Retail at 40: Fantasizing About Strangling Balloons, a Rant.

I haven’t worked in 15 years. I am grateful to have been so lucky as to get a retail job within the first week of girding my fat, anxious, bi-polar diagnosed loins and handing out resumes the old fashioned way. (Store to store in person.) But, wow. Wow. In the past months of working retail at the Buck Stump* I have learned me a Thing or Two. (*name changed to protect…Well….I dunno who. Me. You. Sanity. The world.)

I have amassed a shockingly large amount of pet peeves that will possibly drive me further toward gibbering in a mu-mu whilst screaming at pigeons in my back yard with one hand full of cheap bourbon and a cat in the other. And you know what I thought? (Gosh Pinkatron, I don’t know what you thought. Tell me! ) I thought, why not blog about it? I mean, this will not be news to anyone else that has worked in retail before. But if you’re 16 years old, or 30, or 60, and trying to get back into the job market…Here’s a handy list of things that you’re going to adore and encounter frequently :

The Ziploc Bag of Change and Despair

There’s no one in line. Ah, I think–I can take a moment and get some things done. Maybe–nope.  Suddenly, there’s a cart full of items and a person standing at the register with a bag of change the size of a human head. The customer makes direct eye contact with me while dumping more than 20 items on the conveyor belt, then upends that plastic baggie of time-sucking-vampiric qualities all over the rubber conveyor belt.  The best is that they continue to stare at me as if to establish dominance and fully expecting me to count it. All of it. And as I start plucking up each piece of change from the Portal of Nowhere, there are now seven people in line, with one item behind this customer who now has to wait half a century for me to ring everything up, bag it, count the change, double check, give change (irrrronnnnyyyy), receipt as well as wait for said person to pick up their items and put them in their carts. (I don’t have to load the cart. Thank ODIN. Roll. Your. Change. PLEASE. I am a broke ass cashier working part time, I understand not having money, I really do…Just…just please…Roll your change!

Cashiers have cooties? I guess?

The amount of people that fling their money down at the furthest point on the entire planet—the end of the conveyor belt—which is older than Legend and Myth and takes forever to bring it and the customer’s items to me? Flabbergasting. Top this off with the fact the conveyor belt is rubber, and everything seems to stick completely flat on it, making me spend at least two minutes scrambling pick up the change and bills to peel them away. People…that wastes your time and mine. I could have had you rung up, bagged, and ready to get to the next person much faster. I promise you: I wash my hands constantly. I wash them before work. I wash them at work. I wash them in the bathroom. I wash them when I’m not in the bathroom. I have an industrial sized container of hand sanitizer I use after handing any bills. I also shower frequently. Everyday, and when going to work, before and after work. I triple promise you that I will not infect you with some sort of retail like disease. Please just put your money in my hand. 

“Yeah, uh, I know I have 200 items in my cart and there are 57 people behind me and you’re the only cashier can I get 21 balloons please.”

I don’t understand this curse laid upon me. It never fails that whenever a co-worker or manager is on break or has to run off somewhere arising from the ramen aisles comes a line to the register so long as to have the end of it shrouded in mists. And of course the first one in that line has a cart so full that the wheels tremble beneath the weight. And of course the first thing out of their mouths when I begin ringing them up, sweat forming from pure anxiety along my upper lip I hear these words: these dreaded, evil, awful, gut wrenching words…“Yeah, and, can I get a million balloons, too?” For a moment when they ask, I go away. Far, far away inside. Where it is safe and there are no balloons ever to be blown up ever again. I have to leave the register and go with them to blow up the balloons. Do they have any balloons already picked out by then, by the way? No. Don’t be silly. That would be too easy. The customer will stand beneath the display and squint, point while hem-hawing. They’ll talk about this one or that one. They’ll ask me for a balloon that isn’t even on the display. I tell them we don’t have it. Sometimes they point out which balloon they want then half way through blowing it up change their mind. Listen, it takes so long to blow up balloons. Picking them out? 5 mins at the least. Filling them? 30-50 seconds each. More than one balloon? Having to juggle them all with one hand, and also blowing more up. Customers then usually seem terribly surprised when I won’t stand there holding their 10 balloons with one hand and then try and ring up their items while bagging them with the other. I AM NOT THAT TALENTED ALSO: NOT AN OCTOPUS. I HAVE TWO HANDS. TWO!

Paying a $2 total with a $100 bill.

