It’s been a little over nine months now, and I think that I’m finally ready to talk about it. Even now, on some nights, I’ll lose anywhere from five to fifteen minutes of sleep because I’m thinking about what happened. I discussed it with my therapist at the time, but that was on the third of our fourth session together. I’m hoping that sharing my story will help liberate me from underneath this weight that has been bearing down on me.
Despite my calm demeanour, I have an anger management problem. Well, it might be that in spite of my calm demeanour, my anger management problem persists. There are certain triggers, that, through therapy, which started as early as high school, I’ve been able to more readily identify. I’ve decided to use a pharmaceutical and talk therapy approach to help me take some of the edge off. I’m medicated.
I’m not “Zach Braff in Garden State” medicated. I still have feelings. I don’t feel the need to toss aside my translucent orange bottle with the child resistant lid. Indeed, I’m happy to struggle to get it open in the morning, or whenever I wake up.
Just over nine months ago, those two white pills that I take each morning left my system in about thirty seconds, after I walked through the broken automated doors and asked to speak with the manager.
About ten months ago, I started my search for a pair of headphones that I could wear when I sleep. I like listening to something as I try to fall asleep. My partner, who I had recently moved in with, can’t sleep if there’s noise. There are several options for low profile headphones, or earbuds, to be specific. Not all are equal.
I went to a local box store that specialises in electronics to look for a pair of headphones that might work for me. I purchased a pair from a downtown location, confirming that I’d be able to exchange them if they didn’t work. I was reassured that, yes, I would be able to exchange them, not return them. Fair enough, I thought, so I bought them.
This box store – the one with the yellow price tag for a logo – has several locations across the city and each has a different stock in store. If you find a product that you like on their website, it’ll tell you which location is currently carrying that product. The earbuds that I purchased downtown didn’t work for me. I needed to exchange them.
I searched the website and found a pair that looked promising. Unfortunately, they weren’t available at the location closest to me, the one downtown. But, they were available at the location nearest to where I used to live, in midtown. I called ahead, spoke with a CSR, and told her about my situation. She told me that they did have the pair I was looking for in stock and that I could exchange them for the one’s I had purchased.
I took the subway the five stops to the station nearest to where I used to live, for a little bit of nostalgia. I walked the rest of the way to the store. I approached the customer service desk and asked to pick up the product I had left on hold. When I saw the box the CSR handed to me, I knew something was wrong.
Online, the product was listed as noise cancelling. On the box, it wasn’t mentioned. I thought, “This is a strange thing for a company to not advertise on the box.” The CSR assured me that they were, in fact, noise cancelling. After a long but brief conversation, I made the exchange and left the store.
I headed to the local library, where I used to hold tutoring sessions. I sat at a table I used to. Before opening the package, I pulled out my phone, connected to the library’s WiFi network, and searched for the product. I wanted to confirm that these were, in fact, noise cancelling.
Yep, they weren’t.
I didn’t open the box. I put it back in my backpack and walked back to the store. I walked up to the customer service desk and said that I’d like to return the headphones, unopened, because they aren’t the product that are advertised on the website.
A manager came to speak with me. The CSR was getting frantic as I was getting more upset with her.
He told me that people make mistakes and that it’s not their fault. Their policy is that they don’t exchange or refund headphones, so I was stuck with the pair I had. I explained that they were unopened and untouched. Whatever hygiene concerns they had didn’t apply.
I persisted. I wasn’t going to let this go.
I hadn’t been sleeping well.
Eventually, he let up and said that he’d refund my money. He asked for my receipt and I handed it to him. He noticed that I had exchanged another pair and told me that this costs them money. I just nodded and let him process the refund. As he handed back the paperwork he said, “I suggest you don’t shop at [this retailer] in the future.”
I got home, after taking the bus because the subway went down, and called the company’s head office. I was connected with a call centre. The lady I spoke with was very friendly and sympathetic. She listened to me. She did her best to record as much of my story as she could. I asked her to ensure that the company would respond to me.
A few hours later, another manager from the store called me. He told me that he would investigate further and get back to me. I asked for a timeline, he said a few hours.
He didn’t get back to me.
I called the next day and asked that he contact me. He didn’t.
I called a few hours later. I was told that he was busy with another customer.
I called an hour later. I was connected to his manager. She told me to come in so that we could speak face-to-face. I asked who I should be asking for.
I took the subway up the six stops because I didn’t have the time to be nostalgic. I was right pissed.
This is when those pills I was talking about earlier vanished. Completely.
Buddy introduced himself, told me that there’s nothing he can do. I told him that he needs to address this issue. This was an issue of equity, diversity, and inclusion. How can a company, especially one as big as yours, let their staff tell people that they’re not welcome?
He maintained that there’s nothing he can do. I told him that he needs to speak with his staff about how to treat people. I asked him if he understood the difference between what his guy said and what I heard. I asked that he follow up with me. I wasn’t going to let this go.
My voice was rising.
He told me that he couldn’t do that because he didn’t know when he’d be able to speak with his staff.
I started yelling. How can a company not know when their staff are going to be in? How can a company not take this seriously? How can I trust that you’ll do anything if you’re not even able to call me back when you say you will? Who is holding you accountable?
People were looking. I could see their faces. I was heard throughout the two-storey store. I was seeking redemption.
A customer, an older woman, maybe seventy, told me to calm down because I was being arrogant, ignorant, was making a fool of myself. I impolitely told her that I appreciated her feedback and will be attending a yoga class after I finished here.
That’s when the manager of this manager came to speak with me. There are a lot of people in high-profile positions at this organisation. I’m not sure who actually does any of the work. You’d think that with so many redundancies, they’d catch a mislabelled high-end product.
I told her my story in a loud voice, ensuring that I was exactingly clear about my position. I reiterated that they needed to be held accountable for their actions. I said that they didn’t know my history and that this was the last place I’d expect to be barred from. In this day and age, how can you tell people that they aren’t allowed in?
Anyway, she said that I was scaring her. I reassured her that I wasn’t going to hit anyone. She told me that there’s nothing they could do, that they didn’t owe me anything. She said that she’d like me to continue shopping with them. I reminded her that I was promised a 30% discount on the earbuds that I wanted by the manager I had been “speaking” with until now.
I left with the headphones. I needed a good night’s sleep.
When I got home, I felt helpless. When I was speaking with my therapist, she said that my reaction made sense because it triggered long-held, deeply suppressed feelings of resentment toward experiences from my past. While I was responding to the situation, I was bringing in my past. Essentially, I was losing my shit because I had finally had enough of being told that I wasn’t welcome even though there weren’t any barriers to my entry; a white dude dismissively telling me that he didn’t think I should be present was enough to set me off.
Fuck anyone who says that I’m not welcome. I didn’t come here to please you. I came here on my own, and I can be here. How can you continue to exercise an artificial power over me? How is your word more valuable than mine? Why are you not being held accountable? Your dismissal of me is actionable, while my resistance is dismissed.
I’m the one who is losing sleep because I asked you take responsibility for your actions and you refused to accept that you had any agency in the situation. You played the victim. I am the victim.
The headphones were shit and my partner ended up taking them to the location downtown to exchange them for a pair that I eventually gave to my dad.
I haven’t told him this story.