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I worked in retail. There. I said it. I worked in retail for about twenty years. In those years I learned quite a lot about the human race. Not great stuff. So when people are wondering why we can’t all wear a mask when we leave the house, for just a few weeks, to get this COVID situation under control, I shake my head. I think, well, if you’ve seen what I’ve seen, what any retail-lifer has seen, you’d know we are setting the bar way too high for basic human decency in this country. The line that everyone should work in retail or in a restaurant for a few weeks at least, during the busy, high-stress weeks, is absolutely true. Let’s get into some of the amazing (disgusting) things I have seen whilst working in retail.

Now, I went to school. Let’s get that out of the way. I’ve heard, “well if you went to school, got a degree, you wouldn’t have to work in retail” so many times. I honestly hardly ever had a manager that didn’t have a degree. Some were degrees in fashion, or another retail related thing, but most were not. I had a boss with a degree in Psychology, one with a degree in Social Services, one with a degree in Criminal Studies. Now, yes, these can all be used somewhat to deal with raging customers, but obviously one doesn’t get a degree in one of those areas thinking, yes, I am going to use this to deal with a coupon dispute. People that have never worked in retail think all retail workers are high school dropouts. Some retail companies actually won’t even hire you for a full-time position unless you have a degree. So there.

People that have never worked in retail… well… you can spot them before they even walk in your store. They have that look that we are all scum, we are all stupid, we are all there to be their personal doormat. People that have worked in retail… well… you can spot them too. They hang around in front of the store, glancing in to see if you have what they need first so they don’t mess up your conversion. They are mostly great customers. There are always those that tell you, “well, I’m only on my break so can you just…” and you want to scream at them because they should know better. But only a few of those are out there. Always bad apples and all of that.

The couponers. Jesus. Why? Why on Earth do couponers feel the need to bring my whole day to crap about an expired coupon? Do they drink expired milk? Wait until a year has gone by to change the oil in their car? Send their kid to school a few days later, because it’s only a few days, what does it matter? I have been cussed out, spit at, spit on, pushed, shoved into a table, screamed at… literally screamed at by grown women years and years older than me… called every name there is, and my favorite, told “I’m never shopping here again” and then I see them the following weekend. It’s just a coupon, not the deed to your house.

The fitting room slobs. Come on. Is it that hard to hang stuff up? To pick stuff up? I want to see everyone’s closets. Everyone’s bedrooms. Is it all in a heap all over the floor, inside out, rolled in a ball, hangers tangled like a windchime? Can you at least bring the stuff out to us, let us know it didn’t work? My favorites are the ones that take more items than allowed in, try it all on in what I can only assume is some kind of contest to see how clothes can be taken off the weirdest, and just walk out without saying anything. “What just happened” is usually what I would utter when I would open the door to look into the portal of discarded clothing. Fitting rooms are a mystery.

The fitting room gross people. I have… and I swear on my kids’ lives… found in the fitting room at some point in time the following: tampons, used tampons, dirty diapers, diapers with poop in them, crap, actual human feces, smeared on the walls, pee, lots and lots of pee, boogers, so many boogers, dirty underwear of all kinds, and then normal things. Keys, purses, wallets. I am not joking. I would make sure my hazmat kits were always ordered and fully stocked. I don’t get what goes in the fitting rooms man. I would be totally okay if fitting rooms just went away. You buy it and you have a few weeks to return it and that’s it. Then it’s yours.

Shoplifters. Now, shoplifting is obviously a job to some people. I just never get it. If you have the time and energy to go to the mall, every day, every week, to try to steal merchandise that you then have to spend more time and energy selling to make money, can’t you just go get a job? Where I worked for years and years there was a very well-known shoplifting group that everyone within a few hours knew who they were, what they looked like, which stores they loved to steal from, and the whole thing. The time and effort that took to put together baffles me because they could have started a legit business and been so successful at it. But with shoplifters, I have also been cussed at, spit on, pushed, pushed down into a table while I was eight months pregnant, screamed at, threatened, and every other terrible thing you are thinking of right now. All of it. And then the next customer that walks in will make a complaint because I wasn’t peppy enough. Well I was just pushed into a table and called a name, but I will try to put on a happy face for you immediately.

The returners. Again. Why? A few really stick out in my mind. A mom who had a couple of daughters that went to the local Catholic high school. She would order online about 15 pairs of uniform pants and return them all. Like clockwork. Every semester. Always still in the plastic packaging. But always tell me they were the wrong size. I swear at the end she was doing it just to be a crap bag. Another customer would buy a bunch of stuff and always say “I don’t know if all of this will work” and then I would always see her a few weeks later to return at least half of what she bought. Always. Went on for years. I don’t get the people who have a shopping problem and have to buy stuff just to return it. I don’t get the returners.

Okay, enough of the customers. There are others I didn’t mention, but I didn’t mean for this to go so long, sorry! Let’s wrap this up with the money thing. People think that retail workers make nothing. I mean, yes, our poor associates make minimum wage mostly, but managers, no. I was making more than my friend who had been a Detective for years. I was making more than literally every teacher I knew. I was making more than most office workers. I was making more than a good variety of jobs that are considered “better” to most people. So why are retail workers looked down on? We deal with literally the worst of humankind, get paid pretty decently, and for the most part, are safe. Current climate not included. But doing all of that while keeping an eye on employees, sales, merchandising, selling, cleanliness, and 394 other things. Retail workers are pretty amazing. Always hard workers.

To those good customers, the ones that make us smile, the ones we love to help every time you come in, the ones that we have helped you pick out outfits for dances, graduations, parties, the ones that we swap stories about our weekends, we love you. We love helping you find just the right top for your picky teenager. We love helping that kid get their first high school wardrobe. You are all amazing and we cherish the times you are in the stores. Please don’t think retail workers hate all people, though I’ve said the contrary.

If any of this offended you, I’m glad. Only because I hope it will make you think, even for a second, the next time you are in a store. We aren’t your slaves, we aren’t your peasants, we aren’t your maids. We are real human people too. We have feelings. We aren’t allowed to yell back, cuss back, spit back, or we would be fired. Just think about that please. Be nice to your retail worker. And tip your waitress, they just bring the food out, they have no control over how it was cooked.

His face held a certain impassivity: you see it in all waiters and valets. they might want to jam a knife through your left eye socket, but you’d never know it from their expression. Working retail, I’ve acquired a similar look myself. ~Ann Aguirre, Blue Diablo (Corine Solomon, #1)

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