I have long suspected that college was one big, $120,000 racket, and the fact that I have learned more about The Human Condition in eight months at a cash register than I ever did in a Philosophy class gives credence to this suspicion. In an effort to spare you from having to relearn all my hard-earned wisdom, I have prepared a primer for you. What follows is a smattering of observations and truths that I have gleaned during eight months spent in the aisles, check lanes, fitting rooms, and stock rooms of a mass retailer. Enjoy.
1) Of all the unconscionable tortures endured by children before they turn five – flu shots, baths, and naps, just to name a few – being made to go shopping with mom is unquestionably the worst. Or so their tireless, ear-splitting screams would seem to indicate.
2) Shoppers will never trust the product images that appear on packages. Swatches of fabric and huge color photos of the Thomas the Tank Engine sheet set they’re interested in mean nothing to them until they remove the comforter from the package, wrap their toddler in it and have him roll around on the floor. Then, after it has been rendered useless to everyone else, they will determine if they like it or not. They refuse to believe that the six foot tall curtain samples or microwave displays bare any resemblance to the one in the box until it has been removed and strewn all across the aisle. I’m going to stop talking about this now lest I have another rage blackout.
3) There is nowhere in all the world as creepy and unsettling as the motion activated baby doll aisle before sunrise. Imagine walking the store at 5:30 in the morning, half-awake and unaware, only to be startled out of your stupor by shelf after shelf of Little Baby Wet N Wiggles and Poop N Giggles suddenly sprung to life. They coo and crawl in their flimsy cardboard packages knowing, as well as you do, that one day they will break free of their restraints and be free to roam the store leaving a trail of terror and synthetic poo in their wake.
4) It does not matter how inexpensive an item might be, people would still rather have it for free. This truth is supported by the many real, live grown-ups who have been busted for stealing things that cost less than $2.00. It is also supported by the following conversation, which occurs at least once a day:
- Me: Ok, that’ll be $59.67.
- Her: What! There was a sign back there that said $59.37! YOU PEOPLE ALWAYS TRY TO RIP ME OFF! I WANT TO TALK TO THE MANAGER!
- Me: (defeated sigh) I am the manager.
- Her: AHHHHH!! I’M CALLING THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU! THEY’RE GONNA SHUT YOU GUYS DOWN!!
- Me: That’s not necessary ma’am, I’d be happy to adjust the price.
- Her: (beginning to foam at the mouth) I’M NOT TRYING TO BE A PAIN! IT’S REALLY NOT A BIG DEAL. IT’S JUST…I MEAN…THERE’S A RECESSION GOING ON PEOPLE! AND YET HERE YOU ARE TRYING TO OVER CHARGE ME FOR MY ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH! MONEY DOESN’T GROW ON TREES YOU KNOW!
- Me: Take me now, Lord.
5) Otherwise competent, confident men are completely overwhelmed by the experience of shopping. I see them every day; vacantly wondering the aisles with expressionless faces and defeated postures. They furtively shift their gaze from the list, to the shelf, to the cart, the list, to the exit doors, and back to the list. I once heard a father ask his oblivious two-year old daughter, “Are you sure we didn’t forget anything?” If they’re not entreating help from their infant children, they’re on the phone with their wife who is no doubt sick, pregnant, working or some combination of all three:
“A what?…What the hell is a loofah?…Where are they?…No there aren’t any employees around…I’m standing near the exit…I’m pretty sure they’re out of loofahs…yeah, definitely all out…why do you make me do these things?…What?…No!…I already told you, I don’t go into the underwear area…”
Even better is watching them stare emptily at the ever rising dollar amount on the cash register. I can hear them thinking, “Damn organic basil and exotic yogurts! Cold Vienna sausages and Ramen noodles did me just fine at three bucks a week for two years. ”
6) Apparently, the only thing more detrimental to the health of high schoolers than a gorgeous Saturday evening is a gorgeous Saturday evening on Homecoming weekend. The maladies that afflict these young employees are diverse, but the remedy is always the same: they definitely cannot come into work. They call to inform me that they’re really, really sorry, but they’re really, really sick and there’s really nothing that can be done. A few common symptoms include strained voices, forced coughs, and the shushing of friends who are laughing in the background. It’s as sure a bet as anything. If the weather is warm enough to go get drunk in a field somewhere, my entire workforce under the age of twenty will be deathly ill by 3pm.