The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Blue Light Special pt. 2

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There are certain K-Mart routines that I soon find ridiculous. One is “facing” the shelves on the sales floor. This means pulling all the products on a shelf to the front so the shelves appear to be full and it’s easier for customers to reach the products they want. Many of my coworkers eat the idea up and gladly attack the task, but I’m skeptical about it. I never understand how the look of a “full” store translates to greater sales, and I can’t see outside myself to figure it out. I assume most people are like me: they go to the store to buy what they need, grab it off the shelf if it’s there, and pay for it at the cash register. They don’t decide where to shop based on some arbitrary determination of how full a store looks. But K-Mart is mighty determined, and pretty soon facing is done at the end of the evening shift every day and continues for a full hour after the store closes. Should anyone ever lose track of the time and not start facing when mandated, a manager crackles an announcement over the PA each night: “Attention K-Mart employees. Code ‘F’ is now in effect. Code ‘F’ is now in effect.”

When the hour of facing proves inadequate, the store assembles Early Morning Facers. Without fail, a group of six or eight people shows up at seven o’clock each morning to face everything they can get their hands on. At one point, I hear Phyllis and another manager discuss the crew as EMFs, as if they were important enought to have an acronym. All I could think of when I heard the name– full or abbreviated– was a squad of ambidextrous retail commandos who could snake their hands behind boxes of toothpaste or cans of hairspray, facing with efficiency and impunity, all the while communicating via walkie-talkie: “Okay, Rich. I’m done with the White Rain and ready to move on to the Panteen as soon as you give me the go-ahead… and let’s get a body on the Nabisco Graham Crackers…”

I can’t stand the idiocy of the whole facing concept and the time we dump on it each day. Pretty soon, I will do almost anything to get out of it. Another 01 tells me to find an errand to run in the stockroom, something along the lines of “I thought we had more Consort for Men and wanted to grab a few since the space on the shelf is almost empty.” Once I break the doorway of the stockroom, it’s an orgy of slacking with the other 01’s. We engage in long debates about basketball, which manager is the biggest douchebag, or which K-Martette we’ve been watching. There are frequent updates on who is stealing what and how it’s being done, and a frequent reminder that if he gets caught, we have never heard of him, don’t know him as well as others think, or have no idea he has been doing it.

I am trained in how to stock the shelves, but not until someone sees me struggling with a shipment of boxes. Previous to that, I pay no mind to the logic and organization of the store, other than to realize that the north half of the store is clothing and shoes, and the south half is divided from front to back between Pantry / Health and Beauty Aides / Pharmacy, Sporting Goods, then Home Improvement and Hardware. The middle is split between Jewelry, Housewares, and Electronics front to back. I am shown the stickers on the boxes and how to align them with the labels on the shelves. Everyone else in the store seems to be an old hand at it despite the fact that the store is brand new. I, however, struggle mightily with the task because I prefer grabbing a box of whatever and walking up and down the aisles until I find where it goes. I like my system quite a bit, though, so my attempts to stock are travesties of efficiency.
I soon hate my hours. It’s the first time I’m at the beck and call of somebody for an entire week. Eight-hour shifts are the norm, but I typically close the store one night and open it the next morning. Around the middle of the second day, I’m exhausted and cranky with no desire to find or exercise the controls on my smart mouth. I work both days most weekends. When I’m not working eight-hour shifts, I’m scheduled to work half shifts in the middle of the afternoon or late evening that usually wreck plans I make to hang out with friends.

Starting late in June, there is a drought that is declared to be the worst seen in the midwest in decades. By the middle of July, there is a ban on fireworks, the nightly news runs footage of shipping problems on the Mississippi because of the low water levels, and the idea of siestas begins to appeal to everybody. I’m mowing precious few lawns and longing for the feeling of satisfaction from running the business I created and grew through sweat and communication with customers. When I do mow, my machine chokes out more dust and dirt than grass.

The ongoing heat makes it nearly impossible to sleep. I plod home from work and try to tire myself out by staying up late, but my sheets are still hot and clingy, preventing all but a few hours of rest. I wake up sweaty, then plod back to K-Mart heavy-lidded and grouchy. The shifts drag by. Those not working at K-Mart trek to one of Steuben County’s hundred-and-one lakes to relieve the heat. There seems to be some cruel conspiracy amongst them: they parade past me each day with sunscreen, ice, coolers, water toys, and beach towels. Each purchase taunts me with thoughts of what I could be doing instead of facing shelves and trying to find the right place for Extra-Strength Tylenol.

I keep hearing rumblings about the store inspections that are supposed to take place every few weeks: a man named Mr. Frame is to come to tour and evaluate the store. I stifle my thoughts that he sounds more like a James Bond supervillian than anybody I should take seriously.
The announcement of Mr. Frame’s pending arrival routinely incites panic in the aisles akin to that of Japanese villagers running from Godzilla as he stomps through the waters of Tokyo Bay. The managers scurry around breathless, making sure the building is spotless, records are straight, shelves are faced, workers are smiling, and zippers are zipped. As far as the regular employees are concerned, Mr. Frame is Santa Claus. Every task is pitched as “Don’t you want the store to look nice when Mr. Frame comes for the inspection?” or “What would Mr. Frame think of the job you did stocking the Tegrin?” God forbid we wind up on Mr. Frame’s naughty list; but if we are on his nice list, then what? Regardless, inspections find the store clean, efficient, its employees happy, and the number of candy bars illicitly devoured by the 01s no cause for concern.
Once the inspection is complete and Mr. Frame is happily on his way to Coldwater or Bryan or Howe, we return to our normal existence. Too few people understand what I discovered mowing lawns years earlier: if we hold ourselves to high expectations all the time, we won’t have to fake excellence and pop Klonopin every time there is an inspection.
When employees pick up pay envelopes late on Friday afternoons, they find pay stubs detailing the hours worked, whatever deductions are applicable, and the cash equivalent of a paycheck. From the critical moment of discovering their exact worth, employees are drawn into a cycle of cannibalism that ultimately recycles a handsome portion of the money K-Mart spends on labor. The cash is right there in the hands of every employee, too many temptations exist between the break room and the parking lot, and the bank is already closed. Some blow a third to half of their earnings by the time they leave. For me, this is one of the only area of business and commerce where I am ahead of my colleagues. I am used to cash payments from my years of mowing lawns and have developed some immunity to the euphoric emotional glaze born from impulse buying. I tuck my pay envelope into my front shirt pocket and leave the store as fast as possible. Sometimes I stop and buy a frozen Coke.

Written by seeker70

September 13, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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