You Need These?

My professional life reached a new low recently. As you may know from some of my earlier posts, I work in a bookstore. For some reason, bookstores attract the…what’s the opposite of the “cream” in cream of the crop? Well, what ever that is, it’s walking among the rest of the perfectly normal book-lovers.

This particular notch in my Olympian punishment belt was earned on the most recent Sanctimonious Saturday, the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It’s named this thanks to the following conversation.

“Are you open on Easter?”

“Yeah, regular store hours.”

“Oh my. Well, I won’t be shopping here anymore.”

Now read that, like, a dozen more times.

My day already had an odd vibe, I had helped a woman with translucent pajama pants and flowery thong before 10am, and I was curious to see what the rest of the day would bring. Luckily, around noon, a very unique person returned to my store.

He had been in the previous evening, and asked for an ambulance to be called because he suspected that he was having a heart-attack. As he and a manager waited for an ambulance to arrive, he explained that this heart attack was probably caused by his earlier use of meth, cocaine, ecstasy, anti-depressants, and a few other medications. The ambulance eventually arrived, and he was carted off.

Now he was back, less than 24 hours later, and looking to make amends.

“Thanks for calling the ambulance, I feel much better today,” He told the cashier, who happened to be the same cashier from the previous night.

“Oh!” She said, surprised by the unusual resurrection before her. “I’m glad.”

The man then proceeded to take a seat in the cafe of the store, and begin reading some magazines. After some time had passed, I was grabbing some dirty dishes at the table next to the man. There were some unused napkins at the table, and as I was clearing them, he reached for them as well.

“Oh, did you need these?” I asked.

His outreached hand then began moving strangely, like he was trying to work out a cramp in every muscle in his hands and arm, and he made a peculiar face. A face that my wife, when I recreated for her later, described as, “very upsetting.”

It was at this time I noticed the large amount of opened pornography underneath his table and put the pieces together. Needless to say, this made me more than a little angry at the man. Realizing that my current emotional state would not lead to a good resolution in this matter, I called for a fellow manager to assist.

“Hey, our friend from yesterday just had an…episode.” The words oozed out of my mouth like sick, thick blood.

The other manager arrived quickly, we began questioning the man about his intentions with our store. At this point, a woman from a nearby table revealed that she was a nurse at a local homeless shelter and believed that she may have helped the man in the past. I, seeing that the situation was under control, went outside and said every swear word I know in alphabetical order.

Oh, I forgot to mention one thing: he had a bunch of nail polish jars on the table. They didn’t come into play, but I just thought it was weird.

The f-ing End

 

 

Babies on a Plane

I took my young daughter on a plane recently, and I was surprised by a few things. The first was the airline’s treatment of my child. When getting my ticket, I had to list her as an, “Infant in Arms,” which makes me think of a baby military.  This process included writing her name, and birth date, and NOTHING ELSE! I didn’t need to provide a birth certificate, any sort of hospital records, nothing. Nothing at all. I could have brought, literally (and I mean literally) any baby on that plane. I’m trying to figure out if there is a way to make money from this, but so far all my ideas involve me being a truly terrible person.

The next thing is that when we left the hospital with our little bundle, we were required to have a car seat. They wouldn’t let us leave with the baby (in a car) without one.  Planes, on the other hand, you can (again, literally) hold the baby in your arms. Car going 65mph 2 feet off the ground? That baby is gonna need a special, rear-facing seat with a five-point harness, only to be used in the back seat of the car. Plane going 500mph at 30,000 feet? NBD, you can just hold it, or something. Heck, even your drink has a special spot on the tray so it doesn’t slide around.

One thing you cannot hold during landing or take-off, on the other hand, is a laptop. In fact, your laptop needs to be stowed, in a bag, either under your seat or in the overhead bin.

“Uh, excuse me sir?”

“Yes?”

“I’m afraid you’ll need to stow your laptop before take-off”

“Oh, this isn’t a 5lb laptop, it’s my 25lb child.”

“I’m so sorry to bother you, I thought you were holding something important, like a computer.”

