What’s up, Doc?

When you reach a certain age, you spend more time getting prodded and poked and tested by the medical establishment. I hear that some people, especially when they are in their senior years, actually look forward to visiting their doctors, like it’s a lunch date or something.

I don’t. Like a lot of men, I don’t enjoy going to the doctor.   I don’t want bad news about my health, I don’t want them to ask for ‘samples’ to test, or to stand on the weigh scales in the open area of their offices.  And I don’t want to undress and lay on a cold examination table, especially when my clothes are out of reach and the door doesn’t lock from the inside.

It’s not that I’m unhealthy or anything, in fact, despite trying to prove Newton’s first law of motion of an object at rest tending to stay at rest, I’m actually in fairly good shape, against all odds.

But, when you hit that magical age, regardless of your perceived level of health, you really do need to suck it up and get on that cold, ugly table.  So, I did.

I’m starting to really understand why I find these things so unpleasant, and surprisingly, it’s not the reasons that you might think.  Things like giving a blood sample, while not a happy feeling, isn’t all that bad.  In fact, I even donate blood on occasion.

By the way, if you ever want to have a little fun when giving blood, there’s a question in the screening process about being close to or having contact with monkeys.  When you get to this questions, ask out loud, “Does anyone know if a lemur is considered a monkey?  I’ll just put down ‘no'”.  That usually gets their attention.

It’s not even the actual procedures that bother me, or giving ‘samples’ that I find difficult, although it’s totally gross.

It’s all the prep stuff.  I had to give some bodily fluids for testing, which seemed simple enough, since doing this is pretty normal, other than how it’s collected, but things get complicated to do that properly.  First, you have to starve yourself for 12 hours, then you have to deprive yourself of any fluids for 6 hours before going to give of yourself.

They tell me that this gives them a ‘normal’ reading.  Really? What’s normal about that?  If they wanted a normal reading, they should come by the house around 10 at night after I’ve finished a big meal, and I’m sitting on the couch with a bag of chips and a cold beer.  That’s normal!

Unless you’re a survivalist, or living in a 3rd world country, there’s nothing normal about not eating or drinking for half a day, and your body hates you for it!  I really feel sorry for women who are very pregnant then have to drink 4 gallons of water, wait for an hour, then drive to the doctor’s office for an ultrasound.  Then, just to test their constitution, they push on your bladder while sliding a cold, gooey devise all over your belly.

Years from now, the medical field will probably look at this like witchcraft or a weird voodoo ritual.

Hitting 50 means I had to deal with the ‘C’ word….yes, Colonoscopy. This word usually sends most men into the hills in fear, almost as quickly as the frightful ‘vasectomy’.  I probably just lost half of my male readers.

I will tell you that the procedure itself was a breeze (if you’ve had one, you’re probably laughing at the ‘breeze’ reference).  Really – it was not in the least way painful, uncomfortable, or in any way difficult.  I was given a nice dose of a drug that put me into a dreamy snooze.  I slept through the whole thing.  It was great!

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, again, the prep.  I won’t go into details, other than to say that they need ‘clean plumbing’ to do the procedure, so you’ll be spending a good 24 hours using a lot of bathroom supplies.  Oh, and you can’t eat for about a day and a half before hand.

Luckily, if you get the all-clear (hee, hee), you don’t have to repeat it for another 10 years. I even have pictures of my procedure.  I’ll share them if I don’t get enough responses to this blog…you’ve been warned!

I’d also like to know exactly when and how the medical profession, particularly dentists, figured they’d change the word ‘pain’ to ‘discomfort’.  With a small drill boring into my excited tooth nerves, the dentist will say something like, “this might be uncomfortable“. I don’t know what medieval school she went to, but my idea of uncomfortable is an itchy wool sweater, not a piercing pain shooting from my hairline to my toes.

There’s something else that you never expect when you get tests done.  Doctor’s who are surprised or don’t know what you’ve got.  I had a few instances where medical specialists had these reactions.  You don’t want your medical specialist to be surprised or baffled – ever!

