Friday, December 23, 2011

Things You Can Learn from a Kwik-E-Mart Clerk

So I’m here. I’m in my shop again. I am sitting on my stool again. And I’m typing on my blog again. Hello!

Today, I thought that we might play a game of Show & Tell so I could show and I could tell you just a pinch of what I know about from working here. You see, there are many things that a body tends to learn when it sits for long enough within one space. Things that soak into the brain like floor cleaner into bread. And there’s rarely been a person and there’s rarely been a space who has sat and which is sat in like me here.

I don’t know what you have heard, but if you heard, then it is true, that I have learned a thing or two – increased my prior knowing tenfold, I would guess – about a full range of human behaviors that I see every day. Like how long can one person – just your average breed of person, one who seeks a cup of coffee for yet another day of drudgery at the office – yes, how long can such a person stand in a line that goes to nowhere, that goes absolutely nowhere, before frustration overwhelms him and he leaves without his precious daily fix?

I know the answer to this.

And then there’s product placement! I hate to be a braggart, but I know product placement. A fool, in his ignorance, will tell you that the hanging of various sorts of snack foods before the public ranks somewhat lower than the other forms of art.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

There are rules for hanging snack foods and while a Master Snack Food Hanger might dare to bend and snap and to play with such rules for the sake of his art, even the Master Snack Food Hanger does so at his peril. Particular flavors, colors, names, snacks must exist eye level to the customer to succeed. If they’re there, the customer will buy them.

Now… Obviously, I am not at liberty to reveal to you the specifics of this very secret knowledge. Trade secrets and all that jazz. But… I know. I learned it here!

I know that “Flaming Hot” Cheetos possess an artificial flavoring that masks the scent and the taste of nearly any contaminant you care to name. A layman chuckles to himself and he says, “Clorox? Drāno? But surely I would recognize were I to bite into a Cheeto laced with these!”

A layman would say that, but a layman would be wrong, and he would be wrong because he has never learned the things that I have learned from sitting around this shop.

Like, I know some things about shadows. I first launched my investigations into the behavior of certain shadows shortly after my arrival here. I remember it quite clearly even now. I was kneeling behind the counter, in front of the cigarette shelf, and I was resealing a pack of Marlboro Menthol 100’s – oh, but you could never have recognized it as having been opened at all! – when I spied a certain movement where there should have been none.

My shadow. It had moved without me!

Just a simple mistake, I know. Any shadow could have made it. I know, for as I have learned during my subsequent investigations, the training of shadows is way too short to cover anything but the basics. The truth is shadows fuck up all the time, only for the most part, no one knows it. No one knows it because no one sees it, and no one sees it because most people do not have the time on their hands that I have on my hands working here.

But I do have that time, so I saw it that day and I knew what I had seen. I found a marker – one of those big markers, the fat permanent markers that leave nothing to imagination – and I colored in my shadow where it was, there on the floor.

I sat there. And I sat there. And I knew that it would move. This shadow knew the jig was up. It had to run.

And though the lunchtime crowd grew angry about their coffee and their snack foods, with a great many resorting to petty theft during my period of immobility, I would not give in. No: In the name of science, I held my ground.

I held my ground and the shadow, it held its. And, well, I guess the two of us were about as determined as any two holders of any ground ever were.

At this point, I know that most of you – who have, truth be told, probably not spent any time to speak of sitting around a shop like this one – are doubting my words. Doubting me. Perhaps you’re even laughing out loud at me. You’re reading these words and you’re drinking that fountain drink I sold you – with its faint scent of of peach blossom and almond – and you’re saying, “This Katy is out of her mind! Shadows that move on their own! Pshaaw!”

But on that day with the Marlboro Menthol 100’s and the permanent marker and all… that was the day I saw that first trembling shadow run. It ran away!

First, it bolted out and over to the breakfast nook. You know, that big rack out front where Kingsley bought the doughnuts he later claimed were filled with sewing needles? The shadow ran there. And after that, it ran right out the door and it took off down the hallway. But I was hot on its trail, as they say.

And I followed and I learned a lot more things regarding shadows. Sometimes, you have to go undercover – Axel-Foley-deep-deep-undercover – to learn these kinds of things. But I did, and now I know.

I know some things about shadows.

Like you should never turn your back upon a shadow. And like if a familiar shadow should come to owe you a favor, it might pay you back by, say, serving as a look-out while you’re altering a headline in this customer’s newspaper or slipping something small into that customer’s coffee cup.

Some shadows are good. Most shadows are bad.

But after all this time together, we’ve come to an agreement. An arrangement. The shadows and I have what the scientists call a “symbiotic relationship.”

