Leaving Retail Purgatory
Associates are dropping like proverbial flies. Two weeks ago, they fired my buddy in the men’s department for lack of attendance. Today I learned that they fired another young man (who has worked for the store for a number of years, and even took a leave of absence to finish graduate school before coming back) for depleting his precious attendance points. Yet another long-term worker in Men’s is anxious that his own dismissal is imminent, due to lack of attendance points. I’m working my last shift on Tuesday (although I have a surplus of fifteen, count ’em, fifteen attendance points. I have vaguely wondered if I could cash them in before I leave, like tickets for skeeball at a carnival. I’d probably only get a wall-eyed stuffed elephant). That leaves them with a deficit of four people in just one department.
My coworker, Tom, who was a civil engineer for decades before joining the illustrious one-star team (the one-star rating refers to the ubiquitous single white star) griped to me about how our new manager spent fifteen minutes lecturing him on the importance of opening the reviled “star rewards card,” and pushing the idea on each and every customer — no matter how disinterested they claimed to be.
“Little Lord Fauntleroy and his stupid haircut. What do you call that thing, anyway? A faux-hawk?” Tom sniffed while shifting from one foot to the other. “He’s just biding his time here so he can put ‘manager’ on his résumé and move on to bigger and better things. He’s probably just out of managerial school. This is just a practice run for him. We’re the ones down here every day. Do you ever see him on the floor, helping out? No. He flashes through to tell us what we’re doing wrong, and then boom! He’s gone again.”
I didn’t mention that the aforementioned manager has a hunted look in his eye, like he’s afraid he’s just one step ahead of the boogeyman. He talks to employees from one side of his face, eyes wide, like he’s looking for an escape route. He does this while he sort of dances back and forth. I suspect he is afraid of us.
He gave me one last talk, urging me to open “just one more” store credit card before I leave on Tuesday. “I know you have it in you! I feel it! Don’t doubt your abilities!” I nodded and smiled before he loped away. I didn’t have the heart to mention that I wasn’t interested in striving for this particular goal. I had gotten a lot out of working there, although not necessarily for the reasons outlined in the job description.
Another coworker, this time a lady who has been working for this company for an astonishing fifteen years, talked about how another manager, Kelly, roams around Women’s Ready-to-Wear, verbally tearing employees down. “I’ve seen grown women — women in their forties — reduced to tears. Real, sobbing tears. She’s a nasty piece of work. She’s got her position of power here, and she thinks she’s hot stuff. And what is she actually managing? A crumbling department store, and half the people are leaving! They can’t hire anyone, because word has gotten out.”
I asked if she thought this was true of all of this chain’s store, and she replied, “Oh no! You go to Union Square, or you go to Sacramento, and the stores are like palaces! It’s just the Marin locations that are suffering. The Northgate one looks like it was looted!” It has come to this: store employees standing around a customer-free selling floor, talking openly and loudly about how poorly the place is run. There is little fear of recourse.
In the midst of all this ire and gnashing of teeth, one of my least favorite regular customers sauntered in, for one last hurrah before I go. She is not a mean woman, but very strange and needy, with a set of blindingly white false teeth that are so evenly sized and spaced as to be distracting. As usual, she rummaged through the bargain sock bin, complaining that the socks weren’t inexpensive enough. Then she shuffled toward me and away, toward and away, telling me how much she loved me and how beautiful we all were, how much she loved visiting us at the store, etc.
She also continued her ongoing ritual of bringing up individual items, one after the other, to be scanned at the register — thus revealing their fully discounted prices. “Oh no, that’s too expensive,” she would say of a DKNY necktie that had been marked down from $75 to $9.99. “Can you make it cheaper for me? I know you can do it! For me? No? Oh no, darling, don’t feel bad! I love you! I LOVE YOU!” Repeat ad nauseum for the better part of an hour, until she left, empty-handed. “See you later, darlings!”
One good and gentle aspect of my work week has been unexpected and welcome. Word has gotten out that I am leaving soon, and people are approaching me in the break room, or making special trips down to my department to wish me well. “It’s always so nice to see you around, even if we don’t talk” said a woman who works in Center Core a.k.a. the scarf and glove section. “Come back and see us! Let us know how you’re doing. I’m so proud of you that you got a new gig, and you’re going to school!” said another who works in Handbags. It’s been very moving and gracious.