I'm sure there's somebody out there who's curious as to what an amatuer artist like myself does when I'm not sketching my wrist raw or typing up hilarious old-news articles about video games. And I mean that in the same, desperate sense as "There HAS to be someone else out there who's buying bootleg toys to make fun of," because damn, Odd Lots is running thin on 'em lately. Well, even if not, hunker down and read on, as this may prove to be a fun and informative journey. But not 'infotainment.' That just sounds stupid.

I work as a lab tech in the one-hour photo station of a certain grocery/retail chain. I assume it's not really worth saying which one exactly, there's bound to be some service quirk or something that will give it away if you're familiar with it. It's not the most glamorous or best paying work, but it's a step up in both pay and dignity from bagging groceries or crawling through the stock room. I'd even dare say I enjoy seeing how the pictures look before and after correction and retouching. But still, it remains within the domain of customer service, and as such, involves a fair amount of nonviolent human interaction- the most challenging form of interaction of all.

So, next time you have some film to drop off and would like to make a good impression on the low-paid drones behind the counter*, just have a gander at this brief list of helpful hints.

*If you need any extra incentive, making a good impression on the low-paid drones behind the counter lessens your chances of missing out on deals, your order being right to start with, or being singled out and made fun of on the internet.

Q: How long does one hour developing take?

A: JESUS. One hour. I was hoping you people would save this question for later... man, right off the bat and down my throat, huh? Want me to be frank? It takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to develop the film itself, then another five or ten minutes to run the negatives through to make the actual prints. IF we have the time to do them right away. However, that one-hour window is there to insure that we have time to help other customers use the self-service digital machines, fill out envelopes/learn how to read, and play cashier for people in too huge of a hurry to go through the express lanes or self-checkout. Also bear in mind that if you drop off an obscene amount of film, it's gonna take more than an hour. Six is about the maximum we can comfortably finish off.

Also also bear in mind that little saying about a watched pot never boiling. Leaning your 300-pound ass against the counter and watching us won't get the order done any sooner. It also tickles me fucking pink when people will write in their own time on the "Time Promised" blank. Why don't I go ahead and make my own alterations so your stuff comes back poster sized, with gilded edges?

Q: I don't have to fill one of these envelopes out for each roll, right?

A: Actually, you kind of do. Unless you really like losing things, getting the wrong order by mistake, or getting an envelope that's ripped wide open from holding the septuple-thick stack of prints therein. There's this little sticker with numbers you can see on your negatives, if you don't immediately pitch them thinking they're some kind of packing material. It's called a twin check, and before the film gets processed, we stick one sticker on the envelope, and its 'twin' on the film strip itself. It's hard enough to track those on a busy day, now imagine having to play envelope Bingo every time a roll of film finishes. In short; If we can spend an average of a half hour actually doing each roll, you can spare five seconds to scrawl your name on another envelope.

Also: In case you hadn't noticed, only one of those disposable cameras can actually uh, physically fit into an envelope, kthx

Q: Do you see everything on the film you print? Because there might be some stuff on there, and I don't really know what's on-

A: Yes.

I will see you naked.

I might make extra copies and show them to other employees so they too can laugh at the horror that is your body. Last week I saw a woman without a top on, but I was too busy being in awe of WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO HER STOMACH. Bad lipo? Cripes, she looked like she was collapsing in on herself like a dying star.

Q: Will I get in trouble for turning in nude photos?

A: I will answer this one seriously and spare someone out there a bit of awkwardness asking in person: For the most part, no. Now, if things start entering the realm of child pornography, bestiality, snuff, or other d/-worthy sorts of topics, we do have to report it. But we won't do anything if someone wants to take out of focus shots of their girlfriend bobbing for mushrooms with a disposable camera.

The customer mentioned above not only had such pictures done, she once brought back the negatives for reprints. I wonder if there's a niche market for horrifying, bloated chicks in the porn market or something.

The Mona Lisa of horrible nudes for the record, goes to a woman affectionately nicknamed Stumpgirl. Taken at a nudist camp, she's just... plopped onto a tree stump. With just Mardis Gras beads on. I thought nudists had entry exams or something.

Q: Why aren't my pictures here/ready?

A: There are many possibilities for this.

