|Posted on May 9, 2011 at 12:48 PM|
I’m not here to rehash my totally hetero man-love for John Mayer today. No. Sure, he can be a total douche, and goes through women like toilet paper – and yes, Taylor, I do think nineteen is too young to be messed with, even when someone looks like you – and his concert monologues can come across like, “We all know how great I am, so let’s just have a great time tonight and you people try not to get in the way of my greatness and just do your part and clap and swoon at the appropriate parts. Cool?” Yes, yes, we know all of that.
But, when he’s writing hurty-hurt painful, reminiscing over some girl he dumped, dark and depressing break-up music, it has a way of traveling straight through the trenches and blowing up the Death Star exhaust port of my soul faster than bullseye-ing womp rats in a T-16.
One of his songs that I especially love from his latest album Battle Studies is “Friends, Lovers or Nothing.” The lyrics go, “Friends, lovers or nothing. There can only be one. Friends, lovers or nothing, there’ll never be an in-between, so give it up. Anything other than yes is no, anything other than stay is go, anything less than I love you is lying...”
And this made me think of the relationship that I have with people at Custom Theater. I have friends. I have clients. And I have people that are neither. Friends, clients, or nothing, and I don’t generally mix them up. I like my clients, but I don’t generally make them into “friends” because that’s when things get sticky.
Friends expect extra-special treatment. Friends think they can call you up at 10 PM on a Sunday and ask questions about their systems. Friends think that they shouldn’t pay for service calls or should get things at cost. I can’t afford to have too many friends.
One of my actual friends has purchased stuff from me over the years, but it seems that inevitably there is bound to be a problem and then it becomes much harder to tell a friend, “Sorry. Sucks that the 65-inch TV you just bought is acting up, but the company’s policy is to get it repaired. So, uh, here’s the number to a TV service department. And, uh, real giant bummer that you’ll be missing Survivor while the TV isn’t working. Yeah. Bummer.”
Then, because they are friends, you’re just bound to run into them outside of work situations. Then you have to stand there drinking their wine and eating their crudité while trying to ignore the literal elephant in the room – the elephant which is the giant, hulking, black 65-inch set that isn’t working, just sitting there all gloomy and accusing in its blank screen and blinking red lights – and have that whole awkward and uncomfortable moment where you say, “Hmmm. TV still not working, huh? Yeah. Bummer.”
Recently I had two encounters at CTA that both A) affirmed and B) made me question this mentality.
First is a guy that I’m gonna call Mr. Beater. (When we first met him he drove a total beater of a pick-up truck. I mean this thing was so old and rusted out and full of rot-holes that it appeared to be shedding parts like a leper. Imagine if Mater from Cars had really let himself go.) So, Mr. Beater has been a long-term “Nothing” for years. Not a friend, not a client, just someone that would come into the store, ask us for advice, listen to new gear, shoot the breeze about how miserable his low-paying job was, how he was saving up to one day buy a system from us, etc. So YEARS have passed when Mr. Beater fell off the map. He stopped coming by, he just disappeared. Kind of like a way poorer, more shabbily dressed, pocket-protector wearing Keyser Söze.
Then one day a few weeks ago he just materializes again. He has the same job, but is now minus one wife and plus one new vehicle. He says he’s driven by a bunch and has been meaning to stop in, how are we doing, what’s new, etc.
So we chat for a bit, do the requisite catch-up – and, newsflash, you telling me that my hair has gotten grey over the years? Yeah. That’s not a term of endearment. In return, I won’t tell you that you’ve gotten a lot balder and fatter and less clean-and-fresh smelling. Deal? – and then he says that he has finally purchased a system. That Definitive Tech stuff that we’d been talking about for all of those years? Yeah. He finally bought a Pro Monitor 800 system. From some place that wasn't us. But, you know, whatever, years have passed, let him shop where he may. But now he needs a subwoofer. So we start talking about subs. I show him the Super Cube 3 and play some demo clips and tell him about the new Super Cube 2000 that is coming out.
Then he proceeds to tell me that he has stopped buying anything from retail stores. (Totally germane to this story is that I AM a retail store...) That he has decided to stick it to the Man by never paying another cent in sales tax. He now buys everything on line. He’ll be damned if he’ll pay the usurious 6% sales tax that our county demands. How DARE they charge him sales tax for the roads he drives on and the state services he uses?
So, at this point I’m pretty much checked out of the conversation. Once you say, “I’m not buying something from you,” you have confirmed that you are a “nothing” and I am no longer interested in demonstrating anything for you or spending further time discussing the items that you are going to go and buy from not me. So, I say, “OK. Well. Nice seeing you again. Bye,” and I head back into my office and start working on something important. (OK. It was probably to fire off an e-mail to Darryl about absinthe or writing a blog.) But my partner, Al, continues engaging him and shows him the Control4 system thinking that...well. I don’t know what he was thinking. In The Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking would tell you that there is no wormhole galaxy in this universe where Mr. Beater would buy a $700 anything. Plus, you know, sales tax.