A number of years ago, I was tested for allergies.  I had a pretty good idea of what I was allergic to, but they had to test me to see what could be done about it.  Apparently, they graph your back or arm, and do little ‘scratches’ with different types of allergens.  If something swells up, or gets itchy, presto – you have an allergy.

I was asked to lay face-down on one of those lovely exam beds, then the allergy doctor did his scratching.  He and his nurse left the room, and said they’d be back in about 5 minutes.  It only took enough time for them to leave the room and close the door, when it felt like someone had dropped a Molotov Cocktail on my back.

The nurse came back in to get something from the room, looked at my back and said ‘Oh, my GOD!‘, then ran out of the room, yelling for the doctor.  Trust me on this one.  It’s not something you ever want your healthcare professional to say.

Turns out, I was more allergic to cats than I thought.

Recently, I had a growth on my right foot.  Nothing serious, but the kids would tease me about the extra toe growing on the top of my foot.

Reluctantly, I went to the doctor, who sent me to a specialist to get it checked out.

While doing an ultrasound on the little growth, the doctor said, “Hmm.  I have no idea what that is, but I think we should remove it”.  No idea?  10 years of education, another decade of seeing people just like me every day, and she has no idea what’s growing on my foot?

I was referred to a surgeon to get my new little foot friend taken off. In the operating room, he introduced himself, examined my foot, then promptly told me what it was and what he was going to do about it.  Thank goodness!  Someone out there knows what they’re doing!

Like other procedures, the removal was easy…the freezing was another story all together.  It felt like he let loose a swarm of angry wasps on my foot, who kept stinging me over and over.  shortly, the freezing kicked in and I stopped crying.

The surgeon was performing his magic on my foot, then stopped and said “Hmm.  This isn’t what I thought it was”.  Super!  I was halfway waiting for him to ask me if I’d been in contact with a monkey recently.

In the end, the small lump was removed and I was sewn back up, almost as good as new, but a little wary of the medical profession.

I guess medicine is like any other business, really.  They’re just people who come across new things every day, and deal with them accordingly.  I only wish they had more classes on how to NOT react to something new.

I also wish more research went into how to get prepared for a test without putting your body through bizarre food and water deficiencies.  It doesn’t seem to make sense that preparing for a test is worse than the test itself…or the initial problem for that matter.

Anyone want to know what you need to do to prepare for a vasectomy?  Anyone?

Toronto Fashion Week – a guide for middle-aged men

When people stop me on the street and ask for autographs or pictures, the ladies will often ask me when I’m going to write about Men’s fashion, given my impeccable, age-appropriate style and looks.  It seems that their fellas are having some difficulty transitioning into middle-aged fashion-wear.

Although I do my best to steer clear from offering advice most of the time, I too have noticed the struggle many men have when it comes to their wardrobes.  So, in order to encourage and support my fellow mature male counterparts, I will walk you through some helpful hints, ideas, and logic that should make dressing yourself appropriately simple, easy, and comfortable.

Gentlemen – let me be clear about this.  Middle-aged fashion is ALL about comfort.  If it doesn’t feel comfortable, toss it.  You’ve complied with tight, itchy, bunchy and downright annoying clothes all your life – it’s time to liberate your body.  You deserve nothing less.

Lets begin by reviewing some of the common issues men often face when it comes to choosing and wearing clothing.

COLOUR BLINDNESS

If you’re like me, you either play golf, talk about golf or watch golf on T.V.  What do you notice most about golf attire?  Colour!  Multi-coloured pants that do not match the shirt.  White shoes no matter what the rest of the outfit looks like.  There’s a good reason for this.  You see, in nature, it is the male of the species, not the female, that has all the style and colour and pizzazz. This is natures way of creating a visual distraction that temporarily blinds or confuses other males, allowing one to ‘swoop in’ and take its rightful mate.

In golf, although there aren’t a lot of ‘mates’ out there with the guys, the basic principal is the same – you want to create a distraction with your wardrobe so that the other players can’t focus on their game.

I get a chuckle when I’m leaving the house to go golfing and my wife questions my wardrobe choices.  She’s so cute!  She doesn’t understand that the colour choice of the golf outfit is almost as important as the club choice.  In fact, if you golf like I do, its a more important choice.

