There are many times I have wanted to resort to violence while standing in line, waiting to be served in Vodafone; but in Beverly Hills’ AT & T phone shop, today a man really did threaten to come back and shoot everyone.
I was standing patiently, waiting to make my own complaint. It’s become something of a habit there. The first time I complained about my i-Phone, which I still think is the worst toy ever to have been produced. I swopped it for a Blackberry, but had to take that back, too, because the red message indicator didn’t light up.
I was supposed to have received a $100 rebate after buying the Blackberry, but when it never arrived I went back to complain. That was six weeks after the purchase. They told me to come back after eight, hence my presence in the shop.
The violent man, who must have been about 103, was quite well dressed, speaking with a German accent, and wearing a hearing-aid. He was also shouting very, very loudly. They had been happy enough to take his money, he screamed, but now they wouldn’t do anything to help him. Nein! (Okay, maybe I imagined that bit).
The female assistant was nonchalant, to say the least. She never even looked at him, didn’t seem to be listening and, as his voice escalated, just fingered his receipt.
Then she called the cops.
Oh, yes. They really don’t mess around in Beverly Hills. Apparently, if you ever want to get anyone off your back, you just have to say four words: “I’m calling the cops.” Not only is your botherer gone within the first five seconds, the cops arrive within the next five.
And there they were. Already outside. But my war criminal (naturally, I had built up a little story around him, in which I had made a citizen’s arrest on a Goebbels-type monster hiding in the Hollywood Hills) had fled.
The cops started asking the assistant questions, and by now I was at the front of the queue and able to eavesdrop. How old was he? She reckoned in his seventies; no, sixties, contradicted the male assistant. Weight? She reckoned 190 lbs. No, no, no, said the male: 160.
They were hopeless! Whereas I, who had been watching the whole scene, had taken in every single detail. As I would in the UK, I felt it my citizen’s duty to add my two penneth.
“Was he bigger than me?” the very plump cop asked.
Yes, said the assistant.
“No, no he wasn’t,” I chirruped. “He was actually quite slight . . . And nowhere near 160lbs even . . . And . . . “
“We’re askin’ them,” said the cop.
I was crestfallen. In the UK, the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker would, by now, all have gathered from neighbouring shops, each to give their own account of what they had heard (or not) or seen (definitely not).
En masse, we would have retired to a bar to mull over the details, united in citizen solidarity against the ever-increasing tide of violent crime.
Yet here I was, being told to keep my nose out: I, the only proper witness, who had taken in every single morsel of the man, and who, for goodness sake, as a writer, did this for a living.
The cops weren’t like this on CSI or Law and Order. Witnesses were forever stepping over barriers they had been told not to cross in order to fill the cops in on missing bits of information that might prove useful. Next thing, they were dating the cop they had spoken to, before being shot in the chest and dying, ensuring that the cop continued to live out the rest of his days in loneliness and misery. But I digress.
The assistant went on to say that the man had said he would come back and shoot a couple of people; then, that he would definitely come back and shoot her. What had been his complaint, the cops asked.
Wait for it: the phone his friend had bought the day before did not have Bluetooth and was incompatible with the equipment in his car. Oh, ye gods! Hand me that Magnum.
My own complaint took just five seconds, as I was handed a phone number to call about my rebate. “But I was told to come back to the store,” I tried, as a delaying tactic, hoping to chip in again with a bit more info.
“No, just call that number.”
I thought I had better apologise to the cops for what was clearly a breach of criminal etiquette. “I’m really sorry,” I said, “but I saw it all when nobody else was looking . . . “
“That’s fine, ma’am.”
They just weren’t getting it, were they?
“And he had a hearing aid in his right ear!” I whispered conspiratorially on my way out, just in case the man’s name, address and phone number in their hands was not enough to lead them directly to him.
“Hearing aid, right ear,” said my cop to his partner. Ha! Result.
To date, my only other brush with the law took place in the five star Beverly Wilshire Hotel, when I was witness to a local hooker throwing a dish of wasabi nuts (“That’s W-A-S-A-B-I”) at a man who had accused her of, er, being a hooker. Naturally, I had had a front row seat and saw everything. At this rate, I might soon have to ask for witness protection.
Or maybe not. Instinct tells me that next time, I should keep my gob shut and let the cops get on with their job. I just don’t envy the staff in Cardiff next time I visit my local Vodafone shop, as I’ve picked up a lot of tips to get myself to the front of the queue.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.