Temper Tantrum
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The Night Vesuvius Erupted at SSQQ
Written by Rick Archer, June 2002
Last update: July 2007

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This is the story of the night I suffered a complete meltdown at the studio.  I have always referred to this incident as my 'Vesuvius Moment'.

Two students, Roshan and Kathy, cornered me 30 minutes after their class had ended to ask for a Refund.  Their demand came at the exact moment I was about to begin an emergency private lesson.  Desperate to begin the private lesson, I was not in the most patient of moods. Nor did I think they deserved a refund.  But they refused to take 'no' for an answer.

What ensued was the most bitter argument I have ever had with a dance student. The argument did not become physical, but it was heated. At one point, Roshan and I were nose to nose in anger.

Eventually I gave in.  That private lesson was still waiting for me and I had to break the impasse.

But the Refund wasn't enough for Roshan.  Even though he had received a Refund he didn't deserve (in my opinion), now he wanted to exact a measure of revenge too.

That same night, Roshan wrote an incredibly damaging email about the incident and forwarded it to 50 SSQQ students.  This email was well-written, but (in my opinion) deeply biased. 

The email ended with the suggestion that everyone join Roshan in finding a new dance studio to attend. Roshan's email had the power to essentially gut my entire Country-Western program.  

It was the email equivalent of a live hand grenade.

What was I going to do about it?

THE STORY BEGINS

Sunday, April 30, 2000, was the first night of the May Dance Semester here at the studio. 

I had never met Roshan and Kathy before.  In fact, the first time I ever noticed them was at 9:10 pm that evening.  As I was to learn later, Roshan and Kathy had been at the studio that night to take Marty Shea's Ghost Town 5 from 7-9 pm.  In order to take Ghost Town, you had to complete at least four or five months of preliminary classes.  Although I did not know them, these two people were certainly no strangers to the studio.  They knew the drill at Practice Night.

The Sunday evening Practice Night had begun at 9:10 pm.  The reason I had my eye on this couple was that I was suspicious.  They had not bothered to pay for Practice Night  (back in those days, we used to charge for Practice Night.  Sunday Practice went from 9-11 pm. It cost $3 a person).   In fact, it looked to me like they were trying to avoid paying!

Those were the days before Hall Monitors.  That night I had my hands full with running my end of Practice Night.  I was both the DJ and the person responsible for collecting money.  I wasn't completely alone; while I collected money, Marty Shea was down in the Drink Room cooking popcorn.  

There were about 40 people milling about in Room 2 waiting for Practice Night to begin. Using the map for reference, I was standing at the door between Room 1 and Room 2. As the crowd approached me to give me their Practice Night money, something odd caught my eye. 40 people were moving into Room 1, but two people were moving in the opposite direction towards Room 3.

I stood by my post at the door to Room 1 for ten minutes.  From that vantage point, I had a limited view through the door into Room 3.  That wasn't good enough so I walked over and peeked.  Sure enough, Kathy and Roshan were dancing in Room 3.  They appeared to be practicing the Ghost Town moves they had learned that night in class.  When Marty Shea finished with the popcorn, they stopped dancing and began to chat with their instructor.

They were standing near the doorway so I could actually see all three people talk.  I had nothing else to do as I stood at my post so I continued to watch from a distance.  Marty seemed to be explaining something.  If I were to guess, Marty was giving them some free coaching on the side.

Marty appeared to be showing the couple what they were doing wrong on the pattern they had just learned in dance class that night.  I surmised that Roshan and Kathy had gotten confused on a move, so they stuck around to get some extra help from their teacher.  Judging from the smiles, Marty, Roshan and Kathy had bridged the teacher-student gap and were now friends.  I rolled my eyes at Marty.  I had specifically asked my Staff to refrain from teaching at Practice Night.  However this was too picayune a rule to actually bother to enforce and to this day I rarely say anything.  We are, after all, in the business of helping people. 

However I felt myself growing increasingly irritated at the couple because 20 minutes had passed and they still had not paid for Practice Night.  Time's up.  So at 9:30 I walked across Room 2 and entered Room 3.   I went up to Roshan and Kathy and asked for their Practice Night money.  They replied they said they were not going to stay.  Whenever someone says this, I back off.  It is my policy to give people five more minutes to make up their minds, then go ask them a second time.  So even though they had already been there for twenty minutes, I left the room without collecting money.

I never actually got around to asking Roshan and Kathy for their money a second time.  I now became preoccupied with an unexpected problem.

Besides my issue with Roshan and Kathy, once the Room 2 had cleared, I noticed there was a young couple - college age around 21 - sitting on the couch in Room 2.  I had never seen this couple before.  They seemed completely lost sitting their on the couch.  They were looking every which way.  Maybe they were waiting for a dance teacher and didn't know what they looked like.  That was probably it. I decided they were waiting for a teacher to give them a late Private Lesson.  Having identified them as harmless, my attention left the couple on the couch as I continued my duties of taking requests for certain songs and collecting money for Practice Night (people came late all the time, so I had to hold my post).

