04
Apr

The customer is always right... about to get b*tch-slapped.Working retail is awful. I say this because I know. I’ve enjoyed an illustrious retail past and have enthusiastically sold everything from garbage bags to showerheads to makeup remover. But by a long shot, working women’s retail is the worst of the worst.

I love my gender and have no plans to change it anytime soon. But let’s call a spade a spade… Women can be a neurotic bunch. I suppose the men folk might get weird about their appearance, too, but women take the cake. You can’t really blame us ladies, though. Once Photoshop was invented, it was over for most of us. Now you can’t turn a corner without finding a billboard or magazine with a gorgeous and totally fake female plastered on it. What that woman looks like in real life, I don’t know and nobody else cares. It’s the finely crafted perfect body you see before you that counts.

Now imagine working in women’s bathing suits.

It was hell. Every 15 minutes or so, I would walk into the fitting area only to find a mountain – and I do mean mountain – of bathing suits piled high in each abandoned room. Though the store had a limit on how many bathing suits a person could try on at a time, I worked the seasonal department by myself, which meant that I was usually outnumbered by women on the edge carrying no less than 40 suits with them into a fitting room.

Women get cray cray when it comes to bathing suits. Fellas, if you want a sneak peek at just how scary your lady can get, offer to go bathing suit shopping with her. Odds are she’ll turn you down quicker than you can say “I’ll buy,” because why would anyone subject themselves to the horror of showcasing her pale and dimpled body under fluorescent lighting no less, but if she happens to say yes… If you make it through the afternoon, you’ve become a man, my son.

I think my straw-camel-back moment occurred the day I realized that someone had tried on two-dozen or so bathing suits during the one time of the month when no woman should be trying on anything that isn’t already in her closet… if you catch my drift. Horrified, I finished my shift and simply did not return the next day. I’m not proud of the fact that I just bailed on my job with no notice, but I draw the line at bodily fluids. I still remember my manager’s voicemail message, telling me that I wasn’t in trouble and could come back at any time. The desperation in her voice made it clear that I wasn’t the first employee to unceremoniously bequeath the seasonal department to a soul braver than I.

So my point with this trip down memory lane? I have mucho respect for those that do work in retail. Because people are awful to you all the time. They don’t care if you’re already waiting on four other customers. They don’t care if you’re two hours overdue for your lunch break. And they certainly don’t care if they hurt your feelings. (I’m looking at you, Robert Schuller.)

Most of the time when I go shopping, I like to fly under the radar. I’m an able-bodied person and can usually find what I need on my own, thank you very much… until I do need help. Like when I was looking for a dress that I had found on a store’s website. Just one look at the overcrowded department, though, and I knew I’d never find anything in that chaotic mess of cotton and polyester. So I walked up to the nearest salesperson, “Could you please help me find a dress that I saw online?”

I took her bored look to mean that she had some time to kill, so I continued to describe what I was looking for.

Her: “I don’t know anything like that.”

Me: “Oh, okay…”

Her: Exaggerated sigh. “Let’s look online.”

She led me to the cash register.

Her: “Find it for me.”

Now I spend pretty much my entire day sitting in front of a computer, but I’m a Mac user. I have as much ability to operate a PC as I do a spinning wheel, Morse code machine, or anything else obsolete.

I looked for an external mouse. Nothing. She then directed me to a two-inch by one-inch mouse pad. I tried in vain to navigate it. She then casually mentioned that it was a touch-screen computer. I began to wonder why she hated me.

Finally I found the dress.

Her: “Yeah, I don’t know anything like that… I gotta go to a meeting.”

And off she went.

I never saw her again, but I don’t blame her. Retail is awful.

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

31
Aug

Last month a friend asked if I wanted to participate in a webcast. Or rather, she inquired, “What do you know about Chicago’s parking problems?” Though I haven’t been a Chicago resident for several years, I am well versed in how annoying everyone finds the new parking meters that make you pay day, night, or national holiday. Even I find it aggravating to pony up five bucks for two hours when I come to visit, but it beats any parking garage in the city. To give you an idea of how atrocious the parking garage situation is in Chicago, my father has told me at least a half-dozen times about the historic day when he wasn’t forced to pay a $13 tab for a grand total of 10 minutes in an Old Town garage. Apparently getting off the hook for a parking garage fee is more wondrous than turning water into wine. Or perhaps he retells the tale so often because the only reason he was downtown was to pick up something for me, and I should be continually reminded of the grave financial danger he miraculously averted.

But back to the parking meters. The short version of the story is that they suck, too. About four years ago when Mayor Daley was halfway out the retirement door, he decided that it would be a good idea to sell the city’s parking meter system to a foreign interest that could charge whatever they wanted whenever they wanted… for the next 75 years. Moreover, none of the revenue would be pumped back into the local economy. So yeah, some people are still a little grumpy about this deal.