I was also surprised that people didn’t hiss and boo as I walked through the airplane. I was fully expecting that, at some point during the flight, for someone to turn around and say something awful to my child and I like,

“Stupid baby, why does your stupid baby make so much stupid noise?! I’m trying to watch 13 Going on 30 on my iPhone for the millionth time and your stupid baby is really taking me out of the movie!”

Or

“Your damn diaper baby keeps crying! Why is your diaper baby so damn annoying. I didn’t bring any headphones on this plane because I want to annoy the person next to me with bland conversation and I can’t do that with your friggin’ diaper baby crying!”

I even spent time coming up with responses. All of them level headed, and on-point.

“FYOU, YOU STUPID JERK!”

And

“OH YEAH?! Spits on face.”

Luckily, I didn’t need to bust out any of these. To the contrary, a few people on flights helped entertain my baby by waving, clapping, and making funny faces. These people helped remind me that, in the mountain of shit that is modern air-travel, a few people are not garbage. Thank you, fellow humans. Thank you.

Bro Skater

I began skateboarding in 9th grade. One of my brothers bought me my first real board, and we would skate at the nearby elementary school parking lot. We had the Tony Hawk: Pro Skater demo that came free with a large, any-topping, Pizza Hut pizza, and fancied ourselves real f-ing thrashers.

One day, while rippin’ shiz up at Edison Elementary, my brother gets a great idea,

“Ok, I’m gonna get going on the swing, you toss me my board, I’ll jump off, and land. Easy.”

“Wait, throw you your board in the air?”

“No, while I’m swinging. It’ll be just like jumping off swings as a kid”

“…ok.”

My brother seemed convinced that this was a great idea. At this point, I could’ve said a few different things, all pointing to how this was a dumb idea, and likely to cause some form of injury. After all, there were a lot of moving parts (literally) to this plan: my brother on the swing, my questionable aim with a skateboard, him being able to catch a skateboard on a swing, and his timing of the jump. I’m the younger brother, though and caution isn’t our M.O. as a general rule.

So we put the plan into motion. He gets on the swing and builds up speed.

Actually, let me pause him there and set the scene a little better. I say elementary school swing set, but erase the image you have right now of a modern elementary school play-ground. Take out the rubber padding on the ground, spread down some nice gravel, raise the top bar of the up to 10 feet, and give the swings some metal chains with just a touch of rust. There we go.

Okay, he’s maxing out, head popping up over the top rail, and gives me the signal to throw him the board. I toss the board to him as he’s reaching the bottom of the downward swing and he snatches it out of the air. He swings up, and jumps off.

He jumps off at the very top of his arc.

Do you remember jumping off of swings? It was a fun physics lesson. Imagine the swing chain straight up and down. That’s the 90 degree point. For maximum distance, a kid should jump off at 45 degrees. Since he jumped off at the 0 degree point, he had no forward momentum or vertical momentum. This wasn’t great for him.

I watched as my brother rotated forward, and spread his arms into a swan dive, and hit the ground. He hit it hard. I saw him bounce off of the gravel.

It was a while before my brother could breathe without feeling pain in his ribs, but the memory of seeing the house across the street in the space between my brother and the ground as he bounced tickles my ribs to this day.

 

Finale

I may be the only person that feels sad when they think about the series finale of Wings. Well, I suppose the actors probably felt sad. I dunno. Anyway, as a kid, I felt like I was watching people leave on the last day of camp. I couldn’t tell you what happened, or even any of the character’s names, but I remember that feeling so vividly. To this day, I dislike the ends of sitcoms. Not even just the finales, I typically stop watching when the story arc is on it’s downward swing.

I think it’s because I become invested in the characters, as any fan of a show does, and don’t want to end the relationship with them. A good TV show gets you to understand these characters like you know them in real life. They have motives, they have dreams, plans futures, failings, flaws.

And we get to talk about them.

Constantly.

And not even feel bad about it!

Unlike real life, though, I don’t need to watch the finale. Ross will always be chasing Rachael. Fonzie never gets on that motorcycle. Mel Gibson never guest stars on the Simpsons. I can stay where I want to stay, see the story I want to see, and never reach an ending.