At 9:30 pm, Kathy and Roshan told me they were about to leave.  As I returned to Room 2 around 9:32, I noticed the young couple were still sitting there on the couch in Room 2.  By my estimate, they had been waiting close to half an hour.  They looked pretty worried about something and I had a pretty good idea what the problem was. So I approached them to ask if I could help.  As I had guessed, they were indeed at the studio waiting for a Private Lesson, but their SSQQ instructor had not shown up.

They were getting married in six days.  They ruefully admitted they had waited till the last minute to learn how to slow dance to the first song at their wedding.  They were in bind because they were leaving on a plane for their wedding in Michigan in the morning.  And yes, they had never danced in their lives.

No wonder they were worried!  Without help, they were up a creek without a paddle.  They were down to their last chance to prepare.  So I went into the office to call the instructor.  I got no answer.  I was frustrated because I knew the only instructor left at the studio who knew how to teach Slow Dancing was me.  Unless I wanted to be a complete jerk and ignore them, this couple had become my responsibility.  I was literally their Last Chance to be able to dance gracefully at their wedding.

I did not actually wish to teach them.  It was supposed to be my night to stay and dance with my students in Room 1 as I had promised.  But that wasn't going to happen if I had to teach a Wedding Lesson.  I was doubly upset because this same instructor had stood up some different students a week before.  As I listened to the phone ring continuously to no avail, I was already fuming to myself at being forced to clean up for the instructor's negligence.  Yeah, sometimes things like this happen, but I didn't have to like it.

THE OPENING SHOT

That's when I heard a knock on the door.  I said, "Come in".

Roshan and Kathy entered the office.  They said they were there to ask for a refund. They said they wanted their money back so they could use it to take Private Lessons from Marty instead. 

I looked at them incredulously.  Marty of course was the instructor who was their Ghost Town teacher and the same man who had been giving them extra coaching during Practice Night. 

No one had ever waited this long to ask for a Refund before.  There was one thing I was sure of - their reason for wanting their money back half an hour late evoked no sympathy.  

I was definitely caught off guard.  I just stared at them for a moment.  Meanwhile my mind was racing.  Marty was a friend of mine and I trusted him completely.  Although I never actually asked Marty for his side of the story, I doubted seriously he had a hand in this.  Marty couldn't have cared less about the money.  He was a medical researcher who taught dance lessons for the fun of it.  It was just a lark for him; I couldn't see this big friendly guy chasing down private lessons for any reason other than to be helpful.

I guessed this Refund idea was a spur of the moment decision. While Marty worked with them in Room 3, they realized they could learn faster and better from Marty one on one, so they decided to dump Group Lessons for Private Lessons.  In other words, they had changed their mind about the Group class.

Refunds are actually not very common at SSQQ.  Our statistics show that one person in two hundred asks for their money back.  Our system works like this - A student pays up front, takes the class and decides during their First Class whether they like it or not.  If they don't like their class, they go back to the Registration Desk, get their money back, then leave.  We don't argue with anyone, we don't make them feel bad and we don't play games. 

But once their first class is over, in our eyes they have committed to their class.  Refunds are out of the question.

This couple's first class was over half an hour ago.  It should have been cut and dry.  But what made this case unprecedented was they were the first happy customers in history to ask for their money back for a class they appreciated.

Refunds are requested by Unhappy Customers, not two people who had been laughing and smiling all night long!  For starters, they had obviously benefited from the class.  They had been practicing their moves all night long.  In fact, they liked the new patterns so much they hung around to try to perfect their moves with Marty's help. 

Nor did the irony of the unpaid Practice Night escape me - while they were busy avoiding paying for Practice Night, Marty was giving them a free lesson.  That's when they decided they liked Marty so much it would be more fun just to take the lesson directly from him and skip the Ghost Town class. 

So now they demanded a $60 Refund!  And I didn't want to give it to them.

WHY I RESISTED THEIR REQUEST

I realize that some businesses bend over backwards to cater to their customer's every whim, but that unfortunately has never been my style.

We are not like Macy's where we sell merchandise that can be returned.  How were Roshan and Kathy supposed to return two hours of dance patterns? 

The major problem for my particular business is that I sell a service that no one needs.  Dancing is fun, but it is not necessary to sustain life. 

Dancing is entertainment, plain and simple.  When something more entertaining comes along, people will drop social dancing without the slightest hesitation for the simple reason that it is expendable.

I have learned to live with people who change their minds.  What I will not do, however, is give back money every time someone changes their mind. 

