Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Glamorous Life: Portrait of a Cashier

I told you I got a job, right?  Yeah, I did.  As a cashier, remember?  I'm back home with the kids now (yes, already), but the fact I had a job for a few months is the important point for right now.  We can talk about how and why I'm no longer working later.  There is definitely a-whole-nother story there.  But for now?  I have stories to share from my days spent living the Mal-Wart dream. 

I've gained a veritable treasure trove of wisdom, you know.  I mean, more wisdom than I already had.  Like, jeez, so much wisdom.  And I'm not kidding about that 'living the dream' thing, either.  What little girl doesn't hope she'll one day become a Mal-Wart cashier?  Who doesn't indulge a few fantasies about lifting 40 lb. bags of dog food into a shopping cart (while every single body part is screaming in mind-numbing pain) for thankless strangers who treat you like you're not even a human being?

This surplus of wisdom has put me in a generous mood.   So here are a few, basic nuggets of my hard-earned Mal-Wart wisdom I'd like to share with you:

1.  People are absolutely terrible.  I mean, just... so...  horribly, rottenly, disgustingly terrible.  Obviously, not you.  Others...  They are rude, hateful, selfish, arrogant, stupid, angry, dramatic, self-involved, dishonest, temperamental, smelly, sleazy, obnoxious, gross and quite literally deranged.  Oh, and rude.  And they're willing to go completely psychotic over a 55 cent coupon.  That is the amount of money that turns friendly, civilized people into rabid, wild dogs.  Dead serious.

You may have already known all this.  But I honestly did not.  I'm naive and sheltered, I guess.

Within my first two weeks at work, I had one man call me fat and another imply that I'm stupid.  And those are only two "big" incidents out of many, many others.  I can't even begin to cover all the minor, "every-day" types of rudeness, but I'll happily blather on about mention a few:

*The 4 yr old from Future Serial Killers of America who flipped me off, as well as all the other bratty, little demon-children who loudly demanded I hand over their lollipops, Barbies and action figures, while their parents laughed it off.  Sorry, but I'm going to get all uppity and superior for a sec to say that my kids would never, ever, ever speak to a cashier, or anyone else, the way so many children were allowed to speak to me...

*The bazillion people who go through the 20 Items Or Less line with at least one full cart of stuff while sheepishly grinning at you as they say, "I might have a few more than 20..."  (happens constantly, guys), then they cluck their tongues in frustration when you're not getting it sacked and loaded quickly enough, because you only have room for, um... 20 items or less, while the people waiting behind them are clucking their tongues at you for allowing this to happen... 

*The shaking, paranoid meth addicts who are apparently being told by the voices in their heads that you may, in fact, be an undercover FBI agent and should be treated with suspicion and derision.  Seriously, they act as if the question "Would you like your Sprite left out?" is actually some kind of trap that might require the presence of an attorney before they can answer ("Would I what?  Uh...  No, I don't want anything left out.  Wait, what?  Yeah, yeah, leave it out... Um... Wait. Leave it out where?  ...Uhhhh, what?")...

*The little old ladies who believe you should and most definitely will burn in hell if you smash their bananas...

*Cell phone users (Every single cashier on Earth hates your guts.  Your life can't possibly be that important that you can't put that %#$* phone down for two seconds and answer me when I ask you a question.  When I rudely interrupt your conversation to ask you something selfish, like "Do you have any coupons or ad matches?" it is because I'm trying to provide you with good service, you self-important little puke)...

*The liar-liar-pants-on-fire ad matchers (Oy.  Ad Matchers and Coupon People, how I hate thee) who swear that Price Cutter is selling cases of Pepsi for 39 cents and want me to match it...

*The 'green' people with their flippin' impossible-to-keep-open, reusable grocery bags.  You may not always be rude, but you sure are a pain in the butt (God bless you for your dedication to the environment.  May you be eaten by one of the baby seals you so desperately want to save)...

*And fat people who ride scooters. They're not necessarily mean or difficult customers.  I just have a problem with people who take a scooter just because they're too fat to schlep their own arse around the store.  If you're that fat, you need the exercise.  (Is that mean and judgmental of me?  It felt a tiny bit wrong when I said it, but kinda good at the same time)... 

