Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Panties Half Off
“I was going to have Chloe show you the ropes...” Beverly explained as she led me into the stock room for the first time, “but she's no longer with us.”
I gasped, “My God. What happened?”
“No! I mean she's not with the company any more.”
“Confidentially-” She leaned in close; her perfume invaded my nostrils, offsetting the odor of tobacco on her breath, “-I fired her for insubordination. She was a real bitch.”
We walked through the stockroom, where several days worth of boxes were piled high and unevenly. I whistled at the sight of them, a veritable Stonehenge brimming with fine washables.
“So, you're really going to have to hit the ground running.” She said.
“All right,” I gazed up at the boxes, “I guess.”
“What you need to do is open each box, match the dresses contained against the packing list in the box. You need to mark every error on the receiving error form we keep on the pink clipboard.”
“The one with the glitter all over it?”
“Got it,” I metaphorically rolled up my sleeves, “Anything else?”
“Well we want you to sweep up a little at the end of your shift but that's about it really. Ready to go?”
I smiled, “Am I ever!”
During that first week working there- which was also coincidentally the first week of March- I met the rest of the staff. The ones I dealt with most were the assistant managers Maddie and Jan. The sales girls were frequently pretty but all seemed to quit pretty frequently.
Since I was at the mercy of the bus lines I erred on the side of caution and always ended up getting to work an hour or so early. It never really bothered me though, I always had a Peirs Anthony paperback or two stuffed into my lunch box along with my Walkman, mix tapes and the occasional sandwich.
Of course I sometimes didn't get a chance to read at all.
I looked up from my book to see a semi toothless man leaning across his seat. He smelled of sweat and sterno. He was a local panhandler; he liked to stand out in front of the mall with a sign proclaiming how hungry and broke he was. He usually changed signs every week or so. I never gave him any money. Not only because I was broke myself but also because I couldn't figure how a penniless man was getting all that money for markers and cardstock.
“I said what'cha reading?”
I roused myself from my inner narration and replied to him, “It's called 'Bearing An Hourglass'.”
“Hi,” he offered me a grimy hand.
“Uhm... Hello?” I shook his hand gingerly.
“You work at Colonie Center right?”
He glanced around the nearly empty bus before speaking again. His voice was a whisper, “Ever been to Northway Mall?”
Northway Mall was across the street and it had fallen on hard times, stores came and went quickly; even the shoplifters stayed way. I nodded a reply to him.
“Northway Mall...” he continued. “...it looks like Vietnam.”
“If you say so.” However I couldn't have agreed less, Northway Mall was sterile and poorly lit. For a time there had been plastic plants decorating it but they had been repossessed long ago. I turned my attention back to my book, hoping he would take the hint.
“You got a dollar?”
“I'm afraid not.”
“You got a cigarette?”
I looked back up at him, “I don't smoke.”
“I'm married you know.”
“That's great.” I gave up and put the book away.
Yeah,” he said. “She's real exotic; she lives in a foreign land.”
I asked, “Vietnam?”
“No!” he replied, “She's in Canada.”
Being a nerd of long standing this wasn't the first time someone had told me that had a soul mate wandering in the wilds of Saskatchewan. Were such stories lies or were the women of Canada much more forgiving and desperate than American women? I promised myself to go there and find out as soon as I could.
Of course until I got my car fixed I wasn't going anywhere so over the next few weeks I kept my nose pressed to the silky rose-scented grindstone that was the Julia Shop.
As far as the job goes I did hit the ground running but thanks to the backlog of merchandise I was behind schedule from day one. This was something that Maddie, a large uneven-tempered woman, never neglected to inform me of.
Jan however was a pleasure to work with, her sense of humor meshed with mine very well. She didn't mind that I liked to work wearing my Walkman and rock out to 'Mr. Robotto' quickly followed by 'Hyperactive'. Maddie never let me do that, she felt that people that enjoyed themselves weren't working hard enough.
What is it that makes human beings hate other human beings? And more importantly why do they always end up in management?
“Albert,” Maddie said, “I need you to clean out the changing rooms, someone wiped boogers all over the mirrors.”
I looked up from the mound of sun dresses I was counting, “I thought I was just supposed to stay back here. The sales girls are supposed to do that.”
“Listen you,” her hands went to her hips. “The only thing you're supposed to do is what I tell you. Got it?”
“But... but…” I gestured around me, “...the boxes...”
She handed a roll of paper towels and bottle of Windex to me and I did as I was told. I called into the changing room to make sure no one was there and I did a quick job on each of the full length mirrors. I mentally calculated that if wrapped this up quickly and got back to the shipping room I could get caught up to the point where I was only three days behind instead of a week.
Once mirrors clean and snot-free I headed back to my boxes only to hear, “Albert. I need your help hanging signage.”
I turned back to Maddie more confused than ever, “Are shipping clerks supposed to be hanging signs?”
“That's what I said.”
Somewhere nearby a couple were looking at some white faux-leather jackets. For some reason the wife was making the husband model them for her.
“No,” She said, her voice imperious. “You said signs. Signs are for garage sales. Signage are displays created to enhance the customers' overall shopping experience.”
I decided to give up that argument and try to explain what was really bothering me, “But why would the shipping clerk have to do it when there are four salesgirls on the floor just talking?”
“And what happens if a customer comes in while they're doing that? Lost sales happen Albert. Lost sales.”
“Ah!” I was determined to use my superior Bruno logic against her, “But think how many sales we might lose if I don't get those new fashions unpacked.”
Maddie's voice became a shout, everyone in the store turned to watch, “Are you going to do what I say or do you want to be out of a job right now?”
While the Bruno logic might have been flawless the Bruno spine has always been somewhat spongy so I spent the rest of my shift hanging signs.
Excuse me, signage.