Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving: What am I thankful for?

From the archives: What holiday is complete without a returned turkey?

I have been amazed and overwhelmed by the outpouring of wonderful comments, emails, text messages and the general torrent of support I've received from my readers.

Thank you just doesn't seem adequate, but it really is the only thing I can say. Oh, yeah. Please help control the howler monkey population in L.A. Have your howler spayed and neutered. Also, keep your hands and arms inside the Mart Cart at all times!

Your questions:

1. The "Behind the Counter" archive will remain online.

2. My new project is called "21 Minutes" - and it is available at http://twentyoneminutes.blogspot.com/. I guess some of ya'll had tears in your eyes by the time you got down to that paragraph.

3. The behindthecounter1(at)gmail.com email will remain active.

4. Wal-Mart still does not accept starter checks.

5. White trash still don't quit!

6. Comcast is still a terrible, terrible company.

7. I'm still just amazed that you liked it.

Much love. And Happy Thanksgiving.

PS: Be nice to your cashiers on Black Friday!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How may I help you?

It is with great joy that I announce my departure from the House of Wal.

It is with a far greater amount of sadness that I announce the likely end of regular posting to behindthecounter.com.

You, my faithful readers, deserve to know the rest of the story.

On October 20, 2007, in the year of our Lord, I walked out of the Wal-Mart a free woman. FREE AT LAST LORD, FREE AT LAST. I had spent 1,097 days in bondage to the Lords of Low Prices.

For most of the last year, I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that the only real reason I worked at Wal-Mart was to have material to post. The increasing popularity of Behind the Counter made it harder and harder for me to walk away from something that I had literally poured my heart and soul into over a period of three years.

This is how the argument went in my head. “My life is horrible. What’s good right now? My blog. What’s bad right now? Wal-Mart. What can I do to make my life better? Quit Wal-Mart. But if I quit Wal-Mart, I won’t have a blog.” Yeah. Vicious, please meet my friend Circle.

When I started my blog back in April of 2004, I was searching for myself, happiness and a purpose in life. Five months later, I happened to start working at Wal-Mart and Behind the Counter was born. Writing my blog gave me a purpose and a focus.

When I began writing, I never imagined that the things I put out there would attract such a diverse group of readers, fans and people who generally appreciate my work.

I started working at Wal-Mart for the sole purpose of being able to pay my bills. Over time, my real job began paying me enough so that – with prudent budgeting – I could survive without the House of Wal. I need to break the Starbucks addiction, but we’re working on that.

I cut back to just the weekends at Wal-Mart and tried to stockpile stories for an entire week of posting. One side effect of this was that I never had a day off from work. Ever. Monday-Friday at the office and Saturday-Sunday at Wal-Mart. It was a grinding schedule that I kept up for more than two years.

As Behind the Counter grew in popularity, I felt the pressure to pump out more content. Most weekends, I would come home after a 2-11 shift on Sundays and stay up writing until 5 a.m. – when I would go to sleep for three hours and then get up and get ready for work at my real job by 9 a.m.

Over the past year, I have battled depression, the likely beginnings of diabetes and come face-to-face with the fact that my life is a completely screwed-up mess of my own making.

In all that time, Behind the Counter – and constant stream of comments people leave – has been one of the only things that made me feel like getting out of bed in the morning.

Every time I checked my email, I hoped for a comment. Comments – be they good, bad, hateful or inane – were like little happiness grenades in the dark hours of my days.

If you, my readers, were making an effort to tell me how you felt about my work – I owed it to you to give you fresh content.

Even the haterade. You don’t exist on the Internet until you have haters. For every voice that speaks out, there are ten more that scream in silence.

I made mistakes – lots of them. If I had it to do over again, I would probably try to interact with my readers more. My paranoia over being discovered led early on to me instituting a “zero-contact” policy for all but the most extraordinary requests. In retrospect, I think that only made some people MORE curious about me – including some stalkers who analyzed every single post for clues.

