Warning – this post is gross & not for the squeamish.
They say that ex-cons can spot another ex-con straight away, something about the way they move; guarded, alert & wary. The same is true of the retail manager, I can spot one a mile away, they radiate a bone weary diplomacy and tend to have an aura of resigned, terminal patience about them. Plus they’re the ones sitting down. They don’t tell you about what will happen to your feet when you become a retail manager; feet pummeled, feet beaten, feet screaming like you walked a mile over thinly spaced marbles. Retail managers love to talk about foot pain and the relief of foot pain – salts, baths, foam vs gel insoles. Suffice it to say you do a lot of walking in a big store. But the foot pain is insignificant when placed alongside the colossal pain in the A that is the Difficult Customer. Sure there are plenty of happy customers, some cool customers and even a few slippery customers but the difficult customer requires you to display a superhuman level of self-control as you mimic the zen approach that only the truly great managers possess. This is my job, you tell yourself, the rest is merely tedious but dealing with this ringpiece right now, is what you’re getting paid for. For example, there are women of a certain age and a certain tax bracket that like to work out their frustration, stress and incipient anger by tearing a strip off of retail clerks. Who for $8.00 an hour usually turn around and say, ‘F**k You Lady!’ This is where your skills are needed, this is where your empathetic nods and concerned, knitted brow comes in handy.
I talked to one female manager who treated it as a game, a skill. “What’s the shortest time it’s going to take me to turn a customer who is livid, literally spitting mad and get them out of the store happy, smiling and planning to return.” “Wow! I’m usually thinking, where can I dispose of the body?” “Then you don’t belong in retail, quit now or you’ll be dead by fifty.”
As well as aching feet & angry woman you have crushing boredom to deal with plus the embarrassing roleplay with your subordinates. For instance trying to get them jazzed about a mind-numbing, repetitive job a cheap robot will be doing in a few years. So retail can be bad enough without the endemic but lesser known problem of dealing with other people’s crap and by crap, I mean poo.
People poo in stores. Some can’t help it but others do it on purpose. They think it’s funny. I was talking to a guy who, against his better judgement, let three girls into his large store just before closing at eleven at night. They were young asian-american girls, dressed provocatively, off clubbing. “Oh Please, please! We really need to use your bathroom.” Cute girls. Nice girls. They disappeared upstairs and in the end-of-day madness he forgot all about them. They came giggling down the stairs fifteen minutes later and he unlocked the doors and let them out. They hit the sidewalk laughing madly and disappeared. “When she passed me, this one girl, I noticed she had shit on her fingers.” Shit! I said. “Yeah and I thought, now that’s odd and then I got this sinking feeling, something about the way they were laughing, they seemed nervous when they realized they were locked in. I headed up to the bathroom with a maintenance guy.” It turns out the girls needed to use the bathroom to paint a huge, geometric wall mural. In brown. “It was everywhere, everywhere. I don’t think there was one tile untouched.” ‘My God’ says I, ‘What did you do?” “I left the maintenance guy to it. I don’t get paid enough to deal with shit like that. He didn’t seem as shocked as you might think. He said it happens a lot.’ Shit happens in retail, a lot. After a few seconds of rueful contemplation my friend, like Dragnet, says, “I think the girls were high on Mescaline.” ‘Wow, what made you think that? “Just something about the patterns they drew and the look in their eyes. If felt like Mesc.” I left it there. Retail is like the French Foreign Legion, you’re working now and we don’t ask questions about your past.
This invaluable piece of retail equipment is called The Spinner, clothing stores use them to display cashmere sweaters, blouses and the like. It will be familiar to you. Many times you have stood there spinning to find your size or a style that appeals to you. You may have pulled something off to take a closer look or to buy but have you ever parted the clothes and taken a peek inside? Well beware because, yes, you guessed it, people like to poo in there. Another friend, another store, the kind that sells brand name clothes cheaply. They might be imperfect, ugly, or in strange sizes and I’m just talking about the staff now, the clothes are a bit off kilter too; jeans with a 50 inch waist and 16 inch legs, the Spiderman print MooMoo you’ve always wanted, the six fingered glove. Also men’s grooming kits for $3.99 & massive crap watches, you get the idea, you know the store. Well they had an outbreak and they couldn’t catch the scoundrel. Some fiendish defecator or possibly a gang had targeted the spinners. It’s quiet and private in there, your chances of getting caught are slim unless you start laughing, whistle, rustle your newspaper or fart too loudly. The Spinner Poo is another one of those great mysteries I like to ponder in the slower parts of my day. Is it the thrill? Is it thrilling to shit in a spinner? Is it for a dare? Or are they simply caught short? Damn, there’s a line outside the restroom, I’ll just nip in here, no one will notice me. Could it possibly be a sexual thing? It started as a joke but became an obsession! Do they take toilet tissue in there with them? Well, I guess a cashmere sleeve is soft, strong and very, very long. My friend tells be that no person or person’s have as yet been apprehended in connection with the defilement of the spinners. It’s sporadic, now. I like to imagine the store manager, trudging wearily into her office with a sore face from grinning at angry customers, finally getting a few minutes to herself. Putting her aching feet up on the desk, with a Twix and a coffee, leafing though some dumb memo. Then an excited retail clerk dashes in, “It’s happened again..” ‘Oh God.’ Which brings me perfectly to my own personal experience of dealing with crap in retail, I’m really dying to share but I see we’ve gone long, so I’ll have to hold it in till later.