What Does It Mean?

It was mid-afternoon and the store wasn’t all that busy. John stood at the customer service desk doing nothing. I’m not sure how the male cashiers manage it, but they do. They actually stand at the Angerdesk their entire shift and do as little as possible.

But I digress.

A customer, a man in his mid-forties, came to the check out counter, to ask a favor. “My son is roaming around here somewhere and we need to go. Would you page him for me?”

“Sure,” John said. “What’s his name?”

“Cedric.”

As John picked up the phone to page the young man, the customer turned around and started yelling his son’s name. “CEDRIC! CEDRIC!”

John stood stock still, telephone in hand . Didn’t this guy just ask him to page his son? 

Out of nowhere, the son showed up. The man thanked John and left.

John, on the other hand, was pretty sure he had just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

It’s close encounters like this that suck every bit of humanity out of a retail employee. You’re left to wonder if anybody has even the least bit of sanity.

Here’s another example. A woman told John she wanted to buy some paper towels. John pointed to the plethora of paper towels for the woman to choose from. There was a huge sign that had the price listed.

She picked out the MM brand, which had the barcode on it; no actual price tag. “I want these paper towels but I want it to have a price tag on it.”

“Oh,” John said, a bit stumped.

“Yes,” she said. “If it has the price tag on it, it’s lucky.” Well, that was the last thing John expected to hear. “Just when you think you’ve heard it all,” he says, “Somebody manages to up the ante.”

John, to his credit, kept his cool and walked over to the ticket machine and printed a price tag for the paper towels.

In the meantime, the woman was trying to run her credit card and complaining it wouldn’t work. John, who is not usually at a loss for words, kept a tight lip.

Can you blame him?

Old Blue Eyes

Frank was a sweet old man in a wheelchair. He had eyes so blue and sparkly that they took you in to far away places.

Love. Romantic Couple Relationship. Closeup Of Handsome Man Making Proposal Of Marriage To Beautiful Woman With Engagement Diamond Ring In Luxury Gourmet Restaurant. Wedding, Romance Concept.

I really liked the guy. He would come into Markdown Mania very regularly. It was my understanding that Frank could walk, but in the store he used a motorized wheelchair.

On the back of the chair he had a cloth shopping bag attached. Every time he would buy something, I would place it in his bag and wish him a good day.

Somewhere along the way, I struck up a conversation with Frank. We would tease each other and his eyes would light up. I felt like I was a better person because I was doing something nice for another human being.

Frank told me about his past. Among other things, he worked at an auto race track. In a low voice, he told me there had been a problem with a woman and her husband. The woman ran around on her husband a lot. Of course, the husband was furious.

According to Frank, the woman intimated that she had slept with Frank. According to him, that was a bald faced lie.

I liked listening to his stories. I’ve always enjoyed hearing about other people’s past, the different jobs they’ve had, their love lives, and so on.

I guess I’m a bit of a voyeur in that way.

Frank and I got to be friendly with each other. Every time he checked out, he’d say, “Now don’t go foolin’ around on me.”

Then one day, I was working in the food section and Frank rolled up to me and we started chatting. The next thing I know, he says this. “Would you sleep with me?”

Continue reading Old Blue Eyes

If They Built It, You Will Put It In My Subaru

PreachyIf there was anything that would make me quit this job,” Sandra said, huffing and puffing. “This is it.” We were working the evening shift, wedging our way through a maze of stacked, boxed furniture in the back room.

A lady had just bought some patio furniture and expected it to be delivered to her car now. The fact that neither Sandra nor I could lift that box of cheap furniture was completely beside the point.

“Here it is,” I said, tugging at the box. “How are we going to get it on the cart?”

Cheap furniture is heavy furniture. Seriously, it’s amazing how heavy pressboard is. It’s like dead weight on steroids.

We finally figured out how to slide that sucker onto the cart without breaking any bones or losing our religion. Heaving a collective sigh of relief, I took the helm and we began to roll the cart out of the back room and to the front of the store.

That’s when I noticed it was raining outside. I don’t mean a drizzle, either. We’re talking sheets of the stuff coming down hard and fast.

“Oh my God!” I blurted without thinking. “It’s pouring!” And that’s how you know I’m an idiot. The customer was standing near the checkout and heard my heartfelt lament. She immediately stiffened. “Well, I deserve to get my furniture even if it is raining,” she said.

Jesus. 

Another cashier, Jenny, spoke up. “Ma’am, we want you to have your furniture. We’re just concerned about getting it wet.” (Thank you, Jenny, for saving my ass.)

The woman relaxed a bit and we continued our march toward the store’s entrance. The automatic door obliged and we stood on the precipice of a brave new world. Three cashiers fully expecting to see Jonah swimming by, three cashiers contemplating the fate of their hair and mascara.

