If anyone has ever had the displeasure of working at a place that ends in “Mart,” then they know that the minute you accept the job offer, you cease to be human. Or at least that’s how you’re treated.
I forfeited my humanity card two years ago on a desperate day in August. Since then, the past 720 plus days have been scored by a monotonous retail soundtrack. In any given work day, I hear the same obscure early nineties pop stars caterwauling through the shoddy speaker system. Perhaps Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch or Bananarama resembled relevance in their day, but they have since climbed inside of that good witch’s bubble from the Wizard of Oz, (you know, before the full-size cheery woman in head to toe glitter was hatched), pressed rewind, and effectively floated back to the strange land they came from.
Yes, I’ve got the retail blues, but so would you if you had a junkie boss whose drug of choice is making female employees cry and emasculating the men. But, if you are one of the Chosen—the few and seldom favorites—you can expect to be initiated into the exciting world of employee benefits including plenty of sports-based banter and misogynistic inside jokes in the break room. I was never one for football, or women bashing, so on my 15 minute break from customer abuse, I politely glue my eyes to the T.V., if it’s not blaring Dr. Phil or soap operas, or to my homework, which, let’s face it, is really my ticket out of there. Most of the time, I am lucky to read a full sentence before Dwane waddles in, pigeon-toed and bald, squawking about the “towelheads” who are taking his job. He happens to look like the slow love-child of John C. Reilly and Jim Gaffigan, and is one of a select few racist douchebags whose catchphrase is still, “You da man.” I avoid him like Frogger dodges trucks.
The worst facet of this dusty, cracked up and out diamond, is the one which reflects the scowling, accusing, and drooling ruddy face of the customer. There’s this idea that they are always right, but this is kind of like saying there is a kleptomaniac bunny who steals pastel eggs on a certain dewy morning in April. Nevertheless, just as you would tell a child that invisible, mythic creatures roam the earth, so would you tell the customer that he or she is eternally, infallibly correct. Each type likes to think that it holds more importance and worth than the employee. Types you say? Why let me enlighten you, so you can play What type of Customer am I?
First, we have the rude family unit which includes kids with dirty faces and unwashed hair, spilling the Code Red Mountain Dew from their bottles onto the floor. And that Spill Magic clean-up kit makes it look like powdered cottage cheese, which the toddler thinks is a portable sand box. The mom and dad look like they just came out of a meat grinder, and they choose to place all their stress on you, the cashier with too many questions. Not only do you have them yelling at you, but you also get to listen to their chubby older son in a striped Pugsly Addams shirt, kicking, cussing and screaming for a sucker. On the upside, however, you get to watch them grow completely stumped and disoriented by the door that doesn’t open automatically. They stand there for five seconds, dumbly staring down this mysterious blockade that isn’t opening. Then you can gently, sweetly tell them: “You have to push.”
Next are the Sunday Mornin’ Holy Rollers, which ironically are always a rough crowd. Old ladies in their button down floral dresses who have sat too long on hard pews producing pantyhose wedgies, and their suited up, tied down husbands looking grim as ever walk in on the war path. Why the long face, pray tell? I wouldn’t want to shake their hands in that “peace be with you” germ spreading frenzy, just because they might break it off. One couple was even convinced that I had a personal vendetta against them and had deliberately overcharged them for a 12 pack of Root Beer. They said I needed to learn how to practice charity. I thought they needed to practice reading signs.
Finally and worst of all, are the off-the-clockers, who storm in around five o’clock and funnel their pent up rage into a massive cyclone that rips through the aisles, destroying all in its path. I watch them coming and know I should take shelter immediately, but I must face the eye of the disaster. It’s a primal cry of “ME! ME! ME! I WAS NEXT IN LINE!” as they argue about battery prices and customer service. They don’t understand that I’m the only one who is scheduled to run a register for the night, and I’m not an octopus. I work as fast as I can, yet I’m still reminded by the high-powered career woman who sneers and smacks her lips when she spits, “I’m a professional. This is the worst place in the world to come to. No one around here does their job. I’m a professional. A pro-fes-sion-al!” Apologies don’t appease these people, and neither do sympathies. When you work in a store, people take this as a free pass to treat you like crap.
The other day when I was using the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is what we call the toilet in the middle stall of the women’s bathroom (it really does need to be fixed), I noticed the ancient wallpaper border that runs along the top part of the wall. Amid patchwork Americana scarecrows and sunflowers are the words: “Bloom where you are planted.” Even the bathroom with its chipped walls the color of booger couture, acknowledges that working here is a shitty drag. Whoever chose that border was way too perky and whistling “on-the-bright-side-of-life” while they worked, or they just wanted to scrawl a mocking message for future workers. I bet they’re laughing it up, wherever they are, in heaving triumphant yucks. I just hope the sharp pin on their name badge doesn’t stab them through the empty chest cavity where their heart should be.
(Kelsie Evelsizor / email@example.com)