When it comes to colour, gentlemen, you need to dock the dockers, burn the beige, grind up the gray, and put on the loudest, mismatched outfit you can get your hands on.  Nothing will tell the world you’re over 50 and ready to take it on, more than a bold colour pallet on your back.

WHERE DO I WEAR MY PANTS?

The debate over belt height is a contentious one, to be sure.  Because of a wardrobe malfunction on a ‘gang-banger’ in East L.A. back in the ’80’s’, kids all over the world, in an attempt to stay young, have abandoned their belts.  This has allowed their pants to continually droop down to the point where they not only look like they’ve messed themselves, they can barely walk at all.  Ironically, that’s exactly the same look you’d find in a senior’s home.

Most pants these days don’t allow for much freedom when it comes to where the waist sits on your body.  Many men with ample, trophy-sized mid sections, tend to hunker their pants below the waist, since getting them any higher would mean buying their clothes from a tent maker rather than a good men’s store.

Others are unnaturally slim, probably from a vegan lifestyle.  These people only wear clothing that has drawstrings or are made of spandex, and they ride bicycles.  Fashion is irrelevant to them.

There are some men, due to no fault of their own, perhaps due to a terrible illness or a meat allergy, have grotesquely small waists, and tend to wear their pants as high up as possible.  I assume that this is to hide an embarrassingly small mid-section.  I don’t blame them for doing this, but it isn’t a good look.

Either way, there is only one solution for all of these body types – do not tuck in your shirt.  Tucked in shirts are for uptight corporate types and people under 40.  What do you need to prove, anyway? Let it hang, gentlemen.  This negates any further conversation of where on your waist you should wear your pants – it doesn’t matter, as  long as it’s covered up.

SHIRTS

This is a real struggle for most men.  Bottom line is, wear a shirt at all times.  There are hairy, lumpy bits that the rest of the world doesn’t want to see (I’m really hoping the guy at the end of my street reads this before he works in his yard again).

Okay, so now you have to decide what kind of shirt to wear, depending on the event.  Here are some basic ground rules:

  • If you’re wearing a t-shirt you got in a case of beer, or at a concert or NASCAR event, you should only wear it to flea markets, rib eating contests, doing chores around the house, or to your mother-in-law’s home.
  • Golf shirts are the ultimate fashion ‘must-have’ for men – casual as a t-shirt, classy enough for the office.  Because of the collar, it can be worn with shorts, jeans, or even dress pants.  It’s our version of the little black dress.
  • Long-sleeve button up shirts are for serious business only, or funerals and weddings.  They don’t go with shorts, unless you’re at a really hot wedding…

Again, be sure it fits comfortably, and isn’t too short – nothing is worse than a good old beer t-shirt that doesn’t cover the beer holder gut you worked so hard on. This will also take care of the whole pant height thing too.

FOOTWEAR

I know – sandals and socks, right?  Well, it’s more complicated than that.  As a rule, if you’re wearing sandals, it’s because you’re wearing shorts, or God forbid, a Speedo, which means it’s too warm to wear socks. However, due to horrible foot fungus disfigurements or toe-nail removals, there are times when socks are not only a good idea, but a necessity in order to keep the general public from loosing their lunch as you stroll around town.

For all other purposes, slip-on shoes are the way to go.  You’ve bowed to the lace gods for far too long.  Stand up straight and slide those dogs into something that doesn’t ask anything in return.  Velcro straps are also a stylish and practical option as well, but they require bending over.  No one wants to see that.

I’ve heard that some people claim the shoes should match the belt, but I think that’s a sexual reference that I don’t understand.  Do what feels right.  If you only have a black belt, any kind of footwear is fine – please refer back to my comments on pants and shirts.

UNDERGARMENTS

It used to be simple – boxers or briefs.  For the sake of any squeamish readers or the very young, I won’t post an image on undergarments. Today, there are any number of hybrid underwear styles, shapes, materials, and colours.  This is typical fashion industry propaganda, foisted upon an unsuspecting public who are just trying to keep the ‘boys’ from going where they shouldn’t go.  Let me make it simple:

  1. In warm weather, briefs will keep things from sticking to other things, if you know what I mean
  2. In cold weather, boxers are a comfortable, breathable vacation to your buddies, who have been crammed together all summer

If you’re wondering about thongs, you’re on the wrong blog page.