Though for the record, I’m really not one for politics. Sure, I have very strong opinions, which I often cannot back up with actual facts – I’m an American, right? – but usually I try to keep my nose out of all that political mumbo jumbo. However, the allure of having my 15 minutes of webcast fame was just too much to resist. I enthusiastically told my friend that I would love to join in the political discourse.

The morning of the webcast, I was a mess. I was sweaty and fidgety and not at all happy that I had agreed to this thing. Truth is, I’m not a political person or a public speaker. I can write and rewrite to my heart’s content, but you can never erase spoken words. I had a strong premonition that either I would say something very stupid or have someone call me out on my ignorance for the entire world to see. Plus, I hate the way my face looks on webcam.

But a promise is a promise. I couldn’t bow out now. So I made my way to my friend’s office and was quickly set up in one of the conference rooms. They did the requisite tech checks for both audio and video, and everything seemed ready to go. Including my bowels.

The webcast was about all the American cities that are in financial crisis. I was one of a half-dozen speakers, plus a mediator. Oh, and I was also way down on the VIP totem pole. The mayor of Stockton was among the list of participants, so needless to say, I had some time to kill before they would be calling on me to join the conversation. I was totally fine with that.

The webcast started out well. The moderator was awesome, and I immediately found myself drawn into the conversation of the leading panelists. In fact, a part of me was getting more excited than nauseated at the thought of adding my two cents. Now that I was actually there, listening to the debate, I became way more relaxed about the whole thing. And if I did suck, I just wouldn’t let anyone know about it. Except for my father, who by DNA mandate must love me even when I make a fool of myself, and my boyfriend, who I figured might as well know sooner than later that I tend to make a fool of myself, I made certain not to tell another soul about my webcast invite.

My friend had informed me ahead of time that the webcast would last about 30 minutes. I checked the clock; we were already 10 minutes in. I assumed I would be introduced at any moment, and boy was I ready… I had been rehearsing my opening line since that morning and felt pretty confident I would nail it.

Then suddenly, some random dude walked into the conference room. Without saying a word to me, he peered at my laptop screen and started waving his hands in front of it. I was utterly confused… and annoyed. Um, did he not know I was about to make my webcast debut? That’s when he turned to me and asked if I could hear and see the other participants. Was this a trick question? Yes. Of course. Now get out of my eye line, sir. He then informed me that the control room couldn’t get my webcam to work. Though it performed flawlessly less than an hour earlier, the stupid thing was apparently broken. The dude then turned on his heel and exited the room.

So now what? I looked back at the clock. Another five minutes had gone by. Time was running out. I tried to compose myself and get back into the conversation. I had missed the last few points that the other panelists had made; if they called on me now, I definitely would look like a moron.

Didn’t matter. The powers that be never got my webcam to work, and I dejectedly sat in the conference room as if my father had given me a timeout. And like every other brat who gets a timeout, I busted out of there as soon as the webcast came to an end. In fact, my friend was nearly running after me apologizing as I headed for the exit and found the nearest Starbucks to comfort myself with a venti Frappuccino.

In retrospect, I suppose it was for the best. While I was secretly hoping to show off my brilliant oratory skills the likes of which no one has seen since the days of Lincoln, the more probable outcome was that I would sound like Miss South Carolina… And as Mark Twain once said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

19
Aug

As a teen, I babysat like a mofo. (This also sadly points to my lack of a social life back then.) Thing is, I had no experience with children. At all. I was the baby in the family. My littlest cousin was barely three years younger than me. Sidenote: Her sister and I once locked her in a closet just because she was bugging us, forcing my aunt to threaten that Santa would bring us no presents that year. As I already knew there was no Saint Nicholas, I then proceeded to crush my other cousin with that life-changing fact. But I digress… Most of my schoolmates also had siblings just within a year or two of them in age. However, I do remember one friend whose parents had a baby girl when we were eight years old. I usually referred to little Jordan as “it.” I was confused because I assumed they named the baby after Michael Jordan… But she was a girl?

Yet when I hit fifteen, I suddenly became the Kid Whisperer to any parent that knew me. They innately trusted me with their progeny. I got paid like a mofo, too. That part was sweet. (Thanks again, Dad, for never making me save any of it. I could be a LA homeowner right now.) I guess I faked my lack of experience pretty well because I kept getting asked back, too. I even babysat for Jordan, as well as for her younger brothers not named Michael or Jordan II or any combination thereof (more confusion). But no matter how much time I spent with the little darlings, I was always a shallow breath away from full-on panic attack mode since I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Is Natural Born Killers not kid-appropriate? Are two hotdogs and a fudgesicle not considered a well-balanced meal? Did I mention that I don’t know child CPR? It was this acute anxiety that eventually led me to believe that maybe – just maybe – I was being watched.

