You Wouldn’t Believe What I’ve Been Through

January thaw

David Bowie died a year ago this month. Glenn Frey died this month two years ago. We are all getting older, and as Stevie sang, I’m getting older, too. I’ll be 49 in just a couple of weeks. It seems impossible.

My relationship with the kid is evolving and changing as he grows. He’s more distant and also more physical; wants to wrestle, intensely dance, throw snowballs, chase me up and down the stairs when we do laundry. But he finds his own space now when we come home from school without me telling him to. He finds Matchbox cars to play with, turning them around and around and over humps he makes in the yoga mat that’s eternally on the floor in case I have to stretch. It’s been 6 months since I’ve had a B-12 shot and my deficiency manifests in muscle cramps when I least expect it. Today, after an ambitious, 4-mile morning run, I found my intercostals cramping when I tried to put clean socks on after a shower, and had to stretch way back and wait until they released. My right foot cramped repeatedly while driving for errands, which is not a good way to be. I finally bought some liquid B12 at the drugstore and hit it in the parking lot like an addict. My face has been flushed ever since. Which probably means it’s working.

My GI surgery causes the deficiency, because of how much I have to go to the bathroom. No amount or type of food or drink can make up for it. My food doesn’t really stay with me for very long, and I don’t get the nutrients out of it, just the fat and calories. This is why I’m hungrier than normal people, and why I steadily gain weight each year. It’s also why I ran this morning, and every other day I run and work out and try to deal the hand I have been dealt. Some days are easier than others. Today, it wasn’t the arthritis or my sometimes irritated bum that kept me from more miles, it was my shoes, which don’t fit right and are causing blisters and numb spots. New Balance has graciously agreed to take them back even after the return period has ended, but my old pair of Brooks had different problems, and I am loathe to go back to them. Everything is a problem as you age. But nevertheless, she persisted.

The kid and I have few moments of quiet tenderness any longer. With his propensity towards winter nosebleeds because of how dry it is, I’ve urged him to stay in his own bed all night, not wanting my own resembling a horror film in the middle of the night. He only had one nosebleed this past week. It’s always very late at night and he’s not really awake and is disoriented and very, very crabby. He wants to go right back to bed immediately but we have to get the bleeding stopped first, and he’s impatient and doesn’t like me wiping all of him down with a warm cloth to get all the blood off, doesn’t like sitting on the lid and pinching one nostril shut, waiting for it all to stop. He whines and is angry and I try to be soothing but firm. I’m sorry he got my defective nose. He’ll grow out of it eventually. I hope that’s all he got from me. I hope it every day.

He’s insisted on sleeping with his door open lately. I shut it, and at some point in the night he opens it. I like for him to sleep with it closed, because of fire, but also because even as hard of hearing as I am, even with the fan on or other white noise, I can hear the *snick* of his door opening, and know that something is wrong and he needs me, whatever it is. The instinct, which was given to me by childbirth, has never abated, even though he is 8 now. But with his door open, I don’t hear him rise, and then all of a sudden he is there in the night next to my bed. “mom?” he says, in this small, quiet voice.  “What?” I say, prepared for anything.

More often than not, what he says is, “I’m scared. Can I sleep with you?” He is not scared. There’s nothing to BE scared of, he is not a scared type of child, he is just giving a reason to come in and snuggle, and, knowing how few of those days are left, I say ok.

He gets in and puts one tiny, bony arm on top of me and goes right back to sleep. I lay there and think about whether or not he took his vitamins, and feel bad I forgot to make him do his push-ups, or write down his reading in the log for school. I feel like I wish he would lie there forever with his little arm on mine, wanting to be next to me, and knowing how goddamned soon the day is coming where he will never, ever get in bed with me again, will never hold my hand in his while he’s sleeping, will never wake up briefly in the night and say, “Mom? I love you,” and then turn over and go back to sleep. Jesus Christ, those days tick away so fast. It makes me panicky to think about it sometimes.

We argue about so much, too. I ride him hard, because I want him to be a good man. This past week, he packed his own breakfast and lunch for the first time. He got his own snack one night, and did all the laundry with me just supervising in case he needed help. He complained the whole time he did these things, but he did them. Because that is my job, to teach him not to need me.

This morning, the stray showed up again. We have had a couple of days of January thaw, and though I am reluctant to give the kitty anything, lest I inhibit his interest and ability in finding his own food, the kid was insistent, so I found something in the fridge and we gave it to him. We’ve named him Gandalf, because he is gray and white, even though my son doesn’t yet know who Gandalf is.

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”


Tired of Screwing Up, Tired of Going Down


Someone has made fresh coffee again after 11pm, I can smell it in the apartment’s vents. I have lived here more than 14 years. Few smells or noises penetrate the apartments, which were built long enough ago that they are pretty solid. I have brick on two of the four sides, a hallway on the third and only share a wall on one side, so it’s generally pretty quiet unless people are in the hall.

Barbara, my elderly upstairs neighbor, is a dear southern lady who I see less and less but have always admired her spunk. She talks to me sometimes from her balcony upstairs when I am out on mine, popping out when she hears me and D out there, and asking him how old he is now and what grade he’s in, and saying how she remembers when he was just a little thing first come home from the hospital, how his mama would show him the trees and and the forest in the back and he took it all in.