I also wanted to sell merchandise. I had some T-shirt designs in the preliminary stages, but never got around to setting up a store on Zazzle. I really, really wanted to sell T-shirts where someone tries to return a baby.

Over the past year, my responsibilities at my real job have grown enormously. Some weeks, I spent up to 80+ hours at both jobs. Something was going to have to give.

I have always made no bones of the fact that I personally feel that Wal-Mart is not the best steward of its workers. The company as a whole needs to be broken down to its component pieces and completely rebuilt.

The current attitude of the bean-counters in Bentonville – who are issuing directives for the store-level employees without ever having been inside a store – are incredibly damaging to employee morale. So too is the absolute refusal to acknowledge the fact that stores cannot deliver even a minimal level of customer service if confined to the insanely low limits of the Bentonville directives for staffing.

In the time period from March until I left in October, I got a 2-11 p.m. shift nearly every Saturday and a 2-11 p.m. nearly every Sunday. I can count on one hand the number of shifts that were not 2-11. For that entire time, I was the only person scheduled at the Service Desk after the morning people went home at 4 p.m.

Psychologically, I knew that I could handle it. Wal-Martians don’t scare me. I am smarter, better and a thousand times meaner. However, it is immensely draining to go through weekend after weekend after weekend of the same crap, facing down the ghetto trash, the white trash and the dregs of society that only crawl out from under their rocks after dark. Nearly every Sunday, I had to plead for someone to give me my lunch; if I got a second break I sent a silent prayer up to the heavens and Kali’s waiting arms.

Wal-Mart literally does not care about its employees. They will mouth pretty words, but they are as empty as Paris Hilton’s head. The final straw came sometime in early summer. I had a rare 10-7 shift on Sunday and was actually looking forward to getting home in time to do laundry and sleep before going to work on Monday. When did I leave? 10 p.m. TWELVE HOURS AT THE HOUSE OF WAL.

I have had several long talks with the very few people in my life that I trusted with the secret of Behind the Counter. (Thank you all, you know who you are!) Every time they asked me “Why are you still working there?” – the only answer I could give was that I needed material for my blog. Finally, that answer just wasn’t good enough anymore.

I had to make a terrible choice – between my sanity and my blog. To be fair, it took me nearly a year to finally decide to walk away from Behind the Counter. I don’t believe that my writing should make me unhappy – and going to the House of Wal each weekend simply made me miserable.

At the end of the day, I wrote about entitled idiots trying to scam the system and generally acting like they need a beating with whips made of scorpions. I saw a niche in the blog ecosystem and I filled it – maybe not especially well or with great style and verve – but I filled it.

My next project is going to be “21 Minutes” – which is linked in the top right-hand column. (I thought seriously about concentrating on my Howler Monkeys project, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it has real legs. I mean, how much complaining about children can I do?)

What is “21 Minutes?” Well, the premise is that I’m going to go somewhere each day and describe the action for 21 minutes. The same snark, the same fashion critique, the same howler monkeys, the same WOACAs, the same witty wordplay. We may even do a post at the Wal-Mart from time to time. I hope you like it. If not, that’s fine too. This is something I’m doing for myself – and it doesn’t make me hurt inside.

Right now, I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve had a few weekends to spend reconnecting with my friends, rebuilding my social life and trying to figure out what exactly it is that I’m going to do with the rest of my life.

For the record, I want to personally thank each and every reader of Behind the Counter over the past three years. Thank you for reading. Thank you for leaving comments. Thank you for subscribing via RSS. Thank you sending me your emails. Thank you for clicking on the advertisements. Thank you for putting links on your own personal Web pages and blogrolls. And to the two people who purchased me gifts off my Amazon Wish ListI LOVE YOU!

At the end of the day, all I did was write. Thank you all for appreciating it.

