Untitled flash fiction – (Manager of Dirt)

Based on a prompt from writing-prompt-s on tumblr (prompt reprinted at end)

I wasn’t leaning on the counter when they came to my register. My elbows were merely distributing  40% of my weight to the counter but I wasn’t leaning. I certainly didn’t not see them until one made a choked hissing cough. As I straightened my spine, the only straight thing about me, I affixed my standard customer service smile and began to greet the customer. The greeting died in my throat as I focused on the ‘customer’.

Now, I can just say I saw a trio of guob’nkrs but that doesn’t convey the confusion of seeing one in person for the first time. Most people will never see one in person only on tv or online in pictures. Even then they’re prepared to see an alien. I was expecting a person, a human person. Their roughly humanoid shape clashed with their blue green skin. Then as I examined their face, my eyes followed the line of their forehead back and back; skull curving into a bright red crest. My first thought was they were cosplayers but the extra joints in their arms and legs, which bent the wrong way quickly disabused me of that thought. The one closest to me coughed hissed several words and gestured with tripodal hands.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Can you repeat that?” I said reflexively defaulting to my customer service scripts.

Again it made sounds that resembled no language I knew.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying, sorry.”

The alien’s shirt opened and a second smaller set of arms emerged holding a box. As the alien pushed buttons and turned knobs on the box, I realized they were wearing casual button down shirts and khaki pants. No shoes on their inhuman feet. The clothing bunched in odd places around their bodies and legs. The alien suddenly smacked the side of the box and I heard a fragment of a sentence, “… working junk.”

The alien bobbed their head and spoke again. As they cough hissed, the box spoke in English, “Greetings non-combatant … take me to …  manager.”

I could have asked if they meant the mayor or the governor or the president but honestly I’m not paid enough to correct aliens trying to initiate first contact in the first discount store they walked into. Plus the customer is always right.

I turned away, thumbed the talk button on my walkie talkie and said, “I need a manager to the front registers, please.” I turned back to the aliens, “He’ll be here in just a few minutes.” They glanced at each other and bobbed their heads.

Over the aliens’ shoulders I watched Bob power walk up the main aisle, around the queue, and past the trio of aliens to stand next to me.  He did a quick scan of the register screen before asking me, “Anna, what seems to be problem?”

“They wanted to speak to a manager,” I said gesturing to the aliens.

Bob glanced over the register, did a double take back to me, and settled on staring directly at them. “About what?” he asked.

The lead alien spoke, “Greetings manager of dirt. We come to talk … nuclear war … stop.”

Bob sighed, “I’m not paid enough for this.”

“Bob, I’m really not paid enough for this,” I said.

Bob sighed again, “Yeah.” He stepped out from behind the counter, put on his manager smile, and addressed the alien group, “Ok, follow me to the office where you can sit down…” he had just noticed their unconventional leg joints, “or something and I will call … someone to talk to you.”

That was the last time I saw them in person. Several days later I saw them meeting world leaders on tv. Bob was interviewed as the person the aliens ‘chose’ for first contact. I didn’t even get a mention.

(The first aliens to visit Earth rushed development of their  universal translator and it’s still not out of beta. “Take me to your  leader” comes out as “I want to speak to your manager.” It gets wackier  from there.)

Retail Robots

They asked for robots in the retail stores
And only realized their mistake,
When they asked for a discount.

For every missing button,
For every tear,
For every stain,
The robot brain calculated, to the cent,
The cost to replace, repair, or clean.

No longer could they bully an employee into giving them a larger discount.
No longer could they appeal to the manager for a larger discount.
No longer could they hide behind “The customer is always right.”

Too late they realized
You can’t threaten a robot’s job.

The company saved millions.
The customers saved nothing.
The former employees lost everything.

Hearts or Crosses

I had a weird interaction at work today in the jewelry department. I showed a woman a necklace with a heart pendent but the chain wasn’t long enough for her. As I was putting it back in the case on one pad, she asked to see another necklace on a different pad.