She has gotten stooped over in recent years, and moves extremely slow, with a walker. Whenever I see her, every time, I offer to carry whatever she is carrying or hold a door or help her get to or from her car, but she always insists in her chipper drawl that she is fine, just slow, and we exchange pleasantries about the weather or whatever.

When I first moved in, sometimes she would get a package for me when I was at work during the day and bring it down, if it was one that required a signature or that they wouldn’t leave. I’ve brought stuff to her as well, and once went up to check on her when I heard a loud thump – it was her heavy cane that had fallen, not her, but she thanked me for checking on her.

But mostly, we keep to ourselves. I am busy and active, and she is not.

I noticed the very late coffee smell once about a month ago and thought, I wonder who is making coffee so late on a snowy night, where they must have to go or what they have to do. I wished the person a silent wish of good luck, as I know how difficult shift work is, or babies not on the right sleep schedule, or working for a country in another time zone, or whatever. I didn’t think much about it.

Tonight my son and I noticed energetic music coming from upstairs around 8:15. I NEVER hear anyone else’s music. A couple of times a year, Barbara has grandchildren who visit for the holidays, and there is a lot of running and noise, but it is temporary and tied to the holidays, and easily ignored. It’s not the holidays anymore, and the music was markedly unusual.

At 11:15, I smelled the freshly brewing coffee again. It’s weird smelling such a “wakey” smell so late in the evening. Not since college have pots of coffee been brewed at such a late hour, in prepping for an all-nighter, a Rose exam usually (Theatre History; she was the toughest and best professor I’ve ever had).

Then I thought about the odd music. And I realized I haven’t seen Barbara since…I can’t remember when exactly the last time was. It seems like it was recent, but it’s very fluid and abstract, her gray hair and head down, inching along the sidewalk in front of the building a few centimeters at a time.

I hope this doesn’t mean what I think it does. But it probably does.

I will look for her car tomorrow. I’ve not noticed anyone moving in or out lately, but I’m shut up in my own world here most days, and on days I don’t have the kid to schlep to or from school, I often don’t even leave the apartment. At best it likely means a caretaker has moved in. I don’t even know how to find out.

It was a very full day. I have been cooped up so long with the cold and snow, and have been going a bit crazy with cabin fever. I followed a reckless wild hair today, and picked my son up and told him we were going on a road trip. He was so excited. This kid has a travel bug so bad. It only took a few guesses for him to figure out we were going to “the food store that starts with a Z” (Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor) that we went to several years ago.

I’m 2500 miles overdue for an oil change. It was 17 degrees out and my car has 127K miles on it. I’m not exactly flush with cash but I knew we could go and keep it reasonable, just a day trip for a fun lunch and to break up the monotony of laundry, cleaning, Ninjago, General Hospital, sleep, eat, rinse, repeat. I tamped down my insecurities and anxiety and we went.

All things considered, it was pretty reasonable in terms of costs and the payoff was great. We had a really fun time, talked the whole way and listened to music. I pointed out how nice the snow-covered pines looked along the turnpike. “Looks like row after row of Christmas trees,” D said. The sun was SHINING and SHINING and SHINING and we needed that sun so badly. It was so warm in the car we took our coats off. And I sang along with the radio – Patsy Cline, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac. D knows a lot of the choruses now to songs he’s heard a lot and he sang along to “New Kid In Town” by the Eagles and “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan. He surprised me with what he knows. He always does. He liked songs he had never heard before (“Conga” by Miami Sound Machine) and said others were boring (“The Load Out” by Jackson Browne – he ain’t wrong on that one, and I love JB).

We got a close, free parking space, debated in line about what food to order, found seats in the crowded upstairs dining room and stuffed our faces. Completely off diet for me, but today was a day about not caring about the rules, about what I should do or what was good for us.


Then we went downstairs and tried different cheeses. He will try anything, which is so great In this way, he is completely opposite of how I was as a child, and I’m grateful.

I bought a miniscule amount of one really good cheese, and that was it. We loaded back into the car and made our way to the highway, laughing and screaming at each other like we do when we’ve had too much food and too much sugar.

Dr brown

He was asleep right after I hit the highway, and slept hard almost the whole way. I finally had to stop for a bathroom break about 45 minutes from home, and then he was up the rest of the way. We passed a snow-covered drive-in movie theater, and he asked me if that was where we saw Storks (different theater, but good connection).

Tonight after I made him some dinner (me still too full from lunch to bother with an evening meal), we watched America’s Funniest Home Videos, and during the commercial he said, “Mom, that trip today was really fun.”

And so with the smell of fresh coffee in my nose, and his little bony self sleeping under cozy flannel sheets, the world turns, and offers the bitter and the sweet.

See What’s Become Of Me

food pantry january 2018.JPG

I took my son with me to the food pantry for the first time yesterday. Even being unemployed for almost 6 months now, I’ve managed to avoid taking him, as I’ve been able to go when I don’t have him in my custody, or while he’s at school. But there was no school yesterday because the wind chill was -10, and same thing today, and I had to go, so along he came.

He knows I am not working anywhere full-time, but that I work part-time at home. He doesn’t really know what I do other than “writing,” but he’s 8, he doesn’t need to know that much, and isn’t that interested.

