My friend Rahn and I were driving from Roanoke to Chesapeake for NekoCon (and what a fount of weird customers THAT turned out to be...but that's a tale for a different lj...).
On the way, we stopped at a BP station/McTrashfood off the freeway for hamburgers and a bathroom break. The restaurant section of the building was dimmed and there was a cord across the entrance, though, so Rahn got a drink and we went to pay. There was a teenaged girl, blonde and vivacious, and an elderly man (but don't get me wrong--he was VERY tall and quite fit). They were talking the entire time we were in the store about the girl's brother or friend who was getting out of jail for some random crime.
There was a large island display in the middle of the store, with ceramic geese and other crappy tourist items on the shelves. Your typical kitschy display of "folk" art. Anyway, at the edge on the island (literally at the edge, as in hanging off one corner) was, placed perpendicular to the display, a tiny, extremely wobbly splay-legged wooden footstool about six inches high. On this footstool was a ten-inch-high ceramic goose that easily outweighed the stool.
So as I was walking around the corner of this island display, barely seeing the stupid stool that was parked there, the leg of my pants brushed the head or neck of the goose (i'm not sure which, just that it snagged) and it fell over and shattered on the floor.
I said loudly "Oh GOD!" as it broke, and the noise was *very* audible throughout the store. But the old man and girl didn't stop talking for a moment except to pause briefly when the noise of the breaking drowned them out for two whole seconds.
I looked up for a bit, wondering if they were going to find a broom, but they just watched me and kept chatting. I began to get this particular sense of setup. I picked up every piece of that jagged ceramic goose's head and put them on the rickety stool, then carried the entire mess to the front. I said, "I'm so sorry, my pants leg pulled this over. I don't know where to put the pieces--"
He said, "Well, maybe you can take it home and GLUE it back together."
The man then asked me if I wanted to buy the stool *too*. I turned the goose over: fifteen fucking bucks. I said no thanks about the stool and agonized for a second.
Did I have to buy the goddamned thing? Where they'd put it, on that shaky little stool right in the walkway, it seemed to me like they were asking for trouble. But both of the employees were giving me the Hairy Eyeball (and no wonder; this is the boonies of Virginia we're talking about, and I dress like a hot topic goth with hair streaked in rainbow colors). I decided to buy the fucking thing and get out of there.
Here's the kicker. The old man made ME pick the little pieces of pottery off the top of the stool and sweep them into the bag. He said he didn't want to get cut.
I went and put the stool back in a more proper place (how about NOT hanging off the edge of the display case?) and said maybe there nobody would trip over it, and left in a hurry.
I feel I was intimidated into making a purchase of an item broken through the negligence of the person running the place. I also think it's terribly risky for an employee to stand around talking about personal issues when there's the start of a huge liability lawsuit unfolding right in your face.
Even if I'd given the fucking ugly goose a punt into the wall from five paces, or had been stumbling around drunk and knocked something off a sturdy shelf, I cannot fathom allowing a customer to pick up, unassisted, handfuls of sharp glazed ceramic. They didn't even look to see if I'd gotten all the pieces!
I took down the exit number for the BP station, which looked like a mom and pop store that had been bought, and am trying to work up the draft for a calm, constructive letter to higher-ups about this situation. The fact that it may have been the guy's own store might explain their attitudes that night; freaks like me tend to get either the best or the worst service from small business owners. I could have fought for myself, but fifteen bucks wasn't worth the possibility of ugliness that I felt that older guy to have been capable of. If I'd refused to pay, I could easily envision him calling the police and reporting me for vandalism or something. Calm debate was not an option, and that's really all that matters in my book: I didn't get a fair chance to address the question of liability, and it burns me. It was a generally upsetting situation.
I promise not to rant or rave or be psycho in my letter--I just want to know if I was in the right or not. Any input on addressing a grievance like this would be most welcomed.
Thanks for reading this. I feel better just typing it all out.