Monday, July 10, 2006


Did you ever have a “familiar surprise”? You know, something you’ve experienced in the past which shocks you today, because it hasn’t changed? At my new job, I’ve had two. I was surprised by how similar my job at the Spendorama Department Store is to the other retail positions I’ve worked. At Spendorama, I stock shelves, jockey a cash register, lead customers to the appropriate rack (a task optimistically mislabeled ‘selling’) and clean up after the stampede at day’s end. Since 1994, I’ve worked retail at, now, six different companies. The environment and merchandise have changed. The job never has.

The human element at Spendorama also surprised me. Much like the job itself, it hasn’t changed. Retail is a “people” business. In it, you meet every variety of Homo sapiens imaginable. By and large, the folks I’ve encountered in retail have been a circus parade of psychos, scam artists, phawkups and slackers. Spendorama has turned out to be just one more candy-colored car in the caravan. That said, I’m going to use this week’s exciting episode to skewer one recent group of parade participants.

Most of my coworkers at Spendorama are members of that under-educated, unmotivated group of talking monkeys known as Generation Y. In an earlier and less sensitive time, these kids would’ve been branded “retards” and put to work in a warehouse gluing little button-eyes on Beanie Babies. In our (cough, cough) enlightened age, they’re cut loose to serve the public in retail stores. And that presents me with a terminological problem. No, smartasses, you can’t cure it with cranberry juice. I’m talking words here. How can I best describe them? I don’t want to offend people who actually are mentally challenged by grouping them in with iPod-wearing mall-apes. At the same time, I don’t care to reveal myself as the sour old curmudgeon I truly am. Hmm, what to do, what to do?

Ah, I know! I’ll just use “retard” as a root-word—to delineate a general lack of intelligence. Then, to avoid political incorrectness, I’ll chop the “re-” off the front. Next, to indicate the plural case and to cop some street cred, I’ll replace the stodgy “-s” with a slammin’ MTV-style “-z”. Yeah, baby! Brother John is Way Kewl! And thus is born the accurate term—‘tardz.

What, you ask, does this word imply? It indicates not so much a lack of IQ points as a slothful reluctance to use those IQ points. It’s an attitude, not a medical condition. For instance, Maynard G. Krebs from the “Dobie Gillis” show was a ‘tard. Ashlee and Jessica Simpson are ‘tardz. Lest you mistakenly believe ‘tardz to be, like the aforementioned specimens, mythological beings, I submit for your perusal some real-life examples from my own experience:

1.)“Mateo” is a 20-something salesman who works around Spendorama’s shoe department. Notice I didn’t say “in” the shoe department. That’s because Mateo rarely sells any shoes. That’s not to say he doesn’t work hard. He does, but not at selling shoes. Mateo uses his payroll hours to sexually harass every woman in the store between ages 18 and 50. His eyes constantly scan the horizon for approaching females. Upon spotting one, Mateo does not call out to her. Rather, he emits a long whistle of varying tones—it starts out low and then rises abruptly in pitch. When the lady turns toward the sound, the following dialogue ensues.

Mateo: Hey, sweetness. (Mateo’s eyes are welded to her chest.)

Woman: Excuse me?

M (He pulls out a cell phone, flips it open to display the screen.): See this? My ride. Uh-huh!

W: What?

M: A Mazda MX-5 convertible 2-door. (The Mazda actually belongs to our store manager. Mateo drives a rusty ’97 Ford Aspire.) If you’re free, we can take a rrriiiidddeee later on, get it? Uh-huh!

W: I need a pair of sandals.

M: We got sandals. I’ll give you sandals. And you can kick ‘em off. . .when we drive out to the beach in my slammin’ ride, uh-huh! Waddya say, beauty?

W: No.

M: Like to dance? There’s this great little club downtown. I get off at six. Off work, that is. I’m a great dancer. When I’d get off, for real, would be up to you, uh-huh!

W: No.

M: Hungry? I know this restaur—

W: No.

M: My brother’s having a party Friday night at—

W: No.

(At this point, the senior citizen man Mateo had been helping when the woman approached hobbles up on one shoe, holding the other in his hand.)

Senior Citizen: I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t think these orthopedic loafers are for me.

M (His eyes still welded to her chest, he waves off the old fart.): Later, Pops. Hey girl, you like bowling?

W: Is there a Payless near here? (She starts to leave.)

SC: It doesn’t feel right. In fact, I can’t feel my foot at all. I think you cut off my circulation when you jammed it on my foot. . .

M: (He chases after the woman.) Picnics? There’s a park two blocks away. Uh-huh!

According to reliable sources, Mateo has already been Maced, kicked in the balls, punched in the face and karate-chopped in his brief career at Spendorama. Female coworkers use terms like “prick”, “dick” and “asshole” in reference to him. His personnel file is thick with harassment complaints. Yet, he remains on staff as a full-timer. How? His uncle is an assistant manager at the store.

2.) “Camilla” is a college sophomore who’s working at the store over her summer vacation. With a flawless olive complexion, a cute figure, a bright smile and flowing brunette hair, most people would describe a girl like her as being in the prime of her life. Not Camilla. In the brief time I’ve known her, Camilla has consistently been in one of three states of being—sick, tired or allergic to. . .everything. And all three states prevent her from working.

Me: Morning, Camilla. How are you today?

