May 8, 2001
Letter to Ludmilla


May 8, 2001

Ludmilla, the Customer Satisfaction Facilitator
Caressa Ultra-Snooty Bridal Fashions
1234 Somewhere Street
Walnut Creek, CA

Dear Ludmilla:

Question for you: have you ever seen "Pretty Woman?"

I'm thinking specifically about the part of the movie where the Julia Roberts character, dressed in full *hooker regalia,* walks into the exclusive Rodeo Drive clothing boutique and is treated like dog food by the saleswomen, based solely on the way she looks.  

Lately, I feel like I'm living that movie.

My fiance and I visited your store last Saturday morning, Ludmilla. Do you remember us? We drove all the way from Alameda to Walnut Creek just to visit your fabulously fabulous little bridal boutique. We arrived fifteen minutes early --  your doors were still locked when we got there  --  so we sat patiently outside in our car and waited for you to open. 

We were the first people through the door, once you opened for business.  Do you recall? My fiance is very tall and blond and handsome; he was wearing a pair of baggy Levi's and an ancient Tom Petty T-shirt with holes in the armpits. I'm a somewhat shorter, plumper brunette; I believe I was wearing denim leggings, a navy blue pullover with soy milk stains on the collar and a pair of new but slightly-dented Reeboks.

Do you remember us at all?

We remember you, Ludmilla. Here's what we remember about you specifically: we remember you asking us right away, "Do you have an appointment?'  We were the only two people standing in your store at the time. There were no other customers, anywhere in sight. The parking lot outside your shop was deserted. And still you asked us if we 'had an appointment' ... although it was very clear from your tone of voice that you weren't really wondering if we had an appointment: you were wondering if we'd remembered to wipe the pig shit off the bottoms of our boots before we stepped inside your pristine little bridal shop. 

You were also wondering how fast you could get us OUT of your pristine little bridal shop before your 'first appointment' actually showed up.

We understand that things like 'appointments' and 'scheduling' (and 'suppositories') are probably very important in your business, Ludmilla.  So we weren't offended. As my fiance politely explained to you, had we known that an 'appointment' was required, we certainly would have observed this necessary formality. As it was, however, we were merely stopping by as part of a tour of local bridal shops, from a list we'd compiled off the Internet. Yours was the first shop we visited that morning.

(It was also the last shop we visited that morning. I think it's safe to say that you pretty much ruined us for bridal dress shopping that morning.)

Here's what else we remember about you, Ludmilla. We remember the expression on your face when you said Let me check with the manager, and we'll see if we can 'fit you in.'  We remember that you didn't especially look like you wanted to 'fit us in.'  In fact, it almost looked as though you were hoping-against-hope that the manager was laying on the floor of her office, dead from a sudden heart attack, just so you wouldn't have to go through the trauma of asking her if she could 'fit us in.'  I imagine it must have been a HUGE relief when we told you that we weren't going to be staying.

Is any of this ringing a bell yet, Ludmilla?

My fiance asked you, Would you mind if we take a quick look around? It was clear from the panic-stricken look in your eyes that you liked this idea even less than you liked the idea of 'fitting us in.'  (Don't ever play poker, Ludmilla ... OK?  You'll lose your shirt.) What you probably didn't realize is that my fiance was merely being polite. He was too kind-hearted to tell you that it had taken us less than thirty seconds to realize that there was nothing in your sterile, monotonous store that we found even remotely appealing. Asking if we could 'take a quick look around' was merely OUR version of a 'formality.'

(It seemed somehow more polite than snorting derisively.)

I've got to admit, Ludmilla, that asking us our wedding date was a nice touch. It almost sounded like you gave three-tenths of a fudk, for one thing.  Plus it gave you the perfect *out* when we told you we were getting married in July.

Ohhhhh, I remember you said. I'm sooooo sorry. We require a minimum of three months for ordering and fitting. Once again your voice said one thing and your face said another. In this instance, your voice was saying Gosh! It would have been so much fun to help you find the wedding dress of your dreams, Secra! I understand that even middle-aged second-time brides deserve a little respect and dignity and TLC, and *I* would have been just the bridal consultant to lavish you with oodles and oodles of it! ...

... while your face was saying So have you tried K-Mart?

But here's the thing.  If you HAVE seen "Pretty Woman," Ludmilla, you might remember how the Julia Roberts character returns to the snooty Rodeo Drive boutique, a day or two later. This time she's dressed to the nines, fresh from laying out a bazillion bucks over at the competition. She reminds the snooty saleswomen that they refused to wait on her previously. "Big mistake!" she says, shaking her overstuffed shopping bags in their faces. "BIG. HUGE." And she sashays out of the store while the saleswomen blink in disbelief.

It would give me enormous satisfaction to tell you that my fiance and I are a couple of bazillionaires, Ludmilla ... and that if you'd sold us a wedding dress on Saturday  -- plus a half-dozen bridesmaids' dresses and a diamond tie pin for my fiance, without getting all hoity-toity and constipated on us  -- you'd have made yourself a big chunk of change right there on the spot. Nothing would give me greater pleasure, frankly, than being able to take credit for your Prozac failure today.

But I can't do that.

As you may have guessed, we're just a couple of average, middle-aged Schmoes, my fiance and me. This is a second wedding for both of us. We're both a few years older  --  and a few pounds heavier  --  than we were the first time we walked down the aisle. (Although we're working on the 'few pounds heavier' thing. Those were our exercise clothes you saw us wearing on Saturday. After we left your shop, we rode our bikes eleven miles in 80 degree heat. When was the last time you worked up a sweat, Ludmilla?)  We work hard for our money -- and most of what we make immediately goes to other people   -- so we're trying to be very careful and frugal and smart about stuff like photographers and travel arrangements and honeymoon hotels.

And wedding dresses.

But here's the important part, Ludmilla. Pay attention here, OK? This is the part I don't want you to miss. One year from right now, when your 'first appointment' has walked down the aisle in her sterile, monotonous, $5,000 Ultra-Snooty original ... and *I* have walked down the aisle in my Whutever-The-Hell-I-Wind-Up- Walking-Down-The-Aisle in ...

... we are going to be just as married as she is. Perhaps more so.

We have a bunch of stuff going for us that the average 'first appointment' may not. We're older, for one thing. We're smarter. We're sober. We're heels-over-head in love. We have a clear vision of what we want our lives together to be, and to say, and to mean.

Plus, unlike your 'first appointment,'  the odds are we're not going to be repeat customers.

So perhaps it's just as well that we didn't *bond* with each other on Saturday, Ludmilla. It's probably easier that way. Perhaps it's just as well that you dismissed us as potential customers, based solely on our appearance  ... and that you dismissed us as people, based solely on your own short-sightedness and stoopidity. That way neither one of us has to try to live up to  --  or down to  --  unreasonable expectations.

Sincerely yours,

P.S. You don't by chance happen to have a sister in Alameda, do you?

throw a rock