If something more important comes along, then I say okay, I understand that you can't finish your class at this time.  When you are ready, come back and take the class at a later date.

People change their minds ALL THE TIME!  But every time they do, don't come to me and expect me to jump through hoops to accommodate them.  I understand that customer service is important, but there has to be a limit.

Somewhere along the line I decided my students had two hours to make up their mind. Once that class was over, I had the right to say they had committed to that class.  From that point on, if they changed their mind, they were not going to get their money back.

And now Kathy and Roshan had changed their mind.  But they weren't going to get their money back.  Their first class over.  They were too late.

 

GOT ME UNDER PRESSURE

As I hung up the phone to the missing dance instructor, I looked at the clock on the wall.  It said 9:40 pm. 

My memory of that moment was that I was already in a very bad mood.
  • I was exhausted.  My work day had started at 4 pm that afternoon. I had taught two classes and now it was my night to take of Practice Night too.
     
  • I was frustrated because one of my instructors had dropped the ball with the Wedding Couple. This was the second time this instructor had stood someone up.  I was tired of covering for this instructor's irresponsible behavior.
     
  • I was already angry at this Refund couple because they had loitered around the building for half an hour without paying.
     
  • I was deeply preoccupied with my need to get started with the Wedding Couple.  More than anything else, I was impatient with the Refund couple because I had something more important to do. The social worker side of me insisted I go rescue that young couple before they have a nervous breakdown. 
     
  •  Furthermore giving Refunds was not my job.  I was frustrated because the woman hired to handle Refund problems had left the studio over half an hour ago. Here was another headache to handle because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  
     
  •  Most of all, I was angry at this couple for asking for a Refund 30 minutes after their class ended. Not only did I think they had a lot of nerve, I hated being forced to waste my time and JUMP THROUGH HOOPS at their whim. But what choice did I have? 

ROUND ONE - THE BATTLE BEGINS IN THE OFFICE

I told Kathy and Roshan that a Refund was not called for in this situation. Their class was over; that was the cut-off for Refunds.  They replied that they disagreed.  Till now they had just poked their noses in. Now Roshan moved forward to block the office doorway.

I can read body language.  It was obvious he and Kathy were not leaving until they got what they wanted.

Well, I didn't want to argue.  I had a wedding lesson to get to. 

I was short. I said, ""C'mon guys, class ended 30 minutes ago. Furthermore I have a private lesson waiting for me. The woman who gives Refunds left a long time ago.  And I don't have time to argue." 

There was an exchange of words.  I could see this conversation was going nowhere. 
So I decided to try to end it without ending it... just walk away.  Before the conversation could develop any more momentum, I excused myself for a moment to go to the DJ booth to get my CD collection of Slow Music for the Wedding Couple.  Roshan didn't budge from the office door. 

So I stopped and looked him in the eye.  "Excuse me, I need to go to the DJ booth."  This time he yielded. 

Now that I had escaped the office trap, I went over to speak to the couple sitting on the couch in Room 2. 
I couldn't help but notice they were very worried. So I tried to reassure them.  "It doesn't look like the instructor is coming, so I will help you instead.  Excuse me a minute, I need to go get some music and I will be right back." 

As I walked away, I could see that Roshan and Kathy watched me like a hawk. By their crossed arms and their faces, I could tell they weren't going anywhere nor were they going to let me out of their sight. Who were these guys, anyway? 


While I was in the DJ booth, I had a chance to collect my thoughts.  I felt taken advantage of.  The Refund Policy was clear - ask for your money back before your first class is over or forget about it.  Their class had been over half an hour ago.  They had a lot of nerve!


Why had they waited so long!?  That thought kept racing through my mind. If they had simply asked for a Refund at the end of the class like EVERYONE ELSE HAD BEEN DOING FOR TWENTY YEARS, I had a lady sitting at the Front Desk waiting to process refunds.  They would have gotten their Refund automatically. 

Instead they wandered into Room 3 without paying for Practice Night.  I could just feel the anger rising as I returned to Room 2.  I knew I had a confrontation waiting for me back in Room 2. At the time I wondered why they felt so justified in their Refund request to stand their ground like that.  People don't fight that hard unless they are convinced their position is rock solid.  I could not come up with an answer to that question. All I knew was that I had no choice but to accept that they were deeply committed to their position.

As I walked back to face the music, I wondered, 'Who are these guys?'
 

ROUND TWO - THE ARGUMENT ESCALATES IN ROOM TWO

I was gone three minutes.  When I returned, Roshan and Kathy were there waiting for me and so was the Wedding Couple sitting on the couch 15 feet away. Immediately Kathy and Roshan made a beeline to intercept me so Round Two of the argument could start. 

"We want our money back and we aren't leaving till we get it."

"You should have asked for your Refund 30 minutes ago. Your class is over."