I could never shake that feeling. And I don’t mean being watched through the windows by some pervert neighbor. I mean surveillance. Like the parents had a camera in every room watching my every move. Perhaps that sounds a little crazy, but – heaven help us – if I ever have kids, that’ll be the first thing I’m buying when that test comes back positive. Or maybe the second thing. I really want one of those kid leashes… But seriously, parents were once teens, too. How can they so easily forget how stupid adolescents are?

So what kept me coming back? Hello, the money. I was sick for the Benjamins. And the kids themselves were a riot. Although completely inept to be their temporary guardian, this is also why I was so good at watching cartoons and digging up worms and doing monster cannonballs with those cute little tykes… Oh no, here come the waterworks. Moving on… Then there was the food. This just reinforces my belief that parents should absolutely keep cameras in the house; they would have totally valid reasons for it. Case in point? I annihilated the fridge every time I babysat. You’d think they were paying me in groceries. I couldn’t help it, though. Is it just me, or does everyone else on the planet buy the most appealing, most scrumptious, most delicious food? I also feel sorry for my childhood friends. Or rather, I feel sorry for their parents. Every time I had a play date, I would clear out the pantry within mere minutes. In particular, my apologies to the Wong family. I’m surprised they still even talk to me. I’m also surprised I didn’t weigh two hundred pounds as a ten year old.

Which leads me to house-sitting. When I’m just visiting someone – and they happen to be in the house with me – polite snooping is my main objective. I’m not alone in this, am I? I love checking out everything: books, photo albums, DVD collections, you name it. I’m fascinated by other people’s homes. I also have this weird thing with needing to know middle names, but that’s beside the point.

Yet when house-sitting, I don’t care anymore about what they have. Essentially their house is now my house is now a boring house. That’s when the freak out begins. I’m not spying on them, but are they spying on me? I blame every reality show that ever aired – Big Brother, The Real World, Dancing with the Stars – for this phobia of mine. What if they really do have a camera rigged somewhere to watch my every move? What are my moves? I begin to second-guess everything I do, trying to figure out if I have any – ahem – compromising behavior. Is it odd that I brush my teeth in the shower? Should I not belt out a teary-eyed version of “On My Own” while cooking breakfast? I don’t care to know the answers to these questions, so instead I morph into The Perfect Houseguest. Is the bed made? Check. Are the dishes washed? Check. Are the couch pillows fluffed? Check check. I even Windex the coffee table if I see condensation rings. (But I’m also OCD, so I’d probably do that anyway.) No one’s gonna YouTube me pouring out the finer details of my love life to the cat. I can wait. Just a few more days until I’m back home, and then I’ll unabashedly sprawl out on my couch, devour my pint of Cherry Garcia and sob uncontrollably while watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20
Jul

Jury duty. The bane of my American existence.

I’m truly conflicted about the process. On the one hand, I want to do my civic duty. Pardon the Pollyanna sentiment, but I believe that as Americans it’s our responsibility to participate in the judicial system and give every citizen the right to a fair trial. On the other hand… It’s boring. And tedious. And boring. I hate it.

Even worse is when you’re not immediately called that first Monday morning. Such a tease. After two days in a row of having my automated BFF tell me that I needn’t bother showing up, I had become smugly confident that I would be let off the hook for the entire week… Not. That. Lucky.

I don’t hate jury duty because you have to sit there all day, waiting to see if you’ll be called to a panel. It isn’t because the café sells the most god-awful coffee on earth. (Upon my first sip, I immediately spit it out. I then proceeded to force the entire cup down my throat – hell, I had already paid the $2.45.) And it’s not because I’m forced to suffer through some pompous speech by some pompous judge as she enlightens me on the importance of doing my civic duty.

No, I hate jury duty because I’m surrounded by people.

Ugh. They are everywhere. As soon as I enter that soul-sucking holding cell, I suddenly feel like an unfortunate heifer in a PETA video forced to inhabit the same space with hundreds of other bigger, uglier, smellier cows without any fresh air or sunlight. Granted, I think jurors are rarely slaughtered once they perform their duty, but it feels just as depressing to be there.

I have this thing with personal space. I like a lot of it. That’s why I’ll book my plane ticket months ahead of time to ensure an aisle seat. It’s why I get pissed off when a stranger not only feels comfortable enough to share the armrest with me, but also will touch naked skin while doing it. It’s also why I take it personally when someone sits right next to me in the movie theater when literally dozens of other chairs are available many feet away.

I was able to snag an aisle seat that afternoon, but as luck would have it, I sat next to three chicks that were intent on chatting with each other. All day long. Awesome. Just what the world needs – people who want to be friendly and pleasant to each other. And before you ask – yes – I tried to find another seat, but it was either endure these women, or find myself stuck between a “let’s share your armrest” old lady and a “let’s share your leg space” hipster dude. (I know this from an unfortunate incident earlier that morning.) So I stayed put.

