Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Indignities of Working Retail - Silver Linings

As I have mentioned a couple of times I work retail. There are a lot of bad things associated with retail. I’ve talked about how awful finding CDs and DVDs for idiots can be. I’ve also talked about a way to spot certain problem customers immediately. Today I’m gonna get talk about how one of the indignity of working retail, but with a twist. Sometimes a negative is actually a positive in disguise. 

Problem number one is a matter of personal space. I’m kind of a weirdo when it comes to this. I don’t have a set limit about how close strangers are allowed to be to me, but I’m the kind of guy who hates when other people’s spittle ends up on my face. And you’d be surprised how many people either don’t notice or don’t care where their spittle ends up. I don’t know what the problem is either. The perception of a certain number of customers is that communication is a lot like feeding a baby bird. They have to actually dump their stupid words into my open mouth in order for me to hear them. This makes me highly uncomfortable. People also don’t like being called on this. A gentleman once decided about four inches was the appropriate distance to shout his questions at me. I did my best to intimate that four inches was far too close by stepping away from him. He proceeded to yell at me for making him feel unwelcome in the store. I can’t imagine he’s welcome anywhere if he feels appropriate conversation distance is close enough as to be able to identify exactly what kind of bagel he had for breakfast by smell. There are tricks to the trade to avoid this kind of behavior. If a customer starts creeping in a bit too much what I’ll do is stand with one foot in front of me about a foot. This is an imperfect solution partly because it’s really uncomfortable. Also it leads to a lot of people standing on my foot. Not a stepped on foot, because that would suggest that someone would step on my foot, realize how much of a space invading weirdo their being, apologize, and back off. It leads to people carry on several minute long conversations while STANDING ON MY GODDAMNED FOOT! This hurts. Even when it doesn’t hurt it just sucks. I’ve thought about wearing a sombrero to give people an idea of where they should and should not stand, but hats are strictly forbidden by the dress code. 

Problem number two is a matter of me and my fellow employees. Retail work are the kinds of jobs that you can get without any prior experience or education. This is great if you’re looking for a job and you don’t have any experience or education. This can also be great if you’re a company looking for employees who don’t deserve to be paid a lot. The problem arises when you rely on this army of uneducated dullards to actually make your business grow. Most businesses want to sell things to people. And chances are you need some folks to facilitate those sales. But if you have a bunch of students, ex-cons, dropouts, and other n’er do wells as the public face of your business you may be in trouble. What the company I work for decided was that they couldn’t rely on us to choose the words we say to people so we are given a script in the form of a question and answer checklist. This way they can be ensured all of their employees are on the same page until they find a way to replace us all with animatronic bears. Even though it can be a little demeaning I definitely understand the logic behind it. This is the best way to ensure that they don’t put the fate of their company in the hands of people like me. I fully understand this and don’t begrudge them giving me a script to ensure I don’t say something stupid. They used to give us our scripts in a pretty patronizing manner. We were given folders with “top secret information” written all over them. I don’t know if that was viewed as a little bit too much or what, but they abandoned those in favor of clipboards. I think this clipboard thing is a bit silly, but again I understand they don’t want the likes of me just up and choosing what to say to people. That would be chaos. 

It was shortly after the clipboard regime started that I noticed something really nice about them. There are two styles of clipboards available, standard and legal sized. I was always a fan of the standard because they’re smaller and easier to carry. One day I grabbed a legal sized clipboard and that’s when magic happened. I was holding my clipboard perpendicular to my body to make it easier for me to write when a particularly close talking individual leaned in to ask a question immediately in front of my face when something stopped him. He was so intent on yelling his question into my face that he didn’t even noticed I had a legal sized forcefield sticking out of my belly. We were both stunned. Him, because he just got poked in the stomach with his own stupidity. Me, because I hadn’t realized I had been holding the greatest instrument in retail clerk personal protection since bullet proof glass.

