Monthly Archives: April 2014

Walnut Street Cafe

If you’re going to be in West Lynn tonight, stop at the Walnut Street Café from 8 to 10 to see me performing five minutes of glorious comedy. There’s also some great poets as well as a guest speaker. The café serves beer, coffee and some great food.

If not, check back here tonight and I will tell you how it all went down.

“Laundry Day, See You There, Underthings, Tumbling…”

Two weeks worth of laundry have finally been done and I will never let my dirty clothes pile up that long again. I’d like to say that I have some flower prose related to laundry day but at the moment I’m just, well, dry. It is a great time to rehearse my jokes, read, and just enjoy the hour of solitude that comes with the most necessary chore of washing one’s clothing. I do think I enjoy laundry more than others. Maybe it’s because I only have to wash clothes for. Or maybe because it can break up the day by being something that I have to go out of the house to do. Today was fairly uneventful otherwise, although my neighbor downstairs thinks his apartment may be infested with bedbugs again, so there’s that drama to deal with. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. The landlady will get another exterminator in and we’ll see what happens.

The Derby Bookstore on Essex Street in Salem has finally closed and the new owners are desperately trying to get this place cleaned out and suitable for their own new book store. If you have never been to this bookstore before, it’s basically an episode of Hoarders: The Business Edition. They obviously took an untold number of books from various sources over the many decades they had been in business and although the owners seemed to be able to find everything, the books were not arranged according to any known variation of the Dewey Decimal system or the alphabet of any known language spoken or dead. There were shelves, certainly, but then there were huge stacks of books on tables in such a small space and arranged in such a way as to make an OSHA trainee fresh out of orientation president of the whole organization with just an hour’s worth of work. I’m not criticizing it really, because for a used bookstore to be around as long as they were, the obviously had to be doing something right. If you looked hard enough, you might even find several autographed copies of the Bible sitting around.

Yesterday the new owners have been trying to get rid of the old stock as they try to ready the store for business. So they filled two shelves full of books and put them out in front of the store.

I scored a couple James Patterson novels and Timeline by the late Michael Crichton. I would have gotten more but I only had my messenger bag and it was pretty full as is. Still, I came out on the winning side I think with three good books and there are always going to be opportunities for free books in the future.

Cart Jockey = Superman, or Not

It rained yesterday. Not badly, but just enough that it reminded me I need to get new shoes soon. When that’s not an option, look for cheap socks that you can change throughout the day to give your feet some semblance of comfort. It’s temporary but it works.

Working in the rain isn’t as unpleasant as it sounds. Even when it’s pouring out there’s smug sense of satisfaction as I go out into the weather that everyone else complains about to retrieve shopping carts and help customers load their cars with groceries. Hell, I was the one outside during Hurricane Sandy because apparently shoppers have no concept of preparing for an emergency and the corporation decided that closing the store during a record breaking natural disaster was too costly.

Also, since moving to Salem it is nothing but sky all around when I’m working in the parking lot. I can accurately tell you where Boston, Beverly, Lynn and New Hampshire are from where I’m standing. And when it’s lightening out that is one hell of a light show and I get front row seats every time. One afternoon I was actually guiding the cart pusher towards the store when I saw a bolt of lightening actually strike the store. I could actually hear the impact because I was literally no more than four or five feet away from it. If you have never witnessed a lightening strike that close before, let me tell you, there are few experiences that are as humbling as witnessing Mother Nature’s bitch slap up close and personal.

Flowery prose out of the way, let’s get to the things that happened at work.

It was a short shift and I was scheduled as a mid. This works out because there are at least two cart jockeys on hand for enough of the day that neither one gets overwhelmed. We each take a side of the store and focus on bringing the carts into that side. Because I was on the Electronics side of the store I had the smallest corral to fill and I could therefore focus on doing the indoor tasks that so often get neglected when there’s only one of us working outside.

My coworkers all have varying ideas about my function in the store. In the beginning it was hard for me to work out who was in charge of what because of how many different “bosses” I answer to. But because of where I am on the totem pole, I was nervous at first about not taking direction from whoever happened to be talking at me because I didn’t want to be fired. In the two years I’ve been working at Generic-Mart (This will hence be how I refer to “Where I Work”) I have managed to develop thicker skin and a greater awareness of who actually has the power to tell me what to do and who only imagines they do. Unfortunately that doesn’t stop the cashier running the customer service desk from calling me to do whatever little task flies into their heads.

