just tell me which ones you would like me to remove…. Hello? Are you still there? I’m sorry, my phone cut out for a minute and I thought we got disconnected…. Oh ok, so you don’t want me to delete any images? Are you sure because I really think it would make it seem like there were more of photos of your family if there were less photos of the groom’s family…. I’m so sorry ma’am, apparently I’ve misunderstood you. Can you please tell me again what it is that you’re upset about? Oh, so what you’re really upset about is that you can see a parking lot in all the outdoor photos of the bride and groom together. Right, of course that would be upsetting and especially since the venue was so picturesque, what with mountains being right there and all.”

Photographer’s notes: Church is a brown corrugated steel building with NO landscaping and surrounded on all sides by power lines and parked cars. The minister has to yell to be heard over the drone of a window mount AC unit in the sanctuary. I can barely see the tops of the mountains over the apartment building across the street. Bride is complaining that it is too hot and that she wants me to hurry up. She is also sweating profusely and it is staining her dress.

“I certainly understand that you are heartbroken over the missing photos of the mountains. I’m not sure that I have personally ever been to your church. Is it housed in a portable building? Yes, I understand that this church is your “home” and that you married your 3rd husband there five dreadful years ago but what I’m getting at is does it have a trailer hitch??? Yes, I’ll hold.”

I hear her lighting a cigarette.

“Yes m’am, I understand that your soiree of failed marriages makes you an expert on weddings and I am certain that Mr. Kline would gladly fire the photographer who ruined your daughter’s special day… Oh, so that’s not what you had in mind? Tell me, how I can make this up to you then? You want a… a what now, a free album upgrade? But ma’am, you hate the photos so much I am afraid that if we give you more of them it will only cause you further distress…. No, I’m sorry, Mr. Kline is still not available to take your call. Listen, I feel so bad about how much the photos are upsetting you that I will just cut you a check for a full refund and you’ll never have to see them again. How’s that sound?”

This game of verbal badminton went on for quite a while. When I did finally hang up, being totally pleased with myself for having accomplished nothing but to further enrage the troll on the other end of the phone, my co-worker, Thomas, was staring at me. There is something wrong with Thomas. Anyone who gets creeped out by big foreheads could tell you that. Mr. Kline had hired him two weeks prior, without consulting me, in an attempt to impress his mistress who was a devout Christian woman and who also did not realize she was fucking a married man. Thomas, it seemed, had graduated from some bible college and this, Mr. Kline decided, qualified him to wrestle the lions. Being the new kid, Thomas did not yet understand the level of depravity that people will sink to in an attempt to get some free shit so it didn’t surprise me when he said “you’re not a very nice person, are you?” “That all depends on how you look at it.” I replied curtly. He was constantly on my nerves and that, coupled with being immune to sarcasm, meant that we did not communicate well. “All that lady wanted was for you to listen to her” he told me. “Fuck that” was my response. Then he said something I’ll never forget, he said exactly these words “the reason you don’t empathize with people is because you have no feelings.” Leave it to Thomas to completely misdiagnose the issue, like completing a jigsaw puzzle, image side down. I sat back in my chair and looked at him, not knowing what to say. While it was clearly to my benefit for him to think that, I couldn’t help but feel a little horrified. “Is that what you think of me?” I asked. He shrugged and went back to his usual routine of making avant garde sculptures out of paper clips and tape. I never told him it was empathy that killed my feelings in the first place.