I still don’t like the idea of being the kind of person who has to read off a clipboard for a living. However my embarrassment at doing that is often offset by watching dumb people repeatedly run into my clipboard during an interaction. The record so far is 6 times with the same guy. It is nice to know that sometimes a cloud has a silver lining you didn't even notice. Until an idiot runs into it. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

There's a Cat In My Heart, and Something In My Eye

I foster cats. My wife and I work with a group called the Washington Heights Cat Colony, they find stray cats, and then we hang on to them until they can find a suitable home for them. They usually stay with us for anywhere between a few weeks and a couple months. People will often ask me how I avoid getting attached throughout that time and the short answer is that I don’t avoid that. I get sad just about every time one of them leaves me. Except for Scotty, Skitters, and this one that had one bald paw.

This is Skitters. She was kind of mean.
Today my latest foster cat Sebastian is leaving me to live with another family. This one hurts. I wouldn’t say that Sebastian is a particularly well behaved cat. He likes to bite my toes while I’m sleeping. He also likes to bite my feet if he thinks I’m not feeding him quickly enough. He really just likes to bite. But he never bites that hard, he knows the rules. We’ve had Sebastian since late January, which is a while in foster cat terms, and that’s part of it. But only part of the reason this is such a tough pill to swallow. Shortly after we got Sebastian people broke into our house and robbed us. During the ordeal Sebastian got out the broken window. 

The missing cat led to some confusion. The foster group thought that Sebastian was catnapped and was being held for ransom. This was stupid. Most robbers will break into a home to steal things they can either use or sell. Most don’t take a cat in the hopes that there will be a reward for the taken cat. This also assumes that the robbers will just assume that no connection will be made between the people who took the cat and the people who now have a cat to sell. What’s more likely is that some guy saw a missing cat sign and called the number asking for a reward knowing full well that he could just pick up any shitty grey cat and demand the reward money. Plus the robbers of all people should know that I was just robbed and wouldn’t have a whole lot of discretionary income to be blowing on a cat I already had. Regardless he was gone.
Have you seen me?
It’s hard not to feel a sense of impotence when people break into your home. I’m a man. Nominally so, but still I’m technically a man. My home is supposed to be my castle. And as the king of the castle I’m supposed to be responsible for my subjects. So after Sebastian went away I will admit I lost it a bit. I’m no mental health professional, but I remember enough of Psych 101 to remember the concept of transference. I chose to ignore the fact that I let wife down by not being the kind of guy who could protect his own house. And I piled all of my guilt in the idea that I was tasked with protecting a cat and couldn’t do it. The cops were surprisingly little help in this endeavor. It turns out that in a city of 414 annual homicides they have better things to do than to track down a missing cat. I failed in protecting the cat, but by god I was gonna find the cat. The next few weeks I spent some time walking around Washington Heights in the middle of the night with a can of 9 Lives Ocean Whitefish & Tuna Pâté (his favorite) and made kissing noises. This was a bad idea. Also it didn’t work. 

Several weeks later there was a tip! Someone at the cat colony had spotted Sebastian just a couple blocks away from my house living in an alley with a bunch of other cats. They saw him, but he wouldn't let anyone approach him. I decided to start going out of my way to walk through the alley. Again, bad idea. One day walking through the alley I spotted him. I went home, grabbed a cat carrier, and went back. He came right up to me and I put him in the carrier all the while fighting off a half dozen other cats who wanted in on his pâté. I took him home and felt that now I was, at the very least a guy who could keep a cat safe. 

The only ransom I needed.
This isn’t the only way I’ve kept him safe either. Three times he was almost adopted and three times he’s stayed here. A lady who did improv tried to adopt him once. He went nowhere. A guy with a popped collar who lived in Murray Hill came to adopt him. Still he stayed. A lady actually took him to her home, but promptly brought him back because he bit her too much. Sorry lady if you can’t handle nibbles you got no business in the cat game.

But this time he’s leaving for good. He's gonna be someone else's responsibility now. Unless of course I rob them.