Yes. You all still have questions. No. I’m still not going to tell you my name or the location of my store. I’m not stupid. Anything else you want to know, please leave it in the comments.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

In tha dog pound

It has been hella busy lately, so I'm not always at Customer Service right when I go in at 2 p.m. - because that seems to be the only schedule I ever get nowadays - 2-11 p.m.

Saturday I go in and there is a new co-manager running the front end and all the supervisors are on a register. Instead of the service desk, she asks if I can watch the Self Checkouts for a while. OK. Fine. They're theft magnets and people are stupid. Sounds the same to me.

There's a new thing now where we're not supposed to actually stand at the monitoring station - with the cash register and the computer that has the monitor for all four self-checkouts. We're supposed to stand out in the middle of the Self-Checkout aisles and "be available" for customers - which generally means you get pulled four ways at once and don't get anything done.

I'm trying to help this WOACA ring up tomatoes - all the while she's insisting that "TOMATOES CANNOT COST THIS MUCH IN NOVEMBER." Seriously lady. Yes they can.

Then I see the tragedy start to unfold.

There's a hugely fat woman with not one, not two, but three screaming howler monkeys. She's got one of those Wal-Mart kid-carts, with the child seats built into the buggy under the handle. Two crotchlings are seated there; the third is clinging to the side of the buggy like a shipwreck survivor. They are howling fit to raise the dead. They want chips, candy, movies, a soda, their Nintendo DS. What they NEED is a good spanking and a lesson on how to act in public.

The cart is full. Not just full, but overflowing. Either she only shops once a month or there are additional howler monkeys at home. Dear Kali, perish the thought. Underneath the buggy, she's jammed a couple of cases of water and soda and also managed to wedge a sack of Ol' Roy dog food that sits precariously on the edge. The howler clinging to the side is repeatedly bouncing on the sack of Ol' Roy - causing it to lean further out of the buggy.

I see her come by Register 1, bend down and re-adjust the dog food, trying to jam it up under the buggy some more. Then she's distracted by the screaming howlers and yells at them to "Just shut up and wait a minute. Mommy's almost done."

She finally KICKS the dog food and pushes the buggy forward.

Unfortunately for her, those kiddie carts aren't the most maneuverable. Think station wagons - without power steering.

A corner of the sack of dog food hangs on the bottom of one of the shelf displays. I see her having trouble and move to go over, but am caught by this idiot woman who can't find the barcode on a carton of water. See people, it is NOT as simple as "scan and bag."

When I look up again, the woman and her howler monkeys are down by register five.

Unfortunately, so is half a sack of Ol' Roy - marking the trail like some bizarre Hansel and Gretel.

I yell at her "Ma'am. Ma'am Ma'am"

She doesn't here me over her howlers. And she keeps on going. Register 7. More dog food.

I yell at her "Ma'am. Ma'am Ma'am"

Register 9. Register 11. She's trying to find a short line.

She turns in at Register 13. And the woman beside her goes "What the hell is that?"

Yes. Ol'Roy.

All the way from Register 2 down to Register 13.

And it stank. I really do not know who feeds that stuff to their dogs.

Seriously people. You know what Wal-Mart feeds to people. Do you really want to know what they feed to dogs?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I want a red T-shirt

Sunday night is the last time and place to be making "demands" of just about anyone at Wal-Mart. Whatever "help" you get is going to be thinking about the long weekend they just spent helping the other 20,000 people just like you spending the other $1 million dollars our store does every weekend.

So when this elderly gentleman rolls up to Customer Service after 10 p.m. on Sunday night and throws a light blue T-shirt on the counter and started yelling at me, I have to say, I wasn't exactly in the best mood. Nevertheless, I did try to help him. He just didn't want my help.

