When I was younger I accidentally found myself in an assistant’s position running a Halloween store. I wasn’t qualified, but apparently 3 years managing tweens at a children’s party place was enough to fool them into giving me the keys. At least for a few months.
See, seasonal pop up stores offer the unique experience of knowing your exact date of unemployment before you even start. November 14th. The job was to clear a building, build a store, stock it, run it, close it, pack it up, and clear it again within 3 months, and we had to do it with a staff of people who have most likely never done it before, nor will do it again. Some were veterans, but they were your boss’ boss. Loyalty was, as you can imagine, at a minimum.
Our particular location had rented out an old record store, fully stocked with shelves and signs and equipment. It was like they just left. Corporate must have pulled the plug, nabbed all their stock, killed the lights, and locked the door. In the back old schedules hung inside lockers, drawers still full of fortune cookies and tiny napkins, calendars littered with appointments optimistically set in a future where Napster never happened. In the stock room there was a massive cardboard cutout of Bob Marley’s head which one of the temps grabbed before he was asked to leave a few weeks later for failing a certain test. It was surreal. Considering only a few years prior I was walking around there with friends. It even smelled the same. I think. Maybe nostalgia just has a scent.
The few of us that started out the clearing took home anything useful, and destroyed anything not. For a month I stood in a parking lot smashing and breaking apart displays, desks, cabinets, and whatever could be hidden inside our roll-off. Heart breaking.
Eventually the equipment and product arrived, we set it up, and went on our way tormenting anyone who dared walk into the store. This story would have been significantly shorter if Vine and Snapchat existed back then.
At this point, instead of helping with hiring, emptying trucks, and being an underpaid forklift, my job was making sure cashiers weren’t getting duped by con-artists, and to help-out customers on the floor. I also got to make tactical changes to the schedule and fire people when my boss didn’t want to feel like the bad guy. She had a knack for knowing how those people were going to take it, poorly, mostly.
Aside from that I was utility, mixing concrete, supporting the computers, unplugging the phones, getting lunch for whoever, and apparently security.
HEY- HEY- HEY- STOP HIM- GET NICK, STOP HIM
I was in the middle of assembling the costume I was going to wear for sign duty later that day when I heard her scream. It was a bit a social commentary, a mask of the Burger King while wearing an inflatable fat suit. I figured that image dancing on the side of a major highway should be irresistible, or at least worthy to stop and take a photo with. I wasn’t wrong.
I ran upfront to see my boss pointing at a man sauntering towards the exit, dropping re-enactment grade costumes on the floor as he went. GET HIM, STOP HIM, HE’S STEALING COSTUMES. Ugh. Fine.
I wanted to help, but I wasn’t getting stabbed for $13 an hour. I walked between the costume thief and our front door and asked him what’s up. IM NOT STEALING ANYTHING. And he kept walking. Come on man, I can see them in your arms, go to check out or put everything down and leave. NO WAY, IM NOT DOING NOTHING. And then he reached into his pants and pulled out another costume. Then another. Now there’s a breadcrumb line of outfits from him to the Leg’s Avenue display, and he’s still pulling things out of his track pants, and heading for the exit. Now he’s face to face to me, with my back to the door, my head’s racing, and I do the only thing I can think of, I hold the door open for him and he walks out.
My mother would have been proud.
I pointed at one of the cashiers and asked her to call the police, she stared at me, unmoved by my request. I asked again, this time adding please, and she continued to stare. Welp. My boss is still screaming, so I follow our guest outside and ask a few more times if he could stop. He’s still shedding costumes, somehow.
I follow him to the edge of the property and call the cops. Explain the situation, and give his location. He walks into a department store. A normal person would have taken lunch, or went home, or grabbed the evidence, stuffed it into his backseat, and returned it for $500 cash at another location. But, that person wasn’t me. I ran to the department store to let them know they had their own thief.
Breathless, I tried to explain the situation, more staring. I walked back, realizing how silly the whole thing was. Maybe my boss stopped screaming? I arrived back to find a squad car waiting for me, they found the guy and wanted to know if I’d ID him. Sure, why would I want to do any real work today anyway?
With tinted windows up, the officer pulls next to a man in cuffs, it’s him, and there are at least 10 costumes laid out on the hood of the car. Amazing. I confirm this fact and we stop, roll down the windows, and start doing paperwork.
It is at this moment I decided to never be a cop, the paperwork they do is terrible, and far outweighs the benefits like driving fast and getting a siren. He wrote a three page report on something I recounted here in two. No thanks.
Finished with the essay we pull back out of the parking lot and drive right past my restrained friend, we make eye contact. “Oops, forgot your window was open.”
Panic. This guy now knows for sure that it was the chubby bearded dude at the Halloween store that put him away, and he’s going to get out, and show up, and cut me up. The cop didn’t help much, he suggested that it was unlikely that he’d be out before my shift ended. Thanks.
I spent the rest of my time there looking over my shoulder. Carried a knife, wore a costume on the floor, and took every chance I could to go outside or work in the back. He never returned.
After all of that I wasn’t thanked, received no recognition for returning several hundred dollars of product, and still had our store held responsible for inventory stolen by the prior year’s staff.
Next time I think I’ll just start by holding the door open.
Written by Nick and originally posted on wearestorymakers.com
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