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Rant #45
(published June 21, 2001)
The Retail Manifesto, part one
by Johnny Retail

Yesterday, at the bookstore where I work, this exchange took place between a middle-aged sunburned woman and me:

"Excuse me, are you the manager?"
"Yes. How can I help you?"
"You're really stupid."
"Excuse me?"
"There's only one girl at the registers and there's a long line. You're stupid. You're really stupid."

And then she stormed off.

This kind of thing makes me wonder—everytime makes me wonder—what the fuck is wrong with people?

Why do people shit on the floor in the bathroom and stick bloody maxipads to the wall?

I found a woman drinking whiskey in the jazz section and asked her to leave, she became irate. "You have no right to throw me out. I want to speak to your manager!" She shouts, her face slurring through several expressions, her words slurring. She can barely stand.

A man asked to use our phone, he was wearing a suit and holding a cell-phone. We told him there was a payphone near the cafe. He screams at us, calls us all assholes and tells us he will have our jobs. Five minutes later, Jim catches him on one of our floor-phones. The cell-phone is still in his hand. Jim approaches the man, and says "Sir, these phones are for staff use-" Crazy man spins and jabs his finger into Jim's chest. He says only, "Shut. Up." So Jim hung up the phone on the crazy suit-wearing man. As the man ran from our store, he actually said "I'll get you for this!"

What the fuck is wrong with people? How did we get here?

This is making me sick. It's making me crazy. But it's also given me an idea on How to Make the World Better!

Y'see, son, these crazy people have some traits and attributes in common. First off, they tend to be white—not always, but a disproportionate amount of them (maybe 75% or so) are of the Caucasian persuasion. Secondly, they tend to be firmly and proudly upper middle class.

Example: last week, while putting a schedule in the kids' department, a woman stops me. She is a Designer Mom. You know the type, all of her clothes are her child's clothes match in a subtle, earth-toned expensive way. She is wearing designer sandals, designer sunglasses, and has named her child some awful post-millennial name like Cameron. The child is spotless, and has no conscience nor supervision. The Designer Mom follows little Cameron around making sure that Cameron isn't hurt but not minding when Lil' Cam tears a book in half or dumps a pile DVDs on the ground or hits another child. Protected, but not instructed, you can be sure.

So: not even looking at me nor waiting for replies, Designer Mom says, "Do you work here? Great. I'm looking for this book called Global Families or something. Do you have it?" I smile and search the computer for it. There is no book by that name. I tell her this and ask again about the title. "I don't know what it is called. How about the kids' book in the same series?" Still having never even looked me in the eyes, she gives an exasperated huff and follows Cameron around a corner.

Stop a second. If I couldn't find the original book, how the hell can I find the kids' book in the same series?

"It's white," she says. I ask about the author or if she remembers any words in the books title at all. "Look." Still not looking at me. "Is there anybody who works here who will just know the book?" Now she glares at me, and gives me a look like I've just shit on her child.

I can forgive the drunks, the homeless, the legitimately crazy. They clearly are having a bad go of it, and for the most part they just want to be left alone or crave some basic human contact. This is understandable. What I can't stand is the people who come to a bookstore, and get mad at having to interface with actual humans. What they want is a telepathic robo-servant who knows all about their family.

A guy walked up to me today with a bonsai kit in his hands and asked, "Will my Dad like this?"

Yesterday a woman asked, "My niece is fifteen and retarded, what kind of book would she like?"

There may be a solution. It's extreme, and a bit fascist, but aren't all solutions?

What we need is a mandatory Retail Corps. Every American would be included, starting tomorrow, starting at age 18. In the Corps, you'd work a retail job or series of retail jobs for three years. Three full years, not one night a month for three years but five days a week, 50 weeks a year for three years. The Corps will have several lasting effects: we will have a well-trained and knowledgeable staff at every retail establishment in the country—we're already known abroad for our customer service, this would make us the crown princes of the Service Industry; having so many people making such poor money will necessitate cheaper housing around the country; but most of all, and to tell the truth I don't care at all about the first two points I've just made. I don't believe them either, they were just padding until I got here, to this point. If everyone works for 3 years in a retail job, then everyone will know what it is like to be treated like this. There will be no excuse for rudeness. It will promote brotherhood and understanding.

Two weeks ago, a customer didn't like the music we were playing, so he slapped me and called me a bitch. This has to stop. It is getting worse. It has not always been this bad. Employees shit in the food for a reason. They lie to you for a reason. They overcharge you for a reason. It's not because they're underpaid—but they are. It's not because they hate their managers—but they do. It's because the customers treat them rudely.

I had a friend who worked at a McDonalds in a Detroit suburb. After working there for 4 months he snapped and started carrying a ziploc baggie of his own shit in his pants pocket. Whenever a customer gave a cashier a hard time at the register, he put a little bit of his shit on their burger. True story.

The next time you're shopping or eating out remember this: you are interacting with humans, people. They are there to help you. They are not there to take abuse. Don't give them shit, or you may be eating theirs.

Author's note: if anyone can defend the abusive shoppers mentioned above, drop me an email care of editors@poormojo.org; please include "for Johnny Retail" in the subject line. If I like your reason I'll send you an official PMjA Zombie Astroman sticker. Also, if you have your own awful customer stories send them in for free stickers.

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