Friday, July 8, 2011

Christmas in July #1: Working in a Retail Wonderland

Makin' a list. Crushing you twice.
‘Twas the season to be jolly, which of course meant that everyone and his brother’s dentist flocked to the malls like lemmings: perpetually moving, bargain crazed lemmings. Contrary to the songs and stereotypes of the season, not many shoppers seemed to be very jolly, and good will towards men (and women) was in short supply. But as hassled and angry as the shoppers were, with only six days remaining before the birth of Christ, retail workers were under ten times more pressure.
“Adam!” exclaimed my manager, mysteriously known only as Mr. T. From my station behind the register, I watched as Adam, my co-worker, looked up from the plastic Christmas tree he had just placed in the window.

“What’s the problem, Mr. T?” Adam asked, wiping the sweat off his brow.

“Why did you put a Christmas tree in the window instead of this karaoke machine?” Mr. T. demanded, pointing angrily at the small tree. “What’s more important, a Christmas tree or selling karaoke machines?”

“I’m sure that’s exactly what Jesus wants,” I mumbled, looking across the vast line that had formed at the front register in the twelve seconds I hadn’t been watching. Heading the line was a woman who wanted 30 gift cards for five dollars each. She was also looking for an album by the band Boston, the one “with the UFOs on the cover.”

I bit my tongue. Hard. It was all I could do to keep from screaming.

*   *   *

As the day wore on, the line seemed to be getting bigger and bigger, no matter how many people I rang up. There must have been at least five thousand dollars in my register, and the day was still young.

Then it dawned on me.

I wasn’t at a crappy retail job, selling stupid people stupid things that they would never use and helping them charge themselves to death, no. It was an epic battle between good and evil. It was me versus the line. The line was not composed of different people. Instead, it was a single, faceless mass, its odious presence sucking the joy out of my soul. I became more and more methodic, treating every customer as another obstacle in my path to happiness.

“Thank you for shopping FYE and have a nice night… bitch.”

Finally, several hours later, the line was almost gone. Three customers remained; there were likely more were on their way, but that didn’t matter to me. I had almost killed the object of my hatred. In my euphoria, I barely notice the gentleman who came up beside me, opposite the line.

“Mumble, mumble,” said the customer.

“Excuse me sir?” I asked, knocked temporarily out of my register trance. The short customer stood before me, just a little over my height, but much, much rounder. His joyless eyes stared into mine.

“Mumble, Adams Family Christmas mumble?”

I quickly looked up the answer, and found that we had never even carried an Adams Family Christmas album to begin with.


“Sorry, sir, we don’t have that one. You might want to try Media Play or Best Buy,” I suggested.

Joyless Eyes crinkled his nose and walked away.

Back to the line I went, ringing the last customer up. I looked around, unable to believe that the line was actually gone. Triumphantly, I waved my hands in the air.

“Anyone else need some help?! Anyone?” No one responded. Feeling cocky, I exclaimed, “Bring it on!”

Hearing my wisecrack, Joyless Eyes gave me a strange look from across the room, but no one else came to rebuild the line. I turned to Mike Barrett, a friend and fellow co-worker, who had arrived just in time to see my epic feat. “Did you see that?” I asked, a maniacal grin passing my lips. “I killed the line!”

“I see that, Matt,” he responded enthusiastically. “Since you worked so hard killing the line, you must be hungry!”

I shook my head yes.

“I’m going to Wendy’s; I’ll bring back some chicken nuggets for you.”

“Thanks, Mike,” I replied, turning to tend to the sadistically reforming line.

I don’t know how long it was between when Mike Barrett left and the next time the line dwindled to zilch, but it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes. Wondering where Mike was with my chicken nuggets, I decided to brave the sales floor in search of my friend and my lunch. With a prayer that the customers wouldn’t see me or ask me any dim-witted questions, I sprinted out from behind the counter like a gazelle trying to outrun a pack of hungry wolves.

It wasn’t long before I spotted Mike Barrett. For some reason, he was waving his hands wildly, as if trying to tell me to run. However, the only thing wrong I could see was the lack of chicken nuggets in his hands. “Hey Mike! Have you got that chicken yet, or haven’t you got a chance to…”

Before I could finish, Joyless Eyes appeared in front of me out of nothingness. “You told me you didn’t have this!” he exclaimed, pointing to the CD in his greasy hand. Surprised, I looked down and saw an album cover with a little boy standing by a Christmas tree. He didn’t look like Uncle Fester to me.

“What are you talking about, sir?” I asked, my confusion growing.

“Where’s your manager, you smart ass? I wanna speak to your manager!” replied Joyless Eyes, apparently too wrapped up in his sudden bout of Turrets Syndrome to answer my question. I wondered what exactly he expected my manager to do about me ringing people up while he found a random CD.

Giving up on his devious plan to get me fired for doing my job, Joyless Eyes abandoned his short-lived search for a manager and instead began storming towards the cash register. “You told me you didn’t have this and now you’re going to ring me up!” he shouted. I marveled at both his grasp of the past and his ability to tell the future.

“Are you sure it was me?” I asked, convinced that some other employee had somehow angered the beast, and now his rage-blinded eyes had picked up on my gray work shirt and decided we were one in the same.

“It was you! I remember your ponytail! I have three witnesses to prove it!” Looking out behind him, I didn’t see anyone else. I wondered if maybe one of these imaginary witnesses had convinced him that the CD he was holding was the missing Adams Family Christmas Album.

When we arrived at the register, he threw the CD towards me and angrily pulled out his credit card. “What exactly did I say to you, sir?” I asked, running his purchase under the scanner.

“You said ‘Bring it on,’ you smart ass!”

For a moment, I considered trying to explain to him that my offer for customers to “bring it on” was a joke. Then, for the first time, I noticed what he was buying: the Adam Sandler Christmas Album. That’s when I knew that he wouldn’t know a good joke if it kicked him in his fat ass. I decided to let it go.

"Merry Christmas! Hababbaloo! Himo doobooloo! I'm an unfunny asshat."

“Your receipt is in the bag, and thank you for shopping at FYE,” I said cheerfully, handing him his confusing purchase. He yanked it out of my hands and threw the credit card receipt at me before I had even finished the sentence.

Just then Mike Barrett walked up beside me once more, holding my chicken nuggets. “I tried to warn you, but I didn’t know how,” he apologized, handing me my food, “so I just waved my arms around and hoped you’d get the point.”

“It’s okay, Mike,” I replied. “Anyway, I figured it out. He said ‘Adam Sandler,’ and I thought he said ‘Adams Family.’” I shoved a chicken nugget into my mouth. “Well, at least I didn’t put a Christmas tree where a karaoke machine should have been.”

“What are you talking about?” Mike Barrett went to his register and readied himself to ring.

“Never mind,” I replied, surveying the new, mile long line.

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