With these basic principals cleared up, there is always one question that remains for the fashion-challenged mature man;  How do I know I’m dressed appropriately?

Interestingly, the rule of thumb for men is diametrically opposed to the strategy of the fairer sex.  If a lady enters a party in a beautiful dress, the most embarrassing thing that could happen, other than toilet paper stuck to her shoe, is seeing another lady in exactly the same dress.  Horrors!

For men, if you enter a party and some other man,or even better, a group of men, are dressed in exactly the same outfit, it’s a very good thing.  This confirms that you dressed correctly. Since there’s safety in numbers, you now have a brotherhood of like-minded peers in which to discuss the game, the toilet paper on that woman’s shoe, or what to do with those little shrimp tails from the buffet.

There’s also another important rule of thumb to follow when it comes to dressing for the occasion.  I call it the rule of ‘wife’.  When you’re waiting at the front door for 20 minutes with the keys and a bottle of wine in your hand, you don’t want her to come down and tell you to go and change.  This will make you the reason you’re late.

When you’re dressed and ready to go, you should give your better half a ‘once-over’ twirl on your wardrobe selection.  This accomplishes two things:

1 – it tells her that you are ready to leave, and the clock is officially ticking.

2 – it gives her a chance to review your outfit.  If she says anything along the lines of “Are you wearing that?”, you better drop the keys and dig through the closet for a new outfit.

If she asks you to do some random job around the house, like water the tropical fish, she’s stalling for time.  This is okay, because it’ll keep you busy, and it tells you that your clothing choice will not embarrass her.

I think you’ll find this blog a handy and insightful guide when it comes to the problematic world of dressing oneself.  You might want to print this off and attach it to your dresser, so you can reference it when you’re standing there in your bedroom in your underwear and socks, scratching your head about what to put on.

Oh, one last thing. If your better half scoffs at this guide, be patient.  It’s only because she has spent decades being brain-washed by the fashion establishment, with those glossy magazines and impossible to walk in clothes.  Eventually, she’ll be dressing exactly the same way as you.

The Junk Drawer

Every home has one – maybe even more than one.  The humble ‘junk drawer’.

You know the drawer; paper clips, old keys that you don’t know what they open but you don’t dare get rid of, broken pens, 5 cent stamps, batteries that might still be good, loose coins from another country, expired coupons.  Probably a good dose of dust bunnies and lint, too.  Maybe it’s not even a drawer – it could be a basket, or bin, a box, or a shelf.

In my last job, when people would ask what I did, I’d say, “You know that drawer in your house where you keep all the random stuff that you need, but don’t know where else to put it? That’s my job.  I’m that drawer – when people don’t know where to look for help with something, they come to me, the junk drawer “.

Maybe it wasn’t a very good analogy, and probably a worse political decision to say out loud, since they did decide that they didn’t need ‘that drawer’ any more, but that’s a blog for a later date, when I’m finished therapy.

You can learn a lot about people by looking at what they keep in their junk drawers.  Of course, snooping isn’t very socially acceptable, so it’s not too likely you’ll ever understand the anthropology of what is held in those secret compartments.

I suppose no drawer ever starts off as a ‘junk drawer’.  Maybe it had dreams of being the utensil drawer or the important paperwork drawer or something, but somewhere along the line, maybe during a frenzied ’10 second tidy’ before the in-laws showed up, things just got scooped into it, and it’s fate was sealed.

We have a few junk drawers in our house, which I would argue, shows some semblance of organization.  For example, in the kitchen, we have one that houses twist ties, elastic bands, plastic forks, and other miscellaneous kitchen-type items.  I would dig through the loose items – straws, plastic bread clips, and half-burned birthday candles looking for stuff, but recently, my wife did a full-on tidy, and now everything is organized and easy to find.  Maybe that disqualifies it from the ‘junk’ categorization now.

We have another one, that isn’t a drawer, but a box that sits in the living room.  In it, we keep address books, stamps, pens, tape, paper clips, at least 2 calculators – I guess in case we don’t believe the answer from the first one, and some other office type items.  There are a few weird coins from countries I know I’ve never visited. I don’t know how they got there.

