The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Blue Light Special pt. 3

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Anyone who works Sunday mornings is privy to the show Faye puts on. She’s an older woman, near retirement age, and works in Sporting Goods. She is well-liked around the store, with a reputation for telling it like it is and helping others any way she can. For her show, she typically puts together some kind of get-up from pieces of merchandise she finds in the stockroom and makes a grand entrance through the back door of the break room. One Sunday, she mounts a cart and has somebody push her. When she breaks through the door, she is wearing kneepads, a neon headband, sunglasses, and a sweater so hideous that it couldn’t possibly be sold. She yawps out strains of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and jams on an air guitar. The entire break room bursts out in laughter and exclamations of “What will she think of next?” I laugh as hard as anybody else, but inside I seethe. I am much funnier than she is and constantly crack the jokes to prove it.

*

I befriend Danny. He’s a few years behind me in school, but I know his brother from kindergarten. He wears a clip-on tie every day, so I assign that as his identity: Captain Clip-on. I show him how to tie a tie one day with a thin, dusty tie I find in the Apparel shelves in the stockroom. After three tries at turning the fabric around on itself and trying to remember where to tuck it through, he abandons the idea. He looks at me sheepishly as he puts his own tie back on and resigns, “It doesn’t matter. These are the only ties I have.”

One day, a guy and his wife buy a huge TV. Danny and I are called up to lug it to their car. We struggle and sweat with it, careful not to damage the set or the car we’re putting it into. When we finally get it stowed, I wave goodbye to the couple and call out, “Thank you for shopping our K-Mart,” exactly as I’ve been trained to do every time I am involved in a sale. I wink at Danny and we halfway manage to stifle out laughter. We’ve both muttered the company line so many times that there is no meaning left in it. The only thing we can do to make it sound authentic is to over-emote by yelling it, or flash the toothiest grin possible as we say it.

As Danny and I walk across the baking asphalt back to the store, I pull two quarters out of my pocket and give them over, daring him to ride the horsies on the merry-go-round by the entrance. He does it. I almost piss myself laughing for the next hour, picturing his knees up to his chin as he straddles the yellow pony and spins in circles so small that he almost runs into himself every time he turns a complete circuit.

*

I set my sights on a K-Martette named Dawn. We meet in the stockroom as she puts house wares on the shelves. She has curly blonde hair and seems nice enough. We chat a couple of times over the course of a week about how she likes the job, where she’s from, and if she needs help with anything. She’s a welcome distraction from the ex-girlfriend who decided to not have anything to do with me once I announced I was going to college. I chat with her as we are walking to our cars one night. I don’t know if she can tell, but I’m nervous. I feel a rumble in my stomach. I want to ask her out, and I almost do until it occurs to me that I don’t even know how to ask out a girl other than my ex-girlfriend. Finally, I stumble over a few words, “Would you… I mean… I was thinking…” She looks into my eyes, and I lose my nerve. Finally, it comes out: “I would like to take you out one night.”

“No thanks. I’m not interested.” She walks to her car, starts it, and drives away while I stand in the vacant parking lot wondering how things went so wrong in less than twenty words. For the next few weeks, I am certain that everybody knows she shot me down. I try not to look at her, make eye contact with her, or be near her. I am positive she has told other girls– I know they are giving me the creepy eye like I’m the Lothario stockboy. I’m certain they are warning each other about me. Worse still, I fear that the insecurities and vulnerabilities I keep tightly packed away will be unleashed if someone makes a joke about my pathetic attempt at romance.

*

After thirty days on the job, I receive the mandatory promotion. It boosts my earnings to $3.30 per hour, and my job title to 02. I become a member of the Health and Beauty Aides team. I like the feeling of stepping up the ladder and doing something new.

My happiness lasts about ten days, which is how long it takes me to clash with Priscilla, the stout brunette who is the head of H&BA. She can’t be more than twenty-four, but seems much older to me. I know her already as a member of The Donut Mafia. She holds herself with an air of superiority, even though she’s only halfway up the in-store chain of command and is but one link above me. She also talks down to people– I’ve seen her infer how stupid she thinks some of her department members are when she talks to them in the breakroom.

I can’t disguise my lack of respect for her intelligence or authority, and find that I am able to piss her off effortlessly by cracking my usual jokes about the products on our shelves. Every tasteless crack is met by her blank face or refusal to respond in any way, but I soldier on. Besides, the birth control and personal hygiene products are too much for my mind and mouth to resist. The douches are the most tempting, and I manipulate their names into things like “Summer’s Eve trough.” The night I unveil that gem, she snaps on me, “You really need to shut up with your comments. They’re disgusting.”

If I have any fun working, she thinks I’m not working hard enough. She complains when I wrap my tie around my head and tell her I’m going to face the shelves Rambo-style. I talk Danny into joining me one night, and cackle when Priscilla passes the aisle where we are arranging products, makes a double-take of what she sees, and then scowls and shakes her head.

Priscilla pisses me off, too. In addition to her general demeanor, she affects the image that she is the fount of H&BA knowledge and knows the most efficient and effective way to do everything. The phoniness of it all angers me. I see other managers in other departments ask their teams about suggestions they might have. Other departments seem to have some semblance of team chemistry and a feeling of belonging, both of which make me envious. Priscilla makes no efforts toward chemistry or belonging, at least not with me. I don’t let that stop me from making suggestions, though. One of my ideas is to establish a Customer Improvement branch of H&BA: “We’ll stop customers when they enter the store and make some suggestions– like wearing clothes that match, or that don’t have grease stains, or washing their John Deere hats and cleaning their dentures. We can even show them some of our products that will help.” Priscilla finds as little humor in that as in anything I say or do, and at that point I consider stopping with the jokes and absurd suggestions. Instead, I push and pry to find her limits.

I’m not the only aggressor in our battle of wills, though. Priscilla takes her shots, but they are much subtler than mine. One of her favorite ploys is to deny me help or answers to questions when I need them to finish a job. When she’s on break and I go to the break room to ask her something, she looks down her nose at me through a cloud of cigarette smoke and states “I’m sorry, I don’t work during my break.” She does this four or five times before I promise myself that I’m going to make things even with her.

Priscilla also targets me to strip the shelves over the weekend shifts when she usually has time off. I have to pull several pieces of each product off the H&BA stockroom shelves to find space for them on the sales floor shelves. It’s tedious, mind-numbing work that involves constant back-and-forth trips to the stockroom. I soon suspect that Priscilla uses the frequent shelf stripping to cover the over-ordering she seems to do every week. The process is supposed to keep our reserve stock balanced so we are never fully out of any product, but it never alleviates the overflowing H&BA stockroom shelves, nor does it reduce the mess of boxes in the aisles between our shelves. When Priscilla returns to work on Mondays, she complains, “You didn’t do a very good job. I can hardly see anything you put on the shelves.” She almost always mentions the shortcomings in the company of upper management, or at least loud enough for them to hear.

The only thing that alleviates the cruelty of shelf stripping is the friendship I strike up with Frenchy, who is my frequent partner in the drudgery. We are an unlikely pair from opposing camps–I’m the cynic short-timer, and she’s a chipper, late-twenties mother who needs a job to help support her family. She says she knows my oldest brother from high school, seems interested in my future, and laughs at my jokes. When I’m not clowning, she talks about her husband or funny things her four-year old daughter does. Her solid relationship with Priscilla doesn’t deter my fondness for her; I also find her chubbiness and red waist-length hair to be cute affectations. It soon becomes my secret ambition to remove her from Priscilla’s small circle of friends.

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Written by seeker70

September 18, 2009 at 10:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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