It’s been a week since I discovered employees of the store I used to print the first issue of a poetry booklet liked my work so much they “made a few extra copies” for themselves “to pass around” without my knowledge or permission.
I picked up my booklets on Wednesday, had the event for which they were printed on Thursday, and withdrew into total decompression mode on Friday. I started to get ready to go back to the store on Friday, but just broke down. I needed to recharge and build my strength back up. Being emotionally sensitive is exhausting.
But Saturday morning I DID go back over there, and the employee who was working when I picked up the booklet just happened to be working. The manager who did the order and produced the booklets was not, but that employee got her on the phone lickety-split. I noticed her hands were shaking as she scrolled through her phone and then the Rolodex looking for her manager’s number.
I took her nervously trembling hand as a sign she understood the severity of her wrongdoing. I was glad about that.
Originally, the employee told me they made “a few extra copies” and when I went back to confront her that Saturday morning, I asked exactly how many they printed. She told me, “Oh, just three or four…”
Apparently someone has a comprehension problem regarding what the word “exactly” means.
Later, on the phone with her manager, the employees told me her manager said she shredded both copies that were on the counter the next day.
“But you said there were three or four… if she shredded two, then where are the other two?” I asked.
“No, there were just two,” the employee then said, revising the previous stories she gave me.
“But you can understand why I have no reason to believe a single thing you tell me, right?” I told her.
“Absolutely,” she said.
It was so obvious that all she wanted was to get me out of the building.
I also found out there was a third employee involved, about whom I was previously unaware. “Oh great… no there’s someone else who has yet ANOTHER copy of my book,” I chided with exasperation.
“No, not at all,” she said, obviously lying right to my fucking face.
So, near as I can figure from my amateur detective skills is that the manager who took my order and told me she would be producing my booklet must have left for the day when her shift was over, and whoever came in for the next shift saw my books and was the one who liked them, made copies, and left the note for the girl who came in in the morning, saying “I have a surprise for you – check it out!” They made 4 copies – one for each of them to take home, one to put on the bulletin board in the break room and one to leave on the counter (evidently for customers to peruse). I know about the break room and the counter because the employee told me that. The copies for the break room and counter were left on the desk behind the counter next to the computer, and from what i was told, those two copies were then shredded as the manager (who took my order) was cleaning up.
The first thing the employee did when I confronted her was dash back to the computer where she started clicking away. Later she told me she was just checking to make sure the file had been deleted. I don’t think I believe that. I think she thought, “Oh shit! I have to delete that before anyone finds out we saved it!” That’s what I think.
I also think the person who left the note from the night before walked out of the building that night with a copy of my poetry booklet before I ever even picked them up. But I’ll never be able to prove that.
I also think the other employee took a copy home, but again – I can’t ever prove that.
She kept back-tracking and trying to make excuses, tripping over her words, but in her defense, that’s a pretty common thing that happens to people who are lying their fucking asses off.
I told her my intention was to ask for a refund and she was ultra-eager to tell me that was not a problem and they could do that absolutely right away.
Seriously, I’ve been in drunken bar fights where I didn’t feel this rushed to get out of the building….
I can understand why this chick was trying to cover her ass in front of her manager on the phone and the manager in the store that day, and I imagine her making all sorts of rationalizations & justifications that really can’t make up for the fact that she was in the wrong and she stole from a customer. I don’t know if she or the other employee have ever done anything like this before, but she did not seem like a new employee. She seemed like she knew exactly what she was doing at all times.
So, I got my money back, which I used to tip our breakfast waitress 30%, and then donated $20 more to the charities I’m supporting with my booklet.
I kept trying to impress upon the employee the level of hurt she caused me. I did not want to cry in front of her, but it got close a few times. (Just 3 or 4 to be exact….)
But I never felt a sense of remorse from the employee, and it never really came across that she was sorry for what she did. It seemed like she was definitely sorry she got caught, though. It felt like she had no problem looking me right in the eyes and then lying. I mean, it’s not like I don’t understand. It just makes me sad that even something as small and personal and trivial as my silly little book of poetry isn’t safe from the petty, selfish, thoughtless, entitled bullshit of being lifted so easily.
Left with a lack of closure, I wrote a fourteen-hundred-word letter to the editor on Sunday. On Monday I got rid of about four hundred of those words. And on Tuesday I sent it to five local papers, and a reporter at the local TV station. So far, only one local paper has gotten back to me and let me know they’re going to run it.
I’m going to cut it out of the paper and send it to the store, as well as to the corporate headquarters.
I mean, when will it be an important issue? When they copy a customer’s legal documents to forge…? When they copy a photograph to frame? To sell? When they copy photos of a minor in a bikini? I mean, if all those things are wrong, then what they did to me was wrong. The can reimburse me for the shitty job they did as a way to make up for the stealing from me they did, but they can’t give me back the things this experience has taken on me emotionally. As I wrote in my letter: “What those employees took from me was more than just my words, my work, and my time. They took a tiny part of the thing inside me that drives me to want to help others with acts of charity, art, and kindness. They took a little more of the frail part of me that still hopes there are people left in society who can be trusted. They took the joy I put so much effort in to feeling.”
Are there bigger problems in the world? Of course. Should I just get over it? I don’t know… should I ? I mean, the fact that there ARE so many other far more horrible things happening in the world is probably why this feels as awful as it does to me. Because… it IS so bad “out there” — which is what makes it so important to feel like at least you can still trust the small-town businesses you’ve known for years. Granted, it’s a chain store, but it’s still been an anchor in the outlet strip mall where it’s located for at least 15 years, though I can’t find the exact date it opened for business. I want to say it’s been there since at least 2002, but that’s just a guess. I worked nearby at the time, and I remember needing supplies from that store. But I could be mistaken. If it hasn’t been there 20 years, then it’s pretty close to it. So, I mean, locals work there. So, now the world is just so bad, we can’t even count on locals not to screw us over. That’s what sucks. That’s why it’s hard to let this go.
It’s not like this employee was a teenager. She looked to be in her 30’s. I try to put myself in her place and think about what I would have done in this situation… and I really think I would have just sucked up to the customer with the hopes of getting published. I just don’t think I would have made myself a copy. (Let alone exactly just 3 or 4….) I would’ve asked questions, I would’ve wanted to know more. I would’ve said I write and doodle. I would’ve said, “Do you need an assistant?!”
I guess I’m just as hopeless now as I was in the 90’s.
And since birth.
I’m not sure the letter to the editor will make me feel better either, but… maybe it can help someone else feel better. That’s my hope.