I enjoyed breakfast, lunch, dessert, and coffee treats from the Star Bucks café half price using my employee discount. With this discount, I tasted treats I would not have tried on my own dime. The Spinach and Artichoke quiche, for instance. I would not try it when it meant risking close to $5 on something I might not want to finish. But for $2.30, I tried it. I liked it – very much. Of course, I think management could boost staff morale by giving us samples of foods we would like to try. Grocery stores nearby give customers free samples on request. It would also be good for morale to have a pot of coffee set aside for us in the break room or free samples available to us in the café. It would be an investment in word-of-mouth advertising. We would rave about the company, rave about loving our jobs there, rave about the products we liked. Even if we criticized a product, the store, over-all, might benefit from our honesty and candor.
I discovered small gifts with huge benefits, gifts I had not noticed at this store – or any other store before. Today, for instance, a customer purchased a 2×2 squared magnifier that tucks neatly in a wallet. Perfect! This would be a perfect Scrabble prizes for my mother-in-law and father-in-law, ages 75 and 80. We play Scrabble all day long on birthdays and holidays. This also would be a prefect gift for my husband who lamented the loss of his youthful eyesight. He goes to the store to buy medicine then remembers that he forgot his reading glasses and now can’t read the writing on the medicines. With this small magnifier tucked in his wallet, I figured, he can age with the grace of a vision enhancer at the ready. This little job afforded me a small gift of grace! Yeah!
I am also reminded to ask about the Scrabble Tournaments I used to see advertised here at the store. I was always too busy, working too late, to participate when I had demanding full-time jobs. But now I could enjoy the tournaments but they have gone the way of other social activities that did not generate $10,000-plus at one time like a good book fair school fundraiser does. Learning about selling books in big blocks could be value-added for my future when I am selling books I write. What kind of activities – and where – sell the most books? I’m in a good place to find the answer.
Once you’ve been fired – especially if it happened more than once – there’s always that fear that it will happen again. But, I decided to charge against the fear. I was afraid I could get fired for failing to meet the goals set by corporate. My time scanning the bays had been too slow. So, I called the bookstore manager and asked if I could volunteer a couple of hours to work up my speed. I was serious – and sincere. I was willing to work on my own time to work up to the goal – just to see if it was possible.
I realized that I am not always right in my criticism. I have been in management myself, made executive decisions. What if others under my supervision suspected and criticized my every decision? I might be in an executive position again some day. Here was an opportunity to behave the way I hope people in my supervision would behave, a chance to offer what I hope they would offer. We had a deadline to meet. Move $250,000 worth of merchandise out of the store in two weeks, making room for the construction of our new Nook boutique. I was on-board with this corporate goal although I personally hated to see physical store space for beloved books shrinking.
Here I was putting a corporate goal and interest above my own. This felt like personal growth to me. And I was kinda happy to discover it. This was like getting paid $8/hr. to do research – on my own soul and character. I was being enriched in ways no paycheck could ever indicate.
A few weeks into the job, I realized I had a pretty good attitude about everything. I had not complained that cleaning was not in my job description. I had not debated the many demands made on me and the other low-wage employees. I had only looked at the bright side and worked earnestly. I felt proud of myself.
I had not even wasted time feeling sorry that after making $60,000 several years, then landing a job making $88,000, I had “fallen” to this minimum wage position where I was taking orders from someone with much less education, professional experience, and accomplishment. At $8/hr. I was realizing I had an unconditionally strong work ethic. I am willing to work as hard for a job that pays only $8/hr as I do for a job that paid $88,000/year. Ok, that’s stupid, but stay with me on this. I felt good about this. I gave myself credit for having a good work ethic. So, again, I got more out of this job than what my paycheck would indicate.
Also, I was reminded of a something I read recently on my horoscope:
“You may learn a very important lesson today: Just because you are right doesn’t mean that everyone else is wrong. When you are proved to be correct today, you must resist the urge to gloat or to boast. Being arrogant is a very effective way to alienate people, bruise powerful egos, and put a big black mark on your reputation. It’s okay to feel proud of yourself — but not when it’s at the expense of others. Be humble, and nurture harmony.”
I am in a good position to practice humility and nurture harmony on a daily basis. I am sure this will be value added when the economy picks up and I resume my career in public relations.
Zoning, scanning and pulling books to be returned, was a frustrating experience. I worked as fast as I could, but when the manager came to check on me, she was disapproving. She looked at the cart where I was stacking books, looked at the bay I was standing next to and requested my sign-off sheet.
“What happened. This is really not pretty,” she said.
“Well, I had to help a few customers, and they called for back-up at the cash rep, and…” i stammered.
“This is really not good,” she repeated. “You barely finished one…”
“Was I not supposed to go to the cash rep?” I said, defensively, feeling like a damn scolded child.
“Not unless they called you by name. When you’re assigned to a project…”
“Well, who knew?” I said. “Chalk this up to a teachable moment.”
The executives’ assumption that we could complete a bay of books in 20 minutes seemed unrealistic and unreasonable, because they obviously had conducted their test under tidy circumstances. They probably had an individual scan a bay when the store was closed and quiet. Their expectations had obviously not taken into consideration the facts that we would get interrupted by customers seeking our assistance, and that could take two minutes to ten. Nor did they take into account that pulling books would mean, in some cases, rearranging books, moving hands full from one shelf to another. Nor did this expectation take into account that you might get called to work the cash rep before finishing a bay. Also, the task of putting the books to be returned on the proper shelf in the storage/receiving room would might take extra time because certain publisher’s shelves were crammed with books to be returned, so you had to take time making space or finding a box and a marker to create more space for books being returned to certain publishers.
