Monday, January 16, 2012

Your Treasure, My PITA

Maybe there should be a committee that approves the newly-minted names on birth certificate applications, because a woman I saw today should not have been wheeled out of the hospital with her inspired selections intact.

I didn't catch Mom's name as she negotiated a highly complex financial transaction with one of my co-workers. Apparently she had to review and approve the displayed price for each of her dozens of treasures before it was copiously wrapped and placed in a bag. (I hope the crew of the International Space Station appreciates the incoming delivery of 99-cent votive candles and holders.)

The children's names, on the other hand, are etched into my brain. Daughter Solace was compelled to leave all her worldly possessions strewn across the floor. And to touch anything within reach. And to climb to anything beyond reach. Maybe it was just my ears, but "Solace!!!" started sounding more and more like "Soulless" as it ricocheted around my skull.

Not to be outdone, son Odin demanded everything in sight. And tried to run away. And attempted to take out every adult in his path. When his ill-conceived plan failed, he threw a conniption worthy of his Norse god self. In about 25 years he'll have to tell little Thor all about it.

Seeing Solace and Odin reminded me that I haven't seen Princess Precious Cupcake and her mom in at least a year. The protective lining around my sanity has erased the Princess's real name from memory -- "Krystal" or "Angelique" or "Madisyn" or something equally precocious. Mom thought she was a Treasure (maybe that was her name).

Precious Treasure would climb all over the checkout counter and try to scan things they were buying. (Or not buying. Mom was also a "meticulous" shopper.) She'd pull things out of bags and scan them again. She'd scan random things and run away with them. Mom -- if you could peel the phone off her ear -- might notice and whimper, "I'm asking you not to do that, please. Next time I'll be sad." Baby Cupcake would shoot flames from her eyes and continue along with her evil plan.

But one day she crossed the line, invading my side of the checkout counter. Hiding and wreaking havoc. The first time in, I responded with: "You're not allowed back here; go stand with your mother." Second time: "I explained this to you; don't do it again." Third time (being the charm and all) I bent over and went eye-to-eye: "Listen to me. When you come back here and stand behind me, I can't see you. If can't see you, I'm going to step on you. When I step on you, it's going to hurt. You are not going to like it." She took my point.

I wonder where Cupcake is these days... my money's on the child pageant circuit.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Future is Now

When our manager announced last summer that we were being converted to a "Store of the Future", I wondered what we'd been up to this point -- Store of Last Year? Y2K Store? Store of the Cold War? I -- of course -- also immediately envisioned us with shiny-new jet packs and unisex jumpsuits. We got:

1. A streamlined merchandise return process (old way: read down a receipt and manually find/enter/cross off individual items; new way: scan barcode on receipt, scan items, and done). Thumbs up.

2. A reconfigured checkout area with one queue leading to the next available cashier. (No more playing Guess The Quickest Line and watching people jump lines when another cash register opens up.) BIG thumbs up.

3. Elimination of my job function. Thumbs down. But... my post-demotion job is actually more fun than the old one.

4. Two-way radios with an earpiece and microphone. At first, they were universally despised. We felt like a pathetic band of Secret Service agent wannabes. Then we discovered that radioing each other for business purposes ("This customer thinks her paintbrush is on sale. Is there a sign back there?") saved mileage on our feet. Most importantly, we could kvetch and vent to each other over the airwaves ("The paintbrush is not on sale. If she saw a sign, she's hallucinating. And who's in here what that screaming kid?")

Radio Free Us crackles with life now.

"Did you tell some woman that she could have a 99 percent discount on this spray paint because the label has a smudge?"
"No. I told her to grab one of the five other un-smudged cans."
"I just found an abandoned basketful of beads. I hate putting away beads."
"Do think anyone would notice if we closed early tonight?"
"Did someone tell a customer that *everything* in the store is 40 percent off?"
"Yeah. Isn't that what we tell everyone?"
"Is it that guy with the red shirt? Is he *still* here? He needs to go home."
"Where are the sketch pads? What the hell happened to all the stuff in Aisle 33? Where is it?"

Sadly, there were no jet packs. They probably would've lit the place on fire anyway. And no jumpsuits. Thank our lucky stars for that one -- not pretty.

I still have my fingers crossed for a teleporter, though.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Just call me The Oracle of Delphi

Omniscient (adjective): having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things. Used in a sentence: Jo is not omniscient, despite the fact that people think she is.