It is my job to help customers in any way I can. There have been numerous instances where I can actually say that I was more helpful to a customer than ninety percent of the staff in any job I have ever worked in, because I treat the customer the way I would want to be treated. I can also rightly admit when I have not been so helpful to a customer and before long such an incident will occur that I will quickly document. On this occasion, as many others, the customer service cashier equated Cart Jockey with Superman, assuming that I can do a certain task simply because she says I can do it. For this reason I am going to refer to this woman as Harmony, after the vapid Cheerleader turned Vampire of the Buffyverse.

A customer was returning the top part of a DIY dresser because the metal frame was dented at some point. She didn’t seem like the kind of person who would damage something and try to return it and since she was only getting the top replaced anyway, it was an awful lot of fuss for such a small reward. I helped the lady bring the glass top in and they found another one on the floor. This is where things get complicated.

Harmony asked me to open the really heavy box with the glass top inside and extract said glass top. I asked where the other Cart Jockey was to help me with this task. To which Harmony replied, “You’re just taking out the glass top.”

“Okay.” I said, slowly. “But this is very obviously going to be a two person task, so could you please call Peter up here.”

“Well, I don’t know where he is,” Harmony snapped back. “But I guess I’ll go call him on the walky.”

Yeah, see we have walky talkies and the reason I didn’t have one is because by the time I got there they had all been distributed to other employees. But the customer service desk always has one assigned to them, which you would think Harmony would have remembered when I asked her to call Peter in the first place. But remember, it was inconceivable to her that I could possibly need any help pulling a very heavy item out of a tightly packed box.

Well eventually Peter and I got the glass top out of the box with a lot of heavy lifting and pulling that would have taken far longer and possibly ended in any number of disasters had I been the only one to struggle with the monstrosity. The customer was satisfied that this top was not damaged in anyway and that the item she had purchased had been damaged by the manufacturer.

Another fun highlight happened during my break. I was preparing some sausages for lunch and while they were in the microwave, I went into the drawers to see if there was any ketchup. Among the packets of sugar and other condiments I found some pills in a plastic pouch. One of the other employees in the break room identified it as a vitamin pack, which was one of the many possibilities that came to my mind upon seeing an unlabeled package of obscure pills and tablets.

I’ll be honest, the temptation to see what they would do for me was strong. Almost as strong as when one of my coworkers left two donuts in plastic container on the counter, for anyone who wanted them. The consequences would have no doubt been very similar if I had given in and I thankfully resisted the urge. I’m not a pill popper, though I do take potassium supplements to help with my anxiety. Still, you have to wonder who thought this was a good idea to leave those in a drawer that anyone could have found. If I had just the urge to take them, what would happen to someone who actually went ahead and taken them?

The possibilities are aimless and the consequences would be just another bitter pill to swallow.

Extra Shifts

Without going into a lot of detail, the cashier position is the only other thing in the store that I have training for. Generally I like running a register because it is the most brainless job in any store. That is not to say that cashiers themselves are stupid. It’s simply pointing out that there is no function of running a cash register that does all the math for you and subtracts all of the discounts and tells you all of the other pertinent information you need to make the financial transaction between your customer and the store that requires a bachelor’s degree. And I say with no exaggeration that more than of half of the shifts that fill the swap board within an hour of the new schedule going up are cashier shifts.

The downside of taking a cashier shift is that in can be long and tedious work. New policy changes make it impossible to actually leave the register area in between customers and you also have to be visible at all times, so good luck trying to straighten out your area to relieve the monotony of the really slow days. (Keep in mind that I generally hate to use the word “slow” in regards to work and will elaborate on that at a later date) Frankly, if you have a functioning brain and you are really good at your job, the cashier shift can also be unbelievably stressful. With nasty customers, power tripping supervisors, faulty equipment and things I could write a ten volume encyclopedia about.

Because the stress adds up over time, I have only been able to take cashier shifts that are between four and five hours long. This has forced me to pass up on shifts that may have made my paycheck a little healthier but I would rather pass up on the potential to make a really big paycheck one week then lose my only source of income entirely by finally snapping and saying something I can’t take back to a customer or a store manager.