So right there in Room 2 we went back and forth. I could see the wedding couple looked distinctly uncomfortable at the sight of the three of us standing there arguing.  They looked at each other. What on earth had they gotten themselves into at this bizarre dance studio?

I did not appreciate this argument one bit.  I was definitely not in the mood to argue about a Refund for a class that had ended 30 minutes earlier. I impatiently explained that my Registrar had been there until 9:10 pm, but that she was gone now. That was the cutoff. They would either have to finish taking the class or convert their money into Credit to be used at a later date.

This is not what they wanted to hear. Roshan and Kathy weren't going to take "No" for an answer.  Roshan was a very big man, perhaps taller than I am. As I moved to go to the couple on the couch, he blocked my path. By running interference and stopping me, this allowed Kathy to continue to argue with me. 

When Kathy tired, then Roshan started to argue with me. The entire time this Wedding Couple was staring at me in horror.  I was fit to be tied!  Each time I finished answering one person, the other came at me with another point or argument. 

This two on one tag team stuff was wearing me down.

DEADLOCK

At the ten minute mark, I could feel my frustration escalating. There was no movement to this argument.  This disagreement was turning into a Royal Impasse. There was no end in sight. What was I going to do?

Do you ever ask yourself, "If I had to do it over again, what would I have done differently?" 

For the ensuing seven years, I honestly had never thought of any way out of this trap other than throw in the towel early and get on with it.  But then that isn't my nature, is it?  

As I typed an update to this story in 2007, it did occur to me to go get Marty to either intercede or at least stand by as a witness and a peace officer.  Why it took me seven years to think of this obvious solution is beyond me. I really could have used some back-up. 

Round and round we went.  I had already repeated every argument, but here we go again... they were 30 minutes late and the Registrar lady with the cash box had long since left the building.  Blah blah blah.

The more I listened to them argue, the more amazed I was at their persistence. I cannot even remember what their reasons were that I owed them the money.  Roshan and Kathy would not take 'no' for an answer.

It was simply all night long with these guys.  It really didn't matter what I said or they said... like a boxing match, they were going to let me keep exchanging punches until I wore out. They were willing to stand there wearing me down until they had their money. 

They were going to argue until I gave in.

On the other hand, I knew that every minute I stood there arguing with these Rice graduate students, in the back of my mind I knew I was keeping the Wedding Couple waiting.  My guilt was kicking in from the other side of my brain. I wanted to start their lesson because they were deeply worried.  Unfortunately my concern for them seriously undercut my position. 

On the other hand, Roshan and Kathy seemed to have nothing better to do... in fact I think they enjoyed taking turns messing with me.

But I didn't want to give in!!  I didn't think they were right.  Unfortunately a house divided is weak.  One side of me wanted to argue, the other side was impatient to help the Wedding Couple.  My lack of patience was working against me. I needed to end it quick.
 

ROUND THREE - THE KNOCKOUT PUNCH IN ROOM 6

Finally I seized on an idea - I remembered I had the Refund Rule in writing!  Why not show Roshan and Kathy the Refund Rule?  This might be my best chance to end this argument once and for all!

The Refund Rule was posted on the wall in Room 6, so we moved from Room 2 over to Room 6.

I pointed to the wall. "Ask for your Refund before you leave the building. Once you leave the Building, we will give you Credit, but not a Refund".

In the twenty years (1980-2000) this policy was posted, this Rule had always meant to ask for a Refund during class or as you were leaving class at the end of the night.  In other words, once your First Class is over, don't come back and expect a Refund after the fact. 

So for 20 years, that's how it had worked.  That's how it had worked, that is, until now.

Kathy read the sign and immediately began to smile.

Kathy said, "This sign says 'once you leave the building'. Well, what's your point, Rick?  We haven't left the building."

Roshan and Kathy had never seen this sign in their life.  They had no idea it was even there.  But once I led them right to it, it only took Kathy 15 seconds to make a mockery of it.

What?  I read the Rule myself. Then I read it again. 
Oh damn.  She was right!  Why hadn't I noticed that? 

The Rule wasn't supposed to mean that, but that's what it said.  I must have had some sort of blind spot. Even though I wrote it myself, that particular interpretation had never occurred to me to before. 
Nor had anyone else caught it either.

Why not?  For the simple reason that we had never had a happy customer ask for a Refund before.

For 20 years, people who wanted Refunds couldn't wait to get out of here!!  In all these years, we had never had someone stick around after class to have more fun, then suddenly decide to ask for a Refund.  How utterly and absolutely absurd. Our happy customers had always stayed happy. 

But there it was in black and white. Kathy had spotted a loophole even an Elephant could fit through.  I felt sick inside.  I had just read the writing on the wall, literally as well as figuratively. With the realization that I had probably lost this argument, that awful sick feeling grew.