Yesterday morning, I explained what a food pantry is and that we would be going late in the day. I said they supplement my groceries because I am not working full-time, there are places like this in almost every community. I told him about the one I go to that’s later in the month that’s almost all elderly people, and how we take shitty care of our old people in this country, who can ill afford to pay for groceries after paying for their living expenses and medications. I told him how much one prescription might cost each month, and why people who are struggling have trouble buying food because of the high cost of medications. “Why does it cost so MUCH!” he said, and I explained to him that if we lived in any other developed nation in the world, it wouldn’t. The same pills would be free, or very, very inexpensive, but business owners and rich people in our country are extremely greedy, and feel like they can never have enough money, so they’ve structured the industry that involves prescription to be all about making as much money as they possibly can on medications that people desperately need, and they give a lot of money to the government to make sure they allow them to continue to operate that way. “That’s horrible,” he said. Yes, it’s so simple even a child can see it. Greed is bad. Maybe these fuckers should come to the food pantry with me and take a look at who they are screwing every day, and go live in their drafty homes for a week, eating shit from Meals on Wheels and watching Wheel of Fortune, with their only friend being their pet. But I digress.

I remember going to stand in line for food with my mom. They handed out WIC foods like government cheese, rice and butter. I was always so afraid someone from school would see me there. They never did, as most of my friends were doing a damned site better than we were financially.

They are re-doing the parking lot at the school where our pantry is, so there’s nowhere to park except way in the back of the building, and then walk around the side to where the door is for the pantry. It was SO FREAKING COLD just skittering over to the door from the car, we hurried along and got inside only a few minutes after they had opened, which is the prime time to go as all the best pickings are still there. I sat down with the registration lady and as she checked me in, I told her that the rice they are giving out has been stored improperly and because of that, it doesn’t get done. You can cook it for three hours and it’s still crunchy in the middle. I have tried three bags of it now and it’s all like that. I assumed it was improperly stored at the grocery that it came from, or wasn’t stored right in transportation, and that’s why I mentioned it to her. She indicated the walls with her arms and said, “Well, unfortunately this is our storage. It’s all we’ve got.” It never occurred to me that how the pantry itself is storing it (or not storing it, in what’s essentially an abandoned, drafty room at the side of the school next to the driveway) might have caused the problem. Clearly, there’s nothing they can do about it and they don’t intend to pull the product. I think this is kind of shitty, but I know LITERALLY beggars can’t be choosers. I wonder how many other people are cooking and serving this to their family and the family says, “Mom, the rice is crunchy, yuck.” I guess we got all spoiled in our previous splendor, with rice that wasn’t crunchy and greens that weren’t all liquidy and full of Listeria and canned spinach that wasn’t gritty because it wasn’t rinsed properly at the factory.

As we were checking in, a mom and little boy around D’s age came in and they greeted each other. After some Q&A, we learned they know each other from the school after care program. We were all checked in but D asked to sit with the other boy and hang out with him and I said ok.

You only get so many bags of food depending on how many people are in your home. We can only go once a month so I’ve learned the thing to do is to get as much as you possibly can from your visit. I get two bags, but you can push this quite a bit because of all the items that are considered free. Bread is unlimited, so I usually get at least two loaves and stick one in the freezer. “Artisanal” bread and baked goods that they bake in the store, those go into your bag count so I usually skip those. But commercial bread is unlimited. Produce out on the shelves is also unlimited. It was really picked over yesterday. Some very brown bananas (I got 3, will make banana muffins and hope my kid will eat them), some kind of sad, soft Cuties tangerines (I took the last four). There were also sweet potatoes, which nobody really eats here, and regular potatoes, of which I currently have plenty as I just bought a bag at target, and there were onions, of which I have plenty as I got a bag at the other food pantry a couple weeks ago. They had a meat item yesterday too, you could pick one. Off brand hot dogs, or beef tips/stew meat. I took the beef, am going to make stroganoff with it today. Eggs also don’t count towards your bag count though you only get one. The rest was expired bagged salads and I know from my brother, who works for a large grocery store, that that’s a real dangerous thing to eat, so I skipped those. I’m not supposed to eat salad anyway, I got two partial blockages in December from eating too much of it, and the kid doesn’t eat it, so it was an easy pass.

The mom of the other kid was carrying stuff around in her arms, she didn’t know where the wagons were that they give you to pull behind you and hold your stuff. There are only like 5 of them so sometimes you have to wait until someone is done and brings theirs back. She looked kind of confused and asked me if we were supposed to bring our own bags. “Is this your first time?” I asked her. She looked sheepish. “Yes,” she said. “It’s ok, I said, “Let me help you.” I took her to where the bags are and explained about what was free and what wasn’t. I told her not to get the rice or the canned spinach, and about how one type of bread counts but the other is free and unlimited and freezes fine. Our boys played and clowned together in the aisles of the small room, as boys do, oblivious to the mutual shame we were both feeling. “I wish I was as happy to be here as he is,” she said, indicating her son. “Me too,” I said. I told her how to double bag her bags and shake them down a bit so stuff settles, that you can fill them all the way up to the top for your count, and that she should get as much as she possibly could because you can only go once a month. I told her to take all the Red Bag stuff she could (2 TP rolls, 1 paper towel roll, one dish soap), every visit, even if you don’t need shaving cream, take the shaving cream. Take the toothbrush/toothpaste combo. It will keep, and you will need it eventually.  “Thank you,” she said.

