The Department Store Diaries
For obvious reasons, I'm not revealing the name of the store that I have been working at so don't ask. Mmmkay? Thanks.
As a recently hired customer service associate, I spent five hours on Monday sitting in on cheesy acting, ridiculously cheap graphics, and terrible raps about department store safety. At times I thought that I was going to gouge my eyes out, but instead the gal sitting next to me kept me entertained with her random comments about the inexperienced retail sales performers.
I was saved that day with my own sarcasm and my ability to view a badly acted out armed robbery as an incredibly hilarious sketch comedy. The shanking of little Cindy wasn’t supposed to make anyone laugh out loud or anything, but I couldn’t help chuckle at the saleswomen who had messed up so bad on her first day that she ended up bleeding on the nicely polished floor.
After listening to the terrified shrieks of my fellow trainee associates I was introduced to another serious video about the dangers of sexual harassment in the workplace.
“Hey Cindy, there are two things that I like about that sweater,” a sleazy looking male salesperson said to the recently stabbed Cindy. He was acting as if he was fondling her perfect breasts.
“What?” Cindy said in disgust.
Geez, I hear you Cindy. From the looks of it that woman was having a terrible first day, but this only made me even more excited to get out there and start greeting people in the store. I was happy that I was actually getting paid to watch terribly hilarious safety videos all day, and I didn’t mind our training supervisor passing out candy and telling all of the “new kids on the block,” as she called us, all sorts of weird stories involving people getting lost in the store as well as all of the in-and-outs that every employee needs to know.
It was definitely an interesting first day on the job to say the least. I learned a lot about the place that I was going to be working at for the summer. It should turn out to be a great experience—I think.
My training supervisor had to be on crack. She was way too hyper and all smiley not to be on some sort of drugs this early in the morning. She flung her curly blonde hair around as she danced down to the department meeting.
“Yeah! Whooo! Let’s go see everyone! I want to have em’ meet all you new kids on the block!”
The eight of us girls wearily filed into the women’s department before the store opened to a group of women that were already waiting to start the day.
“Ya! I wood love to organize me closet by color an size like we do in da store,” I overheard one of the lead sales associates say. She sounded ridiculous when she spoke about going home to organize her closet after she would spend all day organizing things in the store. She sounded even more ridiculous with her accent. “Ahh! da new girls!”
“Yeah these are all the new kids on the block! I’m so excited! Whooo!”
These people were all crazy, and I was clearly already annoyed with everyone at the meeting. It was really early, Ms. Smiley pants couldn’t stop squirming around in the store’s aisles, and this foreign chick couldn’t stop talking about rearranging her closet.
The department head walked up in front of everyone to talk about yesterday’s sales and other information that I really wasn’t all that interested in. I stayed at the meeting because I happened to see a box of muffins in the corner behind the group of crazy employees.
“Okay yous guys! Da department manager wants to take da time to honor one of our employees who have been here for a long while!” The Eastern European nut job acted like she was in charge of everything and pushed aside people with her bony hip. “Ya. Here he is!”
Our store manager presented an elderly employee with an expensive watch for working at the store for thirty years. She never said anything—I hope someone checked to make sure she was still alive.
“Okay you new kids on the block! Let’s get out there and start greeting the customers! Whoooo! Remember, the customers are the boss. Make sure you keep the customer first!”
Dear God make it stop.
“Yeah, umm, when do you need to go on your break hun?” My new teacher out on the floor pretty much had it up to the lower levels of heaven with my inadequacy at the cash register. I had single handedly halted a huge line of customers causing mass panic behind the counter, and f#cked up the computer so bad that they had to call in the IT department for help.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I think it’s time for me to go out on the break.” My “buddy” for the day picked up the phone and dialed my energetic training instructor.
“Hey when do you want your new employee back?”
“Yeah, I got it. I’m leaving right now” I told the upset employee who was on the phone. I was half expecting the cash register to spontaneously combust and to suffer in some sort of freak inferno as I was walking away, but instead an error sign blocked anyone from making any transactions. “Sorry I screwed that up, and I’ll see you around!” I yelled to everyone as I ran to the training room. Things were obviously not working out in my favor.
“Hey new kid, how’d everything go!” My training supervisor was bouncing around the room with all of the other frustrated new employees.
“Umm. Not so great,” I replied.
“Aww, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad. Hey, turn that frown upside down!”
“It was that bad.” I wanted to tell her that she needed to stay away from the coffee too, but killing someone’s optimism in this line of work is just cruel. Ms. Smiley was obviously in love with her minimum wage job, and that was totally fine. I’ve always been the advocate for doing what you love, which made this job even harder for me to go into everyday. I don’t really like it when catastrophe strikes and things catch fire because of me.