It’s nearly impossible to ignore someone else’s conversation. All I wanted to do was read my book, but all I could do was listen to these three broads go on and on about everything. The ringleader of the group was unstoppable, like the Michael Jordan of talking. This woman could have a conversation with a rock for five hours and not notice that she was the only one speaking. I actually was quite impressed – in a bitter, agitated kind of way. Suffice it to say, I learned a lot about her before the day was over. Most importantly, she suffered from plantar fasciitis. What’s this you ask? Hell if I know, but apparently it’s extremely painful. Also, you can only wear boots. That’s it. No sandals. No high heels. But wait! You didn’t hear the best part of the story yet. The boots she had on were too big so she also was wearing two pairs of socks so that her feet wouldn’t slide around! And on one of the hottest days of the summer, too! Ha! How funny! That’s good stuff.

She also was a “professional caregiver.” She mostly walks dogs, but will also watch your children or make you dinner. She just loves to cook! Now be prepared to be shocked – she hasn’t taken a vacation in seven years. That’s dedication, folks. We all could learn a lesson from this woman. She also had very strong opinions about The Hurt Locker and California Pizza Kitchen.

The other two chicks weren’t nearly as vocal, but they said just enough to keep baiting Chatty Kathy. Meanwhile, I was slowly going insane. Sure, multiple conversations were being had all around the room, but for some reason my ears would not stop listening to these three women. But then a funny thing started to happen. At some point – perhaps at about hour three – I began to give into the insanity.

Chatty Kathy had launched into a tirade about how she liked animals more than people. That’s the reason she’s so perfect at her job! For the most part, she didn’t have to interact with other humans. On the one hand, I completely agreed with her point of view. Made sense to me. On the other, I found it extremely ironic that for someone who seemingly hated other people, she couldn’t stop talking to them.

At one point, these women engaged me, asking where I had bought my purse. Internally, I freaked out. Would I also be pulled into this abyss of mindless conversation?  I gave some casual remark, something along the lines of “I don’t know,” which immediately shut down their pending inquiry. Yet within minutes, I felt a twinge of regret. Somewhere along the line, these women had formed a friendship. No matter what was being discussed, they all were so happy and kind and curious about each other. Whether it was fake or not, I don’t know, but it was… nice.

By hour four, I was genuinely jealous of their little triumvirate. I wanted girl talk, too! The book wasn’t so interesting anymore. My literary crush, Chuck Klosterman, was now boring me. I pretended to still be reading, but really I was just doing it as a ploy so that I could continue eavesdropping on their conversation.

Then the announcement was made – “You are now released from service.” Thank you! The clerk began to call out each remaining juror’s name. Chatty Kathy – aka Julia Something – was then called. Before leaving, she turned to the other women: “It was so nice talking to you. Take care!” That was all. I half expected her to give out her phone number, her social security number, something… Nope. She just gathered up her things and left. The second woman was called shortly after. She turned to the third and gave her goodbye. They all were just so nice… I watched each departure with an inexplicable melancholy.

Once my own name was called, I turned around to see if anyone was going to say goodbye to me. No takers? Okay… I hightailed it out of there and met up with some gals for happy hour. As we sat there, chatting and laughing and enjoying each other’s company (along with some very yummy and very cheap drinks), I had a new appreciation for my friends. Conversation, even of the meaningless variety, is really nice from time to time. No matter if you’re just talking about walking dogs or shoes that don’t fit, it feels good to connect with others in those small ways. I also had a new appreciation for the USPS. Those folks work really hard. And should they happen to “lose” my next jury summons, I won’t hold it against them.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20
Oct

Lemme give you an example of the important work I do at the office…

Me: Please take the petty cash bag.

Him: But I can’t stand that bag. Can’t I just take a twenty?

Me: No, because I have a ton of change and I want you to use it.

Him: But I just wanna take a twenty. What’s the big deal?

Me: The big deal is that you just want to do it because it’s easier for you, but when you do that, you make it harder on me. I need you to get a separate receipt for George, too.

Him: Well, what if I take the bag? Then can I just put George’s lunch on the other order?

Me: No, because it’s Arsonal’s order. They need to be kept separate.

Him: How much change is in the bag?

Me: About two dollars’ worth.

Him: I’ll just give you two dollars for the change. How ‘bout that?

Me: But it’s not exactly two dollars, so that’ll screw up my petty cash total. Is it really that much of a hardship for you to just take the bag?

Him: Okay, fine. I’ll take the bag. Give it to me.

Me: And don’t forget to keep George’s order separate! (As he storms out the door.)

Just saving the world, one day at a time.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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