So, Mr. Beater comes back a few days later to return this Control4 demo DVD Al gave him. (And, um, it was really meant for you to keep it. We have like 50 of them.) And to tell me that he found the Super Cube 3 on-line and bought it. And thanks for the rec! It really sounds great! Totally makes the system! Can't believe how much bass that puts out!
“Wow!” I’m not thinking. “I’m so super-duper glad that you took my advice and went out to buy it from someone else! That’s awesome! Hey! Here’s my bank account PIN and social security number. Why don’t you just cut out the middle-man and DIRECTLY take money out of my pocket?” Then he says that he needs some wall mounts for his Definitive speakers. He looks at the wall of Omni Mounts that I have.
“Which of these will fit the Monitor 800s?”
“The Mount 10. They have the right threat pattern.”
“I think they’re like $29 a piece.”
“Outrageous. I can buy them on-line so much cheaper.”
“Yeah. Well. OK. Take care then.”
Because, in my experience, once a nothing, always a nothing. And I’m not interested in being your free, mental lending library. Oh, and PS. Based on your view of not paying sales tax, this library is closed to you anyhow!
Next guy I’m gonna call Mr. Scotch. Now, Mr. Scotch is an older gentleman – mid 60s – that moved down from New Jersey. He’s kind of got that northern vibe going, but manages to not cross over into full on northern-jerk mode. (If you’re from the south, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you’re from the north, well, just know that a lot of us down here think that you can be total dicks sometimes. If you LOVE the north so much, here’s a crazy idea…stay there!) So, he wants to get a new TV, have us mount a TV he already owns, relocate some cable wiring, wire for a surround system, etc. He asks me to come out and take a look at his house to see what exactly needs to be done. But before I head over he calls up to confirm the appointment AND ask what I like to drink. I say, “Single malt scotch” mostly kidding. (Well, not kidding about that being what I like to drink, but kidding about expecting him to get any. I should have said '62 Latour, because even though I've never had any, I'm pretty sure that I would like to drink it.)
So I walk through his house and he has got a great attitude about everything. I’ll ask him a question like, “Do you have a preference on how high the TV goes?” or “I think the sub should go right here,” and he would say, “Look. I hung wall paper for a living. You want to know about hanging wall paper? You ask me. That’s what I know. You do this for a living. You're the expert here, and I'm not gonna tell you how to do your job. You just do what you think is best and that’s what’s gonna make me happy.” But, you know, not in that douchey way some people seem to have where you just know that after you do it the way you *think* it should be done they are all, “Hmm. So. That’s where you thought it should go? I really would have thought it should have been 13/64-inch lower. But, well, I guess you’re the pro...”
So we finish our walk-thru and he proceeds to whip out a brand new bottle of 12-year The Glen Livet. He asks me how I take it, and I have an opportunity to use, “Single malt, single cube” in the wild – which I think offends him on some base scotch drinking level or perhaps he thinks I’m some kind of rogue, still wet behind the ears scotch drinking young-in, because he proceeds to then fill my glass with cubes anyhow.
So we hang out on his patio, drinking this giant lowball filled practically to the top with goldeney scotch and ice and just chatting. We start talking about golf because we are two guys living in Myrtle Beach, and when I tell him that I used to be a golf pro he ribs me incessantly. I finish my drink and decline a second because I typically try and avoid having two giant scotches before driving home and find that arriving home semi-drunk is generally not the best way to start the evening. (Or is the start to a *great* evening. It can really play out either way.)
So I give him a $5500 proposal and he accepts and we finish the job. The next morning he comes by and asks if the bill is ready. (Which, let me tell you, you coming to me to pay? Unbidden? The awesome.) But I haven’t prepared the invoice yet, so he says, “Look. Don’t mail it. You bring it over. We’ll have another drink.”
So, I get there and he has a new bottle of Macallan for us. This is clearly a guy that is trying to win friends and influence Sciacca’s and, dammit, it’s working! We have another chat session on his porch, where he tells me over and over how impressed he’s been with our company and how we’re the only group that arrived on time and did what we promised – Yes? Yes?! Tell me more! Lay it on me! – and how he loves the system and how great it all looks and sounds. He then says that he is going to join a TPC golf club here and he is interested in taking me out to play. I protest a bit, saying that my stupid shoulder is still rehabbing (sidenote: after a $507 MRI and a $70 specialist visit, I’ve been told that…there is nothing wrong with my shoulder! So, no torn rotator cuff, no bone spurs, just normal getting old shoulder and I’ve been working on stretching it out and have actually gone back to hitting balls again. Yay! And, frickin' Blue Cross!) and that I’m not sure how good my game would be.
“Look, I don’t give a damn what your game is like. If you start taking it too seriously, I’m just gonna tell you to get over yourself! We’ll play. We’ll find the cart girl. We’ll drink. We’ll find the cart girl again. We’ll have fun.”
So, maybe John Mayer didn’t have it totally right. Maybe there is room for friends, clients and something in between.