His Actions Were Far More Interesting Than His Story

, , , | Friendly | January 15, 2019

I am a committee member for a local writing group. The committee is fairly small, maybe 10 – 15 members including the chair and vice chair. We are all volunteers, so none of us get paid.

During our big annual writing competition, the committee pulls together to keep on top of the extra work it creates, including the influx of emails in the group inbox, as well as the general administration of the entries. We receive hundreds of entries every year so this is quite a hefty task, especially considering we all have day jobs and other various responsibilities to juggle as well.

Despite this, we usually have very few problems. One year, however, we had an entrant who was nothing but trouble. The day after emailing his entry, he contacted us, demanding to know why we hadn’t posted him a receipt to say we had received his story — all he got was an auto-reply email. For the record, all entrants receive an auto-reply. This acts as a receipt. The message in the auto-reply asks recipients to take it as such, and the website specifies this, too. That said, we’re always happy to respond to entrants who just want to double check or need extra reassurance.

Thinking this was such a case, I duly replied, assuring him that we had received his entry, and explained that we simply didn’t have the resources or manpower to offer personal receipt confirmations to every entrant. He replied almost immediately, threatening to withdraw his entry due to our “unprofessional behaviour.” According to him, email was unprofessional and lazy. How could he trust us to do our job right when we couldn’t even send a simple slip in the post?

I told him if he wanted to withdraw, that was fine; all he had to do was confirm and we would refund his entry fee, though I warned him he could only do so until the deadline. After that, he would no longer be entitled to a refund. I also explained we could only send confirmation by post if he provided us with a stamped self-addressed envelope. We’re a small, non-profit organisation, and small expenses like stamps can soon add up.

We didn’t hear anything more from him until the day of the results. He emailed us at four am demanding to know who had won. He pointed out that the website and social media pages said we would reveal the winners today, yet there was nothing on any of them.

I reminded him that the results would be announced today at 20:00 at our prize-giving gala, and then the results would be released online at 22:00. All of this information was available on our website and social media. I finished by inviting him to the gala, giving him the full details.

Unsatisfied with my answer, he continued to demand the results now. I knew he hadn’t won, but we were bound to secrecy until the official reveal at the gala. I couldn’t even hint that he had been unsuccessful. When I refused to tell him the results, he accused us of being a scam and threatened to report us. I didn’t have the patience to deal with him anymore, so I told him he was welcome to report us if he wished, knowing that even if he did, we had done everything by the book, so nothing would come of it.

Thankfully, he didn’t respond.

That evening, the gala went really well. Everyone had a great time. The winners were ecstatic, and those who didn’t win congratulated them graciously. Best of all, there was no sign of the difficult entrant.

The next morning, however, our inbox was full of emails from him, calling us scammers and shills. He claimed there was no way his entry could’ve lost, as he was a top graduate from [UK University known for its strong creative writing program] and had been published several times. He accused me of fiddling the results. As far as he was concerned, that was the only way his story could’ve lost. He demanded not only his entry fee back, but he also wanted the prize money that was “rightfully his,” as he put it.

This is when the committee chair stepped in. She told him she would not refund the entry fee because he didn’t win, that the results had not been tampered with or fixed, and that she most certainly would not give him any prize money. All entries were judged anonymously. The adjudicator had no idea who had written any of the stories submitted.

The entrant became nasty, hurling insults both at her and me – including questioning our competence due to our gender (we’re both female). The chair calmly wrote back and told him he was henceforth banned from future competitions.

The entrant then threatened to sue. This worried many of the committee members. A small non-profit like ourselves would struggle to afford legal action, but the chair dutifully wrote back, informing him he was free to seek legal advice if he wished. She assured him we would fully cooperate with his chosen legal representative, adding that we wouldn’t hesitate to provide ample evidence, including copies of the abusive emails he had sent.

In response, the entrant left several nasty reviews on various pages, claiming we had swindled him, were rude, unprofessional, and incompetent, as well as claiming we insulted him. He made up several fake accounts to make even more negative reviews.

We were worried this would impact future competitions. However, several members and entrants found out about this incident and immediately rallied to our defence, leaving shining reviews to combat his toxic ones. The following year, we received a record number of entries. Best of all, we didn’t hear from the entrant ever again.

Freebies Aren’t Free

, , , | Right | September 10, 2018

(I annually volunteer to run a shop for a charity when they have a stall at a country and outdoor fair. This isn’t by any means a ‘professional’ shop; the charity corporate sends items and prices and I set up the shop and basically watch that nothing gets stolen. The bulk of our stock is promotional leaflets and informative things, but also free badges, lanyards, magazines, and kid’s activity books. Most of the items we sell are also promotional or charity endorsed, such as bronze badges and DVDs. All of the funds go back to the charity. A family are milling around my table: a couple of kids, their mother, and their grandfather.)

Me: “Please feel free to help yourself to the things on that table. Would your kids like a badge each, perhaps?”

Guest: “Oh, great!”

(They gather round the table and help themselves, mostly to badges and kid’s activity books. I don’t mind the badges — corporate sent hundreds — but we don’t have that many kid’s activity books and I’m watching a good chunk of them disappear when I’ve still got a good two days of running the stall. But, I realise that I can’t really fault them because I told them to help themselves!)

Guest: *holding up lanyard* “Is this free, too?”

Me: *smiling, not knowing what else to say* “Yep!”

Guest: “Great.” *proceeds to pass one out to all her family members*

Daughter: *looking at the gilt lapel badges for sale* “Can I get one of these?”

