Mallrat

“You do realize,” said the HR woman, “That you’re very qualified for this?” The statement annoyed me. Yes, I realized that I was “very qualified,” by which she meant “overqualified.” Yes, I knew it would be a pay cut compared to what I was used to, yes, yes, yes.

“You do realize,” I wanted to say, “That there’s a giant fucking recession out there? Right?” I didn’t say that, though. Instead, I held my tongue and got a seasonal job at Macy’s, America’s Department Store. I was a teacher, once. Now I would sell pants and blenders and underwear and neckties.

Training was insultingly slow. I wanted to simply say, “I have done retail before, and I can see that your proprietary computer system is very intuitive. Can I start working now?” But, I had to slog through it anyhow. “A lot of people don’t have jobs right now,” I thought to myself, “a lot of people don’t have jobs…” (Echos of “There are starving kids in Ethiopia! Now clean you plate!” I don’t think my parents ever said that to me, though.)

My job is in Beaverton. The commute is long and I wish I could read on the bus, but I get motion sick. I listen to podcasts and music instead. The commute is the worst part of the job, in it’s own way. If I was going two hours to teach or do something meaningful, I wouldn’t mind as much, though.

I bought a black suit so I could work there. The dress code is black, all black. I know this makes us easier to identify for customers, and for security cameras.

We are supposed to sell the Macy’s credit card. I don’t feel comfortable selling a financial product that I don’t know the details of, so I haven’t bothered to push it. I exceed all my sales goals easily, but as far as I’m concerned the credit card can go fuck itself. They tried to get me to get one, and I said no. I don’t have any credit card debt, and I’m not really in favor of it generally.

People have lots of coupons. Most of the time, the coupons don’t work, especially with big brands like Levi’s and Calvin Klein. When the coupons don’t work, people get angry, but they buy the expensive things anyway.

Most of the time when people ask me questions about products, I just read them the labels on the products. “Is this dishwasher safe?” they ask. “Yes,” I say, reading the label that says so, “it is.” “Thank you so much,” they say, and then I ring them up.

Selling is easy. Lots of people just want to be reassured.

I wish our Macy’s has a Santaland. It doesn’t. Santa’s out in the mall, and there’s just a line up to his chair. He’s near the food court.

I talked to a woman who said this job was a ninety percent pay cut for her. I felt sorry for her, but I also wondered where all of her savings or whatever went.

Vendors from companies like Waterford, Calvin Klein and Calphalon are sometimes in the stores. One of them said to me “They treat you seasonal guys like shit,” and then apologized for swearing. I told her it was okay.

I keep wanting to tell people that I don’t do this in real life, that I’m not actually a Macy’s worker, that really I teach English. Being there is a blow to pride, and it really does sting, just like Marcellus Wallace said it would. (“A lot of people don’t have jobs. A lot of people don’t have jobs…”)

I was scheduled to work on Christmas Eve, and talked myself out of it.

Christmas music fills the store. Some of the songs are rock or hip-hop versions of Christmas tunes, and I think that these versions of the songs are embarrassing, like watching my dad try to dance.

There are no religious Christmas songs. I like those songs much better, usually. I like Oh Holy Night, Oh Come, All Ye Faithful, and Joy to the World. I like them all, and they are never, ever played.

They do sometimes play the theme from A Charlie Brown Christmas, though, and I like that.

Macy’s in Beaverton is part of a mall. I wish I worked at the downtown store. At that store, I could pretend that I worked at some classy joint in the heart of Portland. Instead, I work at a mall.

The mall would be okay if it had a bookstore to hang out in on lunches and breaks, but it doesn’t.

It does have two Starbucks’, though, and I often get coffee there. I don’t like saying “tall” or “grande” because I think it’s sort of silly so I’ll say something like “Can I get a twelve ounce coffee please?” “One tall coffee? Sure!” is a common reply. I don’t like hearing grown up people having to talk like that.

A guy behind me one day is laying it on thick “Thank you so much for shopping with us!” he says, and I want to punch him in the mouth. I’m always polite, but he’s obsequious, parroting all of the things in the training videos. I like finding real people in retail establishments, and he was a total Caufeldian phony.

I don’t like saying that things are “9.99” or 29.99.” Those are bullshit prices, and everyone knows it. I like saying that something is “ten” or “thirty dollars” much more.

My girlfriend drove me to work one morning and brought me coffee. I was touched, but also a little embarrassed that she saw me on the sales floor. Part of me doesn’t want anyone I know or respect to see me doing this.

I asked to stay on after Christmas. I don’t like it, I’m overqualified, but, yes, there’s a giant recession out there. A lot of people don’t have jobs…

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