“MOM, CAN I GO OVER TO HIS HOUSE?” my son yelled. I don’t even know this woman, or her kid, and the timing was shitty so obviously that was a no, but a child’s perspective in such a situation is always so interesting. They didn’t feel like we did. My kid kept asking if we could get this or that or the other, but my bags were already full and I was trying to strategically add produce and other items, go back over everything, make sure there wasn’t anything I missed. I had to keep explaining to him that we were only allowed so many things.

The people running the pantry gave out goodie bags to the kids, with candy and mini candy canes and a packet of cocoa and a thing of microwave popcorn. I had put one in my son’s stocking, and hoped he wouldn’t recognize it as being the same packet. He didn’t.

We RAN to the car to try to get out of the cold as quickly as possible, the wind stinging our faces, and the wobbly cart rattling behind us in protest as it bumped over the snowy, icy driveway.

Wonder What Tomorrow’s Really Gonna Bring


Sixty-four. With the application I just sent, that’s how many jobs I have now applied to since I lost my full-time job in July. Full-time, part-time, contract work. I’m not even counting all the pitches I’ve sent for freelance writing work, the essays and stories I send to keep my sanity. The database I have kept since July 12, the day I lost my job, shows 64 jobs logged since that first day, the day I applied for my first position (no grass grows under my feet). That’s also the day I applied for unemployment, which I am thus far, luckily, still receiving, though I continue to have to explain in detail to the state of Ohio each week that no, just because I worked four hours last week, that does not mean I got a job, and no, this is not going to be my full-time job going forward, and yes, there are weeks I had work followed by weeks with no work, and yes I guess I need to re-open the application all over again, and yes, this week there was 10 hours and last week there were no hours but I AM A FREELANCER, THIS IS WHAT I DO NOW, PLEASE DO NOT STOP MY BENEFITS.

I have gotten close a couple of times, so close, like a lover almost bringing you over the edge but who isn’t quite able to get the job done, leaving you incredibly frustrated and angry and throbbing with irritation. That’s pretty much how I’ve spent most of the last five months, alternating between the highs of ecstasy, plummeting down into angry frustration and failure, and yet slogging on, every week, logging and logging the jobs, applying and writing the cover letters, making the calls, reaching out to my network, answering ads that friends sent me.

And my friends, yes, where would I be without them? Probably in a mental hospital, or living under a bridge, or just dead somewhere, having given up completely. Yet each time I’ve fallen down onto that rocky bottom, someone has reached out and lifted me up. Gently sometimes, with a soft, loving hand, buoyed perhaps by pillowy piles of toilet paper they’ve given me since the food pantry only gives you two rolls a month, or by a hearty breakfast, or drinks and dinner on them, an opportunity for me to vent and seem normal. They were ever more vigilant when I was harder to lift up, coming over and physically actually doing the lifting – drinking wine with me while I cried, holding me while I fell apart, listening to me while I go on and on. Even remotely, friends from far away, reading my words, sending messages of love and support, cards in the mail, money from people I barely even know. It’s been a humbling journey.

That I went from the girl in high school who was named Worst Dressed and Most Likely To Be A Serial Killer, an outcast with few real friends who was socially rejected and made fun of, to a girl who is surrounded by so much love and friendship, really, really solid and wonderful friendship, is an even longer and even more amazing journey. I am truly a lucky woman.

There has been a lot of heartbreak. Loss of love, loss of friends who have passed on, loss of my sense of self as a working, productive member of society. But as this year comes to a close and I look at the battle-scarred road burning behind me, I am grateful to all who helped me run over this horrible fucking bed of coals, who lifted me when it got too hot, who have tended to my burns and licked my wounds on the other side.

I am emerging from the fire. I will be stronger, reborn, like the phoenix.

I’m ready for 2018 now, and all the good I know it will bring. I’m ready to give back, to help and be there for people who were there for me, and for strangers who I have not yet helped, but I will figure out ways to do so. I feel like I am almost there, and while I am cresting the hill and don’t know exactly what is on the other side, I’m ready to stretch those wings and soar.

Thank you, and let’s put this crazy year to bed and move on.

And now, Billboard’s number 64 on the charts from 1964:

Fever Temperatures Rising Now

[my retelling of the hell of working a retail store continues, repurposed from my past for the holiday season]

I had to work all weekend, and will work tonight as well. I don’t know why it’s so hard to space the days out so that I am working a couple of weeknights each week and maybe every other weekend. Instead I work 4 days in a row and then not again for 2 straight weeks, then 4 days in a row again. Then it’s like a day here, day there, then nothing for 2 weeks. This is murder on me physically, mentally and socially since I can’t plan anything in advance since I don’t know when I’ll be stuck there all weekend. I’m not making any real money here right now anyway since we are so slow and I am scheduled so sporadically, but I don’t want to be “seasonal” as you don’t get some things that you get as “regular part time,” so I continue to take what they give me.
We have started a “pre-sale” event. In addition to our regular sales goals, during this time we have sales goals for pre-sale too. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I haven’t exceeded my regular sales goal regularly for months; adding another component to it makes it even more unlikely I’ll reach that goal.

