A fellow musician and I years ago were talking about a colleague who was a truly gifted pianist; great technique, beautiful tone, tremendous sensitivity. Great player, no question about it. He was also - not to put too fine a point on it - a jerk of truly epic proportions. After philosophizing for a while on how these two seemingly contradictory states of being could co-exist in the same human, my friend hit the nail on the head when she said, "The real problem is, you want to LIKE a good pianist."
That was exactly the dichotomy we faced as musicians: we recognized talents that we admired in him, and spent years of our lives devoted to cultivating in ourselves. We did this in large part to become better artists, but a small part of us also believed that this made us better people, too, I think. To see these precious abilities resident in someone to us seemed so dispicable rankled because, frankly, we took it sort of personally. He was letting down the side.
I thought long and hard about whether or not to tell you this, but friends, I'm feeling the same way about the older, larger of my two LYSs (Local Yarn Store, to the unknitterly reader *cough Dad cough*).
It's a good LYS (which shall remain unnamed), and I've been going there since the day I bought my first giant needles and bulky acrylic for my first project almost ten years ago. I took my first and only knitting class there (where my first-lace-project induced profanity was tolerated with relatively good humour, considering), I learned how to do a long-tail cast-on standing at the checkout counter, I was on a first name basis with several of the staff after the many hours spent there on fairly regular Saturday visits. The store has survived the slings and arrows of the big box stores that wiped out pretty much every other little place in town. They have responded to my polite requests (a.k.a. regular begging and offering of theoretical first-borns) for more sock yarn, bringing in a wider variety of fibres and even the work of some indie dyers. They stock a good variety of the standard workhorses, and have gradually phased out the novelty yarn. Best of all, they've recently become a co-op run entirely by women, some of whom are even of the new-generation-of-tattooed-young-knitter variety, and moved into a storefront right downtown. I love and respect all of these things, and have really, really done my best to support them. I want them to succeed for all of these reasons, I sincerely do.
But here's the thing.
I was there a couple of weeks ago with my knitting friend Miss K. They were having a lovely, brazen sidewalk sale - freaking out the muggles with baskets of yarn on the sidewalks, pierced attendants, balloons, and public displays of knitting and crochet on the patio. Miss K and I planned our whole day around the sale, going for a leisurely breakfast before and planning a run to the farmer's market after.
While the baskets outside were not my favourites, we headed inside undaunted, credit cards at the ready.
I hadn't yet found anything that called to me, but this is not unusual: a yarn store trip for me usually falls either at the "Actually, I have some really good stuff in my stash" or the "credit card melting through my wallet" end of the continuum, rarely anywhere in between.
The problem came because of that leisurely breakfast. Having just consumed in the neighborhood of 17 cups of coffee and being the owner of a newt-sized bladder, I approached one of the staff (the one who taught that knitting class), addressed her by name, and asked her where the washrooms were in the new store.
She barely even bothered to turn around to address at the likes of me when she said "There isn't a public one. Maybe try Dairy Queen next door, I dunno."
"Public one"?! "try the Dairy Queen"?!
I didn't realize that up until that moment, that very moment, I had never felt like "the public" in that store. I felt welcomed, I felt at home, I felt like a member, like one of the Company of Knitters. It was my LYS, a place where I sent many friends and newbie knitters, a place I planned my Saturdays around, a place where they knew who I was and cared about what I wanted (the fact that I'm fairly sure my sock habit and referrals put someone's child through dentistry school notwithstanding). I wasn't "a customer", I was... well, just another knitter, I guess, one like them, that we were all part of the same team. Until that moment, I felt like a friend.
I get that it's a business, I get that this was one incident in a long customer-service relationship, I totally get that I'm being over-sensitive, that she might have been having a bad day. But it's amazing how that one moment of impersonal treatment from someone I've known for so long changed how I feel about my relationship with this store.
I'll get over it, but this year, I'm pretty sure I'll be buying my Christmas knitting yarn down the street. Where I don't just have to want to like them because of their beautiful yarns, but because of who they are. I like them too, I'm just sad about the other.