Camilla: (She stands at the counter with her head buried in her arms.) Shitty. I’m going on break, ‘kay? I need an Advil/Benadryl/Red Bull/to rest a while. I have a cold/the flu/a sinus infection/couldn’t sleep last night/raging allergies. God, how I hate air conditioning/ragweed/pollen/dust/grass/trees/mold/my boyfriend/my life! Cover for me, ‘kay? And could you run these strays up to Women’s? I can’t go up there. It’s next to the perfume section. I’d be sneezing for hours. (She sniffles.) Thanks, ‘bye!

Me: But we just opened ten minutes ago.

The girl sneezes constantly. Loud, hard sneezes—“WACHOO!”—in bunches of 3 to 8. She doesn’t seem to be aware of an invention called the handkerchief, because she never has one. She apparently hasn’t heard of courtesy, either, since Camilla does not turn her head to sneeze. I’ve watched her “WACHOO!” all over the phone, the cash registers, the counters, the merchandise and in customers’ faces. Everything I have to touch on the job is usually coated with a light spray when Camilla’s around. I’ve taken to carrying anti-bacterial wipes with me at all times. If this keeps up, by summer’s end, I’ll be wearing Kleenex boxes on my feet like Howard Hughes.

You’ll never guess what Camilla’s majoring in at school. Pre-med, with a Psychology minor. Maybe she can cure herself.

3.) “Arvin” (okay, I’m running low on fake names) is a freshman at a local technical school. In the two months I’ve worked with him, Arvin has always shown up for work on time. He never calls in sick. My every experience with Arvin has been exactly the same:

Me: (Starting my shift, either day or night.) Hey, Arvin. What’s up?

Arvin: (He walks past me.) Nothing much. I’m going on break. See you later.

And that’s it. I don’t know anything more about Arvin. Nobody else seems to, either. He always seems to be on break someplace off the sales floor. And yes, the management knows.

4.) “Coupon-Scam Woman” was a customer about 25 years old. She was dressed in a pink halter top and cut-off jeans. She wore black streaks through her long blonde hair. Last month, Spendorama had a sale and issued coupons offering 15% discounts on certain items. The coupons’ terms of usage, restrictions and expiration dates were clearly printed on every slip of paper. I swear to God, this is exactly what happened:

Coupon-Scam Woman: (She whips out an inch-thick stack of coupons, plops it on the counter next to her purchases and grins.) Aha! I’ve got coupons! (She says this like she’s brandishing a lethal weapon.)

Me: (I sort through the pile of clothes she’s buying.) I’m sorry, ma’am. All the red-tag items are clearance pieces. The red tag means a sizable discount has already been taken. Coupons can’t be applied to red-tag items.

CSW: Bullshit! I found these on the regular racks, not on the clearance table! (She pushes a wad of coupons at me.) You got to honor these or else that’s false advertising!

Me: (Pulling a pair of jeans from the pile.) These are Levi’s jeans. I’m sorry, but Levi’s products can’t be used with the coupons. (I point to the coupon itself.) It’s listed right on there—

CSW: (Loudly and angrily.) Phawk you! It doesn’t say that! Where?

Me: And this Nautica shirt is full price, like all Nautica items. Nautica is exempt to coupons. That, too, is listed on the coupons.

CSW: Does it say that you and everyone in this crappy store are a bunch of sneaky, back-stabbing weasels? Huh? Where’s that listed on the coupons? It should, ‘cause it’s true! Look, numb-nuts, I got places to be. (She rips a couple of shirts from the pile and shoves the rest off the counter on to the floor.) Just gimme these.

Me: (I ring up her selections.) Okay. Your total, with tax, comes to $60.78.

CSW: (Her eyes bug out of her skull as she points strenuously to the pile of paper slips.) Coupons, coupons! You only used three of ‘em! What the phawk!

Me: Right. I scanned three coupons along with the three shirts you’re buying.

CSW: But I got at least a dozen coupons here! Me and my boyfriend figured it out at home! With the coupons, these brand-new Calvin Klein shirts should ring up at (She counts on her fingers.). . .a dollar each! That’s it! A buck apiece. I refuse to pay a penny more!

Me: But ma’am, the sales flyer clearly states that you can use only one coupon per item. I’m sorry. That’s the store’s policy.

CSW: (She’s enraged by now.) Bullshit! Bullshit! BULLLLSHIIITT! I’ll have your job! I’ll have your balls on a plate! (She throws the coupons into the air and waves her arms over her head frantically.) I won’t let you cheat me and my boyfriend like this! Phawk this store! (She turns and starts walking toward the exit.) I’m going to the Better Business Bureau! Phawk you, your mom and both of your grandmas! Phawk you all!

And worst of all? Coupon-Scam Woman’s son, a boy who was maybe 3 years old, stood right next to her the entire time. He watched and heard everything—and looked damned scared trailing after her out the door.

‘Tardz. Each and every one of them—‘tardz to the bone. God help them, and us, all.


Blogger jayne d'Arcy said...

These people are why I sometimes need to go crawl under a rock.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Happy Villain said...

Sorry, John. Sounds like a bunch of my Happyville patrons broke out again. We try so hard to keep them locked up and away from the rest of the population, but there just aren't enough guards watching the inmates, if you know what I mean. If you would be so kind as to send them back to us, we'll put them back in their pens. Again, sorry. Hope there wasn't too much damage this time.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Thao said...

I wouldn't crawl under a rock because of these folks. These people make me want to chunk the rock at their noggins. But tardz like that bring our my repressed rage. John, thanks for visiting and leaving such an inspiring comment. Makes me want to tote around power tools or something in addition to my jumper cables and lightsaber.

10:42 AM  

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