That being said, I was able to take two separate shifts this week. The first one was on Thursday. It was an opening shift just four hours long and I also closed that day. This can be stressful in and of itself, because by the time I’m done with the first shift I am basically wiped and I’m ready to go home. But to be honest, if I have to pick up an extra shift, I would much prefer to work a double then to give up a day off.

Thursday was pretty good however. The flying monkeys stayed home and all of my customers were super pleasant and easy to get along with. Some highlights from that morning included getting to meet a volunteer medic who worked during the recent Boston Marathon. I made a good natured joke about I hoped she was bored that day and she responded in equally good spirits about how the tent actually had over a thousand patients, some of whom were still in the hospital. (Let me clarify once again for those of you who do not read entire paragraphs and are prone to knee jerk responses that this was the RECENT marathon and not last year’s as I would not be so tasteless as to joke about that. Thank you very much.)

Another woman came through my line with her two boys, ages five and two respectively. The kids were getting Playschool Transformers (The rescue bots. You know like, Optimus Prime as a Fire Truck) and whenever I have a long order and any of the kids are getting toys, I usually ask them about the characters. It makes the transaction pleasant and it’s fun to watch their reactions a they realize I know about Transformers, Ninja Turtles, and Godzilla, etc. When I asked if they had Megatron, the mom quickly replied, “Oh we don’t allow them to play with the “bad guys”

I thought that was interesting. I certainly didn’t pry or criticize, because they’re small kids who knew who Megatron and Starscream were because they watched the cartoons, but were simply not allowed to play with them. This makes some sense to me because children can’t see in terms of Gray. So if you give a child a toy that he readily associates with the “bad guy” he’s going to make it fight with the “good guys” and maybe the parents felt that would encourage violent behavior in their boys. My parents were certainly liberal about the toys we could play with, but they drew the line at making guns out of Legos.

After my shift was over, I went to the 99 for lunch, using one of the gift cards my friend’s mother gave me. There’s one right next to the mall so it wasn’t a far walk from where I work. When I got there the lobby was packed and my heart sank when I heard “There’s going to be a half hour wait.”

I didn’t have any other money and all I had back at the store was a can of soup, which would not last me all day. But I remembered the last time I was at the 99, I sat at the bar, because I’m not a shy person. So I go into the lobby and see all of these groups of people waiting for a table and I see empty stools at the bar. Score. I had a great “Vermont Bacon and Cheese Burger” (although aside from the cheese I’m not sure which ingredients were specifically from the state I was born in) and a couple free refills of root beer, which just made the day great.

After lunch I went into the mall and I got to participate in a market research study by watching a TV pilot that I can’t go into detail about on any social networking sites. The important thing is that I got paid fifteen dollars for research. Score another one.

The closing shift was fairly manageable and I also got my employee evaluation that day. I will not into detail about the evaluation for the same reasons that I do not want to flood my blog with posts about things that happened in my past. Because I feel that the only way to really bring you into my little world is to only share experiences that I can freshly recall. Suffice it to say I got my raise and I will be able to pay off all of my bills if two of the places I owe money too are sucked into a sinkhole in the next five months. Partial score.

Today’s shift was fairly uneventful. Nothing really of interest occurred today, although I did get to covertly make fun of the front end manager and I did it so tactfully that she thought I was complementing her. Double points to me because there were three other employees there who tried to basically explain to her that I was making fun of her, but she is such an airhead that she still believed I “had her back”.

So for anyone who has it in the back of their heads that all I do is bitch about work, here is an example of one day where things actually went pretty smoothly.

“Give me my name!”

I owe people money, but I don’t owe anyone nearly as much as the amount I’m still paying off to Vermont Student Assistant Corporation. (VSAC) I’ve been making payments for that one year of college since 2001 and when my mentor originally helped me fill out the paperwork, I spelled my entire name out.

For those of you who do not know, my first name is Nathanielle. You will notice the extra letters because everyone does. It’s on all of my name badges at work and inevitably I get questions as to it’s ethnicity, nationality, origin, as well as observations about how it is thus far the only time it has ever been spelled this way. That was not me trying to be unique. It was a combination of twelve hours in a delivery room and left over teenage 70’s rebellion.

In Kindergarten I was yelled at because my name was too long. In college and later on in Job Corps, two separate math teachers introduced themselves by looking at the name on the paperwork and, without asking me anything, telling me that I needed to go down to human resources and let them know that they spelled my name wrong. Once, when I was trying to sort out the reason why my blood was rejected by the red cross, a worker on the other end of the phone responded to my spelling with, “That’s not right.”