I have one in my bedroom.  It’s mostly a loose change collector – at one point it was so heavy with small change that it was actually hard to open.  I also keep broken watches, old eye-glasses, some shopping receipts, Canadian Tire money, and of course, some paper clips.  No junk drawer is complete unless you have some paper clips in it, and maybe a couple finishing nails.  It’s kind of like a fridge – it’s not a family fridge unless there’s a half-eaten jar of Cheese-Whiz in the back of it and it’s covered in fridge magnets.

For the sake of family unity, I’m not going to confirm or deny the existence of any possible junk drawers that my wife or kids have, other than to say that you could classify my kids bedrooms as very large junk drawers.

Junk drawers are often looked at as dirty little secrets in an otherwise orderly environment.  Maybe people view them as a precursor to a mild hording obsession, or that they shine a light on a disorganization problem.

Oh, sure, I bet Martha Stewart doesn’t have one, but she has a team of anal-retentive employees who ensure her home is magazine-shoot ready at all times.  I bet if we all had that kind of resource at our disposal, there would be no ‘junk drawers’ in our houses either.

I’m not so sure that’s a healthy sign, though.  A space in your home for all the little things that show us that we live there has a comforting feel about it.  It may be disorganized and is mixed with things that aren’t related in any way, but it represents the living parts of our existence, and we hang on to them like ancient relics.

Having a junk drawer is as normal as having your kids’ artwork scattered all over the fridge.  I was chatting with my neighbour who’s daughter just started pre-school.  We joked that they would need another fridge just for all the artwork that came home. Its about living in the moment, and embracing the joy of life without feeling like everything has to be hidden away, or compartmentalized in water-tight, sterile containers somewhere out of sight.

I’ve always found something very comfortable about those disorganized, overstuffed drawers.  Looking for something in it is a bit like a mini treasure hunt, where you went in looking for a glue stick or some push-pins, and while searching for them, you came across an old swimming lesson badge for one of the kids,  or a school picture that was sent to you by a relative that sparks a warm memory.

In all of the cluttered chaos, there’s a sense of life and belonging that exists inside that small, humble compartment.

In the end, I think that in its own way, the junk drawer is more important than any other drawer in the house, not just in what it holds, but in what it represents as a memory capsule for the family.

Of course, maybe it could be that we just really do have minor hording and disorganization tendencies, but I ask you this;  Would you rather be friends with someone with a junk drawer, or someone who has everything sorted, itemized, and stored in alphabetical order?

I rest my case.

Canadian Thanksgiving – a vaguely historical account

This weekend, Canada will celebrate it’s 56th official Thanksgiving Holiday weekend.

Up here in the ‘Great White North’ we honour this event on the second Monday of October, not because our season is shorter, and we’ve harvested the crops already, but we really just wanted to beat the Americans at something.

Canada is relatively new at this as an actual holiday, having made it official in 1957. I guess being the polite sorts we are, we didn’t want to offend anyone by being officially thankful without making sure everyone was okay with it.

The original conception for the Canadian Thanksgiving, by my recollection, actually started way back in the 1500’s, when an explorer named Martin Frobisher had loaded his boats with what some historians believe was maple syrup (some insist it was gold, but that would ruin the story – you’ll see what I mean).  He ran into the ice and the sailors had to be saved by the local indigenous people.  By some strange twist of fate, he hit the ice in Frobisher Bay.  Huh.

Most of the syrup was lost, but the kind and gentle natives who witnessed the accident, had a big supply of Canadian back bacon and decided to share it with the sweet-toothed explorers.  Of course, Canada hadn’t been invented yet, so it wasn’t called Canadian back bacon at the time.

Some of the maple syrup that leaked from the ships, froze into smallish disks on the ice and the locals would hit them with their hunting spears. The syrup ‘pucks’ would slide across the ice, giving birth to our greatest national pastime, hockey.  Others would eat the tasty frozen treat, which was delicious, but they had to be careful not to get hit with one of the spears.  This probably led to the hockey helmet being invented.