Him: "I want a T-shirt exactly like this (as he's stabbing his huge finger at the blue one) except that it is red, a size large and has a pocket on it." In other words, you want a totally different shirt!
Me: And I, in retrospect, followed a bad plan, and tried to inject some levity into the situation by saying "And I want a winning Lotto ticket!" And then I laughed.
Him: The man gave one of the nastiest looks I've ever had. And then goes "So that's what you have to do to get service around here, win the d*mn lottery?"
Me: "Sir, it was just a joke. Now, where did you find that shirt? Have you looked over in our menswear section. Do you need directions?"
Him: "No, I've been over there with two girls. They can't find any more for me."
Me: "Sir, if they can't find any, then we must be out of the red shirts."
Him: "That's not what I said."
Me: "What exactly are you asking me for then sir?"
Him: "I want you to go on that computer there — and he stabs his finger at my register — and type in "red shirt" and find me a red shirt."
Me: "It doesn't work that way sir."
Him: "Whaddya mean it don't work that way! I know they've got to have perpetual inventory around here. This is a huge company."
Me: "I understand that sir. But inventory is not done by name of product but by UPC number." And I show him the barcode off the shirt he has. And I explain. "This number will tell me how many of this particular shirt we have in stock, how many are in the warehouse and how many have been ordered. But I can't ask the computer for red shirt, pocket shirt or large shirt. That won't tell me anything."
Him: "So you're telling me that you're not going to help me?"

My supervisor, who happened to be at Customer Service the whole time, finally took over.

Supervisor: "Sir, you've had two people looking through menswear for the shirts. They told you we don't have any more. We've told you that we can't just go into the computer and look for a "red shirt with pocket. What else can we do for you? Do you want someone to go back over to menswear with you?

Him: "This is just not the kind of F****** help I expect from F****** Customer Service."

And the throws the shirt he has in his hands into an unattended buggy and stomps out.

I hope he falls and breaks his hip.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Guest Post: There is no 'back' - only the back of my hand

Another guest post here - and another one from the wilds of Canada. Original material from "Hello Me Ducky" - with editing and rewrites by Behind the Counter.

People. Please. The only "back" in a Wal-Mart is the back of my hand as I slap you across your face when you ask that I "go to the back" and find you something that isn't on the shelf. Comprendez vous?

One more time. Let's go over this. THIS IS NOT A SHOE STORE. WE DO NOT HAVE A MAGICAL DUPLICATING MACHINE IN THE BACK. IF IT DO NOT BE ON THE SHELF, IT DO NOT BE IN THE STORE.

Let's take it from the top. I work in Howler Monkey central, Department 26, otherwise known as Infants. I put things on the shelf. I can help you, but only if you're not to stupid to breathe. Of course, you’re shopping at the House of Wal …

Pop quiz:

There are six pallets of freight out on the floor. All of it needs to go on the shelves by the end of my shelf. Do you:
a) edge around the boxes to do your shopping?
b) dip your head into my aisle, see that I'm busy and move on?
c) start opening boxes and pawing through them looking for a pair of socks for your godforsaken baby that looks like a prune cross-bred with a shar-pei and then laid in the sun for thirty-eight years
d) ask me "Is there any more in the back?"

If I dealt with you last Saturday, you perpetrated BOTH options C & D.

Ma'am, go die in a fire.

If all this stuff is lying in piles around me, what makes you think there is yet MORE in the back?

Please. Do I come to your house and rifle through your drawers looking for a knife to stab you with? Even though the very thought of such murderous violence pleases me mightily!

Do you really know what’s “in the back” of a Wal-Mart? Not much actually.

On the GM (General Merchandise) side, there’s rows and rows of huge shelves about fifteen feet high with four levels each. Each department has so many rows – based on how big the department is.

Theoretically, all the “overstock” – more of the same from the floor – goes into this area. It is supposed to be labeled by the date it was received off the truck and type of merchandise it is. In reality, it is a huge jumbled junk drawer of out-of-season merchandise that a team of trained managers couldn’t wade through with a shovel and a pricing gun. Most stock comes straight off the trucks and onto the sales floor.

On the grocery side, there's a little bit of cold storage for fresh fruit & vegetables and a freezer. The trucks for the grocery side come every day.