Hey, speaking of fat, do you want to hear the fat story?  I mean, since this is already turning into one of my long, rambly sagas anyway?

It all started one balmy July evening...

Kidding.  Actually, it probably was in July, but who cares?  A drunk man came through my line and got a little grouchy about the cost of his stuff (...And may I please interrupt my own story again for just a sec to point out that cashiers do not set the prices?  You would think that's common knowledge, but apparently it's not.  Getting angry with a cashier over the price of something is pointless and just makes you look silly.  Killing the messenger, and all that...  Did you get angry with the ultrasound tech over the sex of your unborn baby, too?  How about your mail carrier over the balance due on your Visa bill?).

Anyway, after griping for a minute, the drunk guy said something like, "See, this is why I can't afford enough food to get as fat as you people!"  Except he said it more like, "... AS FAT AS YOU PEOPLE!!!!"  (I think he might have added the word "people" onto the end to soften it a little, instead of just leaving it at "as fat as YOU..."  Wouldn't want to be too mean.)

I couldn't have cared less about the fact he called me fat.  So what, you know?  I am fat.  You're really not gonna shock me much by speaking it aloud.  I passed a mirror that morning and had already noticed that, yep, I was still fat.

I was shocked and upset more by the fact that this guy wanted to be mean.  I don't get that (says the lady who just crushed the heart of an obese, scooter-riding reader).  It was a little scary that someone would just want to be crappy for no good reason. 

Remember, I was still a rube at that point-- a tender lass, unfamiliar with the dark underbelly of life that is Mal-Wart; not the weathered old sage I am now.

Anyway, I gave him my Mal-Wart smile... the pleasant smile I quickly perfected that conveys total peace and contentment with my job, coupled with a burning desire to cater to you, while simultaneously hiding the fact I think you're a roddy jackass.

My lack of a negative reaction to his comment seemed to really tick him off.  His face took on a creepy, Donald Sutherland kind of thing, where he was technically smiling, but it was scary-smiling... You know how Donald Sutherland can smile at someone and speak in a very soft, soothing voice, while he glares maniacally and threatens to kill them?  Okay, yeah.  Like that.  This guy was looking for drama- he wanted my feelings to be hurt- and it angered him that I wasn't going to let him have his victory.  He said, "Oh now, see there?  You're a niiiiice person... (again with the Donald Sutherland smile)... See?  I know you don't like what I'm saying to ya, but you're still smilin.'" 

I handed him his receipt and said, "Thank you, Sir.  You have a great evening!"  He stood there, glaring and smiling for a second, then angrily rolled his eyes, and said (in a juvenile, sing-songy tone that was supposed to mock mine), "You have a great evening, too!"

Then he stomped away.  Out of my life forever.  The woman with him kept giving me a look that said she was embarrassed by his behavior and felt bad for me.  I just felt bad for her.  After all, I was getting away from him.  She wasn't.

The guy who called me stupid (kinda) was not as dramatic, but more hurtful.  I have a huge hang-up anyway about being treated like an idiot.  Of course, none of us likes it.  But it's one of my major pet peeves.

The guy was perfectly nice.  We were having a pleasant, normal conversation, I thought.  I guess the problem, as far as he was concerned, was that I responded with "yep" instead of "yes" to a few questions he'd asked (remember, our story is set in Oklahoma.  Redneck Central.  'Yep' is not unusual here.  Clean hair... Lack of body odor...  Class...  Shoes...  Proper grammar... Bras...  A full set of healthy teeth...  These things are unusual here.  'Yep' is not.  Neither is the number of people trying to buy a can of Red Bull with a food stamp card, or putting back diapers or meat to afford tobacco and beer, but that's a rant for another day).  At first, he just imitated me in a seemingly joking way.  I'd say, "Yep," and he'd go, "Yuuupp."  I thought he was just playing with me and I laughed along.  It didn't seem hateful at all.  Then, towards the end of the transaction (just as with the guy in the fat story above, these really mean types are also gutless and choose to wait until it's almost time to walk away before dropping their little bombs of hate) he suddenly takes on this Obama- style, 'I'm-so-far-above-you' arrogance and says, "You know, the fact that you work at Mal-Wart already tells me you probably didn't go to college, but that 'Yuuuupp' really proves it."