We rolled that boxed cheap ass furniture out onto the roof-covered sidewalk. The box was at least 45” wide. But what vehicle do we see waiting to take this beast home? A Subaru. No joke.

We all thought it but it was the idiot that finally said it. “I don’t know if this will go in that hatch.”

To show us that she wasn’t above the rest of us, the lady deliberately stood in the night rain. “Well, I don’t have any other vehicle,” she said, rain pummeling her much the way I wanted to. “And I deserve to get my furniture. I paid for it.”

Man, what a whiner. 

Quick thinking Jenny spoke up again and said, “Ma’am, we want you to have your furniture. Now if you want, we could take it out of the box but then the furniture would get wet.”

The woman thought about that and said, “Well, just try to get it into my car.” So we did. The three of us stood in the pouring rain and tried to fit a 45” wide piece of furniture into a hatch that was about 40” wide.

“I don’t think we can bend the laws of physics,” I muttered. And we put that sucker back on the cart.

The woman was heartbroken. Jenny suggested she get a truck from a relative. We would keep her furniture here at the store and she could pick it up tomorrow.

She had no choice but to concede and left. But Jenny was fuming. “She was completely unreasonable!” And “What did she expect us to do?”

“Mercury’s in retrograde,” I said.

“Somebody told me about that yesterday,” Jenny said. She got on her phone and googled it, listing off all the problems that this particular alignment of planets caused.

The chief among them? People get a bit testy and unreasonable.

Check.

Customer Service

It’s often been said that effective marketing is all about getting into the head of your customer. At Markdown Mania, the employees don’t give a damn about that.

Ears PluggedWe’re under paid and under appreciated. We stand on linoleum covered concrete floors for 4-7 hours per shift. We’re paid to take the customer’s money, and to take their shit, within reason.

This ain’t no luxury limo service.

No, the employees at MM are there for one thing, the piddly paycheck. Yes, we’ll smile and grovel as much as we can stand. But make no mistake. The company doesn’t care about us. They know we are expendable. In fact, they make sure we stay that way.

Only a very few stick around for the long haul. The rest of us either just get tired or we lose our rose-colored glasses and realize that this is always going to be a shit job.

So I guess Doris’s attitude should really come as no big surprise.

It was 11 a.m. on a weekday. Doris stood at the customer service desk, tapping her perfectly manicured acrylic nails on the glass counter top.

This week her nails are decorated with watermelons. Her mouth, however, is pursed like a lemon, and she’s looking out the store front window at Markdown Mania’s rugged parking lot. (It hasn’t been re-surfaced in years.)

Her nail tapping is dangerously rhythmical. It reminded me of a cat stalking her prey. There wasn’t much action in the store that morning, but there was plenty of turmoil in Doris’s head.

Still boring holes in the store front windows, she says,”Let me tell you something.” Her smoker’s voice is deep and she’s got Baptist fire in her eyes. “At 9 o’clock this morning, there were people waiting in the parking lot to get into this store.”

Doris paused for an effect that I didn’t feel.

It was true. People had been waiting at 9 a.m. to get into the store. Nothing unusual about that. What was so vile about it?

Doris’s mouth pruned up a bit more, her judgment forthcoming. And then there it was, like an A bomb. “What in God’s name could be so important that they had to here at 9 a.m.?”

I didn’t think Doris’s mouth could take much more. But she drives a hard bargain. Doris sucked in her judgment and held it in her deflated cheeks, as her lips looked like a fish bobbing for air.

Doris suddenly shifted her stance, her fish mouth opening and her smoker’s voice made its pronouncement. “Then I checked those same people out,” she growled. “And let me tell you, there wasn’t a goddam thing that they bought that was a matter of life and death.”

She clicked her watermelon nails again on the glass counter top for emphasis. “Now you tell me why it was so important to those people that they HAD to be here when the store opened.”

I didn’t have an answer for Doris. Instead, I shook my head, wondering about the mystery of it all.

Meet The Manager

Meet The Manager

Sleazy salesman pointingOkay, so there are three women in management. But then there’s the store manager, Darryl.  Also known as Darryl the Dick. And sometimes known as DARRYL THE DICK.

You’ll see why in a minute.

Pencil thin, 40-ish with black-rimmed glasses, Darryl has a comeback for everything. “I’ve worked in retail a long time. I‘ve got an answer for anything the customer asks,” he tells me with as much of a swagger as he can manage.

What he means is he’s got an answer for every disappointed, agitated or disgruntled customer who wants to blame him for FILL IN THE BLANK. And, you know, that’s fine. You need a bit of armor to work with the public.

The problem is it’s Darryl’s only strategy for working with anybody. True to his high functioning sociopathic personality, Darryl sees himself as the luxury limo of sales. He thinks he’s smooth, personable, and yes, even funny.

