A quiet summer day at the local Public Library’s second-hand book shop, ‘The FriendsPlace.’ I volunteered there as a cashier, their only Asian-American volunteer. Profits generated from this annex to the library went largely to scholarships for high school kids of all races who volunteered there as well.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a burly Hispanic gentleman looking at some DVD’s in the second room of this book shop. Keeping an eye on customers and helping them make up their minds also fell to the cashier at the front of the shop. This customer seemed bothered about the price of the DVD’s: $1 each, for they were used discs from the library. Some minutes later, he approached the cash register.
“Here are 6 DVD’s,” he said, brusquely. “Don’t know how many are good.” Can I pay $3 for them?
“Here, let me take a look! We’ll be able to tell if any of them are scratched or bad,” said I.
Upon inspection, none of the DVD’s appeared to be scratched or otherwise damaged. “Why not pick three you really like for $3? They are $1 each…”
“I only have $3 with me, and I’d like them all,” said he.
“I don’t think I can do that,” I replied.
“Who’s your manager? I want to speak to the manager,” said he. “The manager cannot change prices at your demand,” said I, but he appeared to become incensed. I went into the inner room and brought out Donna, the team leader for our volunteer shift. Howard and Tina had also listened to this conversation and appeared somewhat nonplussed. I made sure Donna knew what the customer was demanding before she addressed him. That too seemed to rile him up.
“I was asking your cashier to give me these DVD’s – they look bad – for $3, and he’s refusing,” said the customer.
“But they’re $1 each,” said Donna.
“And we cannot give arbitrary discounts to select customers,” said I.
“WHO ARE YOU? Who are you to say what can and cannot be done? I WAS BORN HERE! WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” He’d evidently lost his thin veneer of civilized conduct.
“I am an immigrant from India,” I retorted. “What difference does that make?”
“Rian, please, I need you away from here!” said Donna. The situation was unraveling, and I’d stood up to my full height, towering above them both. I glared at the bellicose customer, while Donna told him that he could have the DVD’s for the price he demanded.
“I’ll bring the money,” said he, and began to leave.
“Don’t come back,” said I – but moved into the inner room to update Howard and Tina on what transpired.
After the customer returned, I helped Donna enter the transaction into the register. “He was definitely a racist, Rian, I just wanted him out of the shop!” said Donna. Tina agreed with her. I smiled. “In all my years, I’ve always stood by my team,” said Howard. He was an elderly and very well-traveled gentleman, a retired librarian. Clearly, he did not approve of the humble pie a team member had to swallow.
Needless to say, following my son’s reaction to this incident, when I related it to him, I excused myself from volunteering at the unfriendly ‘FriendsPlace’ soon.