Scenes From a Mall
When I was but an adolescent turkey, I was certain of three things:
- I am hideous and will never get laid.
- I love all things theatre and theatre-related.
- That perm was a bad idea.
Fortunately for me, I never went The Way of the Perm again, and I had faith that I’d have better romantic luck in college, but as far as being a blossoming theatre nerd, I was shit out of luck. My high school (which was located within a district whose budget was somewhere between “shoestring” and “roll of quarters”) had cut the drama program years before I had arrived, and there was no hope of it returning anytime soon. So, to quench my thirst for the stage, I did what all great thespians do: got my ass cast in community theatre.
“Nothing ever happens in Blaine!”
I loved it. I was totally in my element. After years of feeling like a total outcast in junior high and high school, I finally found the one place in which I truly belonged. Dealing with that uppity bitch Leah who was always sneering at me in History class was much easier to bear when I knew I could seek refuge in rehearsal that evening.
Unfortunately, between the handful of shows produced that had parts appropriate for my age group and the cut-throat competition amongst the community theatre casting pool regulars (which is an entire blog entry in and of itself), I usually only managed to do one show a year. So after the show-of-the-year closed and I had to face that bitch Leah and the endless drudgery of my high school life with no rehearsals in sight? I got a little…dramatic.
“No one – NO ONE – can understand my pain, you guys! Except maybe The Cure.”
It was during one of my post-show funks that my mother – possibly annoyed with watching me weep into my scrapbook every night – suggested I get a job to keep myself busy. So off we went to the mall to fill out applications, even though I knew FULL WELL that no 15% employee discount at The Gap or unlimited free Auntie Anne’s pretzels would fill the Guys-and-Dolls-shaped hole in my heart.
Despite my sunny attitude, I managed to land a job at a store that sold affordable, foreign-made home interiors items. In other words, we sold cheap, poorly-wired lamps and ugly paintings with crooked frames. And once we had to return an entire shipment of imported afghans because they arrived WITH BUGS NESTING IN THEM.
You might have expected this store to be staffed with a group of middle-aged ladies in appliquéd sweatshirts, but that was not the case. My co-workers included several 20-something pot-heads, a girl who moonlighted as a stripper (who also attempted suicide the night before I worked a Christmas Eve shift with her), a few chain-smoking, hard-partying managers with a taste for whiskey and bar fights, and an acid-dropping stock boy who never wore deodorant because he claimed the acid made his perspiration odorless (it did not). Oh, and the couple who were constantly either at each other’s throats or screwing in the stockroom, a situation made all the more complicated by the fact that the male half of this couple was always trying to fuck every female on the payroll.
In other words, I was working with the coolest fucking people I had ever met.
I was pretty inexperienced at this point in my life. I had never been high or drunk and had no experience with boys, and I really couldn’t wait to do all three of those things…in excess. But the fact remained that I was pretty green to the ways of my co-workers, and they must have known that, because they never pressured me one way or another (with the exception of Guy From the Tumultuous Relationship, who said really filthy things to me whenever we were alone in the stockroom, which made me supremely embarrassed/flattered me to no end because no guys at school had ever cared enough to make a disgusting comment about what they’d like to do to my ass).
I was not so much a poster child for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
My mall job quickly joined theatre as one of the only places in my life where I felt validated and accepted. The paycheck was just gravy. I worked at the store all throughout my senior year and the following summer, quitting at the last possible moment before I had to leave for college. By the time winter break rolled around, I had done just enough partying at school to be able to get wasted with my coworkers when I was hired back as holiday help. The good times continued the next summer, and every winter break and summer throughout my college career. And it wasn’t just the partying – I actually enjoyed the job. I liked the variety of building displays, checking in freight, and laughing about asshole customers behind their backs.
“Yes, ma’am, I understand that our afghans gave your entire family tapeworms, but I’m afraid I cannot refund your purchase without a receipt.”
Unfortunately, with the end of college came the end of my health insurance, which meant I had to take a job that gave me more in the way of benefits, and less in the way of Jack Daniels shots in the stockroom. Thus began my 4-year-long stretch of office job after office job after goddamn-soul-numbing office job.
On the bright side, if I gouge out my eyes with a highlighter, at least it’s only a $20 co-pay to get them fixed!
Then, through a chain of events too boring and complicated to explain here, the stars aligned and the opportunity arose for me to take a position as a manager at a different location of my old store, and lo, the heavens opened and a host of cherubs burst forth, strumming harps made of cash drawers and singing the praises of projected sales in angelic harmonies. I was assigned a set of manager keys on a stretchy cord and a [paltry] benefits package, and just like that, I was back in the one job that had ever really made me happy.
And for about 6 months, things were great.
And then, they were not so great.
We hired a girl who ended up stealing from the registers. I was continually catching shoplifters. An employee accused me of age discrimination whenever I pointed out that she had rung up a customer incorrectly. Sales were down. My regional manager started placing unreasonable demands on us because sales were down. My boss got fired for not meeting the unreasonable demands, leaving me in charge as manager of the entire store until they found a replacement.
Did I mention I was the world’s shittiest manager?
It’s not that I was lazy or unorganized, it’s that I had absolutely no ability to manage 15 employees who seemed hell-bent on hating each other and the customers. They all liked me enough, but in hindsight, that was probably the problem. In trying to be a friend, I had no control over anyone and no one took me seriously for a second. I’d assign tasks that were never completed, I’d cover blown-off shifts, I’d drag my sick ass to work when not one of those miserable assholes would cover for me for 4 lousy hours. I had to cut a long weekend short because one of my dipshit assistant managers decided to leave in the middle of her fucking shift. Did I mention I was not getting paid extra for being the interim store manager for 3 months? Because I was not.
And then there was the day a sewage pipe burst in the ceiling of our stockroom, and $500 worth of merchandise was quite literally covered in shit.
But the fecal icing on the pee-soaked cake was when the regional manager came to survey the damaged goods (that were COVERED IN POOP) and told me to “wipe them off and put them on the sales floor.”
Let me repeat that for you: She wanted me to sell items packaged in cardboard boxes that had been drenched in human waste. And did I mention she was not paying me enough?
I put in my two weeks on the exact day I had started the year before. And I left before any of our customers came back with a receipt, a lawyer, and a raging case of typhoid fever.
At least she showed up for work on time.
Sometimes I still can’t believe that I job I loved so well for so long could turn out to be so awful. I know it’s mostly my fault for being stupid enough to think a fun part-time job I had in college would somehow translate to a fun full-time job at age 26, but for a while there, I really thought it might work.
The branch of the store I worked at in college has since closed, and even though it’s been nearly 5 years since I quit, I still can’t bear to set foot inside the branch that I managed. I’m sure none of the people I worked with are even there anymore, but I don’t want to run the risk of being forced to make polite conversation when all I really want to do is grab them by the shoulders and push them into the crookedly-framed canvas prints.
But the upside of that experience is that it gave me a new appreciation for working in an office – a place where you can sit on your ass and practically never find a watery Orange Julius on the floor left behind by a customer. And it really is lovely to go to work each day secure in the knowledge that my boss will not force me to touch anything that has been covered in feces.
So the next time you’re in the mall – especially during the holiday season – and you see some poor retail worker trying her best not to strangle some crazy bitch trying to get a cash refund without a receipt, please, take it easy on her. Be polite, say please and thank you, and if you have any major issues with the store or its policies, get a number for the home office and take it up with them instead of her.
And for God’s sake, don’t touch any damp boxes.
Entry filed under: And you KNOW THIS!.