The assistant store manager called a blitz for the shoe department, “blitz” being one of the many sports-related terms employed to make associates feel more like a team. The store didn’t elect employees of the month, but rather quarterly all-stars. And a blitz meant sending associates from several different departments to one department that was in really bad shape. In this situation that meant my department: Shoes.
Chris came from Domestics. Joe came from Men’s. Together we recovered the kid’s side of the sales floor by straightening shoe boxes, sizing the merchandise, and ensuring each pair was properly matched, a left with a right, etc. Just as the twenty-minute blitz came to a finish, a family—young parents with two little daughters—arrived in the shoe department to undo our efforts. The girls grabbed boxes from the shelves, tossed tissue paper like confetti, strew shoes across the floor, and left the entire section in general disarray. I had to leave the area for a few minutes to answer a phone call, and when I returned I found Chris (who besides being my coworker is also my older brother) doubled over, red-faced, and laughing into his elbow. Once the family left, Chris recalled a conversation that took place between the mother and one of the daughters when the little girl wandered an aisle or two away from her parents.
Mother: “Honey, please stay where I can see you.”
Mother: “Because someone might take you.”
Daughter: “Someone is going to take me home? Good, because I don’t want to be shopping anymore.”
Mother: “No, they aren’t going to take you home.”
Daughter: “Then why would they take me?”
Work long enough in a department store and you will hear many conversations like this. I imagined the mother trying to think of how to explain to her daughter, without using explicit terms, why a stranger would take her. How to say it without saying molest or abduct. She probably went with the ambiguous “hurt you,” or the even more vague “bad things.” Since the blitz ended, it took me another hour just to clean up the mess the family made.
Later, while I was hanging Nike and Adidas sandals, a boy stood next to me and said, “Is your name Mike?” I wondered if parents still teach their kids not to talk to strangers. Then again, I was wearing a nametag.
“It sure is,” I said.
“There’s a boy in my class named Mike, and your store really doesn’t sell enough shoes for kids.” I smiled, pleased by how unconcerned kids are with transitions. “There are only three rows of shoes for kids, and so many for adults, and adults don’t really buy many shoes. You should have more shoes for kids.”
“That’s an interesting business model,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“Jacob,” he said. Jacob had a brown mop of hair and a round figure. I figured him to be ten years old. He had that ten-year-old smell, like cheese crackers mixed with unbridled curiosity. And then something amazing happened. Jacob read my mind.
“Don’t you wish,” he said, really dragging out the verb, “that you didn’t have to work? Like, you didn’t have a job but that you still got paid every day?”
That’s exactly what I was thinking, because today was a Type 2 day. On Type 1 days I tell myself I have a college degree, that I graduated with honors, have two internships under my belt, that I know the difference between fructose, sucrose and glucose, that I can edit writing to APA or Chicago guidelines, that I’m energetic, and twenty-three years young, and yes I have a growing bald spot, and my math skills aren’t always up to par, and I can be absent-minded on bad days, but isn’t there something better I can be doing with my time than making $8.73 per hour at a department store?
Type 2 days are just the opposite. I don’t even feel good enough for my part-time job, the one I only got because my brother already worked for the store and put in a good word for me. Type 2 days are hopeless. Type 2 days are like living on a treadmill that never stops. On Type 2 days I don’t even read the classifieds, not even Craigslist.
“Yeah,” I said. “I wish that sometimes.”
Jacob started to say something else, but his father interrupted him, snapped at him.
“That’s enough Jake. He’s busy.” So Jake walked away, but I wouldn’t have minded talking with him all night.
I finished hanging sandals, worked on a cart of reshops, and tried to pick up all the shoes off the floor, because even on Type 2 days I have to do my job. The store closed for the night, but my brother and I stayed to change the signs. I got home at about 1 am, brushed my teeth, and crawled into bed. I didn’t have trouble falling asleep, because even on Type 2 days, I make sure to do enough during the day to tire myself out. The last thing I want is a sleepless night. As I set my alarm, I told myself to try to make the next day a Type 3.
Type 3 days are when I remember that I come from privilege, that I have loving parents who support me enough to pay for my college education, who allow me to take up more and more space in their house. Type 3 days are when I remember that my fiancé loves me and believes in me, that she’ll stay with me even though she knows we’ll struggle, that I’ll never make much money, not nearly enough to support a family. Only on type 3 days am I grateful for at least having a job, even if it is only part-time, and I make little more than minimum wage, because it’s better than unemployment, and it allows me enough free time to pretend to be a writer.
Yes, I thought. I am due for a Type 3 day.