A big part of my work day involves answering questions, and that's cool by me. If someone walks up and asks if we sell a certain item, I can give a confident yes or no. I'm also good at leading a customer to that item's location. Not 100 percent accurate, mind you -- our store carries something like 40,000 different items, and departments get rearranged. When stumped, I click on my trusty walkie-talkie and tap into the collective brains of my coworkers. Once we arrive at said item, I've got a basic working knowledge of how to use the stuff we sell.

When I answer a phone call, I can give you driving directions to the store (within a reasonable area). I can tell you the hours we're open. I'll give you the phone number to one of our other stores in the area. I'll go take a look and see if something you want is in stock; I'll stash it as a "customer hold" for 24 hours.

Here's what I can't necessarily tell you, what with the not being omniscient and all:

."Well, if you don't sell This Thing I Want, who does???" (Try the Yellow Pages? Google it? Phone-a-Friend?)
. "How do I find your store? I need directions from my driveway, which is 40 miles away." (Ummm, Mapquest yourself to a main road, then call back? Spring for a GPS for your car? Go old school with a road atlas?)
."What time does That Store Across The Parking Lot close? Or That Restaurant Up The Street? Where's the closest liquor store?" (OK, OK. I know where the liquor store is; it's across the street.)
."Is this item on sale at That Store That Competes With You?" (Oh, I don't know. Let's call them and find out. And then ask me for directions on how to get there.)

And if you call and ask me what the price was for something that we stopped selling two years ago? Do not tell me that I'm nasty and rude when I politely respond that I'm sorry, I can't remember and won't play The Price Is Right as you throw out random numbers.

Finally: Don't even think about rolling your eyes at me when I can't fill in all your blanks. I'm the eye-roller in this relationship, friend.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Coffee Talk

I'm not a coffee person. It's one of those things I never developed a taste for, in spite of being assured by many grown-ups that I would learn to love it. I do love the aroma of coffee; if it tasted like it smelled, I'd be hooked.

That being said, I understand that the other 99 percent loves it some coffee. The shops are everywhere, and folks go everywhere with a cup in hand. Maybe someone should study whether or not coffee causes amnesia -- because I'm spending a fair amount of my work life disposing of orphan cups o' Joe.

When working a retail store's closing shift, the main task at hand is "recovery." You walk the aisles, on the prowl for misplaced merchandise ("I decided not to buy it, so I'll stash it on a random shelf") or opened packages that can be resealed ("I know it's packed in clear cellophane, but I had to touch it") or opened packages that are empty ("Take the wire; leave the wrapper"). That goes with the territory. People who'd cast you out of their own homes for not using a coaster under a beverage will leave a swath of destruction that the Storm Chasers would rate an F-5.

But a committee somewhere has rewritten "give a hoot, don't pollute" to exclude the disposable coffee cup. Set it free to see the world. So, when I find a full-ish cup? I figure the owner put it down, forgot about it, and wandered away. (See amnesia theory, above.) A half-empty cup? I don't know -- maybe it got cold, maybe it's the amnesia, maybe the drinker is trying to cut back on the habit. An empty cup? Slob. A slob who'd throw you out for using one of the "good" hand towels in her powder room.

Like an inmate marking the days in stir, maybe I should start keeping a tally of how many cups I collect. Maybe I should build a Great Wall of Cups. Maybe I should start charging a 15 percent gratuity for my stellar work as a busboy. Maybe all the Coffee Shoppers should invest in travel mugs. And hang them from their necks on a lanyard.

Then again, don't. I like keeping busy.

P.S. Please don't empty the travel mug out your car window while you're waiting at a light or parking the car. It ain't water.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time

No question about it -- retail stores push the seasons. Christmas starts showing its face in August, and everyone is more than ready to pack away The Holidays come New Year's Day.

That opens the door to my absolute favorite season of the retail year: Springtime in January. The crowds are gone. Business is slow. Our store explodes into a profusion of tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, forsythia, and flowering branches. It's all silk, of course, and my gardener's soul would rather be out playing in damp soil, barefoot, coaxing the tender shoots towards the sun. But when the sky is battleship gray, the arctic wind is knifing through your layers of clothing, and there's a grimy twelve inches of glacier between your boots and the cement-hard ground, "faux spring" is a delight.

Oh, and the "seasonal music" is gone too. My ears unclench. If you're in the store some evening, and you see a sales associate happily tidying floral stems and singing along to "Thunder Road", please stop by my happy place and say hello.