All the shit I have gotten for that name has made me a proud person. I feel like it is a badge of honor that proves I survived in a world where people can’t even tolerate one or two extra letters in someone’s name. We of the Unusually Spelled Names crowd must stand united.

As I said, when I filled out the paperwork to apply for the loans, I spelled my name out. Of course my mother’s information was also required and she would have spelled my name out correctly as well. It’s important to note that at no time have I ever written my name down as “Nathan”. However, office workers have had this tenancy to shorten my name for whatever reason. I feel like an immigrant whose name was “Americanized” because fuck you that’s why. Since it would be too “presumptuous” to just knock off a couple extra letters, they usually go ahead and shorten it to Nathan.

After ten years, VSAC has been one of the most poorly run institutions I have ever had the misfortune of working with. Their system is so outdated that if I tell Employee A one thing, even if Employee Z is working at the desk next to A, she will not have the information I have to Employee A on hand. This leads to a lot of arguments, because no one at VSAC can ever admit that someone at the office might have made a mistake. They will blame you every time for every bit of confusion that was caused by them.

Recently I was on the phone with them trying to get a forbearance on my loans again and once again, the intern, who must have been new to the game because they have a new employee every five days or so, tried to sell me on the usual rigmarole. Lock in this, sign up for that, consolidate blah, blah, blah. It was the kind of thing that was cute ten years ago but I’ve gotten tired of by now. I also got fed up with them constantly calling me “Nathan” because “That’s what was in their files.”

“Well my name is Nathanielle. I either want to be addressed as Nathanielle, or Mister Crawford. Are we clear on that?”

Well this display of clout must have been too much for the new girl to handle, as she was used to dealing with inexperienced high school students up until that moment, so she quickly muttered something about how she’d make a note and we said our good byes. I felt good for myself, standing up and refusing to be treated like a number by these people. However, a few days later I tried calling again. This time I got someone who was a little more “assertive” in telling me what my name was and was not.

“We have you down as Nathan. If you really want to change your name, you’re going to have to provide documentation proving that it is in fact your name. We need something like a social security card or a birth certificate.”

You know, they need the information they had well over ten years ago when I had to file for the loans in the first place. But no, no one working for VSAC ever shortened my name for their convenience because that’s “not common practice” at VSAC. Cause you know, there has never ever been an employee of any company or organization who did things out of convenience whether it was a good idea or not. The real reason for malpractice insurance is because doctors have too much money and they need to spend it on something. The world is perfect and if you believe otherwise, you’re just a greedy old miser who doesn’t want to pay other people for things.

Well fuck them. I’m not going to provide them with that information. They’re legally entitled to my money but my name is mine.

The Shakespeare Code

Every year on the anniversary of the Bard’s day of birth, the Salem Theater Company (STC) holds a Shakespeare Open Mic at Gulu Gulu Café in Salem. When I first heard of this just a few weeks ago, I thought, okay I could probably do some of my comedy there. But it wasn’t until a few hours before the event that I realized that it was only going to be Shakespeare. We could read or act out passages and sonnets.

At first, I was just going to let the night go to waste, but I had gone to so much trouble to be able to go to this event, even going so far as to swap a shift with another cart jockey. Also every sign, every horoscope and tarot card, told me that this would be a great idea. So screw it, I went and I ordered a really nice coffee and I participated.

The STC was kind enough to provide copies of the plays so we could read our favorite passage. The only passage out of Shakespeare I ever really memorized in high school was one of Macbeth’s monologues. The emcee had us all write our names on a flash card, along with the character and the passage we’d be reading.

I wrote:

“I will be doing Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow” speech and seeing if I can remember it as well as I did in high school, while trying not to make it seem as though I haven’t learned anything since then.”

I’m not sure if it was the extra “gotta run my mouth” in the flash card, but the emcee had me go up first after the introductory reading. Of course the guy who did the intro read a passage out of Hamlet and he was so sexy when he did it that I felt both underdressed and unprofessional. If you’re wondering why I titled this blog post The Shakespeare Code, it’s because the guy was a dead ringer for Dean Lennox Kelly in the so named Season 3 Doctor Who episode.

But oh well, I went up. And I bent the rules a bit and snuck in a small story about my high school experience in Theater arts.

