By popular demand...
When asked about life in my hometown, I usually reply with a series of praise about the scenery, the atmosphere, the people. However, I generally qualify this with a statement of "But you have to leave at some point, unless you want to continue working the same job you did when you were a teenager."
Because, when I was a teenager, I worked at Wal-Mart.
It is a little odd that there was even a Wal-Mart in my home town. This was the town that managed to keep out the mighty McDonald's by virtue of grassroots petitions and local paper headlines declaring the evils of corporations (it should be noted that other paper headlines included "Main Street Oak Tree to Be Cut Down: Locals Enraged"). Ever since its arrival in its 1990s take-over of North America, Wal-Mart has been pretty much a constant source of controversy in our town, from its underselling of local businesses to its desire to sprawl across the underdeveloped portions of the waterfront.
However, another quality of small town life is its lack of employment; as such, Wal-Mart became popular for the minimum wage crowd. Thus, despite my hippie sensibilities, I ended joining the ranks of the big-box employees for one summer.
What did I learn in my 4-months wearing a blue vest?
- Wal-Mart can't decide if they want to seem prestigious or all-accepting. This is the only way I can explain the fact that I had to go through three interview portions (including a questionnaire about my responses to employment related moral dilemmas-- "A co-worker confides in you that he has been smoking marijuana on his work break. What do you do?") to get the job, yet they still seemed to hire absolutely anyone (from the purple-haired to the retired many years prior) with few standards. Seriously, some of the people I worked with were the least socially skilled individuals on the planet, making me wonder how they even managed a 15-minute interview.
- Another sign they took themselves too seriously? Managers were forbidden from socializing with employees. I remember a poor 20-something assistant manager who moved from a major city to take over an open position. He worked really long hours, but was disallowed from even going for coffee with anyone from work. I remember actually having an honest conversation with the guy the day I quit about how ridiculously lonely such rules left him. It's Wal-Mart, people, not a law firm.
- Working in the toy department had its pros and cons. Pro? Being able to wear a crown and boa while working with no one blinking an eye. Con? The second you turn a corner, your three hours of work cleaning the action figures aisle will be destroyed.
- Despite my prior glamourizing of the infamous Wal-Mart greeter position as the easiest job of the planet, it is also the most boring and the most humiliating. People will humour a 70-year old woman accosting them with stickers and salutations, but their responses to a teenager tend to be more characterized by pity and disdain.
- Some people took their job way too seriously. They would only speak about the company and Sam Walton in the most glowing of terms. They would frantically call out any break of protocol. They would lead the morning exercises (which included finger stretches) and the Wal-Mart cheer with utter gusto.
- Ah, yes, the Wal-Mart cheer. Contrary to what you may have hoped, it is not an urban legend. Those of us lucky enough to open the store got to shout and gesture along to "Give me a W!"
- The second best part? "Who's number one? Our customer, always!"
- The best part? "Give me a squiggly!" (for your information, squiggly represented the dash-mark, and was accompanied by this odd wiggle-dip.)
- The day I wore a skirt to work was inevitably the day they sprung on me that I would unexpectedly be left to cover the garden department, and thus would have to haul 20 bags of manure into the back of someone's truck.
- On the same note, they seemingly never had enough people working on one day, meaning I would be covering literally up to eight departments at once while getting paged to run a till. Also, you were only trained for the department you *officially* worked at, meaning the customers looking at barbecues probably knew more than I did when I was called to help them.
- The customer's-always-right mantra gets rather tiresome in a hurry, especially when people would literally try to start bargaining with me or would return nasty, stained apparel without a receipt-- and the management would appease them. It was then that the customer would shoot me a nasty glare, as though I was purposely trying to screw them over by being willing to haggle with them over the price of an electric scooter.
- Kids getting excited about new shipments of Lego or Hot Wheels is cute. Grown men? Not so much. In fact, we had one man who would be waiting outside the doors before opening every weekend to raid the Hot Wheels section. Whenever someone new was hired in the department, he would scam them by telling them that the department manager promised him he could look through the new shipment box that morning-- which was a complete lie and would leave you with an utter mess of itty-bitty trucks strewn about the aisle.
Not to mention Wal-Mart radio is sheer torture-- a medley of non-offensive soft rock favourites and irritating repetitive jingles-- including one set to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" that chanted "Roll back, roll back, roll back some prices for me, for me!"
Oh, the memories....