Sunday, January 15, 2012

Retail (can be) Hell

In the course of my varied and spotty work history, I've held many retail positions.

1. Mervyn's somewhere in Plano, TX one summer in high school: I worked in the home goods section. I didn't know the merchandise very well, but I could balance a cash register quickly & correctly, helped customers pretty well and compulsively cleaned & tidied.

One day a fellow male employee of high-school age followed me to the stock room where he cornered me, begging me to let him touch my butt. I literally ran from him, but didn't report him. I missed that very special episode of 90210 that dealt with sexual harassment in the workplace. On the plus side, I still have a pretty beach towel that I bought with my employee discount.

2. Margo's at Collin Creek Mall during high school and college holidays: Margo's sold inexpensive, but not disposable, women's clothes, shoes and accessories. I worked there longer than any other employee, training most of my managers along the way, and outlasting their tenure. I knew the inventory like the back of my hand.

Once, a sweet, cross-dressing man wanted to try on the ladies' clothes in the ladies-only fitting room. I let him. None of the women shopping at Margo's that day were bothered by him. He was very polite, though I did question some of his color choices. Moss-green with his coloring? Eww.

One year around Christmas, a frazzled middle-aged man entered the store waving a Victoria's Secret catalogue in the air. "Oh great." I said to myself, pondering how to best eschew this probable pervert. When I tried to direct him to the Victoria's Secret store, he sighed with exasperation. "My wife wants clothes, not lingerie, from this Victoria's Secret Catalogue, but I waited too long. The clothes are sold out. I need to find clothes that are like these she picked." Ooooohhh.

3. Breed & Company on 29th Street during summer and fall of my senior year of college: I was relegated to the cashier corral where I stood behind a cash register for hours on end. For the most part, I really liked working at Breed's. Except for that one time a very wealthy old man argued with me about the sales tax on his receipt for ten minutes while the line behind him grew longer and longer. Then a few of the customers who witnessed the exchange decided that they should also treat me as if I were mentally incompetent, and fuss at me. You know, since I made them wait so long in that line while I let that rich old man fuss at me.

4. Toy Joy during spring of my senior year of college: Toy Joy continues to be that hipster paradise for all things cheap, plastic, glow-in-the-dark and/or Sanrio. Kids of all ages flock to this place conveniently located near the University of Texas.

The other employees during my short employment at Toy Joy hated me. I didn't have enough of an alternative lifestyle, enough piercings or enough tattoos for their liking. They tried to get me fired, and very nearly succeeded until one of the owners worked a shift with me. At the end of the shift Owner-Lady told me I was a great employee, and apologized for nearly firing me based on punk-rock hearsay. I blew that popsicle stand shortly before graduation, because life is too short to deal with surly co-workers.

5. That store that shall not be named. I'm scared to write much about this place lest one of the litigious-happy owners accuse me of defamation. Let's just say I still have nightmares about this store and one of the owners. My toes still bear scars from ten hour days spent in high heels on concrete floors. But, dang, I made a ton of money there!

6. Old Navy one holiday season: Again with the concrete floors, but this time in sneakers for not much money. This Old Navy, now closed, was right by my apartment on the sketchy side of town. Homeless people would wander in and talk my ear off, because I was a captive and polite audience.

I used the employee discount to treat everyone to clothes from Old Navy that Christmas. I liked my coworkers, but couldn't deal with the low pay after the holiday season.

7. J. Crew for two years post-college in that dying mall: Working in an upscale store in a dying mall was too weird. People did, and left, some crazy things in the J. Crew fitting rooms.

An old lady with too much makeup and lots of obvious plastic surgery urinated in the big fitting room one day. I still see her at my gym. Just gross.

Lots of dirty diapers festered in the fitting rooms, despite our store's location next door to the public restrooms that had diaper changing stations. Cups of urine from potty-training gone wrong also made frequent appearances in the fitting rooms.

A flasher showed his junk to a sweet, unsuspecting female employee in those fitting rooms.

A customer yelled at me and berated me in the fitting rooms one day for not folding her pants cuff correctly. She then told me, "save the drama for your mama." Back at you, Lady Bossypants.

I found a tiny, plastic baggie of a powdered substance in the fitting room one busy Saturday. One of the younger employees informed me that I likely had an eight-ball of cocaine in my hand. Another employee who studied at UT Law School told me I should call the police and turn in the substance to the authorities. I did. A week later, I called the police with my case number to make sure I hadn't found a baggie of anthrax. Good news it wasn't anthrax. But, yep, it was low-quality cocaine cut with sugar.

Lots of people attempted to shoplift by putting on layers of clothes under their street clothes, or stuffing clothes into bags, backpacks or purses in the fitting rooms. J. Crew had tiny anti-theft devices sewn into the more expensive items that would set off the alarms as would-be shoplifters tried to exit. Employees were not allowed to accuse anyone of shoplifting or call mall security or the police, but we were allowed to suggest that people return to the fitting room. *Wink-wink.* Most would-be shoplifters were so embarrassed that they made up weird excuses about dental work or mobile phones setting off the alarm as they skulked back to the fitting rooms to dump the merchandise they were trying to steal.

Of course, I also found many of the anti-theft tags removed from clothes and stuffed behind the tiny space between the wall and fitting room mirrors, or tacked to the underside of the small stools in the fitting rooms, or stacked meticulously on top off the skinny wall frames separating the fitting rooms.


I'm writing cover letters to apply for some retail jobs this week. Upon reflection, one could correctly call into question my sanity. I need something to keep me out of gangs (like the Junior League) and off of drugs (like martinis during the daytime). I also need to make more money than my weekly acting gigs can pay if I'm to keep up with my fashion aspirations. *Sigh.* I have great taste and a limited budget. (I'm looking at you, Nanette Lepore!)