SHOPPER (YELLING): Help! My friend just fell over and now I can't even find her!
EMPLOYEE (YELLING): What?
Once, I found a freckle-sized speck of mold on the bottom bun on my half-eaten Chick-fil-A sandwich. When I went up to the counter and asked only for a new bottom bun, the employee apologized profusely, gave me a whole new sandwich, refunded my money, and gave me a coupon for a future free sandwich. That's two and a half sandwiches for the price of zero. You don't see that kind of respect for the customer in many places, and you'd hardly expect to find it in a food court. Yet here is Chick-fil-A, a true standalone class act in the lowly realm of fast food joints. When I thanked the kid behind the counter, he refused to accept any thanks whatsoever, diligently promising that Chick-fil-A hated giving its customers moldy bread. As I walked away, I heard him yell back toward the kitchen, "We need to do a better job checking for mold on the buns!" Again, this was a freckle-sized speck of mold. Totally non-offensive and even consumable. This kid could not have been more than sixteen years old. He was certainly no manager; he was probably making less than seven bucks an hour. Yet here he was, representing the company he worked for in the most professional and apologetic way, sincerely upset that his employer had let down a customer. That's integrity.
And that's really what Chick-fil-A is all about. Not only is the food such a refreshing alternative to the food court norm - delicious, fresh, and healthy to boot - but so are the employees. They respond to every customer's "thank you" not with the standard "you're welcome" but with a smile and a "my pleasure." Once, my girlfriend made a late change to her order and added, out of habit, the word, "sorry." As in, "Oh, sorry, can I have no pickles on that?" The kid behind the counter - again, some fifteen-year-old - let her know very clearly that she should not have been sorry, that there was no need to apologize, and that it, of course, it was his pleasure to make that simple switch. It was almost too much.
Why all the focus on customer satisfaction? It's not just a great business move. It's a religious one. The founder of Chick-fil-A is a devout Southern Baptist, and his religious faith has played an enormous role in his restaurant's goals and policies. The company's mission statement is "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A." The place is even closed every Sunday. If that sounds old-fashioned, it's because it is.
Religion is totally last millennium's thing. In an ever-increasingly secular and atheist society, a business run on Christian principles seems ludicrous, and certainly to some, offensive. It is easy to allow fundamentalist Christianity to scare and repel us. After all, how can we relate to people who don't believe in dinosaurs? It's very easy, then, especially today, to take the bad and leave the good when it comes to religion. Sure, bible-waving preachers from the deep South can be downright frightening, and it's always easy to shake our heads when various Midwestern townships ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. In our haste to ridicule those people seemingly blinded by faith, it is easy to forget about the inherent principles of Christianity and most religions in general. Benevolence, charity, neighborly love. Who does more community service than the religious? Who raises more funds for the impoverished and disabled? There are certainly a number of people out there blinded by faith, but true ignorance would be disregarding all of the contributions made to society by religious organizations.
As long as religion isn't being rammed down my throat, I'm completely tolerant of basically every kind of it. And Chick-fil-A isn't outwardly mining for faith in the least bit. There is no Baptist propaganda anywhere to be found. Their mascot isn't Jesus; it's a cow who cannot spell! If you didn't know Chick-fil-A was run by devout Christians, you'd never learn so by going there. I respect Chick-fil-A not for having religious morals, but for having them without forcing them upon anyone, least of all their customers. And more than anything, I respect Chick-fil-A for having outstanding food and service.
In a day and age where "religious" can be synonymous with "nutty, misinformed, and angry," it's refreshing to see that a company can use basic religious principles to succeed in a secular and capitalist world. Even if it means I need to go to Burger King for my chicken on Sundays.
Is there a Hello Kitty comeback in progress? If so, why? I thought we, as a nation, were finally getting over Japanimation. Don't get me wrong; I respect that anime has an important place in both historical and contemporary Japanese society. I just don't understand why or how it's done so well over here in the States. The style is poorly animated, crudely drawn, and generally peppered with plot holes. These flaws are very much accepted in Japan for reasons that warrant an entirely separate discussion, but here in America, we like realistic and seamless animation, a certain level of detail, and coherent and well-organized story structures.