This may sound unhealthy. You may be thinking, “Well that’s life, buddy. Things end. Get over it.” That’s the thing; things in life do end. There’s often nothing we can do about it but watch something we had grown to love come to an end while a clip-show wrap-up runs through our head in slow-mo to Time of Your Life or whatever kids are crying about these days. We just have to go through it.

I know that the bitter makes the sweet, and you need to see a story through, but life throws enough endings at us as it is. For me, Bob Hope will always be dreaming.

 

ROFLOMGLOL

The first time I remember making people laugh was in kindergarten. We were playing Duck, Duck, Goose (if you say it’s duck, duck, gray duck, you’re from Minnesota, and wrong. Here’s the research). I digress. So, we were playing DDG, and I thought, “you know what, I’m not gonna say goose. I’m gonna say duck, duck, moose. That’ll be funny, right?”

I started my run. Duck, I tap the first kid on the head. I keep going, letting a few kids pass. The suspense was building. Duck, I tap the second kid. Electricity cracks in the air with the tension. Eyes flick back and forth as each kid estimates my distance from them and calculates the odds that they’ll be the goose. The time is right. I make my move.

MOOSE!

It. Killed. The class was in an uproar. I could’ve run around that circle four times before the laughter even began to subside. I looked over at the teacher, knowing that I had just flipped the system on its head with my laser-line satire. A hint of a smile and I knew she got it, she was down with what we were about.

And that’s why I take issue with, “lol.” I’m not trying to start a series on words (or maybe I will, I’m not on trial here) but I’ve got a problem with the way people are abusing it.

If you write, “lol,” and you didn’t laugh out-loud, what does that say about you? Maybe, you want to convey a lightheartedness of meaning. Or maybe, you write, “lol,” the way some people laugh after they say something that others may find uncomfortable/distracting/upsetting/unpleasant, with the, “lol,” as a manifestation of the dissonance between what you said and your image of yourself. Or maybe you’re just and idiot, who am I to say?

Whatever the cause may be, I’d like to submit a formal request to the world; if you didn’t, “lol,” please don’t say that you did. As someone who spends a great deal of time an energy smart-mouthing, wise-cracking, and pun-punching, I’m genuinely interested in making you laugh. If you actually laughed out loud, wonderful! Maybe you rolled on the floor whilst laughing. Even better!

So, here’s what I propose. If your comment isn’t a joke, in response to a joke, or isn’t even funny on accident, don’t say, “lol.” You have no real reason to. Simply take four more seconds and figure out a better why to say what you’re thinking or feeling.

More likely though, you “lol,” because you thought something was witty, but didn’t actually laugh out loud. In this case, let’s use, “qcts,” Quietly Chuckled To Self or, “limh,” Laughed In My Head. Seems more accurate, don’t you think?

10 Things You Shouldn’t Do In A Store

10 – Say, “I guess its free today,” when a item isn’t ringing up – I get it. I’ve heard it 20 times. Today. Checkout equipment is expensive and companies use them for as long as they can. Also, bar codes can get scuffed. Remember, a laser is trying to read a series of black lines. Can you explain how that works? Then don’t make fun of it when it doesn’t.

We get that you’re trying to be friendly, but please, retire this joke.

9 – Pick up an item, look at it, and set it down in any orientation other than the way you found it – The last two hours (if not more) of any retail employee’s shift are cleaning up after customers. “Isn’t that what they’re paid to do?” you may ask. Okay, but by that logic, you should break into your neighbor’s place, murder them, then start their home on fire so that police and firefighters have something to do. They do these things because society requires it, not the business.

And really, what kind of justification is that? If you’re being honest, you just don’t care. You have kids? What do you think they’re learning from that?
Consider what would an employee do if they didn’t need to clean up after you. They could get more product out so the shelves aren’t empty of the things you’re looking for. They could spend more time helping people. They could be getting additional training so that they can better answer questions. Ultimately, they’ll have a better working environment (since putting away the same toy multiple times a day is intensely demoralizing) and be in a better mood to help you.

