Saturday, December 17, 2005

Happy Horrordays

I'm pretty sure Sartre came up with that "hell is other people" bon mot after coming off a 10-hour shift working retail during Christmas. It's well-known among the dramaturgical cognoscenti that the first drafts of NO EXIT were about three retail clerks doomed to work the Friday after Thanksgiving for all eternity.

That day's alternate moniker, Black Friday, was not coined by the media or by merchants, mind you, but by cash register slaves and stock jockeys. I know -- I used to be one at a Borders Books.

We're rounding the bend to December 25th, which is when they come out of the woodwork, those people who've waited until the last minute to shop and as such are full to the eyeballs with panic and guilt in addition to whatever intrinsic assholery they may bring to the party.

So, I'd like to extend a holiday wish.

Please have a kind word for the folks at Candles R Us or Trendy But Generic Clothing or Ottomans! Ottomans! Ottomans!.

Their feet hurt.

They make crap money.

They've been asked to find a book for a customer who can only say that it's pink. Title, author, genre? "No, but it's pink! Jesus, are you some kind of goddamn idiot? Fine, I'll just get it online."

Knock yourself out. You think I get paid on commission, bitch?

Retail workers get sick more often than those in other industries, because you bring in your germs and leave them all over the merchandise.

You mess up their sections and then complain that you can't find anything.

You decide you want to charge your purchase instead of using cash only after the clerk has finished your transaction, which as any retail survivor (and David Sedaris in his brilliant SANTALAND DIARIES) can tell you is a gauntlet of calling over the manager, initialing this, filing that, and starting all over.

Don't assume this is the only job they can get or that they're stupid.

Your mileage may vary, but in my store many of us were working to save some money for grad school. One guy was headed to Georgetown for his MBA. I was between Stanford and NYU. We even had one woman who had been a lawyer for years and just decided she wanted to do something different.

Retail is different from the law. When you're a lawyer, you can put the bad people in prison. In retail, you smile and give them a complimentary bookmark and mentally record them for when you have a private hitman at your disposal. I'm looking at you, Pink Book.

As I used to say, any day in retail you can walk away from is a good day.

So ask your clerk how they're doing. Listen, smile, wish them well. They're worthy and needful of any kindness right about now.

Except for the clerks at Barnes and Noble. Those guys are freakin' morons.


Fun Joel said...

I was about to say Amen to your post, until that last line. B&N was my one and only retail job, and a good one. And when people would come in and ask me for a book with a blue cover and three words in the title, the first of which is "The," I actually sometimes could figure it out!

Other faves: "Do you have Shakespeare in English?" (I always wanted to respond, "Did you want the Oxford or Cambridge translation?" but I never did.)

And the best of all: the woman who came in and asked, "I'm looking for a book. Do you have it?" And then when I asked her to identify the book she wanted, got mad at me!

Kira said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kira said...

'Twas just a joke, FJ, the Borders-B&N rivalry and all. :)

We got the Shakespeare in English question too. Sigh.

ScriptWeaver said...

Oh, man. I started twitching as I was reading this.

I worked at American Eagle Outfitters. I worked Black Friday (though that Saturday was always busier) and the annual Tax-Free Weekend.

There goes the twitching again.

I've been retail-free for 3 years.

I. Will. Never. Go. Back.

I laugh listening to people complain about their non-retail jobs.

They have absolutely no clue.

And then I want to Bitch-slap people who complain about retail employees.

They have absolutely no clue.

If I end up in Hell, I'll take comfort in knowing it's at least not retail.

Chris Soth said...

I have to admit, I've never worked retail, so I thought Sartre came up with that one after a visit to Disneyland over the weekend...


Bill Cunningham said...

I have all of you beat -- I was once an employee of...


(shudders in remembrance of horrors past)

Oh, and in case anyone didn't know: FL also owns Champs Sports, Earring Tree, Kinney shoes, Lady FL, and Foot Action. They have every mall covered in a myriad of ways.

Kira said...

You win, Bill, dear God you win.

At least in a bookstore the chances of coming across fungus in the course of doing your job are somewhat remote.

Dr. Gori said...

My mom has this problem with remembering song lyrics, names, and performers. So, for decades, she has gone into music stores and hummed songs to the workers, hoping they'll recognize the tunes she's looking for.

It's never worked, but she still does it. If you've ever been employed at a music store in the far west Chicago suburbs, I'd like to apologize on her behalf.

daveblud said...

my sister worked in retail over the holidays in orange county. she would call me everyday with some wild story of events for that day. she said the crazies were the women that worked in the store.