Monday, February 8, 2010

Welcome To Hell, Here's Your Smock part two

Price Breaks and Heartaches
a journal of retail and failed romance
Chapter One
Welcome To Hell, Here's Your Smock
part two

You might find it hard to believe that never once in almost two decades of retail Hell did I ever hold a management position of any sort. That’s not because I was bad at my many jobs or because I lacked ambition, heavens no. The reason I never advanced with any of my employers was because the world of retail is a crucible for the modern age that only the truly mediocre and the truly evil can survive.

This is the story of my years working at a supermarket I will call Nice Shopper where it seemed like every day there was something new to learn or forget.

I remember once when I was busy doing one of the never ending stream of cleanups that seem to happen on a Saturday a customer I had just spoken to trudged through a ruin of spilled mayonnaise and broken glass just so he could get in my face.


“Hey!” He started to yell, then glanced down at my name tag, “…Labert?”

“Actually that’s a typo. My name is Albert.” I smiled uncertainly, “How may I help you sir?”

“Remember when you said the store didn't stock rabbit food? Well, what do you call this?” He waved a slender box in front of my face.

“Well,” cartoon rabbits danced before my eyes, “I guess I owe you an apology.”

“I don’t understand how a store can have employees so stupid that they don’t know what their store sells.” The customer said, “I want to talk to your manager.”

The PA system crackled to life, “Albert to the bottle returns register.”

“Sir, it was an honest mistake.”

“This was more than a mistake,” he sneered.

The PA system crackled to life again, “Albert to the front to bag groceries.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, “Wait, first you said I was stupid, now you think I gave you the wrong information on purpose.
Which is it?”

“Obviously you have some kind of passive-aggressive anti-lagomorphic agenda.”

“If I knew what you were talking about I would be appalled.”

The PA system interrupted us, “Albert to get carts.”


My suspected anti-lagomorphic tendencies, coupled with my inability to keep up with the ever rising tide of dirty bottles and lost carts, is what landed me with several weeks of 'vestibule duty'. What is vestibule duty you might wonder? It meant I was in charge of the main entrance and exit of the store. Every cigarette crushed out in the entrance, every wad of gum mashed into the cracks of the sidewalk and every glass windowpane-these were my responsibility.

And that was along with my regular duties of bagging groceries, rounding up carts and the bottle return register. I'm not sure how this was supposed to help me learn our pet food selection better but at the tender age of seventeen I was not one to question the wisdom of management.

The holidays came quickly, it seemed that as soon as I put the Halloween candy out on the shelves it was stale leftovers sitting in a cart with a ‘Half Off’ sign on it. November was a particularly busy month with people coming in to make preparations for their Thanksgiving holiday. On November first a red sign went up on the front doors explaining that we closed at 4 PM on the fourth Thursday of the month so Nice Shopper’s employees could enjoy the holiday too. Apparently the sign wasn’t nearly big enough;


At 4 o’clock on the dot Mr. Streicher locked the doors to the main entrance and began overseeing the shutting down of a store that was ordinarily open 24 hours a day. Each cash register was running and there were four other bagboys aside from me. The store was like a well oiled machine and we were all confident we would be out of there by 4:30, 4:45 at the latest.

I was the first to notice customers streaming in through the exit. They got their carts and started shopping at a leisurely pace.
“Bruno!” Mr. Streicher called, “Go stand in the doorway and tell people we’re closed.”

The question whether our customers would take the word of a doughy teenager when they were ignoring a fancy laminated sign from the corporate office never occurred to me. It should have, it really should have.

I took my place at the exit ready to turn any new shoppers away.
Unfortunately I was standing too close to the door and the first eager customer knocked me reeling. By the time by vision had cleared three other customers had gotten in behind her. I think Mr. Streicher was howling my name in outrage but it might have been the voices of my long dead relatives cursing that the noble Bruno bloodline, once the spawning ground of uncountable three-nippled strippers, politicians and circus midgets, could have come to this.

Groggily I resumed my place a safe distance from the exit and got back to my duties.

“Hey,” one of the customers said. “Your front door is broken or something.”

I was more than glad to explain, “Allow me to explain, Nice Shopper closes at 4 PM on Thanksgiving.”

“What?” the customer’s expression began to darken, “The sign says you’re open 24 hours a day!”

“Yes but the sign below that says we close so we can enjoy the holiday too.”

She pointed her finger at me, “You suck! You fucking suck.”

I was too stunned that my first grade teacher hadn’t recognized me to really take offense. The next customer was already trying to get in.

“I’m sorry sir,” I tried again, “but Nice Shopper closed for the Thanksgiving Holiday at 4 o’clock.”

He tried to push past me, “It isn’t 4 o’clock.”

I pointed to the clock, “Yes it is sir, it’s actually 4:12 now.”

“Not by my watch.”

“I don’t know what I can say about that, it is 4:12. Actually now it’s 4:13.”

The customer responded by waving his wrist in front of my face, “I don’t care what that damn clock says. This is a two hundred dollar watch!”

“It says Casio.”

He took a moment to tell me, “You suck! You friggin’ suck.” before he stormed off.

The next customer moved in to take his place, “I need cranberry sauce!”

“I…” I paused to blink back tears. “I’m sorry but Nice Shopper is closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.”

“You’re gonna let me in that store you little pissant or I’ll spit on you again.”

“…but this is a time of love and togetherness…”


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