... Absolute shock. 
... Lots of eye-blinking. 

(Is he saying I'm stupid?  I think he's saying I'm stupid...)

... Must. Say. Something.
... Silence.

What I wanted to say?  Ohhhh, something along the lines of: "Whaaaat the frickety-frack did you just say to me, you stuck-in-the-60's, long, greasy, gray pony-tail-wearin' dufus?  Your college education sure didn't help you when it came time to dress yourself this morning, you Hawaiian-shirted, sandals with socks, pompous, horse's arse!"

What I did say? 

... Nothin.'

I put my head down to hide my embarrassment, hurt feelings, and dopey, shocked expression on my face.  I took an extra second to get his change from the drawer.  Then I said, "Thank you, Sir.  You have a great day."

A similar incident happened weeks later when an old lady, who was waiting next in line behind someone she apparently knew, was telling the man I was waiting on how he should really be paying closer attention to the prices as I rang up his items "...because these people (meaning me) will rob you blind if you don't watch every single item.  They don't care.  They're not trained to know anything...  They don't know what they're doing..." She continued her derogatory rant for a few minutes as if the person she was speaking about wasn't even there.  I've never wanted to wrestle an old person to the ground so badly in my life.  I seriously considered smashing the old bat's bananas. 

Yeah, those two got to me.  They shouldn't have.  I know that.  But they did.  Which brings me to another wisdom nugget:

2. Your cashier deserves your respect.  If for no other reason than the fact that she put up with every other customer before you without killing any of them (that you know of ;) )...  That fact alone shows great strength of character on her part.

She deserves to be treated as a person.  Do you do that?  Do you make eye contact with her?  Many, many people do not.  Waaay more don't than do.  I'm sure you think you do, but think about it... Do you really?  Do you bother to speak to her?  Yes, you're in a hurry and you've had a hard day...  I guarantee she has, too.  You just want to get out of there?  Yeah.  The feeling's mutual, hon.

Here's the REAL wisdom nugget I learned about cashiers.  They. Work. Hard.  I sought the job because I thought it would be a fairly easy way to make some extra money.  All I'd have to do is stand still and work a cash register.  Mwaaahahaha...  I could not have been more wrong.  The work is physically hard (and that is not just the opinion of an old, fat chick with a chronic pain problem- the young ones were talking about their aching heads, backs and feet, too)-- there's a lot of walking all over the store at times, and lifting, bending, loading, etc... often while perfectly able-bodied, stronger, bigger customers impatiently stand there and watch them do it (because, after all, it is their job).  I can't tell you how many men stood there watching me struggle with large bags of dog food or cases of beer.  My own husband would be embarrassed to let a woman struggle to lift or carry something while he just stood by and watched.  He wouldn't let it happen.  You can call that old-fashioned, or even chauvinistic, but I prefer to think of it as good manners and common courtesy.  And his mama raised him right.

Another nugget?  For some reason, the whole Golden Rule thing (treat others as you'd like to be treated) does not seem to extend to those in service jobs, like cashiers, food servers, etc.  I don't know why.  They deserve kindness just as much as anyone else, if not more, since they're serving us (DUH!), yet we tend to behave as if we're Paris-flippin'-Hilton, ordering Ramon the pool boy to get us a fresh towel (Egyptian cotton, of course). 

A little tip...  A person who provides a service is not quite the same thing as a person who is your personal servant. 

Not only is the work physically tiring, but it's usually emotionally and mentally exhausting as well.  Cashiers really, honestly do put up with every rude, horrendous and idiotic behavior imaginable.  You just have no idea.  No idea.  They hear every type of complaint.  And? They are rarely thanked.

They are rarely thanked.

Just FYI...  They also have to depend on others to come relieve them for a break or let them go home.  Those others are often late by a few minutes, sometimes more.  That may not sound like a big deal, but when your back is about to snap from pain or you're trying not to lose your patience on the next customer because the last one was beyond horrible, and you have to pee and you're repeating your silent mantra, "Only 10 more minutes until break.  Only 10 more minutes..." It's a big deal.  So, next time your cashier is griping that her break was supposed to be 10 minutes ago?  She's not just being an unprofessional, spoiled snot who doesn't appreciate having a job (although, granted, it is unprofessional to gripe in front of a customer and not something I would do).    She's just reached her breaking point.  Try to be understanding of that fact and extra kind, instead of judging her for her bad attitude. 

When you see the cashier turn off her light or put out the Lane Closed sign (time to go home, finally!), and you say, "Oh, I only have a few things.  I'll be quick!"  It's a big deal.  Yes, it is her job to provide a service to you.  But, you know what?  Cashiers can get in trouble for not clocking out on time.  Did you know that?  If she remains there to serve you past the time a manager told her to turn off her light and go home, she will eventually get a butt-chewing.  Or, she may have been told to leave that lane in order to relieve another cashier who is desperately in need of a pee break.  The Lane Closed sign means, um... that the lane is no longer open.  Go to another lane.  It won't slow you down that much or ruin your day to walk to the next aisle. 

Remember, it is not her fault that the store is packed and there are only five lanes open.  She doesn't like that any more than you do.  Believe me.  She has no control over the scheduling and, like you, she too wonders why Mal-Wart has 24 check-out lanes if they're only going to use a few of them. 

Since I began livin' the Mal-Wart dream, my interactions with cashiers have changed greatly when I do my own shopping.  It's not like I was ever a rude jerk before (I certainly hope I wasn't), but I'd be willing to bet I had my share of self-absorbed moments when I was in a hurry and didn't give two flips about the cashier.  I now know the sad truth- that I could, honest-to-God, be the only kind person she'll wait on that hour, afternoon, or- God forbid- the whole day.

Even though I know she's paid to do a job for me, I try to make that job a little easier these days, if I can, whereas I honestly didn't give it much thought before.  For example, if I expect her to scan things in or under my basket, I make sure the bar codes are easy to get to so she doesn't have the additional work of dragging everything out and putting it back.  I'm personally not picky about how things are bagged, but if I did want her to bag certain things together, I'd make sure those things were all grouped together on the conveyor belt (because you idiots who wait until the moment after the bags have been loaded to finally tune in and ask if the Hershey's bars are with the canned peaches and ketchup, 'cause that bag is going to your aunt's house, really need to be dipped in hot grease).   And?  I behave as if I'm standing in front of an actual living, breathing, human being, instead of the ATM or a vending machine.  I make sure I smile and say, "Hi.  How are you doing today?"  I know I did that before, but now?  I really listen to her answer.  I no longer mumble 'thanks' as I rush off with my basket, while talking to my kids and fumbling for keys. I make myself stop. I look her in the face. And I say, "Thank you."  I do it like I actually appreciate, respect and give a flip about the person standing before me.   Because I do.  


necessarygrace said...

Ah... the truth comes out! You took that job to get material for your next novel!! You are a genius! Seriously... when you write your novel (and you should be writing it this very minute, because you have SCADS of material and are a good writer to boot!) you absolutely MUST include a mal-wart checker!!
Dude. Can not believe anyone would be so horrible as that "stupid" guy!! Ok, I can believe it. It's a fallen world and all that. But still! I confess, I might have been calling down some hot coals upon that man's head, had I been the one working that check-out lane...

Michelle said...

Haha! Thank you! And that's a good idea. A writer could definitely find lots of material at Mal-Wart!

Yeah, I was calling down the hot coals on that guy, for sure. I would have been willing to settle even for a little bird poop on his head, though. Anything. He was unbelievable. It wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been fooled into thinking he was nice at first. I was blindsided by pure evil disguised in a bad Hawaiian shirt!

Stepping on Legos said...

Wow - that is horrifying. I can't wait to read the why-you-quit post!!

I was never a cashier but did work in both telemarketing and as a server at one point and so I totally get it. I don't really make eye contact with anyone (too shy) but I do try to talk about how their shift has been, when they get off, if it's been busy, etc. I often get an earful about how awful their job is which makes me all the more compassionate with the next cashier. I think it's a shit underappreciated and underpaid thankless job and honestly I have nothing but respect for every person who makes it through a single shift! I have no idea how people can be so awful to total strangers. What a reflection on their inner lives, huh?! :(