Customer: Can I see the one with two hearts?

Me: (Looks at jewelry pad she is pointing at. I don’t see a necklace with two hearts.) Which one?

Customer: The one with two hearts.

Me: (Still looking, still don’t see necklace with two hearts. See necklace with two crosses.) The one with two crosses?

Customer: No, two hearts. It’s the second from the left.

Me: (Second necklace from left is the one with two crosses. I reach into the case and touch the necklace with two crosses.) This one?

Customer: Yes.

Me: Those are crosses.

Customer: That’s what I said. Wait, what was I saying?

Me: You said hearts.

Customer: No, I was saying crosses.

I let it drop after that because there is nothing to be gained from arguing with a customer but I did kind of wonder which of us was hearing and/or saying the wrong thing. Was she saying crosses the whole time and I heard it as hearts? Was she saying hearts but thinking she was saying crosses?  Was I saying hearts? Was it some weird mix?

Part of me wants to believe I was hearing everything correctly but part of me knows human perception and memory are fallible. I have never wanted to have recorded a conversation more.


It’s The Little Things That Keep Me Going

Yesterday at work was not the best day I’ve had but it did have a silver lining.

My work day started at 9am, which for most people is mid-morning, for me it’s the middle of my sleep cycle.  I normally sleep from 3am-ish to 11am-ish.  Lately it’s been shifting more toward 5am to 1pm.  This usually is fine because I usually work either in the afternoon or evening.  My manager is cool and mostly schedules me for those shifts but sometimes I have to work a morning shift like today.

So, I get to work and I’m already(still) tired and want a nap.  I press onward knowing I will spend most of my day at the Jewelry Counter, which isn’t terribly hard work.  I help put out stock until we open at 9:30 am, at which point I have to stay close to the Jewelry Counter and I stay there for a hour and a half when I take my break.  When I come back from break(nap time), I find out I have been evicted from Jewelry and cast out on to the Floor because I’m the only person, not already at a register, who can run a register so I am needed to help out with long lines.  Before being set loose on the floor I have to cover four breaks at the Front Register, the Fitting Room, Jewelry, and the Back Register.

Halfway through Fitting Room’s break I start to feel an ache across my forehead centering mostly over my left eye.  It gets worse fairly rapidly to the point that I closed my eyes and had to be “woken up” by a customer.  I have generic Excedrin in my locker because I get headaches/migraines somewhat regularly.  The pain lessens but never really goes away for the rest of the day.  I make it through the rest of the breaks, take my lunch, and return to the Floor still the only person who can help out at the registers.  I end up spending a lot of time at the registers because it is a busy day, too busy to only have one person that can help at the registers.

All in all it was a pretty tiring day but like I said at the beginning there was a silver lining.  One of the worst things about working in retail is people who do not respect the workers.  I could write a whole post on just that; in fact I probably will.  Right now I want to bask in the golden moment I witnessed and was a part of.

A woman and her child, age 5-8, came through the line to m register.  She placed her items on the counter but pulled a Batman mug to one side and said, “We’re going to be paying for this separately.  He has his own money and is going to pay for it.”  I went through her transaction quickly and easily.  Then I began the child’s.

The woman carefully coached the child through the transaction.  She handed him his money and told him to wait until I had said the amount.  She had him unfold the bill before handing it to me.  When customers hand me cash, I always say the amount the customer has given me out loud for two reasons.  One, it gives people a chance to stop me if they have change to dig out and, two, it helps me when I go to type the amount into the register.  I don’t usually expect a response but I was happy to hear the woman instruct her child to say “Yes.” in response.  I handed him the change, thanked them and wished them a nice day.  The woman thanked me as well and prompted her child to do the same.  Throughout the transaction she made sure he was paying attention to me.

So often, I have had wadded up bills dropped on the counter for me to pick up and straighten out.  So often, I have repeated myself because they aren’t paying attention.  So often, I have felt like I am acting opposite an empty chair.  I felt none of these things in that transaction and felt like the woman was making sure her child would not make a future cashier feel them either.

