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 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.
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.
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 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 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.)