You know, there is way too much shit to have to remember for this goddamned part-time job. In addition to the minute intricacies involved with ringing a pre-sale transaction, you have to “push loyalty” (try to get people to sign up for store charge cards) in addition to trying to actually sell merchandise. It is ANNOYING. This pre-sale shit is pushing me over the edge.

First, let me tell you about the magical, perfect customers I had when I first came in yesterday. They were a DREAM. They had a registry in hand, said they wanted to purchase two expensive place settings and have them shipped to the couple, knew about the shipping cost and that was fine with them. They had a STORE card as well. I placed the e-send order, printed the confirmation for them, the whole thing took about 1 minute and they were talking about how happy they were that this was so easy now that registries are electronic like this. “WHY CAN’T ALL MY CUSTOMERS BE YOU!” I almost shouted after them as they were leaving. Seriously, I wanted to cry and hug them and thank them.

Now let me tell you about my pre-sale experience.

I fully intended to completely ignore pre-sale. It’s so much hassle and I just don’t see the point. I don’t care about my sales goals, so I wasn’t going to go around pushing it on people. But one of my first customers on Saturday was the ideal pre-sale customer. Little old lady who has torn out a page from the sale flyer, actually KNOWS that the sale doesn’t start til the following week (this, in and of itself, is a miracle and makes her unlike 90% of our other customers – they think as soon as a sale booklet is out, it’s active, even though it has DATES on it indicating when the sale takes place), and just wants to look at the item, an upscale brand of toaster oven. So I take her over to the oven, asking her if she has a STORE card because she’ll get an additional 10% off (she does) and I see there are no boxes of this particular brand anywhere in this section. There is a display model, however, so I take it down and put it on a bed nearby so she can look at it, open it, etc. She’s asking me how she can get it to her car, etc., and how she would rather just buy it now but she understands the sale isn’t on. I could have EASILY pushed her into getting it with the hook that when she comes back, she wouldn’t have to a) be dependent upon there being one in stock and b) wait in line to pay but since I didn’t see any of them, I didn’t push. She even asked me if I would be working the day the sale starts as she’d like to come back and give me the sale and of course I am not but I told her anyone would be happy to help her, which is a lie. Anyway, she and her $140 sale walked out the door, bye bye!

So I go over to another associate to complain. How do they expect us to pre-sale this crap if there isn’t merchandise on the floor? You have to physically remove the thing they buy, put it in in a bag with their name on it and put it back in the stock room, so it’s not like I could have just “reserved” her one, so WTF. She’s like well, did you check the stock room? Mind you, between my home department and housewares there are now 5 different stock rooms in use because some are under construction and only partially being used. But I know from experience that generally, everything is out unless it’s a duplicate item. Like, if we had these toaster ovens, at least one would be out on the floor, if not all, like the other brands that were out there – multiple boxes of each. They replenish the floor regularly so that all we have is out. So no, I didn’t check the stock room, I’ve been there recently and there are definitely no toaster ovens in there. “What about the one in children’s?” she says. I know for a fact the one in children’s is just overflow from the China dept, there is nothing there from housewares, and so I mention that. “No,” she says, “the little closet stockroom on the side by where bras are.” ??? “That’s just used for signs, isn’t it?” “Not anymore, come on, I’ll show you.” and she takes me over to this stock room I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WE HAD A KEY FOR, opens it up and it is FILLED WITH TOASTER OVENS! Of course, including the one this lady wanted. FUCK FUCK FUCK. GREAT. So I talk to 4 other employees over our 2 departments, NONE of them knew we had access to that room or what was being stored in it. WELCOME TO RETAIL.