“Yes, I would like to purchase these three items.” The lady at the counter set two similarly ugly shirts and a gaudy looking bracelet down on top of my scanner. I quickly rang the woman’s purchase at the counter and started to grab a shopping bag.
“Umm, you know what? Can I ring this shirt and this bracelet up separately?”
“Sure ma’am, no problem.” I exited out of the current screen and then rescanned the items according to her request. “Okay, here you go.”
“No, I changed my mind. Can I get the two shirts separated from the bracelet?”
I started to become frustrated with the woman at the counter. “Yes MA’AM. I’ll be HAPPY to scan these items a third time.” Another older couple came up behind the lady at the counter while I was angrily stuffing her purchase into the bag for a third time.
“You know what? Can I get the other shirt and the bracelet together on a gift receipt and then the other shirt separately?” I glared at the woman making the evil demands.
The couple standing happily behind the lady popped up from the now snaking line and began to start a conversation with me.
“Are you a Christian young lady?” The elder woman asked me as I was rescanning items.
“Yes ma’am.” I didn’t know how the question was relevant to retail, but I just humored her.
“Thank goodness. That’s great to hear. There are too many people out there that need Jesus. You see that lady right there?” She was pointing to my elder coworker who had been working at the store for over twenty years.
“Yes, I see her ma’am.”
“Well, her husband is a preacher at the church I go to. We need to make sure everyone hears about the Lord Jesus.” The woman started raising her hands to the ceiling and shaking her fists in some sort of solo celebration. “Praise Jesus,” she gently whispered to the store’s ceiling.
“Okay, will that be all ma’am?” I turned to the other crazy lady with the rude requests standing in front of me.
“Yeah.” She suddenly grabbed her bag and walked out of the front door in a fast pace.
I had no idea what made her suddenly so upset. With all this soul saving at the register you would
think she’d be at least amused if shewasn’t a Christian.Maybe she worshipped the devil? I thought to myself.
I’ve seen a lot of really random things at this point in my time while working in retail. I’ve held strange conversations with older people about what they had for breakfast while opening the store, seen angry customers yelling and throwing temper tantrums just to get a ten percent discount on a pair of socks, and witnessed mentally unstable thieves steal dresses off of clearance and bolt out the front doors and into a get-a-way car. But one thing that I’ve seen the most is terrible unattended small children getting lost and messing with things.
I don’t know how many times frantic parents had our associates call a Code Adam because they lost their children, and to be honest, I’m surprised that we don’t have to call it more.
“Mommy I need to go potty!” A little boy of preschool age was doing the potty dance by his mother while holding his crotch. “Mommy I gots to go now!”
“The restroom is right ov—“ I started to point to the back of the store where are restrooms were for the woman at the counter paying for jeggings and a yellow neon colored top, but was cut off when she told her son to go outside and pee in the bushes.
“Honey, go outside around the corner and find a bush. Mommy’s gettin’ her clothes.” I stared at the woman standing in front of me for a second and then continued to ring her purchase.
The little boy had begun to unzip his pants as he ran outside to go pee in front of our store’s major entrances. And after I was done stuffing the mother’s ugly clubbing attire into a plastic bag, the boy came running back to tell his mother what he had just done.
“Mommy! I peed far!” The little kid’s eyes lit up as he gestured the distance of how far his unsanitary stream of urine shot out from his body in front of random strangers on the street.
“That’s nice. Let’s go home okay?” The mom grabbed her bag off of the counter and didn’t even turn around to see if her three children were following behind her.
I began thinking about all of the other kids that were climbing on top of the pile of clothes that I had just folded, the ones playing tag in between the clothes racks, and the children who were left by the register while their parents were shopping in the hopes that the cashiers could double as babysitters in the time being. I came to the realization that there are a lot of terrible parents out there who should not be allowed to have children.
It had to have been a coupon day with the amount of people storming into the store that morning. Children were screaming bloody murder, and impatient adults were rolling their eyes in line and tapping their fingers on the unstable racks next to the line that they were standing in as if it would make me ring up everyone’s purchases even faster than the speed that I was already working at. The store was a mess and I had no patience for the people who woke up that morning and decided to be assholes.
“Excuse me young lady. Can you tell me the price of this please?” An older woman had walked up to the counter holding a stack of random bathing suits underneath her arm. She laid a dark blue suit with an attached skort at the bottom.