 8 – Open a package to look at an item, then put the item down without re-packaging it– Similar to number 9, but this one has the added bonus of damaged packaging. Products are packaged in one of two ways: to encourage customer interaction, or to discourage it. Toy packages are designed so that a child can play with the toy while it is still packaged and then pester the parent to buy it for him/her. Food packages have multiple layers to ensure product freshness and prevent tampering and contamination.

Between these two extremes are a range of other types which are designed to protect the product from damage during shipping, while still displaying the contents. Please don’t open these unless you really, really need to. Have you ever found the item you were looking for, pushed aside the damaged box sitting up front, and grabbed one of the undamaged boxes behind it? Guess how that box got that way.

Boxes damaged during shipping are seldom put out on the salesfloor. When customers return damaged or used products, these are returned to the vendors as per contracts between the vendor and the store. On the rare occasion that these two instances lead to a product being displayed, it will be marked down or discounted in some way, not just put back on the shelf. What does this mean?

This means that you don’t need to open packages to see if the contents are alright for fear of other customers tampering with the product. When you see other damaged boxes, its because of other people, like you, checking the contents. Essentially, you’re inspecting the box to make sure you haven’t damaged it.  

7. Set frozen/refrigerated goods in the soda cases by the checkout lines – I know you’re an important person, but before you grab that chicken, think to yourself, “do I want to buy this?” If the answer is no, don’t pick up the item.

Frozen and refrigerated goods are kept to strict standards for how long they can be outside of controlled temperatures for safety and liability reasons. The amount of time it takes you to purchase the product and take it home is unlikely to allow the product to thaw. However, if you hide the product, it may have enough time. You’re now putting the health of other people at risk. Consider the following scenario:

You think, “I may feel like chicken, tonight,” and grab a package of frozen chicken. You continue shopping, adding things to the cart, walking around. As you’re checking out, you realize you forgot the coupon for the chicken and stick it next to some Pepsi. What you don’t realize, however is that a small rip has opened in the packaging of the chicken due to a bump against a larger box. The chicken is not noticed until the next day, when it is discarded.

During the night, the chicken thawed, and dripped onto the surrounding soda. A customer, mistaking the chicken-juice for condensation, simply ignores the wetness of the bottle and touches the bottle to her head for relief from the warm summer sun. -Fade to black

Gross right? I know things happen. If you realize you don’t want a product, for whatever reason, please give it to the cashier instead of hiding it somewhere.
 
6 – Leave your empty cup on a shelf – When I find cups with liquid still in it, I think, “Oh bummer, I bet they forgot this.” When I find an empty cup, I think, “Asshole.” You’re in a building. There are garbage cans. Use them. You’re not so damn important that you can’t throw away your own trash.

5 – Stick Gum to Things – This is similar to the cup, but gum dries and sticks to things. Also, it was in your mouth, being ground up with your saliva and whatever you ate earlier that day.

If you put gum on something, you’re a piece of garbage and I hope you’re hit by a bus. Does that seem too harsh? Let me run you through my thinking. No one, even the gum-stickers themselves, would say that sticking gum on tables, chairs, etc. is a nice thing to do. I would wager that, universally, this is seen as dickish. Now, since we agree this is rude, why do people do it?

Again, you’re in a store. Again, there are trash cans. Again, you’re not so special that you get to say, “I’ve finished mashing this with my teeth. I’ll leave it here, on the underside of this table. People will wonder about what king or queen so thoughtfully left this here for me to clean up.”

4 – Leave dirty diapers in the shopping cartFirst off, a dirty diaper should never find its way into a shopping cart, let alone, need to find its way out. Second, this.

I have a kid. I change diapers. Throw that shit (literally) in the trash can in the bathroom.

3 – Leave your cart somewhere other than a cart corral – I know, you’ve just finished the arduous task of walking through a well-lit building, selecting the various things you’d like to purchase.  I know, you had to push that cart around the store, and across the parking lot. What a chore! I’m with you. Let me throw something at you though:

First, if you put carts back, employees can retrieve them in a more timely fashion. Remember what I said about putting things away earlier? Go ahead and CTRL C CTRL V that here. 