Hockey, another gift from our First Nations people, accidentally led to the expansion westward from Quebec City, when the natives and explores were playing hockey with frozen syrup on the St. Lawrence river.  One of the explorers got a breakaway, and because they hadn’t invented goalies or nets yet, skated all the way to what is now known as Kingston.

The explorers were so pleased and thankful for this discovery, that they decided to take all the land from the indigenous people, and throw a huge party for themselves.

Although this all happened in the middle of winter, the English and French settlers argued about when to hold this annual celebration.  The French wanted it in October, the time of year that they bamboozled the generous locals into giving up their bountiful harvest.  The English wanted it in the spring, because this is when the river thawed out, and they were able to paddle in-land and take over a significant part of the country.  Then, the English changed their minds, and decided November was a better time for this, since it’s when they officially pilfered the land.

For a long time, the celebration was held on different dates, until the English decided that they wanted a special day to mark the taking over of the country with a separate war-related holiday, thus giving in to the French.  As it turns out, this was the first (and maybe only) time that the French ever actually won anything.

In a weird twist of cultural irony, it is Quebec, our French-speaking province that does not view our modern Thanksgiving celebration as an official holiday.  This is because, when the rest of English Canada got on board with the October feast, Quebec immediately abandoned it, siting a need to be a distinct society.

The precursor to our Thanksgiving in October is another celebration brought over by the Germans, who oddly enough, had nothing to do with the take-over of this land.  Anyway, it was the October festival, known as ‘Oktoberfest’, celebrated in major cities, but primarily hosted in Kitchener, Ontario because of its large German population, that is considered one of our unofficial kick-offs to Thanksgiving.  I mean, what says ‘Let’s get this party started’ more than drinking too much beer while wearing leather shorts?

Today, our modern Thanksgiving is celebrated in a very similar fashion to that of our American cousins.  Families gather for the long weekend to dine, close the pools and cottages, rake leaves, and spend time together. They eat themselves into a tryptophan induced coma with turkey and ham, and all the usual fixings, like stale bread stuffed into the backside of a dead bird.  Sometimes, it defies explanation how these traditions came about.

Unlike our American counterparts, we may not have the big football game, or the official kick-off to the Christmas season, but we, in very Canadian style, reenact some of our unique history by watching English and French millionaire athletes chase a puck around the frozen pond. They don’t use syrup any more, and instead, in a back-handed, slightly racist tip of the hat to our First Nations people kind of way, use an ‘Indian rubber’ puck.

I can’t confirm that all of the historical points above are completely accurate – I slept through most of grade 9 Canadian History class.  I do know that I can’t wait to head up north where the air is crisp and clean, the leaves are blazing with colour, and we’ll give thanks for the awesome country we live in at a family cottage, while feasting on the above-mentioned turkey and stuffing.

Wherever or whenever, or even however you celebrate Thanksgiving, my wish to you is that you celebrate it with good friends and family, and that you take a moment to reflect not only on what you’re thankful for, but  who you’re thankful to.

Wishing all of you a happy and safe Canadian Thanksgiving, eh!

P.S. – for handy tips on how NOT to cook a turkey this Thanksgiving, see my Blog “Folklore, Flaming Turkeys and Family Traditions”   https://troypulchinski.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/folklore-flaming-turkeys-and-family-traditions/

P.P.S. – If you found this blog offensive, see my Blog, “The Perils Of Humor”  https://troypulchinski.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/the-perils-of-humor/

Oh Service, Where Art Thou?

Because I’ve been the ‘stay at home’ Dad lately, I’ve been doing a lot of the day to day shopping, and as a result, inspiration for my rants blogs have had a common theme.  Sorry about that.  This one had been rolling around in the ‘draft’ bucket for some time, since it keeps coming across as really preachy and not ‘light’, breaking my first rule of blogging.

Anyway, with all that rambling and apologizing, here goes…

We all have horror stories about lousy customer service.

I spent some time in the Customer Service world, initially in the hotel business, then in sales and working with retail stores.  I don’t know if this qualifies me as an expert; in fact, anyone who ever sat in a restaurant or bought something at a store is as much an expert on the topic.

