Thursday, August 31, 2006

Beware of the Gold Name Tag!


I’ve worked retail for a long time—too long, in fact, and not by choice. In my career, I’ve fallen prey to many retail hazards: the night shift (once there, you’re stuck); the associate’s discount (it keeps you in debt, thus keeping you on the job); holiday pay (you forsake time with loved ones for a chump change bonus). One pitfall I’ve thankfully avoided is the promotion to retail management.

I hear you. You’re saying, “How can a promotion ever be bad? Like Elvis Costello once sang, ‘There’s no danger. It’s a pro-fes-sion-al ca-reer. . .’ Left must’ve popped a few leftover Vicodins and washed them down with a bottle of Wild Irish Rose—AGAIN.” Well, no. Not this time, anyway.

To the uninitiated, it seems harmless enough. You work hard and do well. Your boss takes note of this. Then, one sunny day, you get summoned to the Majordomo’s office. Upon arrival, you find him coiled behind his desk like a boa constrictor ready to pounce on a fat rat.

“Come in, Stooge!” he hisses, licking his fangs. “Have a seat. We’ve been watching you, Stooge, for quite a while. And we like what we’ve seen.”

You never find out who “we” are. You know he can’t be referring to any of his assistants. Those flunkies, to a man, are so clueless, they forget to zip their flies before coming out of the toilet.

“Yes, Stooge,” Majordomo continues, “we’ve decided that you’re a real go-getter with a future at this company. Blah-blah-blah, yadda-yadda-yadda, yakkety-yak. For those reasons, I’m offering you a chance to join our management team.”

Usually, the offer is a tiny pay raise, some extra health insurance and a fancy-sounding but ultimately meaningless title, such as “Third Chief Auxiliary Manager In Charge of His Ding-Dong”. Sometimes, they’ll even give you a shiny gold name tag, hoping that the glittering doodad will distract you from the fact that the post’s previous occupant was dragged out of the store, laughing hysterically, in a straitjacket.

A couple of times, over the years, I’ve been offered the gold name tag. Placing a high premium on my sanity, however, I’ve never accepted it. I could provide you with a long list of broken souls who have. In the interests of time, though, I’ll just cite the most recent example. I’ll call her “Allegra”.

Allegra is a twentysomething assistant manager at the Spendorama Department Store. For three years, she was a salesperson in the Infants’ and Children’s clothing departments. Allegra, I’ve been told, was a congenial and cooperative worker who was respected by customers and coworkers alike. She was especially adept at opening new Spendorama credit accounts (“There’s no annual fee and no interest for the first 6 months!”). Allegra bears some resemblance, in both appearance and demeanor, to Sandra Bullock in “While You Were Sleeping”. Raised in Toronto by parents who were limey immigrants, Allegra’s speech is marked by a British clip and Anglicisms, such as “Right-o!”

Two months ago, Allegra was offered the gold name tag. She accepted. And everything changed.

Much like Jeff Goldblum’s horrific transformation in “The Fly”, Allegra soon began to exhibit the often grotesque features of the typical retail manager. Before, Allegra’s personality ranged from mildly pleasant to sanely indifferent. Now, regardless of the time of day, Allegra has just two modes: manic happiness or psychotic distress:

“GOOD MORNING/EVENING, JOHN!” she’ll say, breezing past my work station. “ISN’T THIS SIMPLY A WONDERFUL DAY?!?”

“Well,” I’ll say, “it’s Day One of the Summer Clearance Sale. Two out of the three teenyboppers scheduled to close with me have called off and I’ve got a line of coupon-bearing customers at my cash register that’s a mile long. What do you think, Allegra?”

“CAPITAL, JOHN, KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! BUSY HANDS ARE HAPPY HANDS!” Since her promotion, Allegra’s listening skills have deteriorated to that of a two-year old’s, and for some reason, she also can’t seem to stop yelling.

“OH SWEET SUFFERING CHRIST ON THE CROSS, JOHN!” Allegra screamed at me over the phone one recent night. “WHATEVER HAPPENED IN THE BLOODY SOCK DEPARTMENT?!? IT’S TOTAL BEDLAM OVER HERE!”

“Allegra,” I said, “I’ve been here for ten minutes. I haven’t even worked my way down to the sock section yet. Is there a problem?”

“A PROBLEM! RIGHT-O, THERE’S A PROBLEM! SOMEONE HAS HUNG BLACK SOCKS ON THE WHITE SOCK RACK AND BLUE SOCKS ON THE BROWN SOCK RACK, AND SO ON! YOU KNOW SPENDORAMA’S SHELVING POLICY: LIKE COLORS WITH LIKE COLORS! YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT POLICIES, JOHN: RULES ARE NOTHING BUT WORDS ON PAPER UNLESS WE MAKE THEM REALITIES!”

“And. . .?” I asked.

“AND SO YOU NEED TO COME DOWN TO SOCKS DIRECTLY AND ADDRESS THIS ISSUE! BLUE SOCKS ON THE BROWN SOCK RACK IS MOST UNACCEPTABLE, AFTER ALL!”

Since her promotion, Allegra has ceased to speak English as we know it. Her speech now consists of a curious mixture of buzzwords and catchphrases from various Spendorama handbooks, known as “retailese”. An example:

“JOHN!” said Allegra, approaching me at the beginning of a recent shift. “I SEE THAT YOU’RE ZONING [straightening merchandise on shelves] MEN’S UNDERGARMENTS, JOHN! WHAT IS YOUR ACTION-PLAN FOR TONIGHT? AND HAVE YOU TOUCHED BASE WITH YOUR ASSOCIATES, JOHN? HAVE YOU DIALOGUED WITH THEM REGARDING YOUR ACTION-PLAN? WHICH SITUATIONS ARE THEY CURRENTLY ADDRESSING?”

