Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Writing doesn't pay the bills yet, so I work a lot.

But since my awesome job at the library barely covers the rent, I needed a second one. (My husband also works and goes to school and owns a tiny business. This covers the car and insurance and food.) So I ended up taking a job cashiering at a local store, where I make enough to buy a few of the things the store sells.

It's... difficult.

Here's the thing: scanning items for pleasant people and counting change is fine, and maybe it really is only worth the $7.50 an hour I get paid. But that's not what I'm doing most of the time. Most of the time I'm on cashier-call while trying to restock, clean up, or fix signs in a constantly-changing store as I also give good customer service, push sales on special bargains, and deal with frustrated people; all the while other employees talk into my earpiece. Then, when the store is closed for the night, a crew of about 4-6 people has to put back hundreds of items that people left in the wrong place or decided they didn't want, while "front-facing" and cleaning the entire store so it will look decent in the morning.

And the store is 10x bigger than this.

I should have known it would be bad when it took a full week to get the necessary paperwork sent to me through six or seven different emails, but I think I was just excited that someone actually responded to my application.

My orientation consisted of a manager-on-duty showing us where the time clock was and telling us to punch our employee IDs in--oh wait, we don't have those ready for you yet, so you can try it later--and then sharing a copy of the employee handbook and reading excerpts from it--and no, you can't have that, we don't give out copies to employees anymore. Then we got name badges and were told that if we wanted the company polos we'd have to buy them from their online store for $8 (you know, more than my first hour of work was worth). And then I discovered I was already scheduled for the coming week, on a day I'd told them I would be unavailable.

(When I worked in fast food ten years ago, at least I got to watch a cheesy "Welcome to the company!" video, have all the stations and procedures explained to me, and then got two shirts and a visor to wear to work.)

On my first day of work, I was tossed at another employee who informed me that she wasn't usually assigned as a cashier, but sure, I could watch her for a while and see if I got the hang of it. "We're supposed to try to get these things sold," she pointed at a bargain item on the wall, "even though people will give you the stink-eye for it. I usually don't because I don't get paid enough to be a salesman."

As I took over my own register (where I was supposed to put in my EID but still didn't have one), I ran into other problems. "Oh, you can't just scan those. You have to type the number in here, and then scan it, and then put in that discount right there and hit 'Enter' twice... Oh, when someone gets a gift card, you have to let a manager know and if they're getting other stuff it has to be in a separate transaction..." I never once saw a map of the store's layout. And then a manager told me to "go snake" without telling me what that was and "do your go-backs" without explaining what that meant. So I had to ask other cashiers who weren't quite as new as me. Then I learned I was supposed to have a "symbol" with item locations written in codes like STK4EA000 and somehow find where they went based on that code. (I've actually gotten pretty good at that now.)

The second day I worked, I made a mistake clocking in and was told I had committed "time fraud", and that maybe the hour I'd worked off-the-clock couldn't be fixed and I wasn't getting paid for it.

I cried when I got home.

It's not all bad, of course. My co-workers are great. There's a certain camaraderie that comes with the shared frustration of our positions, and they have this ability to find the humor in someone's anger over 40 cents. (We do not get paid enough to deal with people who would murder us over 40 cents.) Most of them work a second job and have stories to tell, from having a kid with cancer or a spouse who turned out to be gay to simply working up to buying a Wii U.

Most of the customers are nice, too, and will tell you their life stories if there's no one behind them in line. One customer even bought me some candy. I've also had some incredibly kind people praise me in front of my managers for helping them, which comes along with a signed note and a small reward. (I have yet to see the rewards I was supposed to be given for this praise, as the papers mysteriously vanish every time. They're really organized there, in case you couldn't tell.*) 

But we also get our share of angry people who have no basic human decency.

Maybe I'll tell you about that later.