“Back in high school I had this hardcore Theater Arts teacher who told us not to say the “M” word off stage. That word was.. money. The guy just hated sell outs. Now I’m going to read a scene from Macbeth.”

The joke didn’t get the house rolling, but I heard a few chuckles and I got a couple compliments. It would have been cooler if I hadn’t been struggling with the book that contained the speech. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to handle one of those tomes that rival Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in terms of sheer mass, but I kept having to reference it and it probably didn’t help. But the point is I continued my recently acquired streak of actually following through with a plan and I had a good time in the process.

A Wasted Effort ~ A Retail Rant

There’s an unfair double standard that says if you have a job, you shouldn’t complain. You should be grateful to have any kind of employment in this economy. I agree to an extent.

I’m happy to have a job in this economy in the way that I am happy a headache isn’t a tumor. I would just as soon not have it but it can’t be understated how glad I am that it isn’t going to kill me. People who don’t vent about their jobs wind up venting shotguns into crowded parking lots, so this is the healthier alternative. Your best bet if you don’t like it is to locate the unsubscribe/unfriend button and let nature take it’s course.

Yesterday morning, I had to fill the bag wells. That’s the space below the register where the extra bags are placed, in case you were wondering. Being the morning following a major holiday you can imagine that the bag wells were quite tapped for plastic bags. So I spent the first two hours of Monday morning emptying the bag closet of the remaining boxes of medium bags and filling the bag wells of half the registers. This does not usually take me more than forty-five minutes even on the busiest morning. The reason it took me so long was because I had to run the back room to see if there was another pallet of medium bags so I could stock the remaining registers.

What ensued was another forty five minutes of, “Nope not here. But they’re definitely in the building. They must be at the front end, even though a whole pallet full of bags is pretty distinctive and Helen Keller herself wouldn’t have had trouble finding it if it were there. Oh now I know where it is.”

This runaround was courtesy of the managing bodies of the store who, I’m quite convinced frequently apply toilet paper to holes in the ground and wonder why their asses aren’t getting any cleaner. So the registers were filled and I felt a morbid sense of satisfaction for seeing the job through to the end until this morning when the opening front end supervisor had spent the first hour of his shift emptying those registers of all of the bags I spent the previous morning filling the registers with.

We were now supposed to use the new bags which are allegedly made out of a stronger material and have little distinction from the older bags except for an additional advertisement. Let me just take a moment to do some math.

Each box of bags contains 1500 bags. I know this because the number is printed on the box itself. There’s twenty registers at the front end, not counting customer service, the pharmacy and electronics, which all use bags. That means if I used one box per register, that’s 30,000 bags.

The weight of each box is 21.5 pounds. So 430 pounds of bags are very likely going to waste in the allegedly green company that I currently work for. (By the way, if through sheer triangulation you’ve managed to guess where I work, then keep it to yourself. One day I will reveal where I work but that is going to be on my terms and only I am safely ensconced in a cushion of financial security from which said company cannot reach me with it’s legal department)

Aside from the effort which was both unappreciated and apparently completely wasted (as per usual) I got to see more of the general short sightedness in action later in the afternoon.

Part of my job is to empty the large hanger bins near customer service. As I was getting ready to wheel them to the back a customer came up with a ball he had purchased for his daughter. It had rung up wrong and he didn’t realize it until a few seconds later when he looked at his receipt.

The woman on the register at customer service, (whom I’ll call Jo after the Third Doctor’s airheaded companion) did a test scan of the ball and it indeed came out to twelve dollars and forty seven cents. As this ball was not made from a particular type of rubber harvested only from trees grown on Mars, that was a little steep. So she refunded the difference and the man and his daughter were both happy.

If it were me, I would have called the manager on duty to show him the receipt. Because obviously this was a glitch in the system with that particular product and if it happened once, you know it would have happened again. Instead, Jo just crumples up the receipt and throws it in the trash. Never to be heard from again.

What continues to amaze me is that of the four cashiers currently on one of the registers, I’m not sure which wrung the gentleman out though I have a theory that seem unfair if you don’t personally know the person I’m thinking of, but of those four, neither one could be bothered to actually pay attention to the screen as the prices were coming up. The whole thing could have been avoided and a customer would not have had his time wasted.

Some days I feel like I should just bash my head against a brick wall before the start of each shift, just so I can start the day on the same page as everyone else.