Feeling Each Other Out

April 16, 2008 at 12:42 pm (Cussed Dumbers)

No, not more of yesterday’s maudlin girly lovey-dovey stuff. (And no, I didn’t get lucky, either.) This is all about the workplace.

I’ve been at my current place of employment for nearly three years. (Next month to be exact.) After a year of bopping about, I landed a steady slot at one particular store, the best one can do at Master P’s without a management title, being on salary and selling ones soul. I dug a comfortable rut, and have been happy to wallow in it.

The store I usually work is being rebuilt from the inside out, and since I don’t get paid vacations I have to get my hours by working other stores. While technically everything is the same, the personalities of the stores vary. *My* store is mostly known for being in the core of the hip-hop nightclubs downtown, and a lot of my customers are substance-reliant. (Translation: crackheads.) The Mothership, located closer to PSU, has the gutter punk w/pitbull crowd, as well as a sizable GLBT base. The drug of choice at that store? Methadone.

The Waterfront store is a drinking crowd. (So are the rest, but this store gets the park campers.) With the light-rail stop nearby, we get a lot of theft of booze. By the time a cop shows up for a call about a stolen bottle of wine, the perp has either finished it or is on the train and gone.

This is where I worked last night.

My first day working there, during Rose Festival three years ago, within the first hour I watched a Native American couple full of wine chase a cockroach the size of a Smart Car around the store. (I stepped on it three times and it still didn’t die. I saved it in a soda cup covered with Saran Wrap for the night guy.) Then I met the Phantom Shitter, a crackhead in a wheelchair with modified pants who would stand at the MAX platform, spread his trouser-cheeks and let ’em go. Then he’d wheel onto the MAX, leaving a nasty reminder that he’d been there.

During the day it’s different. A lot of office workers, government employees and compulsive gamblers. They can be the most trying, until they get to know you.

They don’t recognize me, for the most part. They probably think “Oh crap, a trainee. I’ll be in line for thirty minutes, and all I want is this damn candy bar.” Guess what? It won’t take that long, if you know what you want and where it is. If you want me to look for it, it’ll take just as long, because I haven’t worked here in two years and I don’t know where we keep the refrigerated ThrowUP vitamin water either.

Another thing: What have my co-workers been putting you through? Three out of four people aren’t even getting their purchases on the counter (let alone paying) before demanding, “Got a bag?” Probably. Got money? I see we have all varieties of bags laying around my feet. I will ask the boss to write a tersely-termed memo not to deprive customers of a disposable carrying device.

The criminals seem used to getting away with stuff. I learned a long time ago the best way to get away with something is to act like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Not ten minutes into my shift, a thirty-something fellow with very unnatural looking acne walked in, went to the deli case, picked up a burrito and popped it open. He asked, “Mind if I heat this up?”

“We prefer you pay for it first. It keeps the bar code from getting messed up.” And you from pulling out an Oregon Trail card, when you know we don’t take food stamps. And you’re not allowed to buy hot food with ’em anyway.

“But I brought this in with me! Can’t I just use your microwave? I didn’t even go over there!” He pointed to the back of the store, assuming I wouldn’t know where we keep the deli food. The guy delivering the deli food was standing where the deli food goes, right next to the microwave.

“No. Shoulda cooked it where you bought it.” I was tired of arguing with him.

“Asshole!” He stomped off.

There’s an old phrase that there’s nothing sweeter than stolen watermelon. I wonder if the same applies to a partially frozen burrito?

After 6 PM, things slow down considerably. The commuters start trickling instead of stampeding, and the bums come out. I went to the office for a minute, and when I returned an old familiar, er, face was there.

We take back cans and bottles for deposit. It’s not the worst part of the job, it falls somewhere between photographing bachelorette parties and mopping vomit. Most of the guys know the routine, count properly, take the money and go to where they can buy alcohol without hassle. (If we sell it to them, they are in a coma on the sidewalk an hour later, and then we have to report them or face fines for selling to them.) One fellow and I have a long and colorful history, and he showed up three hours into my shift.

“You need to leave now.” I walked up behind him, and said it in a quiet voice. Calm and rational encourages cooperation. He turned, and his eyes got wide.

He looked to my co-worker. “Will you take my bottles?”

I work here, and it’s not up for discussion. Get out. You’ve been 86ed.” I walked over by the phone, which usually gets movement.

“Have a nice day, asshole.” He left, muttering something.

Scottsdale, my co-worker asked, “What was that about?”

“I used to deal with him all the time, with his flipping out, cussing and drunken bullshit. One night he came in, pushing a shopping cart, yelling, drunk out of his mind. I told him to leave his cart outside, and he began throwing empty 40 bottles at me. At that point I 86ed him.

“The next time he tried to come in, he was drunk, and I refused to take his cans. He flashed me! Waved his weenie at me, threw the cans all over the store. He flashed me one other time at the Mothership. I know more about that guy than I ever wanted to, and I don’t care to know more!”

At this point lunch was ruined, so I just went back to work and sent Scottsdale off to an early happy hour.

The rest of the night was quieter, although the trickle of dimwits continued. Word soon got out that ‘the old bastard’ was working, and my Clean & Safe buddies stopped by, moving the party to another block. It was downright docile by the time Chuckles showed up.

It was like old times. I got him set up, left the store looking pretty, and even had a couple of minutes to chat before leaving.

Tonight is lottery night, I know what I’ll be doing. Pimping Powerball and selling scratch tickets until about 8:30. I’ve got a better feel for what to expect, and I’m in a much better mood today, so optimism abounds.

Good luck to us both! And yes, I have a goddamn bag.


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