You’d think that given the poor economy, businesses would make a special effort at trying to improve the customer experience.  You’d think.  The economic slow down has not only not improved customer service, but it’s also made the average shopper a lot less patient.

We, the almighty discretionary spenders, have short fuses, expect more for our dollars, and demand a better interaction with staff.  We’re not looking for perfection – even mediocre service is often considered acceptable, so it shouldn’t be that hard to please us.

So, why is it that  we’re regularly met with apathetic, un-knowledgeable, and downright stupid retail and service experiences?

I had an awful experience at a major retail store which is now closed, not surprisingly.

It was just before Christmas, and I was out shopping with my wife and 2 kids who were young, but school-aged.  While in the store, I saw some small gift items that I decided to purchase for my staff as Christmas gifts.  I’m such as swell guy!

this particular store was in a mall, but was one of those large anchor stores that had multiple floors – quite large.

I needed a number of these gifts – too many to carry, so along with the stuff we were already buying and towing two kids behind, I needed to get a shopping cart or basket of some kind.  I headed over to one of the entrances where they corralled the carts.  Keep in mind that this was a fully enclosed store, and shopping carts would not fit through the exit barricades.

When I got to the shopping cart area, I found that they required money to ‘unlock’ them. 

The idea behind forcing customers to ‘rent’ shopping carts so we can buy things in a store, just so they can ensure the carts are put back is a whole other blog, and one of the stupidest things ever invented.  The really ridiculous thing about this was that the carts in this particular store couldn’t physically be taken out in the first place, so why would they need a quarter for me to get one?

I reached into my pocket and found out that I only had 3 dimes.  My wife didn’t have any change either.  In fact, we had no other cash with us at all, planning to use debit cards for our purchases.

Now I had to stand in line at the only cashier aisle that was open – there were 4 aisles, but only one cashier on duty, another issue with lousy service.  By this time my patience was wearing thin, my wife had this look like ‘please don’t make a scene’, and the kids were starting to get fidgety.  Fidgety kids are bad!

Finally, I got to the cashier, and told her that I needed to exchange 3 dimes for a quarter (and an nickel) for the shopping carts that shouldn’t require any money in the first place.

Oh, our carts require a Looney“.

For those of you not from Canada, a Looney is our $1 coin, which replaced the $1 bill a while ago.  It’s called the ‘Looney’ because it has the image of a Loon on it.

Exasperated, I gave her a look like I was about to go postal.  The elderly couple who had just made their purchase and were picking up their parcels offered me a Looney.

No, thank you“, I politely said.  “I want the store to get me a shopping cart, so I can buy things from them“, loudly enough for everyone within a 100 yard radius to hear.

The young lady at the cash register was starting to look nervous.

I turned my attention back to her. I don’t have a dollar.  I want you to give me a shopping cart so I can put things in it.  That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

I did feel for her – it wasn’t her fault, and I was trying hard not to blame her.

Customer Service can unlock them for you, if you like.  Okay, then.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

Good.  Get Customer Service to unlock one for me, then.

You’ll have to go and ask them to do it for you“.

I have to go ask them?”  I was furious by this point.  Normal people would have just walked out of the store, but  as you probably know by now, I’m not normal.  I had an axe to grind.Where is Customer Service, then?

The Customer Service desk is up on the second floor, at the far end of the store“.

Insert an appropriate expletive here.

Let me summarize;  I went to the store to buy things.  I needed a cart, but the store had them locked up, and were charging money for me to ‘borrow’ one – one that could not possibly leave the store anyway.  Then, after having to stand in line to get change, finding out that I was lacking the cash on hand, I was then forced to leave everything, go up the escalator to the complete opposite side of the store just to ask for a cart.

What would you do?

There’s an old marketing rule that explains the economics of customers;  It costs 7 times more to get a new customer than it does to keep the customers you already have.  That means that losing a customer costs you big time.  Keeping a customer is dirt cheap.