  1. You can't read and filled the envelope out in such a way that your film was sent out of store for special treatment. Solution: Wait a few more days, and pick up some aspiring for your wallet when your digitally remastered prints off of a 3-dollar disposable Fuji QuickSnap come back from the Kodak center in Indiana or wherever the hell they go. (Also, when the film leaves the store, it's completely out of our hands. So, know no matter how long you go on about it, our FedEx guy isn't going to suddenly walk in at that moment with a special, emergency shipment.)
  2. You're too early. Pay attention to the time the clerk gives you.
  3. Make sure you know the name on the roll(s) you're picking up. I cannot TELL you how many times some ass comes and gives us hell, threatening to call a manager because their friend dropped something off in their own name the night before in a drunken stupor. "Oh, wait? Did you check under someone else's name entirely yet?"
  4. It's already been picked up. It's amazing how often that's true too.
  5. We're just too damned busy. For example, when the entire eighth grade came back from a week-long field trip to Washington, D.C. the same evening that the high school had its prom. Mein gott.

Q: What do I need to get copies of pictures?

A: If you're made of money or careless enough to pitch the negatives, bring the print itself so we can scan it on the photo-quality picture maker at 4.99 a sheet. Otherwise, you're gonna need the negatives. Handle them carefully, for Christ's sake. Leave them in the plastic sleeves they came in if possible. Write down the NUMBERS of them instead of bringing in the prints you want then squinting at the negs in the store. In fact, if you have a huge elaborate reprinting order, pick out what you want at home. I know you love the extra attention and coddling you get hemming and hawing at the tiny numbers, but other people need to use that counter.

And, as I said before, if you have old photos or just plain lost the negatives, sorry, Jack. We're going to need to scan them through the PictureMaker for an additional charge. It's either pay 4.99 now, or about 1.99 per picture with a ten-day wait.

Apropros of nothing, I don't get scrapbooking. Then again, not many people get wonky Japanese games and cultural offal.

Q: How late are you open?

A: Obviously not speaking for every store in existence here, but we close at nine.

Q: Why won't you do my one hour film after eight?!

A: Because we can't guarantee anything if there's less than an hour to go. It's math. <1 hour= no 1 hour service. Some people enter a state of bitter denial at this. I had a woman track me down in the cafe, while I was on break, at about fifteen after eight to bitch at me about why I didn't do her son's film. It was for a school project, apparently one that wasn't important enough to not put off until the last, literal minute. We might squeeze a roll in if it's close, but that night I hadn't had a customer drop off in about an hour, and he was there about ten minutes after the machines were shut off.

Q: I've worked in these places and I know it only takes about a half hour to run this through!!

A: True. If nothing else is going on, and the MACHINES ARE ON. Warming them back up would take a half hour in itself, excluding the test chemistry strip that assures us your film won't be completely fucked by the computer being woken back up so suddenly.

Also, as a general rule of Customer Service, when you're demanding and harsh about something, you're more likely to be Pong'd between three or four different departments before finally being reassured you're not getting your special treatment. Be civil, no matter how pissed off you are. Or at least make sure you're bitching at the right person.

Q: Is this Customer Service?

A: Despite the placement of our counter, right up front by the doors, we are not the service desk, nor do we fulfill similar functions to them. You can't return rancid meat here, you can't buy lotto tickets, you can't cash checks/coin counter vouchers/money orders, you can't send a Western Union out, or buy stamps from us. We handle film and the occasional crappy pre-paid cell phone. And even those we generally have to send people out to the carrier's little outlet shops for whatever odd problems they come to us with. Such gems including:

Phones are really more trouble than they're worth. We offer a grand total of four phones, all on prepaid plans through a single company. Yet we get people coming to us with Cingular, TracPhone, etc questions. Phone companies are generally pretty loud advertisers. Take a moment and just look briefly at the counter, you'll see a sticker for howevermany damned carriers sell through that shop. Or failing that, as with our store, HUGE. BRIGHT. BANNERS from the company.

I don't mean to be a total jackass in writing this. It's mainly just venting some steam regarding some recurring annoyances. For the most part, both the clerk and customer's life is easier if they take a moment, read the price board, double check the envelope, and ask nicely if there are any questions not readily answerable. There's a big difference between that and someone blissfully unaware of tact and usually hygiene leaning across the counter demanding we read their mind to determine what they want.

And stop writing what our sales are on the envelope. Generally, as people who work there every day, we know what our own prices are. Thank you.