Second, not putting your cart back in the corral puts people’s cars at risk of getting hit by them. Have you ever noticed that above cart corrals it says, “We are not liable for damage from shopping carts,” or something similar? That’s because people don’t put their carts away, a gust of wind comes along, sweeping the cart along with it, right into the side of a car. It really happens. I’ve seen it happen. A lot. Your laziness may result in hundreds of dollars of damage to someone’s car.

Third, putting your cart on the grass or on something similar is not an acceptable alternative. The amount of work it takes you to manhandle a shopping cart up onto a curb is greater than simply putting it where it is supposed to go.

Fourth, this includes the cart area inside the store. Sure, you used the cart in the store but you only got a few things. You don’t need the cart now that your stuff is bagged, so you give it a push toward all the other carts. Then 15 more people do the same thing. Now the area is full of carts, people can’t walk through, and a cashier needs to stop cashiering and go clean up the mess.

2 – Forget How to Use Bathrooms – I’m not sure what happens in the human brain when a person walks into a public/business bathroom, but I’ve seen the results. It’s as if people are walking into a bathroom for the first time, with a brand new set of personal equipment.

Wash your hands. Go ahead and reread the link to fecal coliform. Now think about all the products you handle while shopping. Gross. Hand washing is a thing for a reason. You know what people didn’t do during the spread of the black plague? Wash their hands (among other things).

Next, I understand that you sometimes need to use a bathroom during an emergency. Please, make sure you’re on the toilet before you begin to go. I have cleaned poop off of floors, doors, seats, and walls. Also during an emergency, you may need to use a greater than normal amount of TP. That’s fine. Please give the toilet a fighting chance, though, and use multiple flushes instead of jamming half a roll of paper into the toilet so it overflows and shit-water floods the bathroom.

1 – Be Rude to the Employees – Now, I’m not saying you should ignore when you’ve been spoken to rudely, or not speak to a manager when something has happened. I’m talking about customer initiated rudeness.

Please, don’t walk up to an employee and ask for help by saying the item that you’re looking for. If an employee doesn’t see you, they aren’t being rude, and coming up next to someone and saying, “Vacuums,” is. Maybe that’s how you say, “hello,” where you’re from, I don’t know. What I do know is saying, “Hello, where are the vacuums?” is only four more words.

Second, yelling is not how to get what you want. Sometimes things don’t work out how you expect them to, and you’re dissatisfied as a customer. Understandable, it’s happened to me as well. The correct course of action is far easier than yelling, and yields much better results.

When you and an employee have reached an impasse, you feel that you’ve been mistreated, or there is a problem, the person working the cash register is unlikely to be equipped to help you. More often than not, you’re dealing with a young person with little training (remember what I said about putting things away?) and little authority to override company protocol. The person you want is the manager.

Calmly say to the employee, “I’d like to speak with a manager.” Not, “I wanna talk to your manager!” Not, “I’m never coming here again!”

When the manager arrives, speak to him or her calmly as well. When you’re turned up to 11, staff will want you to leave the store before you make a scene, not keep your business. When you’re calm, they’ll respect your attitude and will go out of their way to make sure that you leave feeling that you were heard and that your problem was addressed. 

I’ve heard people say that they can’t find good customer service anymore. It seems odd that those are often the rudest people to deal with. Children still have these rules of politeness presented to them daily, and it shows. If you want good customer service, be a good customer.

Yeah, I got a kid.

Things I did yesterday that make my think I’m not ready to be a father:

  • It took me three tries to put my shirt on in the correct orientation.
  • Every time my baby throws up, I think, “Sorry for party-rockin’.”
  • I was watching a bunch of birds in my front yard and imagining them as tiny dinosaurs (better than Jurassic Park 3). I went to do my impression of them for my wife, and almost knocked over a glass.
  • After doing that, I wanted to watch Jurassic Park 3.
  • While my baby was sleeping, I moved her arms around like she was doing tai chi.