Here’s some free advice for business owners and managers that will easily and inexpensively help you keep your customers, and grow your business – take it or leave it.  I’m sure you all have many more ideas:

  • Train your staff.  We shouldn’t have to track down a store employee to ask a question, only to find out that they don’t work in that department, don’t have a key for that locked up display case, or don’t know enough about the products they sell.  I had a business owner once tell me that they didn’t spend time training their staff because the turn-over rate was too high.  So, in essence, he was saying he didn’t train his staff because they might leave.  What if he never trained them but they stayed?
  • Empower your staff.  Make each employee the manager of the moment.  Give them the power to make things right with the customer if there’s a complaint.  Don’t make us wait for the manager all the time.
  • Hire the attitude, train the skill. Almost everyone can learn how to run a cash register.  That’s a trainable skill.  What you can’t train is the attitude of the employee.  Find people who want to work with people, who have an upbeat attitude and have a passion for their work.  You can train everything else they need for the job.
  • Make it easy to shop.  Hand out baskets or carts when customers arrive.  Why do you think Walmart is so successful?  They hand you a shopping cart as soon as you walk through the doors.  Make your staff park away from the store front – give the premium spots to the customers.
  • Improve your image.  Keep aisles open and uncluttered, replace burned out bulbs, keep the business clean.  By the way – vacuuming at the end of the day, while customers are still shopping is just rude.  Stop it! Enforce appropriate, consistent attire for your staff, and for Pete’s sake, don’t let them stand outside the front doors on their smoke break!
  • Stock and Price your products.  Few things are more frustrating than finding an item, but having no idea how much it costs, or not finding an advertized item at all.  A major US grocer did a study on abandoned shopping carts – carts that had items in them but the shopper left the store.  They looked at where the carts were abandoned in the store. There were 2 main reasons people walked out;  1- the item they were looking for was out of stock, and 2 – the items were not priced.
  • Be a gracious host. Think of every shopper as a guest in your own home.  Say ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’.  Offer a welcoming environment.  In restaurants, offer water or coffee, give them the menus and ask if they would like anything to start while they’re deciding.  When they’re finished, thank them for their business.
  • Hurry up!  Don’t ever make people wait to give you money.  Speed up the cash lines, or get back to the table in a restaurant to pick up the check payment – once people have made their purchase decision, or have eaten their meals, they want to leave.  Don’t make them wait.
  • Follow up.  If you sell big ticket items like furniture or appliances, send a thank you note to your customer. They sell thank you cards in bulk at the dollar store.  We purchased custom made furniture for our house that cost thousands of dollars – no follow up, no thank you note, no anything.  At the same time, we bought an inexpensive coffee table from another place and got a nice letter in the mail thanking us, and a discount coupon for our next visit.

I think you’d agree that these are simple enough to do.

Now that I’ve had my little rant about service personnel (mostly management), I have to point out how poorly we, the customers, treat the front-line workers.  We too often treat these hard working people as ‘non-humans’ with angry rants, rude conduct, and complete disrespect.

At what point did it become okay to treat other human beings like pieces of garbage?

I was waiting in a service center, where they rented vehicles.  A man and his wife came in from the pouring rain, to be greeted by a nice, young, very pregnant woman behind the counter.  Turns out, the man booked a rental, but at the wrong location, and had to now drive about 20 miles to the other location.  It was completely his fault, but he was so angry, that he threatened to kill the lady behind the counter if he drove all that way and his rental wasn’t available. She handled the situation like a pro, though.

Anyone who calls themselves a good person, then treats a service worker like a piece of trash is a hypocrite, and needs to have their moral compass realigned.  I’m sure there’s a lot of you out there who would like to do the realigning.

How about we all treat each other a little better.  Your waiter, server, customer service rep, cashier, or whatever, has their own share of junk going on in their lives.  Let’s give them a break if they forget to bring the glass of water you ordered, for Pete’s sake – it’s not the apocalypse.

For the service staff, and in particular, the service management, think from the perspective of the customer more often.  Make notes of what bugs you when you are being served less than professionally, then adopt the fix in your own work environment.  Conduct business with the focus on the 98% of the great customers, and not on the 2% that will rip you off.

Maybe then we’d all relax and enjoy work and play a bit more. We could all use a huge dose of that, right?

Sorry about the rant – sometimes you just can’t avoid it.

Oh, by the way, I did end up buying the Christmas items, but I wrote a very direct note to the executive of the company.  I never did hear back from them, though.