Guest: “A pin!” *to me* “Oh, she wants to be like her granddad; he’s a [Charity] member!” *calling* “Grandad come look at this!”

Grandad: “Ah, I’ve got one like that!” *to Daughter* “Tell her that your granddad’s a member, and you get a discount!” *laughs*

Me: *smiling, knowing most of our customers are also members and HQ would have my skin if the money-box came back short* “That’ll be £4.60 for you today, please.”

Daughter: *gets the money out of her own pocket and is very polite* “Thanks!”

Me: “Thank you! Enjoy your day!”

(They leave, I restock my very depleted freebie table and think that’s that. They weren’t exactly the worst possible customers. Then, an hour or so later, the whole troupe spills back into the stall.)

Grandad: “She’s lost her badge. We were up at the archery.”

Me: “Oh… I’m sorry to hear that.”

Grandad: *tugging at the one I have pinned down on the table* “Yes, she wants another one.”

Me: “We still have several here under the table, I’ll just get you a new one.” *I do* “£4.60 please.”

Guest: “Didn’t you hear? She lost it.”

Me: “I understand; that’s very unfortunate. I’m really sorry, but I can’t give you a replacement for free.”

Grandad: *irate* “But she lost—”

Older Volunteer: “Is everything okay here?”

Grandad: *quickly thrusting a five pound note in my direction* “Fine, fine. The wee lassie here was just seeing if you’d any more badges in stock!”

Me: “And here’s your change. Thanks again!”

(They did leave for good after that, but not before taking another handful of lanyards and buttons!)

They’re All American Idiots

, , , , | Working | July 23, 2018

I just started a new voluntary job and am being shown around before going to talk to the manager about my application form; I missed a page by accident. While being shown around, I am introduced to the cashier, who seems like a nice old lady. She immediately begins questioning my accent.

I have autism, and my autism has given me a strong American accent, despite being English. I explain this as clearly as I can, and she nods happily, returning to work, so I go to the meeting without a second thought. I have this conversation a lot. It’s kind of sad how everyone asks the exact same questions, honestly

When I finish the meeting, I start working. After a while, the assistant manager walks over and asks why an American on holiday is volunteering.

The cashier told my new coworkers and any regulars in the store that I was an American on holiday and was saying I was English because I was embarrassed about my “American heritage.”

I have no memory of what followed, since I think I had a minor meltdown, but apparently the manager ended up having a “long talk” with the cashier and bought me chocolates as an apology, and the assistant manager set it up so I was working as far away from the cashier as possible.

Regulars still don’t believe me when I explain I’m English and reassure me I have nothing to be ashamed of.

No So Street(sign) Smart

, , , , , , , | Legal | June 28, 2018

(My husband works for a volunteer organization that builds homes for people in need. They have a lot of problems with a neighbor who doesn’t want any of their trucks parked — legally — on the public street in front of his house. Despite the fact that he has a long driveway and a garage, he has somehow found a way to put up “No Parking” signs on his side of the street AND the opposite side of the street.)

Volunteer: “Wow, that was a long walk! I had to park all the way down the block and walk here.”

Husband: “Yeah… The neighbor across the street put up these ‘No Parking’ signs, so we are trying to work around it, even though we have to lug all of this construction equipment down the street.”

Volunteer: “Seriously?” *she inspects a sign, and makes a quick phone call* “These are not regulation signs.”

Husband: “What?”

Volunteer: “I work for the county office. The city has to put those up, and there is no record a ‘No Parking’ sign on this street.”

(She then proceeds to call the non-emergency police phone number, and by lunch an officer comes by to write him a ticket and to take the signs down.)

Neighbor: “I don’t want to look at those f****** trucks all day! You can’t make me take my signs down!”

Officer: “Sir, you can either take the signs down, or I can take them down and take you to the station.”

(Eventually, the neighbor took the signs down, glaring at the volunteers the whole time. I feel sorry for the family that will eventually have to put up with this guy!)

Katrina Ain’t Got Nothing On Me

, , , , | Hopeless | June 27, 2018

(I’m volunteering in a shelter after Hurricane Katrina. One of the residents is a frail, elderly woman; she is all alone and possibly suffering from dementia. She is barely able to tell the medical staff her name, and any paperwork and records were lost when she was evacuated a second time — before Hurricane Rita hit, many shelters housing Katrina evacuees were moved because they were in the path of the second hurricane. I just happen to be getting a cup of coffee in the staff room when the medical officer is lamenting to the shelter manager that they are getting nowhere trying to find her family.)

Me: “Are you talking about Mrs. [Common Last Name]?”

Doctor: “Yes. Nobody seems to know anything about her except that another resident thinks she may be from [Mid-Sized Town on the coast].”

(Like me, the doctor is from a major city, but I now live in a fairly rural area. I have an idea and Google [Mid-Sized Town]’s City Hall. The receptionist at City Hall doesn’t know our lost lady, but she gives me the number to the local senior services office. The woman who answers the phone there almost screams when I tell her my errand.)

Woman: “You have Mrs. [Common Last Name]? My Lord, her son is frantic! She’s been missing for almost two weeks!”

Doctor: *somewhat later* “What an incredible piece of luck, that woman knowing Mrs. [Common Last Name]. What if she hadn’t?”

Me: “Then I would have started calling every single church in [Mid-Sized Town] until I found someone who did.”

(I’m not exactly Sherlock Holmes; you just have to know where to look.)

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