Retail Slave For You

I can vividly recall the worst day of my life as a working adult. My alarm sounded promptly at 5:00 a.m. The sky was still dark, and I dreaded the day ahead. The reason for this dread is a feeling that any retail employee can understand: I was working on Black Friday.

My shift at Target began at 6:00 a.m. As I drove up to the front of the store, a line of greedy customers extended as far as my blurry, sleepy eyes could see. I quickly made my way to the employee entrance, begrudgingly pinned on my name tag, and unenthusiastically started the day.

As a cashier on Black Friday, I was directly in the line of fire. I switched on the light to Lane 9 and was open for business. Immediately, customers rushed into the lane. The next few hours were a flurry of $5.00 Chefmate toasters and coffeemakers, trinkets from the dollar bin (who really wants a $1 Holiday Hits CD featuring jams from Joey Fatone and hideously patterned $9.00 holiday pajama sets?) Occasionally a new DVD or digital camera would come my way.

My break was scheduled at 8:00 am, a time when any sane person is still comfortably asleep in their bed. Instead, I had two hours of work under my belt and six hours left to go. The manager scheduled my shift until 3:00, and the glorious one-hour lunch break at 10:30 seemed eons away. As I drudged back out into the mad rush that was the front lanes, I knew more craziness was on the way.

A father and his two children pushed their cart up to my lane. They unloaded $200 worth of video games, DVDs, electronics and toys. The two young boys were adorable — blonde, small and charming. Until one of them projectile vomited all over the floor of my lane. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it was a bright, acidic green — vomit the color of Hulk. Stunned and disgusted by the putrid stench, I called over my manager. The man paid and took off running, leaving a crew of enraged Target employees trying not to get his son’s mess on their red and khaki uniforms.

After that incident, the hour before my lunch break was nothing I couldn’t handle. A few people attempting to shoplift (“Oops, did I leave that expensive item in my cart and try to walk nonchalantly out of the store?”) and a few disgruntled shoppers, but the worst was over — until a customer asked for the dreaded price check.

We’ve all asked for a price check while shopping, but asking for a price check on Black Friday is the worst possible scenario a cashier can face. As soon as the words, “Can I have a price check?” left the customer’s mouth, my stomach fell to the floor in sheer dread. I stopped the transaction and called a sales floor associate on the walkie-talkie. This sounds like a simple process, but on Black Friday, there are no free sales associates for miles. The result is a halted transaction and a growing line of angry customers. I called in a price check for this particular item — a pair of pants — and waited. And waited. And waited. I called it in again. Nothing. Just before the rest of the impatient customers decided to torch me like an angry mob, my manager stepped in and took over: it was time for my lunch break.

Lunch at Target consists of Lean Cuisine frozen food and daytime television in the break room. On this auspicious day, Target kindly provided an array of baked goodies for the employees to enjoy – because a few cookies and pumpkin pie make waking up at 5 a.m. to be assaulted by a posse of conspicuous consumers completely worth it. Sadly, the hour went by too fast. I tossed the remains of my frozen lunch in the trash and stepped out onto the battlefield once again.

By the last part of my shift, the good items were taken and the deranged door-buster deal-seekers were long gone. Instead, the customers dwindled down to the usual fare: the ladies who use too many coupons, harangued mothers with screaming children, and couples who purchase nothing but a box of condoms and unabashedly grope each other as you complete their transaction. As the clock struck 2:59 I turned off the light to Lane 9, unpinned my name badge and made my way to the employee exit to clock out. Another Black Friday had come and gone. I would never have to face this torture again — at least, not until the day after Christmas.