Monday, September 12, 2011

7 Things I learned at Walmart

Officially, I passed the decade marker in the working world about 6 months ago. I count 15 jobs in ten years. And I can guarantee that I have learned something from each and every one. But the longer I'm employed the more I believe to be true that no job has taught me more than the three years I worked as a cashier at Walmart. Law firm, Fancy pants investment company and Bloggle don't get offended, hear me out.

I was brought up believing the world needs ditches and clean toilettes and gas in their cars just as much as doctors and lawyers and celebrity chefs. We're all just making the world turn and if you're doing your best to provide a service you should hold your head high. But I'll be honest, there was a time when I avoided mention of my Walmart days. When I tell people I worked at Walmart I've noticed something odd happens. For just a split second I can see their expression change and I swear in that moment I know they're searching for a buck tooth or a glass eye or some rare skin disease they hadn't noticed before. Apparently folks don't think too highly of the profession but the truth is that job had a greater influence on me than any other place of employment. I learned more about ambition, dedication and society while working at Walmart than I have learned at any other company since.

If this were a serious blog I'd tell you all about the meltdown of the nuclear family, the failure of our nation's public assistance program and the negligence with which our society dismisses manners and common decency. And I'd throw in some soap box shouting on the strength of Middle Class America and the value of a dollar earned, so you could see both sides. But you'll notice the tone of this blog generally plays on humor so we'll save those topics for another forum.

Therefore, without further ado:

7 Things I Learned While Working at Walmart:

1. If you didn't shit your pants today, today was a good day. One particularly rough day I had a woman come through my line with only a package of Hanes Her Way. When I started to bag the item she stopped me saying "That's ok dear, I don't need a bag. I'm going to go put those on right now" *only slightly lower voice* "I just soiled myself". Can't complain about the snowy drive home after that now can ya?

2. Condoms come in different sizes. I was 16 when I started working at Walmart. I rang up a man one evening, mid 50's, pot belly, overalls, dirt under his fingernails. His order consisted of two packs of condoms. When I told him the total he asked me if he could return them if they didn't fit. He thought it was funny. I did not.
2a. People are really nervous when they buy condoms. Ladies and gentleman, don't be. You're doing the right thing. Truth be told most clerks would applaud you if they thought it would be well-received, so I'll take this moment to salute you, for the many years I wanted to but could not. My most sincere gratitude for your decency and good sense to avoid unwanted diseases and pregnancy. Your saving yourself a lot of grief and hardship. So next time don't hide the condoms between 2 boxes of Cheerios. Place them on the belt loud and proud for all to see.

3. Soap and Cheez-Its don't mix. Apparently if you bag soap with crackers, the crackers will take on the taste of the soap. This is actually somewhat true. I did not know this but apparently EVERY MIDDLE AGED WOMAN IN AMERICA DOES because I couldn't bag a single bar of soap without one of them screaming at me not to bag it with food. I've never been able to look at Cheez-Its the same way. Don't think this is an important thing in life to learn? Do you like the taste of soapy crackers? I didn't think so.

4. Not Everyone is Good at Math. About ten seconds after I started working at Wally World I noticed a convenient factoid where rolled coins are concerned. There are 40 quarters in a roll, 50 dimes, 40 nickels, and 50 pennies. This is helpful to know when you have a 5 year old screaming, a mother asking for a price check, a trucker who needs to know where to unload and a witch behind them all complaining it's taking too long to get her Virginia Slims (oh if only I were making it up). Anyway, the quick math is convenient when you run out of dimes. Grab a five dollar bill , wave down the manager, and get back to what you were doing. Thing is, while training new employees on the register, every time I explained the 40, 50, 40, 50 rule, it didn't matter if they were 16 or 60, they didn't get it. Not one person of the 20 or so I trained was able to deduce $10 from 40 quarters. Average this number across America and it makes more sense why our economy is in the shape it is. Can't average it out? That's ok, hopefully you're pretty.

5. The Holidays Aren't Always Happy: The months of November and December were not a time I looked forward to during my stint in retail. Without fail, customers would storm up with heaping carts, moaning and groaning with every beep of a bar code. Folks, Suzy and Jimmy will not feel more loved with presents especially if you toss them under the tree with a garumf and hold the price tag of Christmas day over their young impressionable heads while you chain smoke Marlboro Ultras. Nor will you be forgiven for sleeping with your sister's husband by presenting her with a bottle of Jean Nate on December 25th, Vanilla Fields maybe, but not Jean Nate. Apparently no one has watched the Charlie Brown Christmas special in the last decade.

6. Doritos and Mountain Dew are a Food Group: I'm not really sure why people insist on purchasing these two products in conjunction with one another, and in such large quantities, but I swear I can count on one hand the number of times someone bought one and not the other. If anyone is still left wondering how we've worked our way into the obesity epidemic, please devote an approximate 20% of the problem to this particular food combination.

7. The Show Must Go On: It doesn't matter what tragedy, inconvenience or mal intent is directed your way, you're still clocked in and there's a job that needs doing. So if you get stuck on the register in front of the door, you'll get snowed on during a blizzard. If someone you've never met before decides to have a psychotic episode over the way you've bagged her shampoo, you'll have to stand there and listen to her rant. If your manager happens to be a middle-aged divorcee who's bitter about her life, jealous of the potential of yours, and not above allowing this backstory to treat you like dirt, well Honey, best to grin and bear it because it's much easier to tune her out than it is to find a summer job three weeks before graduation.

And you know, sometimes the boss buys everyone hocho. And sometimes you come home with a great story about this week's crazies. And sometimes the manager schedule changes. And sometimes it doesn't. And that's ok. Because when you're making your way in the world and you're doing the best you can, and you're pushing yourself toward something better, then none of the other crap really matters. This knowledge has been my strongest ally and my biggest strength in every job I've had since. It's the most important lesson I learned at Walmart. Well, that and don't eat at the snack bar, but that's a conversation for another day.