So then I get this guy who saw the flyer and he actually wants to know if he can put some stuff on hold that he intends to buy. We can’t “hold” stuff for that long but when I explain the pre-sale to him, he’s in. You can just come back and pick it up, the discount is the same, blah blah blah. He’s buying this huge, semi-expensive set of cookware in a giant box and he wants 2 place settings of Fiestaware and 2 silverware sets in dark green. So I pull the 2 place settings and one silverware and look around, can’t find another. Look in the computer, it says we have 2 total so there MUST be another one somewhere. I look everywhere on the display. Nothing. I go back to the stockroom and am SCOURING every inch of this room, which is packed to the ceiling and completely disorganized (just like ours in China!) and I can’t find it anywhere! I call over another girl who regularly works in housewares and ask her about it and she’s like oh no, I know we don’t have anymore. We go back out to the display – by now the customer is starting to get irritated as he’s been waiting for like 10 minutes while I search for this fucking silverware and I keep having to refer other customers to other registers. We finally find the other set – it is the one on display and there is no box. He doesn’t want it. So I ask if there’s another color he likes and reluctantly, he says ok, I’ll get the dark blue. So I put all the green stuff back and pull the blue, which we have plenty of. I put all the stickers on everything and ask if he has a STORE card because if so, he’ll get an additional 15% off. He said he used to have one but hasn’t used it in a really long time and that he lived in another state then. I tell him usually if it’s REALLY old they close it and the customer has to open another one. This is good, and fine with him he says because he’ll get the new account discount for the next 2 days. So I ring everything up. Scan the special 15% pre-sale barcode that’s in the giant packet of papers from Crazy Mary. Do “lookup account.” he enters his social, I enter his license info. It now asks for his DOB and phone number. I enter those. Asks him to enter his DOB. He does it. Finally comes up and says to call Credit, gives me a code to give them. So I call credit, meanwhile the guy is really starting to get annoyed as he’s been there a half hour already. I talk to credit and explain he used to have an account, etc. She’s like well, he hasn’t used it since 2005 so we will REACTIVATE it, give it a couple of minutes and try again. So I wait and then try it, doens’t work. Try it again and it goes through, he signs for the purchase and it prints out his shopping pass (he can use this til he gets his card in the mail) and clearly says REACTIVATION on it. So he wants to know if he’s going to get the new account discount now and I say I’m not sure since it says reactivation and refer him back to the cust. service department where he can call credit and talk to them about it – not my problem. Get through the purchase and it prints the receipt. ONE receipt. When you do a pre-sale, you are supposed to get THREE receipts. One for the customer, one that goes inside the bag and one for the outside of the bag. But I just got one. I have no idea what I did wrong since this pre-sale shit is SO FUCKING CONFUSING so I call over the Indian lady I hate to see if she can figure it out. Apparently I just rung it up as a regular sale (and gave him an additional discount to boot). To do a pre-sale you can’t hit PURCHASE, you have to hit SPECIAL FUNCTIONS and then go to a list where pre-sale is a choice, that puts the computer into pre-sale mode, THEN you have to enter the pre-sale code number, which is somewhere else in the packet. So I have to void the whole transaction and start over from scratch with new stickers on each package. Then we have to look up his account again in the computer. I’m sure the guy thought I was a complete moron. So we’re FINALLY done and he’s like, so, you’ll put all that in a room somewhere, yes? I’m like yeah, I just have to call someone to come get everything because it’s too heavy for me to carry back there. So he’s like waiting so I call the dock but of course no one answers, so I call the “manager on duty” phone and of COURSE it’s the store manager, who is a very scary, mean lady, and I ask her if she knows if anyone is working at the dock today and she says yes, they’re there. I call again and nobody answers. I tell the guy I’ll assure the stuff gets back there myself. It’s not like he bought a diamond ring, Jesus Christ guy, it’s just a bunch of dishes and pans! Nobody’s going to run off with them. He finally leaves.

That guy was on Saturday. I worked 9 hours on Saturday and besides him, I rung up a lady who bought four $2 glasses and THAT WAS MY TOTAL SALES THE WHOLE DAY.

Tonight I go back tonight for more.

I Got A Head Full of Ideas, Driving Me Insane

[a return to my time blogging about working in retail over the holiday season]

Tonight, I was left completely by myself in a department I’d never worked in before with a crush of customers with extremely complicated transactions and complaints that I could not handle, while being peppered with questions in person and on the phone that I could not answer because I didn’t know anything about the merchandise.

Pretend you were sent to a children’s clothing store, a pretty big one, to work completely by yourself, including opening the register when you didn’t know how, handling all the transactions with only a little bit of register experience, etc. And it’s right after a huge sale and the store is in complete disarray with clothes piled up everywhere and stuff all over the floor, cups and food wrappers and toys all over and no time to even find out where the dressing rooms are. You don’t know where to put your coat or purse, you can’t straighten anything because the minute you step away people are asking you to ring them up, and you have to call the manager over four times in the first 20 minutes because you don’t know how to handle the transactions people want to do. And all the customers are irate, in a hurry, impatient and belligerent, and most of them don’t speak much English so it’s hard sometimes to understand what they need, and everyone thinks items should be priced less than what it rings up as, for various reasons. They insist you should take something back that they bought in MARCH just because it’s in good condition even though the max. return policy is 180 days. They don’t want a gift card for their return, they want the refund to go to their credit card, which you can’t do. They want to know where the stuff is they put on hold. They want to know why both jumpsuits are marked 24 months when they are visibly different sizes and which one is correct. Do you sell baby shoes? Hats? Where are coats for 9 year old boys? How big do the sizes go up to in the boy’s clothing? Where are the baby boy clothes, all I can find are girl clothes. Oh, now that you’re finished with the transaction, I needed gift receipts for everything, so you’ll have to void it and re-ring everything, except you get halfway through it and realize you don’t know how to do a void because you don’t know where the “transaction number” is on the receipt. You are out of big bags and don’t know where to get more. You don’t know how to find out if they have that size and color at another store. You don’t know where to get more gift boxes, or where the elevator is, or what time you’re closing today. You don’t know if we can sell them something off the mannequin, or how to get it off there. You can’t get them the dress up on the wall because you don’t know where the hook is kept to retrieve such items.

After the 4th transaction I couldn’t complete for which I had to call the manager all I could do was stand there and wait for him to come over and try not to cry while the angry customer stood there impatiently waiting and people lined up behind her at the register. I was of absolutely no help to anyone in the department as I couldn’t answer any of their questions and there was nobody to ask. And we were getting robbed blind because there was no “presence” on the floor; when I had a minute to walk back to the stockroom, I found all kinds of tags on the floor that had been torn off, which is a sign of shoplifting.

