21 February 2008

The Quest for a Tuxedo

Until about a year ago, my home town supported a formal rental shop, known as Squire Tux. Until two days ago, I was under the distinct impression that Squire Tux was still in business. Unfortunately, I had no idea how much lead time the staff of such a place need to prepare a tuxedo for a formal event, so I didn't make any real effort to inquire about renting from them until Tuesday morning. The events thereafter proved surprisingly dramatic.

I'm going to the Met this coming Saturday evening, to see Manon Lescaut, a production reviewed by the New York Times here, and I had hoped (I had even resolved) to wear a tux for the occasion.

So I called Tuesday morning. The telephone number is such as to indicate that I'm talking to somebody at the old location for Squire Tux. Right area code, right prefix thereafter. Nobody at the other end of the line tells me I'm not. What they do tell me, though, is that I'll have to pay a premium, a special "rush charge" to be fitted and have the thing ready for Saturday. Fine, I say obligingly.

Then we make an appointment for 8 in the evening.

By 7:30 I obtain the Squire Tux address on the internet ("anywho.com") to be sure my memory is right -- the address conforms with my memory, and I set off though its early for the Elm Street location. It isn't there. I go up and down the street a couple of times, then go into one of the malls there, and start talking to shop owners. Finally, one of them tells me, "Oh, that closed down about a year ago, though I think they're in Holyoke now."

Well, I go back home -- I'm not in possession of my blackberry these days, though that's another story -- and start trying to call Squire Tux again to ask where they are. I get busy signals over and over. I do some quick research -- delving a little deeper than the anywho listing -- and discover that yes, Squire Tux went out of business a year ago. They seem to have merged with another company called Mr. Tux, but to have closed the stores under the older name.

I then called Beverly, Mass., the HQ of Mr. Tux. A woman there tells me the phone had probably rung through to West Springfield (not Holyoke). But it's now closing in on 8:30 and the propect of getting to that store by closing time at 9 looks dim.

So: I find that there's a Mr. Tux somewhat closer. In Springfield, at the border with Indian Orchard. That I can make. I call them to be sure they're open. They are, a young man tells me. And they'll stay open until 9. If I get there by 9, they'll stay there as long as needed to serve me. Okay, the time is a little tight, but I'll give it a try.

I hop in the car and it looks like I'll be there. Then, half way there, a freak quick snow squall hits Springfield. Almost blinding. I couldn't see three feet in front of the car at the worst of it. This, unsurprisingly, slows me down.

I pull into the Mr. Tux parking lot just as my watch is telling me it IS 9. Jumping out of the car, I see a young man and a young woman closing up the store. I identify myself as the fellow one of them spoke to on the phone half an hour earlier.

He says, "Well, we gave you the benefit of the doubt, sir, but you didn't make it in time."

The benefit of the doubt? What kind of expression is that? What doubt? what benefit?

I yell, "how much more quickly through the snow storm would you have wanted me to drive?" and get back into my car, feeling thoroughly disgruntled.

Okay, so the storm wasn't their fault, unless Mr. Tux has snow making equipment and used it to play with me. Which seems unlikely. But is that "benefit of the doubt" line what they teach in customer service classes? And why, a year after Squire Tux is gone, is it still so easy for the casual customer to think he's talking to an Enfield store of that name? Anywho listing, location-appropriate phone number, an "appointment" with no specification of place other than that which I thought I had just called.

I wrote the folks in Beverly about all this. I'll accept a free tuxedo in the mail. It would make me feel better.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.