I have many different relationships with customers and it fully hinges on the customer. If they’re nice I’m nice. If they’re hostile I’m nice with a side of sarcasm. Most times they think I’m being rude but they just can’t put their finger on how. I’ve always stood by the ten percent rule. Ten percent of anything is going to be great; ten percent terrible and the rest is unmemorable. That means ten percent of all people I run into on a daily basis are going to not only take up eighty percent of my time but are going to be blithering asshole while doing it.
Case in point, I had one of my oddest customer encounters the other day. Of all the subsets of crappy customers (the needy, the expecting, the demanding, the rude, the nasty, the ones who open the door, etc.) there is one who is annoying because of their consistency. A demanding customer can be swayed by just having things go smoothly but a talkative customer cannot be stopped with a blow torch and a pair of pliers.
The talker is going to talk. I probably have eight or nine talkers. A talker is defined by someone who not only talks but has a time frame to get it in. I find that time frame is an average of twenty minutes. That means from the moment they walk in the door the moment they have my ear they will not relinquish it for a minimum of twenty minutes. And don’t give me advice like, “Walk away.” “Tell them you’re busy.” “Start doing other things.” Because it doesn’t work. They will wait until I get off the phone. They will talk through a transaction with another customer. They will stand there patiently until I come back after leaving to do something. There is no stopping them.
The worst part about talkers is not the amount of time they take up (I’m getting paid) but the subjects they choose to engage in. Subjects they know I will have the utmost interest in: themselves. Oh, there’s nothing I enjoy more than listening to a story about some people I don’t know who are fucking with some person I don’t care about at some company I couldn’t care less about. But it happens all the time. I know more about the lives of people I don’t know than those of friends.
And, trust me, this is not information I’d ever want to know even if they were friends of mine. But I know it chapter and verse. Do you know why? Because they tell the same fucking stories every time they come in. Oh, it might be a new twist but it’s half a twist at best. Instead of telling me Sheila put her name on a project you alone worked on she may have said something catty about you. This is what they decide is the most important event in their life that they have to take twenty minutes out of their busy day every time they see me to update me. How do I unsubscribe?
The man we’re going to cover in this episode of ‘How In The World Can You Talk About Such Boring Shit For So Long’ is a special case. I call him a special case because annoying motherfucker sounds harsh. Spot on but harsh. The moment he walks in the door, as I do with all talkers, I look at the clock to gauge how behind I’m going to be by the time they leave. While they talk I think about things I have to do once I’ve been released; think up with greeting cards because that’s what I do when nothing else is taxing my brain; conjure inventive ways for both homicide and suicide.
I got an odd feeling when he walked in the building this time. Maybe it was because my boss got him last month but something was in the air. So I decided to do something I have never done to another customer. I was not going to say one word while he talked. I didn’t think I could pull it off but I was going to give it a shot. The thing I had going for me was he doesn’t engage in conversation. If I can resist the common human urge to pull out old ‘Aha’s or ‘Mmm’s I could pull some time.
He’s talking to me the moment the door opens. It’s on. I pull off his entire transaction, ninety seconds, without an utterance. Now the endurance game begins. If he’s on his average day I have another eighteen minutes and thirty seconds to stand there as his words flow towards me like a backed up septic system. The first five minutes are a breeze. I’m a grizzled veteran at game of getting talked at. Five minutes is child’s play.
At the ten minute mark, though, I had to fight off the urge to run screaming in circles that I couldn’t take it anymore and confess to an assortment of unsolved crimes. Even ones that happened in the decades before my birth. But I regained my composure and kept my mouth shut as the words just kept flowing seemingly in an endless gush from his mouth. He was happy he’d correctly predicted the guy who fired him would also get fired. Wait, he got fired too, right? So, really, who was the winner in this little scenario? My guess is all the remaining employees.
Twenty minutes of silence on my part. Twenty minutes of torrent on his. I’m now leaning on the wall no longer able to stand erect. The boredom caused by his tale is making me wonder what a life without speech would be like. Sure, I’d miss out on the next great story I’d hear but, right about now, in the middle of what’s going on, that seems a fine and just trade off. It’s also at this juncture, the time when he is usually wrapping up, he’s in fine form. I’m still holding on to my silence but I so want to tap out.
At the thirty minute mark of him not leaving a space for an utterance and my accepting that fate I start to falter. My concentration flags. I forget what I was trying to do. I formulate words in my head, bad words, nasty words. Which snaps me back. Swearing in my head has a rejuvenating effect on me. I brace myself and stare at him. The jowls hanging from his flesh bounce and flutter as he speaks of people unknown to me. The bags under his eyes jiggle as he once again tells me he told someone to fuck off with the obligatory middle finger waved in my face to demonstrate his contempt.
I stand there in my silent contempt.
I start to despair that this is the one. This is the extreme talker. This is endless talker. This is the talker who is going to break me.
“Let me tell you what my doctor said when I told him that.”
Ten minutes later I have been full brought up to speed on what his doctor told him about that. Sadly, it did not find purchase in my brain so I cannot impart that wisdom unto you. I hope you forgive me my transgression for I was under dire straights. It had been forty minutes of the monologue to end all monologues. After this I may not even have the strength to listen to even a one liner. I may not be able to give a compassionate ear to those who are truly in need. Yes, I think my ear hole is full.
But my mind is back. It has a purpose. One sole purpose. And that is to repeat,
“I think he’s been talking for forty-five minutes without stopping. I seriously think he’s been talking for forty-five minutes.”
I couldn’t be sure because, after all this wear and tear on my vessel, I forgot what time he actually arrived. I cannot even convince myself that it was the same day. I can feel myself shutting down. I feel as if this is my final act in life. I have convinced myself that he is never going to shut the fuck up.
But I was wrong. As quickly as it started it was over. He said goodbye, turned and left. Real silence, an embracing silence filled the office. I walked deeper into the office to my bosses desk. He didn’t look up, we’ve both been through this before.
“That seemed longer than usual.” I nodded in agreement because I wasn’t sure after all this time of silence I would even have a voice.
“Yeah,” I croak. “And I didn’t say one word the entire time he was here.” He looks up at me.
I wanted to see just how long I stood there being hammered by words so I went to the security footage. It turns out I was wrong. It was not forty-five minutes.
It was forty-seven.