I wasn't giving up yet. It ain't over till it's over.  I fumbled desperately for a comeback. 

I said the rule meant that once the class had ended, their chance to get a Refund had passed.  That's when the argument heated up past the point of no return. "You have got to be kidding.  You owe us a Refund!"

I stuck to my guns. I said the Rule means when your class is over and the Registrar goes home, you can turn your tuition into credit, but not a Refund.

Roshan and Kathy took turns shooting holes in this argument. 

Finally Roshan got fed up. He got up in my face.  We were toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball.  "I don't care what you say it means.  I can read.  It doesn't say, 'when your class is over.'  It says 'when you leave the building'!!  Why won't you honor your own words?  We aren't leaving this building until we have our money!"

I said he had better back off of me or I was calling the Bellaire Police.  Roshan took a half step back, but Kathy saw the opening.  She immediately got right in behind me. 

Kathy started needling me, "Rick, you aren't even good for your own word.  You are a greedy arrogant jerk who doesn't have the guts to admit when you're wrong.  You are just a hypocrite who pretends to care about his customers, but in reality just wants to hang on to every last ugly dime."

Crossfire. I was getting hit from both directions. That did it.  Roshan was in my face, Kathy was calling me a corrupt businessman, the Wedding Couple was looking scared out of their wits, and the Refund Policy on the wall had proven to be of no help.  There was no end in sight.  No one was coming to my aid and there was no way out.  I was finished.

I was so mad at them I could explode! I hated giving in to these two people!  But it looked hopeless.  They were getting stronger and my resolve was fading.

And to think they had won because I was too stupid to write my own Rules correctly.  That was the most bitter thought of all. To think I had lost this argument due to my own stupid mistake was more than my bruised and battered ego could handle at that point.

I had fought these two bullies to a standstill only to sabotage my own position.  The realization that I had been defeated by my own words was pretty hard for me to bear.

That's when I snapped.  A flash of anger came over me. I went Total Vesuvius -  I was red hot in an instant.

I had about two hundred dollars in my pocket collected from Practice Night. I grabbed the whole wad out of my pocket and threw it on the floor. "There's your damn money. Take it all. I don't give a damn!" 

Now there were one dollar bills scattered all over the floor. Kathy bent down to retrieve her share of the money, but Roshan told her to step back.

Roshan got right back in my face and said, "Now pick it up, Rick.  Pick up the money and count it out.  Count it out very carefully and give us the correct amount."

Seething with anger, I got down on my knees and collected the money off the floor.  Kathy left the room, but Roshan stood over me appreciating the moment. The symbolism of the conqueror standing above the vanquished was readily apparent. He had just kicked my ass.  Waves of humiliation rushed through my shaking body. With resignation, I counted the money and gave it to him. 

He accepted the money and left. It was not a pretty sight. But it is the truth.

PICKING UP THE PIECES

After Roshan and Kathy left, I gathered myself as best I could.  I could see there were a few people left in the building, but they gave me a wide berth.  I went into Room 2 to collect my Wedding Couple, but first I went to the office to take a deep breath.

When I came out a minute or two later, I wondered where everyone else had gone.  Where were the 40 Practice Night students?  Where was Marty?  That's when I figured out that most students from the Practice Night had left ASAP when I went into the office. 

I never saw any of them leave.  I had no idea how much my students had seen or what they thought, but maybe it was best that they left me alone to save face.  This fact that they had been there at all left me deeply embarrassed and depressed.

Certainly no one had rushed to my defense. I was the Solitary Man.  Well, not exactly.  There on the couch shrinking in horror was the Wedding Couple.

If you appreciate dark humor, just imagine what was running through their minds. 

They were alone with the mad man. 

Yup, we were the Left Behinds.  The three of us were alone in the building now, a fact that I am sure was not reassuring to the Wedding Couple at all.  This could be the dance studio equivalent of Bates Motel and I was Norman Bates.  I could stab them to death and no one was there to come to the rescue.  Maybe I should go get my Psycho wig.  I knew just where to find it...

If anything, the fact that the Wedding Couple was still there is powerful testimony to just how desperate they were.

To ease their minds, I suggested we to go Room 5.  This room had a huge window plus an exit door to the street.  Completely conscious of their fear, I deliberately avoided ever getting between them and the door.  Was this a fiasco or what?

Slowly but surely, they came to realize I wasn't a monster. The two of them stayed petrified of me for some time, but they eventually relaxed enough to learn what they had come for. I think at one point they even shared a laugh with me.

Sorry to say, they weren't fast learners either. But I was determined to see this through. We were there till Midnight. 

After I finished working with them, I refused to accept any money.  I told them my self-esteem needed a boost, so please accept my wedding gift.  They seemed to understand where I was coming from, so they left with a hand shake and a quick hug for the dancing ogre. 

