Cash Rules Everything Around Me
I am not well versed in economics, or business, or stock market lingo; I am competent in a variety of other topic areas but when it comes to money and the politics inevitably attached to it, I admit I turn the other cheek. What I do know about money is that it makes us crazy. It makes me crazy, because as a surf shop employee and part time radio DJ with a penchant for shopping and margaritas, I have very little of it. But I am not above admitting that it makes me happy too. I come from a middle class family, and money, while it has not really been an issue, has always been something to be used for practicality, not excess. My parents both work. I have worked since I was thirteen; I have maintained pretty standards jobs for a young adult — waitress, hostess, receptionist, babysitter, retail associate. Ultimately, all of these jobs fall under “customer service”. In The Hamptons, that is just a nice phrase for “shmuck”.
“The Hamptons” is a place people visit primarily to waste money. Naturally summer is the busiest season and millions of tourists preen the streets of an otherwise quiet area for something to expend, lavish, barter or bargain. These transplants drift out on the low tide that is the Long Island Expressway from NYC on Fridays and are cast away again on Sunday afternoons. European families sail the Atlantic into JFK for a few weeks in one of the most high-end vacation destinations on the East Coast. Regardless of where the motherland is for these visitors, they all have one thing in common: they have the money to vacation in The Hamptons.
Hamptons business owners thrive between Memorial Day and Labor Day. They want to keep their regular local customers happy while simultaneously trapping the upper class nomads passing through in their web of sketchy return policies, exuberant impulse buys, and shiny things that sit on shelves at the eye level of children. All business owners I have encountered have maintained the same mantra behind their differing operations: the customer is always, always, always right, regardless of color, creed, height, weight or completely irrational attitudes. This is completely understandable from an employer’s stand point — as an employee, this is the bane of your existence.
I have learned over my decorated employment history that money gets to people’s heads. The “customer is always right” mentality of our business owners has been ingrained into shoppers and patrons as well, and with justification — if you work for a living, and you are making the choice to expend the money that you’ve earned, then you want to make sure whoever or whatever is on the receiving end of that cash is worth it. I understand that fully and feel it too. We gain a sense of entitlement when we are making the purchases, one that I find inexplicable and appalling, but experience in a small way. The reason I don’t get such a big head when I buy things is because nine times out of ten I have been digging through a discount bin, perusing the sales rack, or compulsively scanning the aisles of King Kullen for a coupon indicator, a warped golden ticket of sorts, hoping for a deal. I don’t spend with pride — I spend hesitantly, knowing with each swipe of my debit card that I don’t have a lot more where that came from. I find when there is more where that came from, entitlement grows. Holders of the American Express “Black Card” or the Centurion Card, frequent The Hamptons regularly, and are often times the customers giving sales associates the most flack. It has been rumored, but never fully disclosed by American Express, that in order to qualify for this exclusive charge card, one must spend a minimum of $250,000 a year, or $21k a month. It is a charge card, not a credit card, the balance must be paid in full at the end of each month. Some conclusions can be drawn from this — these people have extra money to spend.
As a retail associate of a surf shop in Southampton this past summer, I have swiped many of these prestigious cards through our outdated credit card system, always for exuberant amounts of money for unnecessary items. I worked there through the fall, bring me directly into the holiday season.
A woman walked into Flying Point Surf Shop the Saturday before Thanksgiving — her son, the picture of millennial America with his face in his iPhone, and her husband, aloof and detached, were in tow. She was tall, even before her Michael Kors heels, with matching watch and leather purse, wearing cream skinny jeans, a crisp, pale blue button down and a cable knit sweater draped over her shoulders. The only thing making her more cliche is that she was topped with a perfectly highlighted blonde bob. I helped her and her son pick out a Patagonia jacket — they were pleased with my choice, and my talk of how the coat is “doubled lined with down”, which I honestly don’t think is true. She approached the counter to complete her purchase. Before anyone could hand me any payment, I remembered that my bosses were running a promo for Black Friday, and I was to hand out the flyer coupons to customers. The promo is “$50 off of purchases of $200 or more between November 28th and December 5th”. I inform this woman about the promo. I tell her the dates of which it is supposed to occur. Her response?
“You can go ahead and apply that to my purchase now.” An order, not a request.
I told her that was not possible, seeing as the sale was for Black Friday, and it was presently the Saturday before Thanksgiving. To my astonishment, this woman, who smelled like more money than I have in my bank account, had an argument as to why I should grant her bargains on a deal that would not begin for six more days.
“Ask your boss.”
“Ma’am, he’s going to tell you no.”
“Ask him anyway.”
“He’s not available at the moment, so I can’t. I am so sorry.”
“This is completely absurd. I am not coming here for Black Friday. Why would you tell me about a sale if you’re not willing to take money off for me? It’s bad business practice to piss your customers off you know. What would be the difference if I buy it now or in six days?”
“Fifty dollars.” She didn’t like that.
“Which is a lot of money. This jacket is grossly overpriced anyway.” We sell our Patagonia at MSRP, but I didn’t feel like getting into that with her. I tried to move the conversation along.
“So…are you still planning on purchasing the jacket?” I heard the echoes of my infamous boss, a gentle giant bellowing at me to make as many sales as possible earlier that morning and crossed my fingers.
“Well, YEAH. Do I even have a choice?” She turned to her silent husband, wordlessly sticking her hand in front of him. He placed a Black AMEX into her perfectly manicured fingertips and she thrust it in my direction. I examined it for a moment, completely dumbfounded by the conversation I just had with a Centurion Card holder. She really fought me over $50?? I couldn’t help but let out a scoff as I charged her ~$250 dollars for a Patagonia her son wouldn’t thank her for. Maybe the reason her and her husband had all that money was because she was exceptional at haggling sales personnel for sales and discounts she was not entitled to. I understand $50 can be considered a substantial amount. But why would this woman be allowed to receive better treatment than any other customer? Black Friday sales are all about Marketing 101. Companies promote the sale and the discounts beforehand so that people will wait like cattle outside of department stores and trample each other for 55″ flat screens and Frozen on Blue Ray. Flying Point, a local business, was just doing its own version of that without running commercials every 12 seconds. I would not walk into Walmart tomorrow and demand Black Friday prices. Why is a local “Hampton’s” business treated differently by consumers?
I’m not judging the woman in the Michael Kors heels for having money. Somewhere down the line, someone worked for that money and was probably harassed by customers. My issue is not with her financial capability, as her lack of respect for a complete stranger doing what they’re and paid to do. Locals face visitors like this frequently in The Hamptons, regardless of season. It’s expected, standard of new money clientele rolling in with high tide. Us locals? We’ve learned to stay grounded, be humble and remember—we stay. Money goes.