The truth is way scarier.

He’s actually very passive aggressive. And he never praises his employees. If he sees two of us talking, he walks right over and inserts himself into the conversation physically. Never says a word. He just stands there and gloats.

It’s his way of telling us, Get back to work. Now please understand, we’re standing at the customer service station. Or one of us is leaving and the other is starting our shift. We’re just saying a few words before parting.

But for Darryl the Dick, it’s an opportunity. He lets his staff know that he’s watching, that he’s in charge. And, by God, he’s not going to take any shenanigans. Except that he does.

A heavy smoker, if you can’t find him, just go look outside. You’ll find him at either end of the sidewalk, sucking in smoke and talking on the phone.

Darryl the Dick becomes DARRYL THE DICK when he belittles and blames a minimum wage employee for something that was actually his fault. Or, when the employee isn’t observant enough to notice that the store has moved inventory yet again to another part of the building.

Darryl the Dick doesn’t really see anyone beside himself. The world ends at the tip of his nose.

I asked him if the store was going to give Maggie, who was pregnant at the time with her first child, a baby gift.

“Probably not,” he said. “I wouldn’t know what to get her.”

And that’s Darryl in a nutshell.

As much as Darryl pretends to be in charge, he’s the most out of control person I know. By his own admission, he’s terrified of confrontation. That makes it hard to manage employees and run a store, which is why the store reflects Darryl’s own personal life.

It’s a wreck.

 

Meet The Players

Sassy

picture of businesswoman in chair over white

There’s a fine line between hyper and productive, and Sassy crosses that line every. single. day. She started working at Markdown Mania when she was 15. Now she’s 31. “I had to get a work permit,” she says proudly.

Markdown Mania is her life. Now in management, she knows the store inside out and upside down. But she takes ink pens from the customer service desk and never returns them. She spills a gallon of milk in the refrigerator and refuses to clean it up so it curdles into a huge mess.

She starts an employee on one task, then moves them to another task, then moves them to yet another. It’s exhausting.

Short in stature with long brown hair is a grave yard of split ends, Sassy wears her hair in a ponytail. Her hygiene is seriously questionable but her dedication isn’t. “I’m so overwhelmed,” she says shifting her weight from one worn out sneaker to the other, her eyes darting ferret-like from corner to corner.

“But that’s okay. I’m always overwhelmed.” Kind and generally easy to work with, Sassy gives her staff a lot of room. She knows everything about everything at Markdown Mania, and is damn proud she does. She’d never admit it but she loves this store and wants it do well. Hampered by a bad case of ADD, very poor hygiene, and hair that looks like it’s been plugged into an electrical socket, Sassy has reached the pinnacle of her career at $13.00 per hour.

That girl can lift some serious weight, though. “Oh,” she says offhandedly, “it comes from working here for 15 years.”  Then she heads to the stock room to find whatever it is she lost.

 

Maggie

cowboy boots2Maggie is one of the calmest people at Markdown Mania. Unlike Sassy, who’s in constant motion, Maggie isn’t. She’s short, too, and in her mid-thirties. Maggie got pregnant last year unexpectedly because birth control’s not in her vocabulary. She was delighted and couldn’t wait for her baby to arrive.

When he did, all she could talk about was having another baby, even though her redneck husband was freaking out over the bills. Seven months later, Maggie’s pregnant again and delighted. Apparently, once her husband got over the shock (“Well,” she told him, “you could have done something to prevent it.”), he’s feeling very male because he knocked up his wife again so soon.

Maggie’s a Southern girl. She’s all about the Confederate flag and if she’s not careful, her prejudice towards African Americans shows through.

Working with Maggie is usually pretty laid back. If ever I make a mistake, there’s never a cross word; she simply re-directs.

A great teacher, it’s easy to feel comfortable around her and to come clean on a mistake you’ve made because you know Maggie isn’t going to bust your balls. “I learned a long time ago that there’s not much that’s really cause for getting upset,” she says. Take heed, Corporate America. You could learn a few things from this woman.

Maggie gives you room to grow without suffocating or hanging you out to dry. It’s liberating and fun. You know you can relax, do your job, and work your ass off for her because she’s a kind person.

There’s not a lot of that in retail.

 

Doris

A grandmother shouting into a megaphone.

All the employees at Markdown Mania are part-time. (That way the company doesn’t have to pay us benefits.) Doris spent years working for Corporate America before her retirement. Now in her mid-sixties, she’s worked at Markdown Mania for several years.

Sharp as a tack, Doris is the resident curmudgeon. Built like a badger, she’s got a mild widow’s hump. Her face is heavily lined and you know why as soon as she opens her mouth.

Her voice sounds like a tractor trailer barreling down over a heavily graveled road. Yeah, cigarette smoker.