In all, I interacted with them for only a few minutes but seeing a child taught how to be polite to retail workers was the high point of my day.


Names and Work Schedules

So, a couple of years ago when I came out and transitioned at my job, my manager told me that the scheduling system could use a preferred name instead of my legal name.  This was good news because everyday the manager prints out a line-up sheet listing everyone working that day, where they’re working and when their breaks/lunches are.  Basically with out that feature of the system I would have to see my legal name every day that I worked as would everyone else who worked with me.  I was was overjoyed at this news and then my manager couldn’t get it to work.

So, he said the managers would just have to scratch out my legal name and write in Gillian when I worked.  That happened for about two weeks and then it fell to the wayside.  It wasn’t that big of a deal.  None of my co-workers called me by it and they switched pronouns pretty fast so it seemed like a non-issue.  Sometimes they would scratch off my legal name and write in Gillian and it felt nice like they cared, not enough to do it every day but still.

The obvious fix for this is to get my name legally changed but for several reasons I just haven’t done it.

Today I go into work, look at the line-up and it has Gillian printed on it.  I just stared at it for like a minute.  At first I thought I was misreading it but I looked at it again and it still read Gillian. I checked the new weekly schedule and it has Gillian on there too.  When I clock out it says Gillian as well.  Clocking in or out was a bit of a daily anxiety because your name stays on the screen for a few seconds so if someone was right behind me they could see my legal name before.

I honestly don’t know who or how or why the system is working now.  I’m not going to pretend it was done just for me.  There are a few other people, none trans, who go by names other than their legal names so this benefits them too.  I’m just really happy that it is finally working the way it’s supposed to.


Two kinds of customers

This is not a definitive guide to customers you will encounter working retail.  This is just a recounting of two encounters I had today.

The first was the rare treat.  The talkative customer that is actually interesting.  Very subjective because one person’s interesting is another person’s boring.  This customer was buying some small cherub angel statues, about the size of a softball.  As I’m scanning and wrapping them in paper, she asks me if I’ve ever heard about setting out angel statues to get rid of, or quiet down, a haunting.  She tells me her house is haunted, she’s heard things, a photo album that plays music when opened started playing, her tv has turned back on, she’s heard thumps in the night, and she’s even gotten scratches.  I love paranormal stuff.  I listen to a few podcasts on the subject and in fact on my way to work, I was listening to one about a haunted cemetery.  She says she’s not scared of the ghosts or what it is.  Then she confides in me that she has a bit of second sight.  She’s made predictions for people and they’ve come true.  I have no way of confirming any of this but why would she lie.  Even if she did lie, it was still an interesting few minutes.

The second type of customer I encountered today is more common.  The customer who wants a discount.  This customer takes many forms.  The one who want’s a discount on  dusty shirt.  The one who wants a larger discount on an item already marked down.  Today’s customer insisted that we had a senior citizen discount.  I’ve worked in this store for almost four years and I know for a fact we have never had a senior citizen discount.  But she doesn’t believe me, so I call over our headsets, “Do we have a senior citizen discount?”  I make the call because sometimes that’s enough for them and maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I have misremembered  the last four years.  I get a response, “No, we don’t have a senior citizen discount.”  I tell her this hoping I have reached the end of her inquiry.  She asks again if I’m sure.  I tell her I will call the manager for her.

Once upon a time I would have gone one or two more rounds with her.  These days I’m old and tired of people, so I don’t bother arguing with them anymore, I just call the manager.  I’m not paid enough to run circles with these people.  So the manager comes to registers and tells her, “No we don’t have a senior citizen discount.”  She now has no higher authority to appeal to.  She has to accept that we don’t have a senior citizen discount.  Which she does and I can now begin scanning her items.

The interesting talkative person and the discount seeker.  Two of the many types of customers you will see working retail.