retail rantings and rumblings
This is the time of year that I start to get an itch for my old life as a retail drone at Best Buy and Hastings Entertainment. It’s the busiest period, the most bustling and chaotic, the most dreaded by everyone but the higher-ups in this consumer based field. The ringing of the Salvation Army’s charitable bells are the shrieking of banshees to the employee and the mythological Sirens to the shoppers. Ting-a-ling. Ting-a-ling. Cha-cha-cha-ching. The repetition of carols and holiday classics quickly morph into this maddeningly melodious nightmare–losing their chipper quality and instead taking on an eerie, slow motion horror film quality….crackling and echoing inside your mind and ping-ponging against the cavernous four walls around you. They haunt and fa-la-la-la- follow you everywhere. Sweaty, stressed and surly shoppers come and roam the aisles in droves with lists, demands and desires aplenty. These zombie-like hoards are relentless…. blinded by the baubles and twinkling lights and lulled into submission by the subliminal advertising, they grunt and groan their way through the aisles with no regard for anything or anyone but themselves. Physical decay is replaced by moral and social. Filthy beasts! Lines are long, tempers are short, products sell out, ads are misprinted, feet are aching, babies are crying, etc. This is most employee’s idea of what Hell might look like. To me, however… this was my happy place. I loved it. And I miss it. I miss being a part of the process of making people’s lives a little brighter. I flourished amidst the freakshow. Schmaltzy and scarily honest.
I worked retail for about 6 years. I never felt ashamed of my job title. I never thought that I was lesser of an individual because I was not making much money. Sure, I was surpassed by my peers and not even coming close to fulfilling my potential. It’s painfully evident that I never truly even physically attempted to stretch my wings wide enough to accomplish any real goals that should and could be attainable by me…. Mentally is another story entirely… But, I was paralyzed by fear of being mediocre and thus I searched out something easy and low on the stress totem pole. Interestingly enough, I soon learned that this undesirable little shift job was one that I was enjoying and surprisingly adept at. It bolstered my confidence, provided a service to the general population, and it suited my debilitating social anxieties and phobias. It was a good fit. It still would be.
My only problem with retail, besides the negative stigma attached to it, is that no one else ever seemed to care about being the best they could be at the position that they held as much as I did. It was exasperating, confusing and perplexing on many levels. I prefer to surround myself with others who mirror my enthusiasm and desire for excelling at any given task…no matter how trivial it seemed or probably was. To me,each time I was challenged to solve a customer’s dilemma, locate a product, utilize my encyclopedic knowledge of film trivia, recommend or suggest their entertainment selection for the evening, answer any questions, or just offer up light conversation with a smile– I would take those seemingly mundane assignments as seriously as I would anything else in my life and any misstep would linger and haunt me for days (and sometimes even years!). As they say at NASA, “Failure is not an option.” No problem could be too big or too small and nor should it be.
I’ve always believed that I would thrive at a local independent establishment– one where you are rewarded with incentives, hours and raises rather than threatened with cuts, department switches or even termination. The idea of forming relationships and true bonds with returning regular customers and almost familial ties with coworkers appeals to me…to be a part of something that lived and thrived because of your individual contributions and determination fills me with intrigue and want. I crave that community.I love the thrill of a good add-on or upsell… but only without my being forced at hypothetical gunpoint into doing so by corporate bigwigs and their impossibly out of touch policies and numerical goals. One of the worst aspects of being an underling at a big-box store was essentially working as though you were receiving commission, when really you were just fighting for job security. I always felt that I caved to their mandate of pressuring customers into buying product and pushing promotions that lacked sincerity or customization because…well… I was. But, on a personal level I gained nothing. I did not enjoy being a corporate puppet or talking mouthpiece for faceless boardroom suits and ties.