No, they didn't run to their car in the empty parking lot. Out of morbid curiosity, I watched from the doorway.

My own ride home was a long one.


THE DAY AFTER VESUVIUS

The next morning I was greeted by Roshan's poison pen email.  Another student had forwarded it to me.

My anger from last night returned.  It wasn't enough for him to bully me into giving him a Refund he didn't deserve.  Nor was it enough for him to tower over me as I groveled at his feet picking up one dollar bills. Now Roshan intended to rub salt into the wounds and sabotage my business.

I took a deep breath and started to read.  The first thing I noticed was that he had sent this email less than an hour after he left the studio (he left around 9:50 pm. His email went out at 10:37 pm).
 

From: Kathy Rivera and Roshan K G
Sent: Sunday, April 30, 2000 10:37 PM
To: Tonia Bagley and 50 other SSQQ students
Subject: SSQQ Customers - Please Read - Thanks

Some of you may not know us, but I think we took Advanced Western Swing with most of you. Up until tonight we have enjoyed greatly our time at SSQQ. But an episode tonight changed our minds. We hope you will take the time to read what happened and rethink giving your business and hard-earned money to this man.

Kathy and I started to take Ghost Town 5 tonight (Sunday). We decided at the end of class that it was kind of crowded and that we wanted to take private lessons with Marty Shea instead of continuing the class. So, after class we went to talk to Marty to set up lessons and find out what we needed to do. Afterwards, we found Rick to try to get a refund on the Ghost Town class.

His behavior was outrageous. We found him in the office. Kathy explained to him that we decided we wanted to take private lessons and we were wondering how to get our money back for the Ghost Town class (as most of you know, the policy is that you cannot get your money back after the first night).

His FIRST response was to scream at us, "C'mon guys, class ended 30 minutes ago." He then said something about not having music and went into the party room. When he came back, he asked us "what our deal" was.

We then explained again, and Rick continued to yell. He finally took us to the front room (Room 6) where you pay and tried to read off the posted sign which says that you can not receive a refund after the first night. We explained to him that it was the first night. At this point, he started to yell at us and threatened to call the Bellaire Police. He continued to scream at us and finally ended up throwing all the money in his pocket on the floor after slamming his CD case on the table.

He finally counted out my refund and told Kathy to count her money from the money lying on the floor, all of this while screaming at the top of his lungs. He then went back to the office, and I went to talk to Marty.

Rick came back to me and started yelling things that I do not want to repeat in this letter, let alone things I would ever say to any one of my customers. I tried to look for Kathy on my way out, but Rick continued to yell at me. I found her outside in tears - she later mentioned that she had feared that Rick might strike her in his ridiculous and unnecessary rage.

I know many of you are faithful customers, but I would like you to reconsider the next time you open your wallet to this man. I know many of you were there, so you possibly already heard what happened. Anyway, we will miss taking classes with you all and with Marty and Kimberly, but there is no way that either one of us will give another penny to this man who could treat his customers so poorly. Kathy and I will be looking for another place to take lessons, so if you are interested in joining us, please let us know. You can email me at "xxxx@Rice.edu" or Kathy at "xyz@Rice.edu". Also if you want to ask me for more details about what happened please feel free to call me (Roshan) at xxx.xxx.xxxx.

Thanks for your time and sorry about this long email. We hope to hear from you.

Roshan and Kathy

 

STARING INTO THE ABYSS


I guess his poison pen email was the Rice Graduate Student equivalent of kicking sand in my face for good measure.  Kind of ruthless, actually.

I noticed that he had included the names and email addresses of 50 SSQQ Western dance students.  These people were the most experienced Western dancers at the studio, the 'Elite' if you wish. This Nifty Fifty was the Studio's Western In-Crowd of the day.  The ties that bound them extended weblike to practically every Western student we had.  Everyone knew someone.  If they sided with Roshan, the studio's vibrant Western program would be reduced to rubble.  Maybe we could save a few students taking Beginning Twostep, but that was about it.

This was the first time I had ever witnessed the power of the Internet first-hand.  Let me tell you, I was stunned.  As I pondered the ruinous implications of this email, it took my breath away!

I realized that with a few minutes of work at his typewriter and one little click of his mouse, Roshan had sent his letter flying to 50 of my top Western dancers.  If the Nifty Fifty in turn continued to forward the email, pretty soon news of my temper tantrum would be city-wide. Roshan wasn't content to get his money back and humiliate me in the process; he wanted to cripple my business.

Roshan was aiming for my jugular. 

Furthermore, Roshan wasn't playing fair.  He was playing fast and easy with the facts.

  • His dance class wasn't crowded. It was in Room One, our largest room.  Roshan was just trying to think of some face-saving excuse behind their ridiculous Refund demand.
     