For those who don’t speak retail, I’ll translate. Allegra wanted to know how I meant to go about my work that evening. She also wanted to know where the other two salesdweebs I was scheduled with were and what they were doing (besides dodging customers). Before, she might’ve asked me, “John, what are you up to tonight? And what are Larry and Curley working on?” Not that Allegra knows who Larry and Curley are, but you get my drift.

There’s also the continuous and grating habit of stating the obvious. Before, Allegra might’ve walked past me without comment. Now, every time she sees me, we have a dialogue like the one we had last night:

“JOHN! YOU’RE STRAIGHTENING TIES, I SEE!” Allegra said.

This was a deduction worthy of Sherlock Holmes because, by happenstance, I was straightening the ties we display on a round table in the Men’s Formalwear department.

“Yes, Allegra,” I answered.

“TIP-TOP! AND WHEN YOU’RE DONE, YOU’RE GOING TO TIDY UP THE DRESS SHIRT SECTION?”

Another sharp observation, especially since the dress shirts are located directly next to the ties on the sales floor.

“Yes, Allegra,” I replied.

“AND WHEN YOU COMPLETE YOUR DUTIES—”

“—I should call you so you can check my work and send me along to assist in another department,” I said, heading her off at the pass by quoting the exact same thing she always says every time we have this discussion.

“RIGHT-O! CARRY ON, THEN!”

It’s not that I think Allegra is a bad person. Unlike many managers I’ve had, she does not slack off. If anything, she tries too hard to succeed. I think it’s this drive to be a success, coupled with the unending series of above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty demands made on a Spendorama assistant manager, that has pushed Allegra over the edge into a zone which I call “retail psychosis”. What demands? Read it and weep:

1.) Before, Allegra worked 32-40 hours weekly. Now, she typically logs in 50 hours or more. Previously, she worked the day shift, with an occasional weekend. Holidays were left to seasonal or part-time dweebs, like me. Now, the girl works days, nights, weekends and holidays. I’ve seen her work the noon to closing shift (9p.m. or later), then open the store up the next day at nine o’ clock in the morning. Before, she was paid by the hour; overtime meant extra cash in her pocket. Now, she’s on a straight salary; if she pulls 40 hours or 60 hours, it doesn’t matter. The paycheck is the same.

2.) Before, Allegra’s responsibilities were limited to Infants’ and Children’s clothing. Now, she pitches in wherever she’s needed, whenever and for however long she’s needed. Evidently, Spendorama doesn’t provide its new assistant managers with any more training than it gives its new salespeople. Last week, I saw the classic “What the Hell Am I Doing?” look emblazoned on her face as she attempted to man the Housewares counter, with an irate old lady bombarding her with questions about the new George Foreman electric grill.

3.) Before, Allegra worked in just one store—ours. The week before last, she was sent to a store in the next county, nearly twenty miles away, to cover for another assistant manager whose wife had a baby. Allegra found out about it the morning she was due at the other store—with about two hours' notice.

4.) As a salesperson, Allegra was not required to perform janitorial services. These duties are usually assigned to the maintenance men. . .when they’re around. On a recent evening, a customer’s mentally challenged son had an accident all over the floor of the men’s restroom. The other manager on duty, a guy, was tied up with a customer at the Service Desk. Allegra headed into the guys’ john with rubber gloves, a mop and a bucket. When she emerged, her face was the same color as the Wicked Witch’s in “The Wizard of Oz”. But the john was clean.

And last, but not least, are the opinions of her coworkers. Words like “bitch”, “asskisser” and “suckup” have become familiar descriptors of Allegra in the mouths of people who formerly called themselves her friends. At least two ex-buddies of hers speak with Allegra only when the job requires them to do so.

As for me? Allegra has revived the sense of urgency with which I scan the want ads. Christmas is coming soon. The thought of working a holiday rush with her makes my blood run cold.

So ends my cautionary tale, friends. Beware of the gold name tag. It just ain’t worth it.

3 Comments:

Blogger Michelle M. Welch said...

Oh, definitely. People at work have been saying I should be a supervisor and I think they're insane. Those who *are* supervisors really are insane.

RYC: thanks for stopping by my blog! I've always been a writing style snob (not easy in a genre where most writers think it's all about the idea, the way you write means nothing), and it's nice to find readers who appreciate style and voice.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Happy Villain said...

John, you hit the nail on the head. I, too, have refused managerial positions because you trade your soul, your spare time, and the respect of your coworkers for a few dollars more, and it's just not worth it.

Makes you realize how easy it would be for a disgruntled worker to drive a manager over the edge with simple (and legal) things like putting blue socks in the brown socks area, skewing the ties, putting shirts on the rack backward, etc. :) Not that I would ever do anything like that...

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Allegra Prescription Information said...

My name is Anne Gallagher and i would like to show you my personal experience with Allegra.

I have taken for 3 months. I am 43 years old. Forgot that last year my legs ached after taking Allegra, it wasn't until yesterday that I remembered that this same thing happened last year. I stopped Allegra 3 days ago and my aches are slowly starting to go away. My insurance denied Zyrtec. I don't know if they are the same, but I would never take Allegra again.

Side Effects :
Lower leg pain from the back of my knee to my ankle. Both legs ached and felt very stiff.

I hope this information will be useful to others,
Anne Gallagher

5:49 AM  

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