I understand how capitalism works. I understand why rules, regulations, guidelines, etc are in place and play at these establishments. I don’t have a problem with any of it in theory. And truly all of this could of been rectified by the occasional pat on the back. There is nothing that makes me work harder than affirmation that my attention to detail and devotion to my craft is noticed and appreciated by others…and nothing that cripples and demoralizes me more than harsh words,unnecessary discipline or worse…. a complete and utter lack of any acknowledgment whatsoever! The degree to which other people’s opinions and words matter to me is incredibly unhealthy, but a fantastic motivator!
I also enjoyed taking pride in the physical area of my department and fastidiously maintained it to meet my most stringent of standards. Everything had its place, everything was alphabetized and orderly as to make it easy for the customer or employee to find the appropriate product and to promote an air and aesthetic of professionalism. This was not as important to a big corporation than the bottom line was, which made for many days that I would come in off-the-clock as a “customer” and furtively arrange and tidy things to my liking. I could spot a misplaced item a mile away and it would send me into fits of panic and unease upon its detection. I inherited this from my mother. She who would sweep the pine needles from the dirt floor at a campsite in the woods. The appearance of the environment around us is representative of ourselves. I also firmly believe that if your surroundings are clean, streamlined and efficient then you will feel better and perform at a higher level as a result. I keep my little hovel of an apartment orderly for the same reason–despite us never having any visitors!
But, I digress… the fact of the matter is that I am a little bummed that I don’t possess the keen vision that I did four years ago. Reading signs is near impossible, staring at a computer screen is a challenge, flying through tasks at record time is no longer a practical possibility…. I’d be a great asset and addition to anyone’s team, but not an all-around MVP anymore. I find that unacceptable. Without the leniency and forgiveness that I could find in an independent setting– I am out of luck finding a suitable business to share my wealth of retail awesomeness with. I was beyond thrilled and even more envious of the Northeast on my most recent trip to Massachusetts. There were a myriad of reasons for this, but one was the abundance of locally owned and operated stores and shops–streets of them! It gave me hope for my future. But, in the meantime I save my smile, small talk, and never ending endurance and willingness to go above and beyond for my friends and family…and mainly my dog. I still get my kicks by picking up fallen items in the grocery store, folding clothes that are crumpled and tossed aside at the mall and laser lining the hell out of stocked shelves. I might even awkwardly continue utilizing my ingrained mantra of helping anyone within ten feet of me. Sigh. Perhaps in time my confidence will catch up with my mental drive… or I’ll wake up in Beantown with an accent and new life. Until then, I will be the lunatic who yearns to be the communal whipping boy in a sea of real cynicism and mock enthusiasm during this crazy shopping season.. I’ll continue being jealous of my girlfriend who wears a vest and name-tag, wants to strangle Charlie Brown, Snoopy and The Vince Guaraldi Trio and comes home doused in glitter, tinsel and disdain for humanity. Ah, what a wonderful world!
I will still enjoy this holiday season. I will enjoy it more than years past. I will not be participating on the commercial side, but I will throw myself into the mix of that of the consumer. Perhaps monies won’t be exchanged for goods because of the whole lack of funds thing. However, the material will be replaced with the consumption of ambiance, energy and second-hand frenzied hysteria. The jubilance and cheer will enchant and mystify me enough to detract from my deepest insecurities and personal failings. My visual acuity may be dismal in regards to details and minutiae, but it excels at absorbing the warm embrace of color and light. I do not have to strain my sight to become instantly engulfed in a kaleidoscope of candy-coated razzle dazzle, sparkles and shimmers, twinkles and glimmers, an explosion of pure wonderment. It truly is a feast for the eyes and a dizzying array of decor and delight await me in the coming months. This year I’m truly happy to be a part of the festivities that come hand in hand with autumn and winter. Unlike the past six years, I won’t be singing the blues but rather rockin’ around the Christmas tree. I won’t be in a holidaze for the holidays and will instead be soberly (but not somberly) soaking up every precious moment of the season. I am prime for people watching. So, bring it, Santa! Let’s do this!