This Particular Morning

Last night, I went to see Sugar Ray at a BBQ festival here in Fargo, ND (yes, that is a funny sentence). When I heard they were coming to Ribsfest, I laughed and pondered on why I would want to see them since I wasn’t crazy about their music when they were popular. Cheap admission and a lust for pulled-pork seemed like strange reasons to see a band play, but I knew a lot of people going so I resigned myself to the fact that I’d be there and hoped for a good story.

I had visions of Gin Blossoms dancing through my head (who I also wasn’t crazy about but saw anyway) and thought about the show they put on. It was clear that they weren’t super-excited to be playing venues like this, and just wanted to get the whole thing over with. I expected more of the same.

I live only a few blocks from the venue, and arrived home after work just in time to hear “Every Morning” floating through my neighborhood. As I walked down the street to their Greatest Hits Album live, I was thinking about the other stuff that I needed to be doing: laundry, dishes, staring at walls. I’ve got a lot on my plate.

Sugar Ray wasn’t the Gin Blossoms. I’m not saying the show blew my mind, but it was good. All the band members seemed like they were having a fun time and nobody was taking any of it very seriously. In fact, Sugar Ray played several covers and engaged a few audience members in a weird karaoke thing. It made sense; one of my chief concerns walking over was, “How the hell is Sugar Ray going to fill an hour and a half set?”

Did you know Mark McGrath competed in a wood-block competition? I didn’t either. He demonstrated this newly learned ability by playing the instrument through and entire song (not one of theirs) and dancing like a fool (not singing). My formal music training didn’t delve into the finer points of wood-block-ery so I’m not sure how to judge his virtuosity, but it was something fun to watch as I shoveled most of a pig into my face.

Kudos to Sugar Ray. They took a venue that other bands have brushed off as unworthy and made it a fun evening for their fans, and fans is what I mean. I left that concert with a different view on these guys and if they come back, I’ll be there without hesitation.

Customer Service

There are a few times in my retail life that I’ve been able to have a little fun with customers at their expense. Both of these involved race, due to the circumstances. I didn’t do these things because I think race is funny issue, but I think making strangers uncomfortable is. 
The most recent incident involved holiday elves in black or white options. One busy pre-Christmas day, a woman approached me asking where the elves were on display so I took her to the table, covered in boxes.
“Here ya are!” I said, standing next to the table with my standard, retail smile.
“Yeah, I saw these. I was looking for…different ones.”
All the boxes on the table contained one elf doll, as well as the companion storybook. “Different ones,” could only mean one thing. Sensing blood in the water, I put on a side-smile apology look and gave a slight shoulder shrug.
“We just have them packaged together with the book, I’m afraid.”
“No.” She floundered, trying to find the right words of escape. “No, I’m looking for a different…kind.”
“I don’t understand,” I said politely. I felt myself rising from the deep, the injured seal floundering above me as light in the water shone in a glimmering aura around it.
“I need a white one.”
Saliva burst into my mouth as my teeth tore flesh-shame and I let out an animal sound of pleasure. I tried to hide it behind an understanding, “oh,” but it lasted too long and no one was fooled.
I reached for a different box and pointed out how you can open the box and see the elf inside. She made a quiet, “hm,” the death rattle of customer service, and went on her way.
It doesn’t always play out this way, though. In a previous retail environment, we sold black and white holiday Barbies (I’m not sure what you do if you’re any of the other races) and a similar situation arose.
A man called, voice sounding of many years of rural life and the onset of holiday-shopping frustration.
“Do you have any Holiday Barbies left? The other store is all out.”
“Let me check for you.”
I walked over to the section and looked at the Barbie display. A collector-lust sized hole was the new focal point of the display, but my eyes caught a certain glimmer behind the normal Barbie rotation.
“As luck would have it, there IS one left.”
“Fantastic! I’ll be right over for it.”
You surely will have noticed what was missing from that conversation. At no point, did he ask, nor did I clarify the color of the Barbie. I warned the front desk of this omission, and returned to my department to lie in wait.
Sure enough, the trap sprung, but the quarry wasn’t going without a fight.
“Well they had THOSE kind in Moorhead!” He left without purchasing the doll.