This isn’t a bank. This is the Buck Stump*. First, there are few businesses outside of a bank that keep $100’s in the till anymore. Second, there are few businesses that keep that much money in smaller bills in the register anymore. Third, we do not, ever, carry that much in a till. And customers trying to pay with a $100 bill will often try to do so immediately when we open. AKA: We haven’t sold a single thing and all I have are 5’s, ones and some pennies in my damn till.  This drives me batty. And when I tell them, “I’m sorry, I don’t have change for that,” the general reaction is a few seconds of distant staring followed by the slow cloud of a wrinkle betwixt their brows either of confusion or growing outrage. 50% of the time they ask me, “Why not?” or tell me, “But that’s all I have?” as if I can somehow magically poop out a bank branch, endless money as well as a teller for them all right at the register. If I am lucky I’ll have some of the best customers in line behind them (not all of them are horrible, thank goodness) who will chime in with a, “You know there’s a bank right around the corner, right?”

Signs? Labels? What are those?

Aisles are labelled. Everyone of them. Items that aren’t on sale or seasonal are 99.9% of the time always in the same place. Sometimes, we do run out of items. (Pro tip: We do not have any of them in the back.) However, the amount of humans that trudge through the very front door, take one look at me—regardless if I have 5400 people in line or 2, and immediately just ask where 1 item is before even turning their eyeballs toward the aisles. And they’re never: a) new customers who had never been there before or c) people who look genuinely lost or confused. No, these people who continually ask where something is are regulars I see multiple times a week.  They don’t want to look, they don’t want to make an effort to remember and they don’t care. It’s store policy that if there’s no one in line I have to, every time, personally lead them to it. And if I can’t find it I have to look with them. The number of times people have glared at me as if I just called their newborn baby a pile of cat turds when I say, “I’m sorry, I can’t find it either. It is either sold out or we haven’t had it restocked yet,” has been too many to count.

Returning an item without a receipt & and the item wasn’t even from our store.

There are some obvious, recognizable general brands sold at the Buck Stump*. The rest of it is very obvious knock off, no name, or not-from-this-country brands. Also, I am not allowed to take any returns or exchanges without a valid receipt. Dated in this century. This isn’t …Mall-part, the giant super store. I am not sure why customers appear so terribly shocked, appalled and bemused when I tell them I cannot exchange and item without a reciept. (Let’s not talk about the number of customers who get very upset when I inform them that our store does not give cash back, or store credit and it says so on the very receipt they hold as well as on a sign at every register) . I’ve also encountered a plethora of people bringing used opened items that aren’t even sold at our store. Seriously? There is no inner glee so joyous however, when a customer insists on speaking to my manager for a return or exchange without a receipt and having the manager say the exact same thing to them that I already told them.

Garbage, discarded items & food.

Actual footage of how 50% of customers treat & shop in my store.

Empty pop cans in the makeup section. An open and half eaten frozen pot pie in the freezer. A package of raisins in the raisin aisle, open and strewn all over the floor. Orange juice that has had one sip taken out of it and placed back in the fridge. None of these items either purchased at the store, or came from the store but eaten there and not paid for. On one hand I feel like telling these mysterious people if you are actually starving and desperate for food I will buy you those raisins, that juice, that soda. On the other, knowing how humanity works, these are simply people who do not give a single fuck at all and do whatever they want. Yes, we do have cameras. Yes, we do see you eating that package of cookies right on the shelf but after. And people know that it is store policy that if an employee doesn’t catch you and keep eyes on you 100% of the time while you are practically stealing there’s nothing we can do. We’re not going to call the police over a can of no-name coke, but I don’t understand how anyone can think this is acceptable unless absolutely desperate for food or drink.

What have (we) I learned about Retail?

Is it always this bad? Are customers always awful in retail? Will you / I always encounter people behaving like this? No. (Praise His Noodly Appendage.) Retail tends to mirror life in all aspects, you’ll end up having good days and bad. The reality is, is that most of your customers are going to be good people. In fact, my ranting above only highlights the worst examples I have run across since starting my job. Whenever I encounter customers who I consider frustrating or annoying or difficult, I repeat to myself that I don’t know these customers personally. I don’t really know what is going on in their lives that day that make them decide to do what they do, and, at the end of my shift? I can literally leave my retail baggage, as it were, right there at the store. I’ve learned at the ripe old age of 40 (Which isn’t really that old but man, have I days where I feel 80,) that separating work and play or work and home is a vital part of simply surviving. Being able to come home to my cats, my husband, fling my bra and pants off in a fit of joy then sitting down and playing my favorite games or MMORPG’s gives me the energy I need to be able to cope with the next day. And if I need a little extra, some D.I.Y self-care in addition to spoilage lets me wipe the rest of the work mental grime away. Also, it really helps I can let off steam here!

In conclusion, don’t be a dick to the people behind the register or counter. We’re real life humans too.

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