Friday, April 25, 2008

Perception, Reality, and Hyper Happy CVS Customers

Anthony Award-winning Chris Grabenstein writes fabulous adult mysteries and thrillers. Hell Hole,the newest of the John Ceepak/Jersey Shore books, will debut this August. He also writes the Christopher Miller holiday thriller series. In May, look for Chris's newest project: The Crossroads, a spine-tingling spooky ghost story for middle schoolers. The Stiletto Gang welcomes Chris Grabenstein!

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in one of those Dilbert cubicle offices at our local Citibank branch, waiting for the management trainee (nice lady, but I suspect it was her first day on the job) to return once again from the Manager office – the real manager as evidenced by the fact that she had a) an office b) no mere mortal could deign approach said office c) it was behind all that brick-thick Plexiglas where they keep the new five dollar bills with the purple ink that my wife loves.

I’m sitting at the bank for the worst reason possible: someone has been forging checks on our account (look for the name Michael Butler to show up in one of my books soon. I’m not sure who he’ll be but, most likely, it will be a character who is pimply jerk with bedwetting issues and very frilly, feminine penmanship).

That’s all I want to do: stop payment on the forged check, close the account, find the forger, draw and quarter him/her, restore a sense of justice to the world. Hey, I write mysteries. The assistant manager keeps asking me if, while I’m there, I would like to take out a home equity loan. Maybe sign up for a mortgage. I think I get free airplane tickets if I do. I wonder if this is why we are currently weathering a mortgage meltdown crisis? Too many airplane tickets for folks who sign up for adjustable rate mortgages when they came in for a roll of quarters so they could do their laundry.

Anyway, I digress.

I meant to be writing about perception and reality.

Maybe it’s because, even though Ceepak Mystery #4 HELL HOLE won’t be out until July 22, 2008, I’m already working on book #5. It takes place in Atlantic City and deals with manipulated realities: a murder backstage at a world famous illusionist’s show playing in the casino’s main theatre. Lies everywhere to confound Ceepak’s honor code! As Bruce Springsteen says in his new song Magic, which, of course, will be quoted in the book: “Trust none of what you hear and less of what you see“

As I sit in the cubicle, admiring the cubicle school furniture all around me, wondering if it will ever rival Stickley, I see this poster. An ad.

For the record, I spent 17 years writing and producing TV, radio, and print advertising. I am still fascinated by the manipulation of imagery for devious purposes.

On the Citibank poster, here is what is depicted: An Asian dude, probably in his mid twenties, headphones strapped over his ears, orange shirt artfully open so one can see the yellow T underneath it (the rumpled slob look currently en vogue so I know this Asian dude is a happenin’ young adult). He is riding a unicycle on gravel in a park.

That’s it. No headline. No body copy. Just the image of the lanky guy who sort of reminds me of that Chinese NBA star riding on one wheel like a doofus over gravel that will scrape his knees when he loses his balance.

This is a six-foot tall “dangler” – one of those posters that hang suspended from the drop tile ceilings in banks and fast food joints (I’m sorry, I meant to say QSRs – Quick Service Restaurants, because that’s we had to call Kentucky Fried Chicken when we told the world “Everybody needs a little KFC.”)

Why is this poster hanging in Citibank? Do they give out unicycle loans ala auto loans? Did he get the unicycle free with his Citibank Thank You points? The orange shirt?

There’s another poster. In the window. This one is at least semi-bankish. It shows an extremely happy older couple staring at a blue print and the bare beams of a house under construction, imagining their uber kitchen. Their dreams are coming true! Life is good! This one I get. Bank. Mortgages. Home Improvement Loans.

But there are other danglers simply showing happy, peppy people. Lots of heads tossed back in laughter. Super joy. Puppy dogs. Frolicking in leaf piles. The folks depicted in the bank look the same as the ones in the windows of the CVS drug store on 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue where they have whole windows filled with headshots of impossibly blissful, dare I say exultant, individuals.

Ethnically diverse. Fashionably dressed. Happy, peppy, and bursting with love. Inevitably, the heads are tossed back in throes of ecstasy. These giant heads in the CVS windows have never been SO GOSH DARN HAPPY!

So why am I so miserable? Sitting in the bank cubicle wasting over an hour with, unfortunately, a very nice lady who doesn’t know what she is doing.

Why am I not giddy with joy at CVS or Circuit City or any of the corporate chains that plaster these posters of happy people all over the place while paying their Customer Service (and I use that term loosely) workers the minimum wage, thereby attracting the surliest and sourest humans possible, folks who think it’s rude of
you to reach their register while they are in the middle of an interesting cell phone conversation.

The people in the pictures in the windows and dangling from the ceiling are happy.

I should be too.

It’s my fault.

This, I think, is the real reason behind the image of the unicycling Asian dude merrily wheeling his way through life at the bank, the cheerful senior citizens loving life, dentures and all, in the windows of CVS.

If I am having some problem with the slooooow service, the shabby products, with anything it’s just that – my problem. Everybody else, as I can plainly see, is having a wonderful time.

If my reality doesn’t meet the perception as depicted, whose fault is that?

Most likely mine.

I start unicycle lessons tomorrow.

Chris Grabenstein

No comments: