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Department Store Hell


This summer, I have had the unique pleasure of working for a major department store. Now, Iíve worked retail in the past, so I thought I knew what I was getting into. The annoying customers, the stupid questions, the general boredom and annoyance-- but I was in no way prepared for what I found when I went to work for ĎThe Department Storeí.

When I was first hired, I was thrilled. This job, after all, is the highest-paying one Iíve had in my life to date. But there was something odd about it...

The training was the first thing that struck me odd. My training at The second-hand clothing store that Iíd worked at the previous summer consisted of a discussion about the color-coded tags and how to run the Jurassic register. It took an hour. The training at The Department Store was two days of intensive brainwashing tactics that put me in the mind of a Mr. Snaffleburger animation. The general message was, "Welcome to The Department Store. The Department Store loves you. You will never leave The Department Store. The Department Store now owns your soul. If you disparage The Department Store in any way, The Department Store police will come and take you away to be viciously beaten."

But I managed through training with my wits intact and no particular desire to conform, consume or obey. It was, after all, just a summer job. A SUMMER JOB, people. The sort that ends abruptly in September. It took me three and a half weeks just to pass this though all the skulls of the people who I worked with. Iíd never in my life taken a job that could be considered a career before. All my summer jobs had been summer jobs, nobody expected me to do it for LIFE-- and Iíd never dealt with lifers before.

Itís a truly unique individual who chooses to sell womenís clothing as their CAREER. Itís certainly not something I would choose-- Hell, I got the job by applying to every store in the mall and taking the one that offered the most cash. I found myself working with people who got genuinely excited about new merchandise, and who got genuinely angry at stock balancing. People for whom the most trivial of useless crap was the universe. I saw levels of unnecessary stress that disturbed me. And the cattiness. Oh, the cattiness.

One would think that coming from a womenís college would prepare me for the full gamut of personality types that can be displayed in womankind. But I suppose Iíve led a sheltered life, for never before The Department Store did I experience the level of deceit that I experience there. People hate one another secretly. Each of my coworkers has confided in my about the shortcomings of the others, while swearing me to absolute secrecy. Itís the sort of thing that makes me want to stand up in the middle of a department powwow and scream "She hates you and you and you, and she thinks blank about you, and she hates all of you, and none of you EVER PORTRAYS THE TRUTH!" Falseness is one of my most major pet peeves. I greatly prefer to know if someone dislikes me, and I do not have inhibitions about expressing my displeasure with someone to their face. This is apparently as new a concept to the employees of The Department Store as is the concept that some people donít join the company and hitch on like skin-burrowing parasites, content to dig in for life, or the concept that some people will take jobs they hate for the sake of cold hard cash, or the fact that some people are ::GASP:: POOR!

Which brings me to the most startling revelations of all, those involving class. I always considered myself to be lower middle class, because, after all, I have food and shelter most of the time, and a lot of the basic amenities (internet access comes to mind). Sure, Iím living on credit card debt, and my debt in thousands is greater than my age in years, but thatís how college students live, right? Well, if The Department Store has taught me anything, itís that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is CAVERNOUS.

I still cannot believe that anyone would pay eighty-eight dollars for a TANK TOP. I see people come in and buy three or four shirts for a sum of money that would feed my entire family for two weeks, and think nothing of it. I see money flow like water-- I see merchandise that proudly says "MADE IN KOREA/CHINA/VENEZUELA", made from materials that cost about three dollars, sell for several hundred dollars. And these arenít even designer labels, people. The merchandise isnít that good. Itís not worth it! Iíve bought similar stuff second-hand for around ten bucks. I have a personal standard in clothing: I will not pay more than an article is worth. A plain white tank top with a string of beads attached to it is NOT worth eighty-eight dollars. The same white top will sell at target for five bucks, the beads at any craft store for a dollar. Are we to believe that the workers in Korea/China/Venezuela are getting paid well for their beadwork? I highly doubt it.

When I mention this to anyone on staff, I get the same reaction all around. First comes puzzlement, then a sort of smug amusement. "Oh, isnít that cute, she still has ideals!" or worse, "Youíre going through a phase, dear, I was just like that at your age. It was the 60ís then, I understand where youíre coming from, but youíll grow out of it." Itís this attitude more than anything that grates on me-- I mean, I prepared to let my ideals slip a few notches to allow me to work retail at all. I understand the evils of the retail world, of the ad campaigns, of the conspicuous consumerism, of the unattainable ideal. I hate it, but I can reconcile with it in order to pay my bills. Itís the attitude that my ideals are just a phase that really upsets me.

One of my supervisors cheerfully admits to being a Ďformer feministí. She speaks wistfully of her college days, when she shopped in second-hand stores and read Camille Paglia and majored in Womenís Studies. She tells anecdotes about her start at The Department Store, about being hired on in the job I currently fill, stock girl, about the manager who told her in no uncertain terms that if she wanted to get anywhere in the company sheíd have to get a makeover. When I informed her that a manager telling me to get a makeover would signal the beginning of my two-week notice, she laughed at me in a condescending manner and went on her way -- as if the thought of giving up a job for my ideals was completely out of the question. I was more than a little shocked at the time, but as I continued working there it began to make sense...

The pieces came together. It was a patchwork of lost ideals, unfulfilled dreams and empty lives. Itís a place where careers go to die, and the greatest dream anyone has involves becoming an all-star sales associate and managing one's own department. When competition between branches of the company is fierce, and statistics are thrown around daily to hype people up. OOOH, WEíRE UP 3.4% FOR THE MONTH! In order to keep peopleís minds off the fact that theyíre selling things that nobody needs for prices that nobody should ever pay, and that it all means absolutely nothing.

And thatís why I dislike my job. That and the myriad little annoyances to bitch about:

Customers who donít understand that I am a stock girl, not a sales associate. I cannot ring the register, I do not know who helped you last week, and no, I canít order something form another store for you. The best I can do is fetch somebody who CAN do that. Please donítí roll your eyes at me as I do so.

Return customers who DO understand that Iím a stock girl and thusly think I am endowed with magical powers, even when Iím not holding the pricing gun. No, I cannot tell you if an item is secretly on sale without warning, I cannot tell you WHEN an item is going to eventually go on sale, and no, I cannot mark an item down for you if itís not on the markdown list.

Coat hangers, and the fact that there are no less than 17 different kinds of them in our store, and that sorting and boxing them is my job.

Being the lowest ranking member on the floor, subject ot the whims of every other person, even the girl who was hired two months after I was and who knows jack, save for the fact that sheís of higher rank than me, because sheís a sales associate.

The laborious and unnecessary process of refolding ĎThe Sisyphus Tableí, otherwise known as the front display table, where there are folded shirts that customers must of course unfold and place back in a state of disarray.

And so many other things...

I do believe this is the most hellish job Iíve ever had, despite being one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.

Iím glad I did it.

I hate it.

Is it September yet?

Copyright© Heartless Bitches International (heartless-bitches.com) 2003, All Rights Reserved

Copying or reproduction (in whole or in part) on any medium (such as in print or on the web) is expressly forbidden without written permission from HBI

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