Saturday, March 15, 2008

Customer, Help Thyself

Sometimes when I’ve said “Yes, dear” a few hundred times in the same day, or when I’m tired of lying down on my bed only to cripple my rib cage on a toy car collection that my son had previously raced around the mattress for several thousand laps and abandoned, I just have to escape family life -- for an hour or so.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my family. But on some occasions, I really just need to get out of the house. One of those occasions was a recent Saturday, and I begged my wife to let me go to the store alone.

I told her we needed a new flawzee pump spindle valve for the control arm in the rear frontal plate of our water heater in the garage. Believing the part actually exists and that I’d actually be able to replace it -- if it did in fact exist -- my wife let me go -- alone. She hates to go to the hardware store with me. I can lose track of time.

So I was off to the store for a little “personal space.” I got in the car, rolled down the windows -- I usually can’t do that because my son rides in the back seat and hates the wind blowing in his face.

I cranked up Led Zeppelin on the stereo. Normally I only get to listen to Disney tunes in the car, or, lately, my wife’s Sarah McLachlan CD -- oh joy. And I can never crank up the volume, or I might permanently damage my son’s 2-year-old eardrums. Can’t have that. If he can’t hear me, how am I going to tell him to take out the trash when he’s older, when it’s my turn to be waited on?

The drive was great.

At the store, my shopping experience started out pleasurably. I selected a cotter pin remover and a measuring caliper, which I needed for my tool collection. What was I going to do with these tools? I had no idea. But if I ever needed them, I wouldn’t have to run down to the store when I was in the middle of a project.

I nonchalantly strolled to the front of the store -- in what might’ve been the equivalent of the time it takes for paint to dry. I approached the registers to pay for my items.

Nobody was working. Let me say that again.

Nobody was working.

Nobody was there. Though the self-checkout line was open. What’s the deal with that? I work all week -- mornings working for my family, days at my job, and nights working for my family again. Weekends are filled with cleaning up after my son, caring for him, and doing house chores -- and I come to the store for some relaxation and, what?

They expect me to throw on a nametag and ring up my purchases? I’m paying them, and I have to work? Where’s my paycheck? Where are my benefits? I don’t remember getting hired at the place. Come to think of it, I don’t remember applying.

So I walk up to an employee headed toward the front to manage the self-checkout lines.

“What’s the deal with cashiers?” I asked.

“We’re cutting back hours,” he said.

“Why’d you open the store if you can’t pay for employees? I mean, if a hospital can’t afford to pay for the doctors, I don’t think anyone expects the patients to do their own surgeries.”

“It’s not that we can’t afford to pay our cashiers, it’s just creative money management,” he said.

“Creative?” I asked. “Yeah, I bet you spent a bunch of your payroll for a meeting of the minds to come up with that idea. Look, I’m not ringing up myself.”

“Every store is doing it,” the guy said. And he’s right. Practically every store is installing self-checkout lines.

“Look, I am not ringing myself up, and that’s that,” I said. “I didn’t watch the training video on how to use the cash register.”

“It’s quite a simple process,” the guy assured me. “Just follow the on-screen directions.”

I eventually lost the argument, and I had to ring up my merchandise. I did make the guy work, however. I told him the cotter pin remover was priced cheaper on the rack than the machine had indicated. Ha! He had four other employees on the job. The team of them finally figured out I was lying.

What a hassle. You know, sometimes I love getting out of the house, but sometimes I just need to feel normal and be with my family.

-June 2006

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