Sometimes I miss the excitement of working in retail. Retail is kind of like the Grateful Dead – you can’t really appreciate it unless you’ve been there in person. The only time there’s ever a dull moment is when you’re working an overnight shift. Even those lulls are counterbalanced by the sheer magnitude of crazy that makes its way through the doors in the middle of the night.
Nowadays I have a nice little desk, with a chair and a lamp. It wasn’t always that way. Most recently I worked in a retail pharmacy, and I used to have to pace aisle after aisle of industrial grade, perpetually stained carpet, sniffing out shoplifters and opportunists. I always hated the carpet. Once it was a week old it looked like crap no matter how much you vacuumed it, and it was always the first thing your district manager would jump all over you for.
You got to know the type after a while. Packs of teenage girls were an automatic flag. For them, shoplifting is a girl group activity that ranks right up there with sleepovers and going to the bathroom. If they headed towards the makeup aisle you made sure to be there, too. In the early 2000’s you had to start stalking emo groups of teenage boys, too, who had no problem wearing eyeliner but were ashamed to buy it, much like condoms. You also had to keep an eye on old people in the vitamin aisle, because supplements are expensive and they are on fixed incomes. More than once I would find an empty economy size bottle of geriatric vitamins that someone had dumped in their purse as they kept moving.
The people you interacted with were actually the best part of the job. I never have the opportunity to call the cops on people like I used to. I’ve nailed people for bad checks, bad credit cards, bad scripts, shoplifting, harassment and assault – both customers and employees alike. There’s nothing so exciting as working in a retail environment, believe me. Where else can you have the cops arrest a 90-year-old man for assaulting employees with his cane? Those were good times.
You have to have a pretty thick skin to pull it off, though, because people will treat retail employees in ways they would be ashamed for their mother to see. I’ve had people scream at me and call me rather colorful names in the middle of the floor because their item didn’t ring up at the correct price and I’m robbing them of ten cents. I had a woman tell me to my face that I’d be so beautiful if I just lost some weight, and then go on about it for twenty minutes in the most nonchalant fashion, as though we were discussing the weather. I’ve been hit on by men older than my grandfather who would rather explicitly describe the good time they were going to show me.
I’ve been thinking about my most memorable moments from every retail job I’ve ever had, and I think this would have to be my list.
Fast Food Chain: There was a homeless man who frequented the place. Some nights he would be very polite, and he would collect trash and trays from the dining room area and clean it up for us, so we would hook him up with a free meal. Other nights he would haunt the drive-thru, picking up loose change and masturbating while unsuspecting people sat in their cars waiting for burgers and fries.
Bookstore Café: If you’ve been to any of these you know that they have an area with tables and chairs, and that throughout the store are usually other chairs scattered about. It gets really, really busy on the weekends, because you can sit as long as you want reading the paper and eating your scone at a snail’s pace. One Saturday I had a woman get indignant with me because the place was so crowded, and she demanded to know how to get to the “additional seating upstairs” because she couldn’t find the sign. Maybe that’s because this is a one story building, and what you see is what you get. Instead I told her that the Garden Veranda was closed for renovation. I often wonder if she’s still looking for it.
Sporting Goods Store: There are so many things about my tenure here that it’s hard to choose just one, but I think I would have to go with the Phantom Shitter. This person used to hit the bookstore, too, but I never had to deal with it as often because we had a daily cleaning crew there. This allegedly female person would come to the store, take a dump, and then smear feces all over the stalls and the fixtures. There weren’t many women working there, and those who were didn’t get paid much. They would refuse to clean it. Can’t say I blame them, really. I was the only female manager, so guess who got to do it (even though I was paid much less than all the other managers)? If I was off the day it happened, believe me: it was waiting for me when I got back.
Car Dealership: I had a kid show up with his parents and his girlfriend who wanted a Mustang. This kid had a car that was one of the most disgusting things I had ever seen. Not that the car itself was bad, but that inside it was utterly filthy and completely filled with trash. I could not believe how hard his parents were working to help him get a really nice car that would just end up looking like the dumpster he drove onto the lot.
Retail Pharmacy: I worked at several different locations during my tenure with this company, but the most interesting was a 24 hour store in this really nice, moderately wealthy area of suburbia. On my first night my job was to keep the overnight supervisor and the head cashier in the building at all times, because corporate loss prevention were coming at 5:00 a.m. with the police to arrest them both for theft. That’s not even my favorite moment. That would have to be the day I noticed a suspicious car in the parking lot. Out of state plates, car parked askew, motor running, blinker on, and middle aged shirtless white guy passed out behind the wheel. I called police to report it, because I thought he needed medical assistance but was wary about approaching the vehicle. It turned out that the car was loaded with crack-cocaine, and that was more excitement than the police force in this snoozy town had ever seen. They had off duty cops showing up just to watch the proceedings, and clap me on the back for making the phone call.
In light of all this excitement, can you see why sometimes I just miss it? Nowadays I sit and wait for things to happen at work. When they do, it's really great. When they don't... I can't help but be nostalgic for the days when I could have people arrested.