Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Wally's World Of Work Part 6

Wal-Mart model courtesy of Emmy.

This installment of Wally’s World Of Work brings me to the couple of years I spent at Wal-Mart as a sporting goods/automotive associate. Because you’re never an employee there; you’re an associate. Such euphemisms for employee are just dumb to me, but there probably are some people out there that buy into this psychological claptrap; most likely the higher ups in an organization. I don’t know what Wal-Mart currently does, but I even had to pass a Wonderlich test to get hired in 1993.

There was no real thought to where I was placed. I didn’t know anything about guns and hunting, but there I was selling rifles and hunting licenses. I know very little about automobiles, yet I helped customers install batteries. I also got to make keys and sometimes I got to venture down to the paint department and mix paint. If the toy department guy wasn’t around I got to dip goldfish out for folks. Finally, I would have to sometimes go up front and be a cashier.

I quickly learned you didn’t want to go up front. You’d end up stuck on register and that did not make for a fun shift. So when I’d get called to go up front I would just tell them I was swamped with customers so I’d get to stay put. Most of the time it was a fun job, which will sound horrible to all the Wal Mart player haters out there, but it was true. I wasn’t asked to work off the clock. I was always given the required work breaks. I suppose I was lucky enough to land in a store that was well managed.

Not that I didn’t clash with management from time to time. I got yelled at a few times. Once because I walked away from a customer after he asked me a question. The reason I walked off was because I needed a ladder to get the truck box down he had asked about. I guess the dude was hard of hearing since I clearly said, “Cool. Let me go get a ladder.” The store manager heard my side and he took my side.

So I won that one, but I lost the gun one. A lady came in wanting to get her hubby a rifle for Christmas. By this time I had learned quite a bit about guns and the rifle she was describing had nothing to do with the one she wanted to purchase. I told her she would be getting the wrong gun and I didn’t want to sell it to her if it wasn’t going to make her husband happy. I also didn’t want to be stuck with the paperwork if the gun was brought back. So she went crying to the store manager about how this mean boy wouldn’t sell her a gun. I hadn’t flat out refused to sell it to her; I had just tried to talk her out of it, but the store manager made a big deal about it so she went home with the wrong rifle. I got to do the paperwork for its return the day after Christmas.

The most exciting thing that happened while I was there was a bomb threat one Sunday afternoon. We had to evacuate the store for an hour or so while the police went through it with bomb sniffing dogs. We milled around outside in the garden department area wondering if there really was a bomb and who had called in the threat. There was no bomb and I don’t know if they ever figured out who had phoned in the threat.

Catching shoplifters would enliven an otherwise boring day. The store had this unassuming little old lady that patrolled the store. She looked like just your average grandma shopping, but she was tough. She’d find some suspects, trail them, and if she saw them grab the goods a special code announcement was made and then the bigger male employees, oops associates, would exit the store armed with Polaroid cameras. When the shoplifter left the store with the goods they got to say cheese. There wasn’t any dollar cutoff that I knew of; the store prosecuted shoplifters with a vengeance.

I don’t know why you’d want to shoplift when you could get stuff for free if you hollered loud enough to the home office. An elderly man brought in a battery that had fizzled out on him wanting to exchange it. No problem; I’d just pro-rate the item and he’d pay the difference for the new one. That wasn’t happening for this dude. He wanted an all new battery for free. He started cussing up a storm so I got the assistant manager who backed me up. He left grumbling. A half hour later the assistant manager came up to me and said the home office had called and that we were going to have to refund the guy all of his money. We had to also give him core charge money since we were taking his battery back without selling him a new one. So if you want free money; call Bentonville, Arkansas.

Back in 1993 they would take anything back. The front service desk would always holler at us over the PA to come get our returns. They’d get really snotty too if we didn’t come running as soon as they finished their announcement. I made a girl at the service desk cry one night after she got on the PA multiple times calling me out personally to come get the sporting goods returns. I really had been with some customers and I didn’t like my name ringing out like I was some lazy chump. So I told the girl off in a most emphatic, but polite way which made her cry.

Wal-Mart is a cruel jungle of personal and professional relationships. People were always dating, mating, and then breaking up. It was like being in school at times with cliques formed up between areas of the store. We played softball against rival stores. Part-time people clashed with the full-time crowd. Lifers grumbled about the direction the company was headed. There was an internal controversy when Wal-Mart changed the dash to a star in their name. It didn’t bother me; all I knew was that the elderly lady in the fabrics department was mean as hell and should have been beat with a stick since she never helped us zone at the end of the night.

I got to work for a Wal-Mart that didn’t stay open 24 hours so we had to do something called zoning at the end of our night shift. Zoning was a euphemistic way to say straighten the merchandise up on the shelves. Maybe there’s something to this euphemism thing. Zoning might take 10 minutes and sometimes it would take hours. I’d try to just hang out in my area. You didn’t want to end up zoning toys or soft goods unless there were pretty girls in those areas.

It was a good job for a single college student to have. I don’t know if I’d have dug working for them full-time, but most of the full-time people seemed to like it and many of the part-time people were hoping to become career Wal-Mart associates. I liked the discount I got on merchandise. There’s not much more for me to say about the monolith that is Wal-Mart. It was a j-o-b. The only reason why I left is because I got a better one.

The next time I drag this tired carcass of a series out I’ll spring some more wisdom about what it was like to be a record store clerk at Phonoluxe. Until then, stop eating that Halloween candy!

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