Is That An 8-gig iPod In Your Pants Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?: Adventures in Retail


On several occasions since the inception of this page (here, here, and here), I have documented the tragedies and traumas I have endured this year while toiling in the post-industrial wasteland that is the retail shopping world.  As my previous dispatches have hopefully made clear, the most unfortunate part about working in retail is that you are required to interact with John and Jane Retailshopper.  Simply put, Mr. and Mrs. Retailshopper are humorless little demons who are relentless in their efforts to eat my soul.

Fortunately, I am now in the middle of a career change and have escaped the retail world with a small portion of my soul still intact.  I have also escaped with some delightful interactions with some of America’s finest.  I have spent months trying to do business with the oft-celebrated “common man,” the Real American Heroes, the blue-collar patriots, the Larry the Cable Guy fans and I’ll tell you this, they made going into work every day worth it.

(Note: All of the following interactions and observations are true.  If I was not personally involved, the accounts have been verified by at least two witnesses.)

Miracle-Gro: During the spring we carry 18-pound bags of Miracle-Gro potting soil back in the lawn and garden department.  A customer purchased a bag and came back with it a week later.  She wanted to return it because, and I quote: “Yeah, I bought this bag of dirt and I took it home and added water like they said to and now it’s all mud!”  The manager fielding her request tried to explain the science behind what she had witnessed, but she wasn’t having it.  She had come looking for dirt and we had sold her mud and was gonna get her money back.  True story.

Female undergarments: On one of my first days in the store a large-ish female customer approached the return desk and handed me a gigantic bra.

  • Large-ish female: I want to return this.
  • Me: (horrified and reluctant) Ok, is anything wrong with it?
  • Large-ish female: No, I bought it last year and then I had a breast-reduction so it doesn’t fit anymore.

I look at her receipt.  It is dated October 2007.

  • Me: Hmmm. Well, unfortunately, our policy requires returns to be within 90 days of original purchase.
  • Large-ish female: WHAT?! Where does it say that?!

I point to the place on her receipt where it says that, and also to the giant sign above the desk.

  • Large-ish female: But it doesn’t fit anymore!! It’s not my fault I had to get a reduction! If I had known I was going to, I would’ve bought a smaller size.
  • Me: Listen, the fact of the matter is, you can’t buy a bra, wear it around for 13 months and then bring it back to the store. I don’t even want to touch this right now, much less return it.
  • Large-ish female: I bet Wal-Mart would let me return it!
  • Me: And that, ma’am, is why I don’t shop at Wal-Mart.

Keith Urban: A frumpy, possibly-homeless customer approaches me by the music department and asks if we have the new Keith Urban CD.  I check in my PDA.

  • Me: No, ma’am I’m sorry, but it looks like we’re out of stock at the moment.
  • Customer: (gives a knowing smile) Oh.  I know why.
  • Me: Really?  Why?
  • Customer: (leaning in conspiratorially) Well, I know him personally.
  • Me: Really!?  So is he not a very nice person?
  • Customer: Yeah.  He married this girl and now she’s pregnant.
  • Me: Wow!  So yeah, I guess it makes sense that we wouldn’t have his CD in stock.

The customer contemplates this while nodding silently.

The Accident: One of my favorite “What is my job” moments happened just last week.  I get a call over the walkie-talkie, “Manager-on-Duty, Kent.”

Me: Go ahead

Employee: Hey Kent, a female customer has had an accident in the restroom and needs some help.

Me: What kind of help?

Employee: She pooped all over herself.  And the floor.  And the stall.  She wants someone to bring her some fresh pants from the sales floor.

I take a moment to remind myself that I have a college degree and that some of my classmates are working on Wall Street, Capitol Hill, etc.  Then, like any self-respecting manager, I “delegate” this important task to another employee.

Bonus quote from an employee.

Late October.

  • High School Employee: Kent, I need off for Halloween.
  • Me: Too late, you’re already scheduled, you can’t take it off.
  • High School Employee: But it’s a religious holiday.
  • Me: No it’s not.
  • High School Employee: Yes it is.  It’s a pagan holiday.  I’m a pagan.  You can’t make me work.
  • Me:(I give a heavy sigh.  He knows I am defeated.)

I hear his Halloween Day religious service (i.e. house party) was off the hook.

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