BUT! This corporate practice of setting tight goals and clear expectations could work well for my personal goals. I could set clear goals and time-lines for my personal and business endeavors to ensure my successes as well as this corporation ensured its success. Of course, I had learned this practice at home as a kid, then learned it again in grad school. But I accepted this reminder as just that.
My appreciation for the risks police officers – and retail workers and bank employees – grew one day when it looked like we were going to be ripped off for $3,000 by two guys. A man who appeared to be in his late 50s and a young man in his 20s requested book carts to purchase a bunch of books. My colleague, one of the older men on our staff, obliged, and the two customers loaded the carts with a wide variety of books, claiming they were surprising the older theif’s wife with books to replenish her library that had been destroyed in a house fire. They stacked two carts with the books and, glancing over my shoulder at the books, I could see they were not for a woman’s library. The books were mostly computer software and computer application books. There were books about airplanes and autos. Not many contemporary novels, classics, and self-help books, which women buy mostly, based on my observations at the store.
The two men robbing us blind without a gun were African American – like me, and I sensed that my co-workers did not want to appear racist, but every fiber of me was screaming, “We’re being robbed!” I continued to ring up the next customer in line while tuning one ear to what was going on with these robbers.
“Um, sir, for a purchase this large, I have to get a manager to sign off on it,” I heard my colleague say. I felt a bit of relief, sure that she was stalling so they could get security or police to the front door. Then it occurred to me that we don’t have any uniformed officers – or any undercover ones to my knowledge – protecting us.
The store manager, a young woman, came to the cash register, politely asked the men whether they would like to complete a form for membership to immediately save $300 on their purchase. Of course the men declined, saying this was a one-time shopping spree at the store, and they value their privacy more than a $300 savings. The theif handed my manager a credit card with his photo on it to complete the purchase, the manager approved, and my stomach turned.
The cashier, at least, took as long as she could ringing up each book by punching in the numbers rather than scanning the book. I thought she was stalling for time so they could have police show up out front. I hoped the cameras overhead had zoomed in on the man’s credit card and they were in the back running his name in some police-connected computer or calling it into cops to see if he was on the waiting list.
The line grew long as I and one other cashier rang up customers while the third cashier, a veteran, was tied up with the thieves. Another manager, a woman in her late 50s, came up and tried to charm the guys offering them something to drink while they waited for their books to be rung up. Of course they declined the offer of soda or tea. Duuh! Did she really think they would give her their finger prints that easily?
Next thing I heard: “Ben, please report to the front door. Ben, please report to the front door,” over the intercom gave me hope. I looked around for squad cars out front, but didn’t see any. Another manager, a young, football-player-built guy came to the cash counter as if his mere presence might intimidate these guys. The older of the two thieves said he would go and bring his car to the front door to pick up the books. Again, my stomach turned.
Would he return with a gun? I suddenly considered an aspect of this job I had not considered before. We could get robbed! Somebody could get shot! I had only considered the joys of selling books – and buying them at a better bargain than I could without my employee discount. Now, I had to consider the risks we face everyday just being around so much cash in the registers, around so much valuable product. What if robbers came to clean out the toy section? People are desperate these days. More than 11 million people are out of work. How would I feel if I died at a bookstore?
That would be like dying a martyr since I’m a writer, right? What if karma came calling on this corporation, which has been exploiting people for labor in more ways than I know. What if crazed robbers came in to take a blow at “The System”, the system which left them or their family members underemployed, unable to get beyond a struggle to survive? I justified lending myself to a corporation not paying fair wages to hard-working folks. I convinced myself that I am gaining more than $8 an hour because I choose to fully appreciate the non-monetary benefits of this job – like being surrounded by books and people who love books all day. But what if people who call corporate greed out for what it is came in to take a swipe at the system?
I would be dying in service to what I love most. But die today? God, no! I suddenly felt a greater appreciation for all the people whose lives are at risk everyday providing goods and services and protection we need.
Again, I gained much more on this job than the $8/hr. wage would suggest.
I can’t even describe the sheer joy I felt prancing behind the counters at the bookstore for the first time, pressing the security code to enter the employees break room for the first time, proceeding into the recieving room for the first time. I have spent probably a few thousand dollars shopping here since I moved to this area five years ago, and when I became unemployed, I spent whole days there reading or journaling in the café. But now, I was “in there.” A month later, two months later, the thrill was still there. I loved being behind the cash rep. I learned that the round things on the ceiling, which I thought were bulbs were actually security cameras and in the staff break room, there was a wall of video screens showing the store from every possible angle, in every possible area. I knew all stores have security cameras, but I had never stopped to consider how elaborate the security operations might be.
But all this elaborate security has not fool-proofed this store from petty thefts and crime rings. On my first day on the job, the lead cashier who trained me and the others on-boarding explained several scams that have succeeded at the store. Who would steal books to the tune of $150,000 worth in 18 months? People who know they can sell them on the street, on college campuses, on the internet. The lead cashier told how three guys come in on Sunday nights sometimes and steal $150 textbooks. They haven’t been caught yet. Their photos haven’t even been secured yet. But, in the break room we do have the equivalent of a “Wanted” board with photos of people who passed bad checks.