I picked up the suit and scanned the tag. “It’s ten dollars and 40 cents.”
“Okay, now how about this one?” She laid an olive green suit down on the counter.
I looked at the clearly marked tag. “It says that it’s twelve dollars and 30 cents ma’am.”
“Okay. Can you tell me how this cost?” The woman laid another bathing suit on the counter. At this point the line of customers behind her had gotten so long that people had to start wrapping around the entire register counter and down the long walkway into the men’s department. I gave out an audible sigh and told her the price.
“Okay, so can you describe to me the color of the first one?” The woman lifted up the dark blue bathing suit and it was then, after I looked into her clouded hazel eyes, that I realized what was going on.
“Oh. Umm, well it a dark blue color closer to black and darker than the other bathing suits here.” I placed the suit into the woman’s hands and let her feel the bottom of the suit.
“Oh it’s a skort. Will it match these flip flops that I grabbed?” She lifted up a pair of dark green flip flops and held them in front of my face.
I gently pushed them away from my nose and let her know that they matched the other green suit that had shorts attached to it and put those in her hands.
“Oh, okay. Thank you so much. I only asked you because I’m actually legally blind and I wanted to look cute for the pool.” We both laughed.
“Yeah, no problem,” I said as I rang up her selected purchase. She smiled and thanked me again. Another woman walked up and asked her if she found what she was looking for.
“Yes, this nice lady helped me pick something out.” The other woman then guided the blind lady out of the store and turned around quickly to flash me a thankful smile. I smiled back, almost a little guiltily, because before I realized that the customer I was helping was blind I was actually annoyed with her just as I have with all of the other customers that day. I had judged the people who were standing impatiently in line—and yes they really could have been assholes—but I didn’t know the whole story or what they had gone through to get to where they were that day. I guess I was the one who really couldn’t see that day.
The Department Store Diaries: Day 25
There’s something about a good sale that drives people crazy. The store at the time was offering 10 dollars off of every purchase totaling 25 dollars or more and we were instructed to only give the discount to people who actually brought the coupon in. People were lining up around the corner to use their brightly colored ads while others tried the whole, “I left mine at home, do you have any behind the counter” routine.
“Ma’am, you only spent $24.99 on this purchase. Did you want to purchase something else so you can use the coupon?” I started putting the small pile of school clothes into a plastic bag.
The lady at the counter became annoyed with me as if I was the one who owned the company and had made up these rules. She stood next to her quiet husband and gently slapped the face of one of her three hyper kids. “I don’t understand. Why can’t you just give me the discount?”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry but I can’t give you the discount. We have some cheep candy right here that you can buy in order to use the coupon though.” I pointed to a small rack of chocolate covered raspberry snacks next to the cash register.
All of the sudden, the three children running around the counter stopped in their tracks and started chanting in unison. “Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy….”
They sounded like a choir of undead zombies in search of human brains to feast on. “No,you can’t have the damn candy,” the woman said.
“Oh, umm, sorry about that.” I just turned the rack of candy around in the hope that the children would just shut up, but it obviously didn’t help.
“Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy….”
“Ugh, if I’m going to pay money for candy I rather it be the good kind. I’ll be right back. I’m going to pick up a shirt for my husband to wear.” The lady left her husband with her zombified children and went to the men’s department.
The kids kept tugging on the pants of the extremely timid husband. “Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy….”
“We’ll go get candy later when your mom goes to work.”
“Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy. Candy….” The kids obviously wanted the candy right then and there.
The mother finally came back with a lime green polo from the Big and Tall section and threw it at my scanner. “Okay, now I can use the coupon.” I managed to bag the blindingly neon shirt and slide off into the stock room before I heard the faint sounds of the zombie chanting again.
When the last customer finally decides to leave the messy store, department store employees, like me, are locked inside of an empty store so that they can fold and reorganize all of the merchandise. It’s sort of young kid’s dream come true, being able to stay inside of a department store after everyone goes home. You get to see the store as you have never seen it before, and that goes the same for the employees as well.
“Ladies, whys is yous guys not folding up the clothes?” The foreign supervisor had caught a bunch of the employees hiding in clothing racks and playing hide-and-go-seek by the fitting rooms.
“Umm, we were organizing the clothes over here.” I said as I sort of stumbled from behind a rack of ugly prom dresses on clearance.
“Well yous gus need to fold the shirts and tank tops on the tables over heres.” She started pointing to the massive pile of clothes that hundreds of customers just picked up and thrown on the ground. “Come on. Get to its!”
The small group of girls found themselves slowly sliding their feet over to the piles of clothes strewn everywhere. I picked my poison over by the tank tops and just stared blankly off into space while I was robotically folded bright neon tops.