Her brown eyes tell you in no uncertain terms, “Don’t ask me cause I’m not going to tell you a goddam thing.” And nobody does. When I first started working there, I found out real quick not to ask Doris for help.

She just ignored me. So, I thought, there’s got to be a way in to this hard heart. And there was, sort of.

Every employee at Markdown Mania lives for their 15 minute break. As soon as I arrive, Doris asks, “Would you take over so I can take my break?”

“Sure,” I say. “I’d be glad to.” And that was the way in. Once Doris found out I would actually help her, her shell softened a bit.

I knew we had some sort of bond when she suddenly told me about how hard it was to buy capri pants.

When Doris is with customers, her smoker’s laugh is deep and raw (and a bit frightening.) But she’s the consummate professional even when someone is giving her shit.

The only time the light really shines in her eyes is when she talks about her little dog. She adores him and I have to admit, he is totally adorable.

 

Sandra

Sandra is truly a beautiful woman. Her black skin is radiant and her make-up flawless. I admit that I adore her. Cultured and funny, Sandra is like a warm sunny day after a hard rain.

I’d do anything for her. And, of course, she’s easy and fun to work with. The nicest compliment she ever gave me was, “You’re so nice to me.” I told her, “You’re easy to be nice to.”  And I meant it.

Sharp and insightful, we cross the color line and actually talk about race relations. It’s beautiful. I love to hear her insights, to understand what it’s like being black in a southern town.

Her customer service skills are second to none. Prompt to work and courteous with everyone, Sandra is a true asset to the store. However, I doubt if the store knows that.

 

John

John is the only veteran male cashier at Markdown Mania. Now 60, he tells me, “I came here 10 years ago for the Christmas season and never left.” I thought that was odd. In fact, I thought John was odd.

Turns out, I was right. Very bright, John is the guy that always knows a fact or a story about a fact. (Ask him to tell you how Ringo Starr came to write “The Octopus’s Garden.)

When he’s checking people out, he’s not shy about talking. He’ll talk about the Koch brothers or the hydrogenated oil in the Jiff peanut butter. He’ll tell a resistant crowd about the corrupt food industry, the evils of sugar, and politics.

Nothing is off limits. Even after he’s handed the customer their receipt, John is educating his indifferent listener.

I quickly realized that facts and stories are how this man connects with others. The problem is the train went off the track. Whenever I try to engage in a conversation with John by offering my opinion, he doesn’t respond much.

He waits until I’m finished and then he launches back into whatever was originally on his mind. I once offered to bring him black raspberries from our farm. He told me, “Oh no thanks. I grow them at my house.” Then he proceeded to tell me how to care for the berry bushes each year.

Like I said, the train is off the track. The thing is, you can see the hunger for connection with this man. Like the rest of us, he’s doing the best he can. The problem is we just don’t know how to relate to him.

John loves to talk about the evils of the food industry. He’s very aware of the stinky politics involved with it, but does he practice what he preaches? No.

Whenever MM has cookies, cakes, or candies that have passed their expiration date, John is first in line to buy that crap. “Well, this will last me a long time,” he says, totally ignoring the fact that he preaches against eating this stuff.

It’s a major bone of contention with me, as is talking about politics on the job. John has very liberal views and we live in a decidedly conservative town. His views aren’t welcomed.

I’ve told John to STOP talking about politics with me, that it’s inappropriate. But true to his Asperger personality, John grins and says, “Why?”

John also has the habit of taking a fragment of what you’re saying and reminding you that it was once a song. For example, if I say, “Well, that’ll be the day!” John will immediately reply, “Buddy Holly song. Linda Ronstadt made it a big hit in the ‘70’s.”

Sometimes he’s so maddening I just have to walk away.

 

 

Ginger

Ginger has worked at MM for a long time. Recently, Darrell the Manager, promoted her to Stockroom Manager. Sassy and Maggie shook their heads and muttered what a mistake it was. I was intrigued. Ginger seemed nice enough. But I will admit, there was something about her that urged caution.

It didn’t take long to see the problem. She was quick to blame Darrell…and Sassy…and Maggie…for everything. At first, it felt good just to complain. Then it became apparent that stock wasn’t getting out on the floor, and that her staff had mostly rotten attitudes.

What a shock to finally  realize that Ginger NEVER took responsibility for anything. If freight wasn’t getting out on the floor, it was somebody else’s fault. If her staff wasn’t putting prices on the stock, that wasn’t her fault, either. “I have told them and told them to put the prices on the products. They won’t listen,” she says, her mouth turned down into a hard half-moon. “So I wash my hands of it.”

If anyone talks to her about problems with her staff, we hear, “They aren’t MY staff!” Really? Then why did you show up to work today?

 

Meet the manager. (Trust me. It’s worth it.)