Someone more experienced was supposed to come at noon and also work in my department, but a) by then, the huge initial crush had settled down to just a constant stream and b) she was a no-show. Even if she had shown up, WHY would you have a new person open a huge department with two registers and nobody else to help customers?

When I interviewed, I *asked* to work either the handbag or jewelry departments, because that’s what I sold at the other, similar store I where I used to work, and I already have a good understanding of the product lines and what people are looking for. When I was in housewares for 2 days, I was very glad because that’s something else I know a lot about and it was easy for me to find most things and answer people’s questions. But this was just a nightmare.

I was thinking about the other store this weekend. I worked there for, I don’t know, probably close to a year and I was NEVER by myself. I don’t remember there ever being less than 2 people in the department, you need a minimum of two people so that one person can help people on the floor and someone else can ring. You simply can’t do both and if you don’t tend the floor, you get irate customers, a lot of theft and a big mess. But I applied there last year and they didn’t hire me. I think they called my old manager where I used to work (different location of same store) and she probably said I didn’t have very high sales, which I didn’t, so maybe that’s why. I don’t enjoy pushing things on people that they don’t need. I enjoy helping them find what they’re after and making them happy, satisfied customers, which doesn’t really matter in retail, it’s all about the dollars.

After thinking about this for 2 days, I had initially thought I would call the store manager, the big cheese. Then I thought I would write her a letter as it might sound more composed than me ranting in person. But either of those choices causes my department manager to get into trouble, which means the rest of the time I work there is going to stink, and I’ll probably never get any favors and she’ll never be nice to me, and I’ll probably continue to have to work in the children’s department, whereas the last time I saw her (she didn’t work sunday, so last time I saw her was on Friday), she said she was trying to find a way to move me over to housewares permanently since I was doing such a good job there. I plan to try to find out if she’s working tonight or tomorrow night and go speak to her in person after work. I will tell her how it went and suggest if she can’t move me to housewares or another of her departments immediately (she’s also over tabletop/china, trim-a-home and domestics), I’m going to ask to be transferred to a completely different part of the store, or else I’m going to quit. I am too old and tired to be under this much stress just because I need the $ from this 2nd job and there are a lot of other places I could be working right now.

It’s A Wonderful Life!

[These are recycled blog posts about working retail during the holiday season from about a decade ago. Enjoy. If that is possible.]

I had another awful night at STORE, just when I thought I was getting on top of things.

The corporate/management won’t let them schedule enough people for sufficient coverage in all departments because they don’t want to pay for them to work, so when I get there on a weeknight evening, all the day people leave and there is like 1 person in housewares (me last night), one person in tabletop/china (another girl who is as new as me), one person in domestics (sheets/etc), who had a scheduled/required break he had to take which meant while he was on break, I got all his customers as well, who were angry there wasn’t anyone over there to help, one person in kid’s, one person in intimates. When I arrived, the day girl was having what I call a typical STORE problem. We sell Fiestaware dinner ware. It mostly comes in sets unless you’re buying a serving platter or something. However, the way they have the displays, all the plates, cups, etc that come in a set are all out, so there’s a whole line of red plates, blue plates, green, etc., so you can see all the pieces. A lady came in and just wanted to buy some plates. Like they have a set and some of the plates broke, and they just want the plates. They claim they have not only purchased just the plates before, but have purchased them at STORE, which is probably true. The employee has called two managers to find out what they know about it and both say I dunno, tell her we only sell them in sets. Which would be fine except for a) as I mentioned earlier, she’s bought just the plates before. And b) she has managed to find, on display, several random plates which happen to have a sticker/SKU on them, instead of no sticker like they would be as part of a set. Those plates have a price on them, which she is willing to pay, but we can’t find any plates in the color she wants that have a sku. Before I arrived, the employee had looked at all the boxes on the display, the floor and in the stockroom to try to find any red plates that had a sticker, none did. You can’t just ring up another color because if you ring up 5 or 10 blue plates, blue plates will come out of inventory on the computer and they’ll send us more blue plates from the giant warehouse in the sky, and we don’t want more blue plates. So when I arrived, the lady was calling all the other stores in the area to see if they have the plates and if so, could they go check ALL their red display plates to see if any have a SKU/sticker. If she has the SKU, she can enter it and do it manually, but we need the red plate SKU. You can’t look up in the computer to see if other stores have them because – yep – you don’t have the SKU. Nobody does. She’s calling the 4th store when I arrive and informs me that she is leaving in 3 minutes and after that, “this is your problem.” Nice. The customer, understandably, is getting more and more mad for the delay and the problem. She has the plates right there and just wants to buy them, and there’s no way to make it happen. Eventually the lady is told I’m sorry, we can’t do it, and she leaves completely disgusted and says she’s going to COMPETITOR to get them.