  • Furthermore, my behavior was no more outrageous than his had been.

    Actually we kept it pretty clean.  There had been no fisticuffs or curse words other than my 'Damn' when I threw the money on the floor. Yes, we had both raised our voices, but I had never once balled up my fist or threatened to punch him. Nor did he.  Neither of us ever touched the other person. 

    But the confrontation was very aggressive.  Roshan had threatened me by getting right in my face.  Rather than push him away, I threatened to call the police if he didn't back off.

    All told, Roshan had physically blocked me twice and had got in my face twice.  He suggested that I had been aggressive - and yes, I was - but in reality he was even more aggressive.
     
  • Worst of all, Roshan had the nerve to tell 50 SSQQ students that Kathy had been in tears and in fear of being hurt by me. 

This guy had no conscience whatsoever.

But how was I going to prove that to my students?

I had no choice. I had to respond to my accuser.

MY RESPONSE

I knew I had caught an enormous break. For Roshan to post the email addresses of every person on his list was a huge mistake. 

Or maybe he did have a conscience - a guilty one. If so, his guilty conscience caused him to slip up.

This meant all I had to do was hit 'Reply' and my response would be sent to the Nifty Fifty as well as to Roshan and Kathy.

Once everyone saw there was another side to this story, they would be forced to think twice.  I had just caught a lifeline.

--------Original Message---------
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2000 11:41 AM
To: K Rivera, Roshan K G
Subject: I am sorry

Kathy and Roshan,

First of all I would like to say I am sorry I lost my temper last night. I was out of line.

There is no question about it - I snapped. I was so mad at you I could barely see straight. The reason I was angry with you was that I felt you clearly took advantage of my studio.

I don't think you were entitled to a Refund. I still don't. Class had ended 30 minutes earlier. The spirit of the rule is to make up your mind while class is in session or immediately afterwards. You came to my place of business, you took my class, and judging from the moves you were practicing after class, you appeared to appreciate what you learned.

You basically appeared to want something for nothing.

I might add, Roshan, I see you take liberties with facts. If you are going to do a hatchet job, you could at least invoke a sense of fair play.

For example, I see you have complained about the room being crowded as your reason for wanting your money back. Please. Your class was put in Room 1 - the biggest room we have. There was plenty of room. If you were so upset about the crowded conditions, why didn't you get your money back at Break? Or why didn't you come to the office after class was over? Instead you and Kathy stayed in Room 3 and practiced the moves from your class.

The truth is you only wanted your money back after you decided 30 minutes after class ended to switch to private lessons instead.

I felt taken advantage of.

I might add, Roshan, that I lost my temper when you ordered me to give you a refund whether I liked it or not. You got right in my face and told me you weren't leaving till I handed you your money. Yes, that is when I lost my temper. No one likes being pushed around, Roshan, especially not by a big guy like you. I threw the money on the floor instead of shoving you in the chest to get you to back off.

Then I picked the money up and you both got your refund. It wasn't pretty and I am not proud that I lost my temper at you.

Roshan, I am sorry I lost my temper. I have heard you are actually a nice guy. I am usually a nice guy too, but you were quite effective at getting under my skin. I might add you raised your voice too. Your advantage was that you had Kathy to calm you down plus continue the argument while you regained control. In sports that is known as "2 against 1".  Nice job of tag team wrestling.

Now Roshan, please spare the stuff about Kathy fearing I might strike her. You are again playing to the crowd. I never threatened her. It was you I was mad at and you know it.

Now that I have had my say, I would again like to apologize to both of you for getting as angry as I did. I agree I was over the line.

I would like to add that if you will forgive me, you are welcome at my studio any time. And if I ever do see you again, please allow me to shake your hands and tell you in person I am sorry for my poor behavior.

Rick Archer
 

OUT OF THE BLUE

One thing leads to another. By chance, in response to my rebuttal of the events, out of nowhere an angel of mercy appeared on my doorstep.

Kimberly Lopez had just finished her first night as a Volunteer in Marty Shea's Ghost Town class.  Kimberly also happened to be on Roshan's original Nifty Fifty Group Email List.

After Kimberly read my response to Roshan's letter, she decided to email me.

Here is what Kimberly had to say to me after she read my apology to Roshan and Kathy.

From: Kimberly Lopez
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2000 2:48 PM
To: "dance@ssqq.com"
Subject: I am sorry

Rick -

I had on my "To Do" list to butt-in and drop you an email about this incident.

Last night was the first time I had an opportunity to help out in Marty's class. The class was excellent so I am glad that Roshan and Kathy did not have any complaints about Marty's instruction.

I think your analysis about switching to privates is accurate. 
They should have asked earlier.  I can't imagine how many different personalities you must have to deal with at the studio, but I wouldn't worry too much about it!!