“So, did you ever get finished with that book I lent you?” A Goth looking girl was talking to one of the other girls folding a large pile of jeans.
“Uh, not yet, but I’ll get around to it.” I was suddenly snapped out of my trance. Books—did someone mention books? I turned my attention to the Goth chick I had originally perceived as mean and cold hearted. “Wait, what types of books do you normally read?” I asked the Goth girl folding the t-shirts on the floor.
That single question lead me to find out that the scary Goth-looking girl and I practically led the same life as book-loving nerds who also loved to write for the fun of it. I never would have guessed that the evil vampire who gave me the creeps was in reality the sweetest and most kind-hearted girl ever.
It’s as if you fall into another dimension when the store’s doors are locked and the lights are dimmed. Without the customers giving you great ideas for weekly blog posts you really get to know the people who you work with. It just comes to prove that sometimes it takes being held against your will to get to know someone—that—and the mention of literature.
For the commercial part of America, and every department store circling the globe, the holiday season starts in September. During this time the store is stocked with ridiculous sweaters, fugly fur coats, and more overly-priced jeans. This also means that it’s the time for Christmas themed gift cards and charity.
“Okay teams, we needs to start asking these customers about our charities program. Asks them to donate theirs changes to the store insteads. Okay everyones?” The foreign supervisor gave out little buttons mentioning the charity helping underprivileged children for the associates to put on their badges. We then broke up the morning meeting and went to our cash registers.
It was about a few hours into my shift when I decided to step out from my hiding place in the stock room and start ringing up customers.
“Hello sir, did you find everything okay today?” I started scanning and bagging his dress pants and shirts.
“Umm, yeah. You didn’t want the purse right babe?” The customer turned to his girlfriend who was rummaging through the nasty raspberry chocolates. The woman just ignored him and threw the candy on the counter.
I just looked to the computer and totaled their purchase. “Okay, that will be $34.94. Would you like to round up your purchase to the nearest dollar and donate the change to the children’s chari-“
“-F#ck the children.”
I just smiled to keep back from my inevitable and gradually uncontrollable laughter. “Excuse me sir?” I turned around and looked to the customer rummaging through his wallet.
“Honey, that is so rude. How are you going to say ‘f#ck the children like that?” The woman was stuffing the candy into her face as she scolded her boyfriend.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come out that way.”
I couldn’t help it anymore and just started cracking up at the register.
“Ugh, I can’t take you anywhere. You’re so rude.”
“I’m sorry babe.”
“Hahaha, it’s totally okay.” I took his money and gave him back the change that was robbing all the poor children in the area of food that Christmas and watched the couple walk out of the store past the bushes where kids pee before the girlfriend hit her boyfriend upside the back of his head.
I laughed so loud that all the customers in the area looked up from their usual dumping-all-of-the-clothes-on-the-floor routine to look at me doubling over in hysterical laughter. “Hahahahahahahaha!”
I don’t know why I haven’t gotten fired from this job yet.
“Yeah, I was only supposed to be here for the summer, but hopefully I can get another position at the store near my college.” I picked up a tank top that was $1.97 and stuffed it into my pants pocket to purchase later.
“And we just started to talk too. This sucks.”
“Well hey. If I end up back in this town next summer, maybe I’ll try and get my job back.”
To be honest, I had fun in this small amount of time that I worked at this particular department store. I had met really interesting people, have gotten to know the ends and outs of running a large department store, I’ve been put in the most awkward situations, and I kind of secretly wanted to do it longer than the what I actually did, not for the money—well yeah—really only for the money, but my experiences weren’t really all that bad.
I picked up my pay check the next day and waved goodbye to a few of the associates that I happened to walk by. It was weird walking in to the store for the last time as an employee. It’s like a veil has been uplifted from your eyes only to be shut again. I could never (or at least for a while) just waltz in and hide in coat racks instead of doing work without looking absolutely mental.
I stopped by the break room to grab my locker stuff.
“Hey kid. I hear ya leavin?” An employee, who was only about a year older than me and who still referred to me as “the kid,” looked a little sad to see me go.
“Yeah, I’m going back to school for the year. This was just a summer thing.” I started to walk out towards the front doors.
“Well good luck out there kid. We’ll miss ya here I guess.” The employee turned around and began eating her crunchy Frito filled sandwich again.
And with that send-off, I left for the last time out through the front doors securely clutching my paycheck (I didn’t want to get mugged being in a ghetto area and all). I guess I would kind of miss that place too.