This kind of thing happens like 20 times a night on average in every department. Like Sunday this lady wanted to buy this Hannah Montana shirt but it was the only one left and there’s no tag. While there are 5 angry people in line because I’m the only one there, I have to call other stores and see if they have time to go look and see if they have the shirt so I can get a sku to ring it up. Half the stores have a stream of customers and nobody else working, just like me, and they cannot go look. The other half don’t have it. Customer gets upset that they can’t just buy the thing, and leaves angry. I can’t believe this is the normal course of business at this place, but it is. What’s supposed to happen is you’re supposed to pull items like this and put a “re-ticket” tag on them, and then the manager of the department is supposed to somehow figure out how to reticket these things. This basically never happens. The re-ticket tag gets ripped off or someone new doesn’t see it and they put it back on the floor, or it gets put in the back for re-ticketing and it never gets done because the manager is too swamped putting up and taking down sale signs, which is a daily logarithm they have to run exactly right or else you get 50 customers complaining that the sign says those items are 50% off and they don’t ring up that way, or that they’re supposed to get an additional discount with their card but they didn’t get it, because the sale ended yesterday and that sign was missed. I didn’t even know how to do a re-ticket tag, I just figured there must be a way to do it and I poked around in the computer until I found out how. This is how they train you here.

At one point, a customer wanted to buy something off a couple’s bridal registry. Stuff like crystal and high-end glassware are all stored in this one stock room, which is locked. The girl in tabletop (where that stuff is) couldn’t leave to get it because she was waiting on a woman who ended up being there for 2.5 hours in ONE DEPARTMENT. She was STILL THERE after I left at 10:10, AFTER THE STORE CLOSED. So she gave the registry print-out to the guy from domestics (who of course had to leave his register unattended), who handed it off to me after about 1 minute as he had to take his break. You get in trouble if you don’t take your break because they can be sued. I was shown where this stuff is stored ONCE about a month ago for about 5 seconds. Meanwhile I couldn’t leave my register as there was a long line due to the guy in domestics being gone, so I was ringing everyone in housewares plus angry customers from domestics who were peeved nobody was over there. I called the manager on duty to ask if she could pull the girl from intimates even for 2 minutes to ring while I go look for the glasses for the registry person, but she had to hang up in the middle of our conversation. I saw her walking by a few minutes later and ran over to her in the middle of a transaction and showed her the list and explained about the storeroom and asked for the person from intimates and she said she’d see what she could do. Meanwhile the registry shoppers are waiting and waiting, and I have to go back to ringing. I finally had a break in customers after they’d been waiting about 45 minutes, so I found the key for the stockroom, and guess what? There was ONE. The couple asked for 6. So it was completely worthless and the customer was understandably pretty annoyed that she waited around for an hour to find out she couldn’t buy what she wanted. She asked if I could help her find something else on the list and I had to tell her I couldn’t because there were people waiting for me to ring them up. I just shoved the box for the 1 goblet and the list back at her and had to run back to housewares.

There was a whole table of pans that were supposed to be 60% off, but only about 1/3 of them were ringing up at the correct price, the others were ringing up at like 20 off, or 40 off. They say you can just change the price in the computer by putting in the percentage or the new price, but it changes it over the EXISTING price, not from the original. So if you have a pan that was originally $30 and it’s supposed to be 60% off, it’s supposed to be $12. But it rings up as $20. And you put “60% off” in the register, it takes 20% off of $20, which is wrong. I literally could not figure out how to come up with what 60% off of $30 was because I was so tired and confused and busy, so I ended up selling a couple of pans for way less than they should have gone for. I finally had to write down on a scrap of paper how much each pan was supposed to be and then every time someone bought one, I had to go in and manually change the price or check that it was ringing up right. Then everyone has a coupon and wants to know why it only took 10% off when it says 20% off and “almost no exclusions.” Except it’s only 10% in housewares. Then you get done and are bagging them up and realize they wanted gift receipts. If you don’t hit the gift receipts key at the start of the transaction before you ring anything up, you can’t get them. So several times last night I would ring someone up, get to the end of the purchase, they or I would realize there was no gift receipt(s), then we’d have to do a return, they sign for the return, then re-buy everything, remembering to change the price and do the coupon AND push the gift receipt key first, then they have to swipe their card again and they want me to tell them I’m sure they won’t be charged twice, etc. People are understandably angry having to go through this, but there’s simply no other way to do it if they want gift receipts than to return and re-buy.

I spent 20 minutes with one woman while people were waiting in line, discussing cookware sets. She wanted to talk all about anodized and non-stick and how pans are made and she’s fucking lucky I know as much about pans as I do. Nevertheless, I know jack shit about our particular lines of pans and the quality they may be, so I was telling her these pans were no good because of X, and these were better because of Y, and finally convinced her that one of the best sets we had at the best price was this Emeril line of cookware, $200 for 10 pieces on sale. It’s All-Clad and how that’s a good brand and how it has a lifetime warranty and if you buy it, you get a free skillet for yourself and all this stuff that nobody else in that department even knows, and she agreed to buy it and I went in the storeroom and found we didn’t. have. any. more. sets. This is how my whole night went. Meanwhile while I was helping her, people were in line waiting to be rung up. Because there aren’t enough people working.

My feet felt bruised on the bottom by the time I went home from working the past 3 days/nights in a row. I think the CO2 or Radon or smoke detector on the 2nd floor of my apartment building has a dying battery so it would BEEP BEEP BEEP three times in a row really loudly about every 40 seconds all night long. So I finally got up and rummaged around in my purse for my earplugs, which I keep because I can’t stand listening to people yammer on the commute, and finally got to sleep at probably 12:30.

It’s a Wonderful Life!