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Rant #46
(published June 28, 2001)
The Retail Manifesto, part two
If the Customer is Always Right, You Can Suck My Cock
by Gordon Smith

A week or so past, Poor Mojo's editorial staff published the thin-skinned whining of one pseudonymous Johnny Retail, regarding the wretched rudeness of the American consumer. And it's hard to argue that the bitch-slapping, whiskey-swilling, cheap Yuppie motherfuckers of the world certainly seemed to have united to make retail work about as rewarding as being peg-boy on a British Frigate. But that's only half the story, and half a story's just a pep-rally without cheerleaders.

So, fine, let's set aside consumer abuses for the moment. What goes on on the other side of the counter? Having worked more retail than I ever would want, I'll side briefly with the clerks of the world, besieged by empty faces and soulless voices and the almost endless fatigue that hours on your feet sets in your bones. It is tough, mind-numbing work. But, so what? It's work, that's why you get paid for it. Fine, not much, but it ain't brain surgery. It's the ass end of capitalism. To sell anything to anyone is always to be a pimp. Except that the pimp plies his trade in the lawlessness of night, and when day breaks, all the standard inversions apply: the power of the pimp over the customer is drawn from the shadows, and a legitimate business only has recourse to it's fluorescence. No wonder the customer is king of the day. Willy Loman is tragic because he believes otherwise, believes in Selling all the way up to his self-extermination, because he's too childish to face anything ugly or true. To leap into retail and expect love and respect and flowers and on and on is similarly a refusal to face the world as it is.

And besides, what kind of service can you expect from American Retailers? It's about commensurate with the horror stories you hear about the American Consumer: sometimes good, sometimes full of guerilla atrocity, and mostly just plain bland. The dull staring eyes, the slack jawed apathy, the dim and stupid responses of American clerks of all stripes to the simplest queries, the most forthright hello, the smallest task—this shouldn't shock, since the buyers and sellers are essentially from the same febrile and sickly stock, i.e. they are all Americans. I've met people stupid enough to believe that Kentucky Fried Chicken now goes by KFC because it no longer serves chicken but genetically engineered chicken-like substances while working behind retail counters, people lazy enough to make me do all their fucking work, and just plain vile enough to make snide comments about the Hispanics working in the basement.

Meanwhile, customers have read my aura and foretold great things for me, tried to set me up with their daughters, offered to take me out for a drink. Which is just to say: let's not romanticize the lot of the American retailer. There's scum on either side of the counter, in equal measure.

To point the finger cavalierly at the American Upper Class, as Johnny Retail does, somewhat misses the point: the fluidity of fortunes in this country is its great marketing point, and those same pampering Designer Mothers may very well have worked retail once (and, depending on the size of the engagement ring or the amount of unwanted fucking she gets on with little junior's pappy, perhaps she's more acquainted with the full scale of nuances that Retail affords than some shit smearing burger clerk). The Upper class have no monopoly on mediocrity, rudeness, or stupidity. To hope that having worked retail will correct the basic fact of America's infatuation with it's own vapid greediness—I ain't got no book-learnin', but I gots money—is not fascist, it's just naive. In the end, the fact that any Johnny Retail out there might stretch forth a rebellious fist in support of the previous Manifesto is a testament not to the solidarity of the proletariat, but to the unity of the American people in their marshmallowy softness. Both the maligned clerk and malificent customer share the same American spirit of Complaint which cries out only for its own satisfaction—"respect me in every way, or I'll bitch about it and do a lousy job!" (and yes, consuming is a job, too, one which we should all take very seriously in these sludgy economic times—at the very least as seriously as we take employment statistics)

So, Johnny Retail, and your cohort: I sympathize with your plight. Truly. But toughen up. It's justretail. Learn from your proud retailing forebearers, blazing across this country, selling liquor and guns to outlaws and Indians in nickel and dime joints under a brokedown facade. Robbed by friend and foe alike, carving out a niche in a desperate land with little or no reward but the sheer joy of selling. Those were Sellers. Those were Retailers. Live Fast, Sell Hard, Die Young. That is all the Retail Manifesto you should ever need.

Editors' note: We continue to invite commentary viz a viz abusive shoppers and clerks. Drop us an email care of editors@poormojo.org; please include "for Johnny Retail" in the subject line. If your reasoning rocks, you stand to receive your very own official PMjA Zombie Astroman sticker. Also, if you have your own awful customer/clerk stories send them in for free stickers.

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