Kimberly Lopez


CONCLUSION

I had expected at least some damage, but to my surprise, there were no negative consequences or fall-out from the email hatchet job. 

Once I posted Kimberly's email, all the tension was diffused.  By siding with my version of the events, Kimberly's email had effectively put out the fire caused by my volcanic eruption.

I suppose sharing my side of the story plus my apology began to control the damage, but Kimberly's email put to rest any doubts. 

Public sentiment swung in my favor.  Yes, I had behaved poorly, but I was provoked.


Yes, I had lost my temper, but then Roshan and Kathy had no business asking for a Refund half an hour after the class was over either.
Furthermore, Roshan came off looking like a bully. Roshan liked to hit below the belt by playing footloose with the facts.

For example, remember poor Kathy, the tear-ridden damsel who cowered in fear lest I might strike her?   Let me jog your memory.

"I tried to look for Kathy on my way out, but Rick continued to yell at me. I found her outside in tears - she later mentioned that she had feared that Rick might strike her in his ridiculous and unnecessary rage."

A recent Internet search revealed that Kathy was a star rugby player at Rice.

"Rice Women's Rugby wins at Mardi Gras Tournament...  Freshmen wings Carrie Mills and Kathy Rivera scored their first tries of the season in the first half of the University of Florida game..."  February 14, 1997

Those rugby girls play rough!  I should know. I still have scars to prove it.

Lessons from this Story: 

Over the years, I have had two major battles over Refunds.  By coincidence, both of my formidable opponents have been Rice Graduate Students. 

Kathy and Roshan took me to school on my Refund Policy. Once in a while, Life decides to teach you a lesson by taking a 2 by 4 to your head.  They literally knocked me to the floor.  By the time I got off the ground, I had learned my lesson.

I immediately went about writing the rules better.  I posted an iron-clad policy for the entire world to see. 
Thanks to the legacy of Kathy and Roshan, I now have the Refund Rule posted on four walls at the studio, on every walk-in and on-line receipt, and plastered all over my web site.  In addition, I have at least a dozen articles explaining my position on Refunds. 

A few years later, the Universe sent me a new test.  This time I was ready.  I won the second encounter (Rice MBA Refund Struggle).  I have Kathy and Roshan to thank for that.

However, trust me when I say I really do not want a third battle.  I would never say 'never', but I will add that my vigilance on the subject of Refunds has reduced the arguments to a near trickle. 

Mostly, this incident remains as a painful, powerful nightmare in the back of my mind as the day I lost my self-control.  It is the day I learned how much damage my temper can do.

Yes, I rescued my business reputation, but the damage to my psyche didn't repair as easily.  Ever since, I have been very worried that I might lose control like that again. Like any ex-drinker who lives daily with the threat of alcohol, I know I always have to watch out for a temper that is very self-destructive.  It isn't fun knowing you have demons inside.

I never heard another word about the incident from anyone.  It was like it never happened. 

I wish it hadn't.

 

TWO INTERESTING FOOTNOTES TO THIS STORY

In July 2007, I wrote an eight-chapter article on ReputationWhile I was writing, I made two new discoveries related to my embarrassing temper tantrum.

The first discovery was a long-forgotten memory that I almost lost an important business connection over my temper tantrum.  A woman named Adriana was deeply concerned that maybe her travel agency shouldn't do business with me after all. 
Click here
to read this new angle. 

The second discovery was even more fascinating.  Back in the years 1997 through 2001, my studio was involved in a feud with an organization known as HSDS (Houston Swing Dance Society).   Sometimes things got every personal. 

During this five year span, I argued with my wife Judy on a continual basis on how best to effectively deal with the problems this organization caused us.  I was a hawk; she was a dove.

One day our most bitter rival sent us a letter that gave me the chance to bring the problems out in the open and perhaps turn the tide of publicity in our favor.  Instead my wife Judy absolutely refused to let me air the story in public.  That afternoon we had a knockdown, drag-out argument over which road to take. 

Afterwards, Judy wrote me an email which essentially said she was miserable and blamed me for the entire mess.  I was furious and depressed at the same time.  It was obvious my marriage was headed for the exit door (we separated six months later). 

By chance, I took another look at that letter while I was writing.  What do you know?  Judy sent me that letter on
Sunday, April 30, 2000  9:48 AM. 

That night I suffered the most embarrassing public loss of control in my entire life. 

Coincidence?  I think not.  I think this letter put me in a lot of pain long before Roshan and Kathy began to argue with me.   But when I went to write the story several years later, I had long forgotten this other incident which obviously had a deep effect on me.

(Read the story)
(
Read the letter)


 


Rick Archer's Note:  In July 2007, I included this story as part of a 7-chapter article on Reputation
If you have enjoyed reading this story, I have a strong hunch you would thoroughly enjoy the Essays on Reputation.

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