In the world of retail, there are obviously bad jobs, jobs that have no redeeming quality to them, jobs that you took out of necessity or on a dare, jobs that will suck the life out of you. However, there are also bad parts of even good jobs, jobs that you actually don’t mind showing up for each day. That is what this column is about, the bad jobs that lay buried beneath the surface of the world of retail.
As mentioned, my first foray into the world of retail was when on June 26, 1991, I punched my time card for the first time and became Al Bundy, selling shoes inside a Kmart. Now that in and of itself was bad enough, but there were aspects of it which stand out as being worse than the daily grind.
Take for instance the Blue Light Special. This was a wooden box on wheels, to which the famous blue light was attached. Your job was to wheel this monstrosity to your department, plug it in, listen to the whiny-pitched noise and make an announcement over the PA and hope that people would not flock to see what it was that you were trying to pawn off on them. You stood there as the masses came to you, mark-down-gun in hand, willing to lower the price on something that no one had any interest in five minutes ago, but now they needed to have because it was cheaper. A typical conversation:
Customer: So what is on sale?
BB: These shoes on this rolling rack
Customer: Do you have my size?
BB: You would have to look.
Customer: Is this all there is?
BB: Yes, this is what we are marking down.
Customer: Why don’t you have my size, my color, my style?
BB: I’m sorry but it’s just these items.
Customer: Are you sure you don’t have more in the back?
BB: It’s just these items sadly.
Customer: Can I get these shoes for the markdown price?
BB: I’m sorry but no, we just put those out.
As if the Blue Light Special wasn’t bad enough, there was the sidewalk/tent sale. Now you have not lived until you have had the opportunity to set up a table or tables of shoes outside of a Kmart under a giant tent, as if the circus had just come to town. Only there were no animals, unless you count the people who made a mess under the tent, people who made setting things up not worth the time, effort, or effect on your soul that it would take each minute you stood outside, waiting for a storm cloud or a twister like the one Dorothy saw in the Wizard of Oz to take all of this headache away.
I already mentioned the thrill of tying together 15,000 pairs of sandals in a poorly lit, unheated, former Chuck E Cheese, so there is that as well. Every day in shoes was bad, but these moments stood out as being the worst of the worst.
Then there was Target. Now Target was different in that, instead of being trapped in just one department, you might have the opportunity to find yourself trapped in multiple locations throughout the day and the week. Target, as a whole, was a bad experience for so many reasons, but there are aspects of it that stand out, jobs that were beyond belief, tasks that should have been deemed a cruel and unusual punishment by some employee organization that actually cared for the lowly retail worker.
Ever build a pyramid of boxes of toothpaste? Ever thought that there was a need for such a useless display of Crest? Well, I have built one and apparently there was a need for such a display, because when you think of pyramids, you don’t think of mummies or sand, or ancient peoples, you think of buying crest toothpaste, or at least that this what Target thought people would think.
Everyone loves swimsuit season, at least those women coming in to find the latest colors and styles. But ask those employees who have had the misfortune to pick up suits which were separated and scattered throughout the department how much they love swimsuit season, and they will tell you in no uncertain terms. Apparently the best way to see if you like a suit, is to tear it from the hangars, toss the top in one section and drape the bottom in a completely different place. I guess by doing so, you have a clearer picture of how you will look lounging at the pool, because it happened time and time again.
And then there was the toy department; the less said about working in and around toys, the better. If you want to truly experience a taste of what it is like, imagine shelves and shelves of musical toys each with their own button that says try me. Now push those buttons, one right after the other, so that you have a choir of obnoxious sounds producing one unholy symphony, and you have any toy department on a daily basis.
My current situation is not necessarily better, but rather different, if that is a good thing. Ever take a passport picture of a new born baby, one that just entered the world and has no idea of what government regulations and rules are when it comes to official photos needed on documents? Ever try and get a child who is told to smile in every other picture that will ever be taken of them to not smile in this one picture? Ever try to communicate with someone who has no idea what language you are speaking in much the same way that you have no idea what sounds and syllables that they are putting together? I have done all of this and more.
Everyone has had to clean a floor, mopping up after a long day, well, there is mopping and there is MOPPING. I had the displeasure once of mopping up a path of blood left by a man who came up to me, his hand over his stomach, and asking me what he could so about this, a deep stab wound in which blood was pouring out, as if I had a bandage or triage center to which I could direct him. Furthermore, there is the pleasure one gets from mopping up a hallway or aisles after a toilet has exploded, erupting like some long dormant volcano, dumping waste water and sewage all over the store’s floor. There is not enough bleach to clean your shoes or soap to wash your hands after you finish your adventure into the world of hazmat cleaning 101.
Then there are the joys that only can be found in dumping out 30 gallons of milk into the hallway sink, especially if that milk is expired or starting to change states of matter from a liquid to a solid. Now imagine that hallway area being warm, and there being no movement of air, and there you are with 30 gallons of milk down the sink, 30 gallons of milk, dump one down, throw it away, 29 gallons of milk down the sink.
The highlight has to be on that day each month set aside for the senior shoppers, when they get a special discount for doing nothing more than living to the age of denture creams and adult diapers and hard butterscotch candy. There will always be one person, that one customer that will wait until you are almost finished checking them out, and then tell you that they have a coupon. So this is what happens:
BB: Okay that will be $15.86 please
Customer: I have a coupon.
BB: Okay, let’s have your coupon.
Customer: It’s for 25 cents off Alpo dog food.
BB: (Looks at the coupon)…Mam, this coupon is expired.
Customer: I just got it in this morning’s paper.
BB: Mam, this coupon is from 1974 and expired on the 2nd of March.
Customer: Well today is January 15th.
BB: Yes it is, but it’s 2021, and this is from 1974. And to make matters worse, you don’t even have the product in your bag. I believe they stopped making that 30 years ago.
Customer: Well, my dog loves to eat his Alpo, he is at home right now waiting for mommie.
BB: So you dog is at home waiting for you to bring him home some dog food for which you have a 47 year old expired coupon, food that hasn’t been made in 30 years?
Customer: Yes he loves his Alpo.
BB: Let me see that coupon again (looks at the yellowed relic of days gone past). Okay, I’ll fix it for you this once, but next time bring in a more recent coupon.
Just when you thought retail couldn’t get worse, it has and does and will.
Cover image courtesy of JJBers via Flickr