So I know quite a bit about shadows.

And shadows, well, they know quite a bit about me.

Obviously, I am not at liberty to reveal the specifics of this very secret knowledge. Trade secrets and all that jazz. But… I know. I learned it here!

That will be three dollars and sixty-five cents.

Merry Christmas!


  1. Merry Christmas to you AND your shadow!! Slow day at the shop?

  2. @Brent: Well, I sort of think about murdering customers, EVERY day.
    So that's not season-specific.
    But yeah... hardly anyone came in today. Apparently some sort of holiday about to go down.

  3. The reason I don't work retail is because I wanted to take a baseball bat to the customers who were too smart/lucky to qualify for a Darwin Award, but too stupid to function in the world. How you manage a store in the seedy underbelly of Houston is amazing.

  4. @Brent: A (lawyer) friend of mine quit his job last week because he felt he was being treated poorly.
    I told him that working for someone - anyone - is generally a pretty humiliating experience.
    At least with retail, everyone's more honest about that humiliation.
    People treat each other so bad...

  5. My son is a cart wrangler at the new Wal Mart in town. Of all retail, I guess his sucks the least. Working the register is a level of hell not described. At most large firms, lawyers, especially new ones, get crapped upon daily until someone newer is hired. It is a time honored tradition and your friend has few choices other than finding a General Counsel job somewhere or hanging out a shingle and go it alone

  6. @Brent: Years ago, I worked at a retail shop where they repeatedly tried to force me behind a cash register. Seeing as to how it was twice the work for the SAME pay as the (non-commission) sales floor, I couldn't see the benefit.
    If I was better at dumpster diving, I could take myself out of the economy entirely.

  7. Who knows what evil lies in the heart of Katies? The Shadow knows.

    Actually, back when I was a kid, I used to play what I called the Shadow Game. Power cuts were frequent and then we had only candlelight, and I used to wag my hand around in front of the flame and make shapes on the wall. And then I imagined what would have happened if the shadow moved on its own.

    I think that was the beginning of my life as a storyteller.

  8. Oh, and about working for someone else: I work for myself and I can tell you self-employment ain't all it's cracked up to be. I'm not qualified for anything else or else I'd have chucked this line of work and taken up something with fixed hours, vacation dates, salary and no headaches about keeping the whole thing going.

  9. @Bill the Butcher: Replace "Candles" with "campfire," and you might have just described the beginning of ALL storytelling!

    In college, I lived in an apartment on a courtyard where weird shadows came in at night. One month, I taped poster board to the walls and painted all the shadows that hit the walls...

    I wouldn't want OTHER folks' livelihoods to depend on me, so I wouldn't want to be the one who signed the paychecks. My own material well-being doesn't weigh on me nearly so much.

  10. Could you get fired for saying you are poisoning customers?

  11. @Bucky: Hmm, you ask hard questions.
    It's an at-will employment state, so I'm pretty sure they could.
    Also, i might be able to be jailed for actually poisoning customers (if it were found that i have).
    The world is complicated and the Man is always keeping me down.

  12. Dumpster diving, that is starting to sound more and more appealing. I am going to go one level up and shop the Habitat Recycle shop for my bathroom renovation project. This way someone has sorted through the messy parts already.

    You are wise beyond your years for dodging the cash register duty. When I worked in a restaurant, I preferred toilet cleaning to working the register.

  13. @Brent: People throw so much crap out that it's not nearly so bad as it sounds! I'll be glad to accept usable cast-offs of the material class. I mean, e.coli needs a certain environment, right?

    Those Habitat shops aren't bad! Actually Habitat in general isn't what people think. I was volunteering at an event at Houston's Habitat a few weeks back - you need to make 200% poverty rate to even qualify, and even THEN you still have to pay a mortgage. I mean, Habitat houses get foreclosed on...

  14. my shadow just quit..said I never went any place and was looking for more action...

  15. @YELLOWDOG GRANNY: Haha... That sounds like my old line about Homeland Security.

    When everyone was getting paranoid that Bush & Cheney were listening in to their phone conversations, I noted that "Whoever listens to my phone conversations has the worst job in the federal government. The poor guy's gotta be bored silly!"

  16. I love sitting in this computer chair by the window, because at a certain time of day my shadow looks like it's standing over me, watching me write. Which is fine, shadow, but how about a little constructive criticism while you're their? Or pointing out that I typed "their" instead of "there" like a complete dumbass?

  17. @A Beer for the Shower: That's why you cannot trust the bastards!
    Hell, the shadow is probably the reason you made the spelling error at all! They whisper the wrong word in your ear and then they go laugh about it with their shadow friends...


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