Still, it is undeniable that there exists a niche within American society in which anime is not only accepted but also the preferred form of storytelling. I know some people in this niche, and have been told (and made) at various times in my life to watch episodes of different animes. Having done so, I can safely say that, as with any genre, anime has its highs and lows. I wish I could make some recommendations, but honestly, I have seen so little anime, and committed even less of it to memory, that doing so would be leaping way beyond my area of expertise.
This has been a very weak entry, lacking both direction and substance. And for that, I apologize. However, in a way, it's oddly fitting, because direction and substance are sparse in anime. I guess my main problem in tackling this subject matter is that I have no idea what I am talking about when it comes to Hello Kitty and other American-embraced Japanese phenomena, but don't care enough to educate myself on such subjects. I am willfully ignorant. I wish I still thought Sanrio was a cell phone company.
I was at the mall with my girlfriend, and we were about to leave. On the way out, she noticed NY & Co. out of the corner of her eye and decided she needed to drop in really quickly. They must have been having some kind of sale; I see no other reason she would have needed to check it out, having already purchased some clothing from other stores. But, being a 21st century gentleman, I put up no fight and followed her into the store. I waited in diligence as she sauntered around the store taking various shirts off the racks, inspecting them precariously and hanging half of them back up. "Does this look cute?" she'd ask me once every few shirts. I nodded solemnly each time, long immune to having any opinion on generic women's tops no matter how hard I tried. My girlfriend ignored my obvious lack of enthusiasm for her choices and eventually was off to the fitting room.
Now, I had waited for her outside of fitting rooms before. The minutes crawl by and it's hard not to get a little bit bored. Usually I'm told to come inside the fitting room area and wait outside her stall to offer commentary on the various outfits she models. I guess even despite my blatant apathy toward her shopping, I still make a great person to bounce wardrobe ideas off of. Here at New York & Company though, I was not allowed inside the changing area. A short Asian lady held out her hand when I tried to enter and with a stern look on her face said, "You can't come in here." For whatever reason, and it was admittedly probably a good one such as "rape prevention," New York & Company had decided to forbid all men entry to their one fitting room area. Plenty of apparel stores use co-ed fitting rooms with the understanding that only one person can occupy any given stall at any given point. Did NY & Co. really think a man clearly accompanying a girlfriend would begin to molest other customers while being under employee surveillance the whole time? I know it's a women's clothing store, and a privately owned one at that, but their refusal to allow men inside a changing room must have been sexual discrimination to some degree. After all, what about transvestite shoppers? Had I approached the fitting room already wearing women's clothes and holding a few dresses in my hand, would I still have been denied entry? Still, ultimately, I did not care in the slightest about being man-hated on. In a way, I was relieved to have an excuse not to accompany my girlfriend to her fitting room. Now, I could stay outside and not feel obliged to create commentary on different pieces she was trying on.
I knew I was in trouble when she went in with ten shirts to try on. I was clearly in for a longer wait than usual. Still, "usual" was five to seven minutes. Worst case, this would be fifteen, I figured. Oh, how wrong I was. You can only check hockey scores on your cell phone for so long. You can only watch the same people walking around the store for so long without them noticing that a large bearded man keeps looking at them. Dirty looks peppered me as the minutes wore on, even though I'd made it my intention not to stare at anyone. I suppose it is only in the nature of the eyes to wander and zone out after enough time of standing and waiting, but I felt embarrassed and guilt-tripped by every cold glare nonetheless. The minutes wore on and on. I wondered if my girlfriend had passed out - jokingly at first, but eventually I could find no other rationale for her extra long stay in the fitting room.
She did finally emerge from the fitting room. The final tally? Forty-seven minutes. That's longer than an episode of any scripted drama series. That's longer than plenty of studio albums. That's 0.0001% of a long and healthy lifetime. I was too zoned out at the time to even give her a little guilt trip about it. The worst part? She didn't buy a single thing. I had just wasted nearly an hour waiting for her to finish playing dress-up. Terrible. Just terrible. There is not even a word to describe what it is like to waste away in boredom while being ashamed of your own gender. Perhaps the Germans have a specific word for such a concept, but I'll just have to make do without one. Simply terrible. Quite easily my most painful mall memory ever.
New York & Company: where 21st century gentlemen go to die, one millionth of a lifetime at a time.