E. takes a phone call. He puts the customer on hold and comes to me and one of the managers.
"This caller is mad. At me. She wants to know something about Buddhist books and I don't know enough so she's mad."
"What does she want to know?", I ask.
"I don't know, she wants to know some popular Buddhist authors, and I don't know any, so she's mad because she doesn't think I know anything. I'm Jewish, I don't know much about Buddhist writing!"
"Okay, don't worry about it, I'll talk to her," I said. In my mind I'm thinking that if she's so mad, maybe she could benefit from some Buddhist books.
I answer the phone and ask how I can help. "Yes. I need to know some things. There's a book...something about a motorcycle?"
Because E. said she was looking for Buddhist (Eastern religious) books, I thought of Robert Pirsig's book. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?", I ask?
"Yes, yes, that's the one!", she said. "And then there's that author, the popular author, who is it?"
"This 'popular' author, do you know anything that this author wrote?"
"I need to know that really popular author, the one who writes about Buddhism."
"Well, there's the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron..."
"No, no, it's a really normal name. Don't you know what it is?"
The manager has been listening to me talk to the customer. "Jack Kornfield?", she suggests.
I say, "Jack Kornfield?"
"That's it! Do you know what he wrote?"
I pull up his name in our computer system and start reading her the list of books he wrote, "The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace..."
"But which is his most popular?"
"Well, The Buddha is Still Teaching: Contemporary Buddhist Wisdom is his most recent, it just came out last month," I said.
"I need to know which is the one that's the most popular," she insists.
"I don't know that, unless I go into the system for each one and see how well each is selling. Is there one you'd like me to hold for you?", I ask.
"No, I just need to know which is the most popular. And that first title, that was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? And it's Jack Kornfield that is the Buddhist author?", she asks.
"That's right," I said.
"Well that's all I need, then. Thank you very much for your help," she said.
"You're welcome," I said, glad I could help, but a little frustrated that she didn't seem to want to buy anything, and that she got mad at us because we didn't seem to know what she wanted.
After the call, I went over to where the manager was standing. "She didn't want to know if we had any of the books in the store," I said. "She asked who was the most popular Buddhist author."
"A good question to ask the customer is, 'And why do you want to know?'," she said. "Maybe it's for a crossword puzzle and she just needs an answer," she said smiling.
"Oh good grief," I said.
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