People at Wal-Mart
People at Wal-Mart
The good, the sad, and the sadder
This isn't autobiographical because it's about some of the people I've encountered, observed, and met while working at Wal-Mart, two summers now. I obviously chose the ones about whom there is something worth writing about, but that doesn't mean I've even met them, and it certainly isn't necessarily a good thing. In many cases, my dislike, sorrow, or—for lack of a better word—pity for them induced me to write what I felt about them. I know nothing about their actual lives, only what little I can observe, on the surface, while they're working or in the break room. (A few people give me only positive feelings, to be sure.) But the ones who actually animated me to write this section are the employees whom I just feel bad for because, as hard as it is to be brutally honest here, can't do any better for themselves in life, and will never achieve—have never achieved—anything better.
Suresh, cashierI started with him because he is the guy who trained me, way back in July of 1999, at my first job ever. He is definitely not one of the sad stories. Well, not completely. He is from India, and he moved here with his wife and daughter probably less than a year before that. He was a math teacher in India. That means he was really smart, very well educated, and enterprising as a student and worker. He probably would have to have been in order to have the money to move here. He even taught me some math trick about multiplying two-digit numbers, or multiples of 5, or something, when there were no customers in line once. I don't remember what it was. All I know is he struck me not as the type of immigrant like most of the Hispanics and others who don't speak English and didn't graduate from high school and can only work in landscaping or construction; I immediately began to perceive him as the smart, able, educated person he is, who would choose to move to America where he could only work at Wal-Mart, which he considers a privilege to be taken advantage of and not an onus to be resented, as I do, rather than stay in his home country, where he was well-off (which, as I said, he would have to be to have the money to emigrate and get his feet on the ground here). The sad part is that his country can't get itself together enough to provide people like him and his wife (who was also a cashier, as was their daughter) the opportunities to flourish and prosper the way ours does. Look at all the geneticists and computer scientists in this country who are from India, and think about how successful Indians are outside of India, and then compare that to the state of their economy, and it is sad to realize how many minds that country has wasted by not establishing the level of freedom necessary to let people succeed on their own in a flourishing market. And that might be the saddest part of it all: that Suresh's faculties were mostly wasted over there, so that all he could do was put all his stock in his daughter by moving to a freer society, where she could succeed the way so many of my brown friends will after they get out of college.
Brandon in hardwareWell, Suresh was the only one I have anything to write about from the old Wal-Mart. Brandon Modessit is actually a year younger than me, at 20 years old, and he's been working in hardware at this Super Wal-Mart for a while now; I can't remember, maybe a year or so. He's not in school. He said his dad, uncle, and older brother are all architects, and that he must have missed the architecture gene, and apparently he wasn't too great at school in general. He is not the typical non-college-graduate; he's not a hick, doesn't smoke, no tattoos, a good person in general, who's mostly positive, doesn't mind Wal-Mart too much, and even seems fairly sharp and down-to-Earth (not that that phrase has any meaning anymore...). He doesn't even have a southern accent, which, let me tell you, is quite the rarity in a Wal-Mart. He gets pushed over to sporting goods and housewares (where I met him, my second day) once in a while because he is a good worker, is knowledgeable about most of the store, and can subsitute just fine for an absent (or, before I came, nonexistent) employee.
One thing I was very surprised to learn was that one day after I had been there about 2 or 3 weeks, he said he got engaged the day before. I overheard him say to Eric, the manager over housewares, hardware, and a couple other departments, that he "got her a ring yesterday" and "asked her to marry me." First of all, that's surprising because it's just rare at this age; but the thing that surprised me even more was that a few minutes later, when he actually told me, he added, "She's pregnant." He was talking to Eric because the same thing happened to him. He got his girlfriend pregnant, had to marry her, and, in Eric's words, "It's all downhill from there." Brandon said Eric didn't want to marry his wife, but he does and he's happy, so he's okay with it. So I guess it won't exactly be a shotgun wedding. He's also going to start going to night school, so I hope he gets a college degree and can move up from lowly Wal-Mart hardware associate. I just feel worse for the child than anything. I guess that's why I hope Brandon and his wife do okay: so the child doesn't grow up in an unstable household with underachieving, uneducated parents. If I know anything about Brandon, he should be able to avoid that.
Ronald in hardwareSorry to add such sad twists to both of my biographies so far. I promise this one has none. Ronald is a black guy of about 40 or 50 years, who's pretty big, is missing several teeth, and chews tobacco. He's one of my favorite people at Wal-Mart. Maybe my favorite. He's just really cool. I remember when I went looking for that 3-In-One oil, and couldn't find it anywhere, and finally had to ask the guy at the hardware paint counter, and that guy was Ronald. I didn't remember that immediately after meeting him, but I did soon after.
Ronald is a really funny guy. Since housewares and hardware share a bin of returns at the service desk, I often bring a cart full of hardware returns for him when I get my housewares returns. Every time I bring him any amount of returns, just a handful or a cartful, he says, "Don't you bring no more shit over here. I done told you not to bring no more of that shit over here." He has also ragged on me for not buying a pizza for people shortly after being hired. "I ain't gonna tell you nothing till you buy us that pizza. Don't you know you're supposed to buy a pizza after that first paycheck?" I don't know what in the world he's talking about. How many people? Where? Just the break room? He's just kidding, obviously, but it still confounded me.
Lois, receptionistI am writng about her because her voice annoys me to no end. Unfortunately, the receptionist at this Wal-Mart is also the main person responsible for doing (almost) everyone's pages over the intercom, so we hear her voice a lot. I don't know exactly what it is about her. Her voice pattern, her way of phrasing things, and her way of pronouncing things. It's just everything about the way she talks, it really bothers me. They couldn't have picked a worse person to do the pages over the intercom. (Well, that's not entirely true.) For some reason, the receptionist/pager sits at a desk in front of the fitting rooms; perhaps they chose that location because it's smack-dab in the middle of the store. Any time someone needs to make a page, they're supposed to call the fitting room and tell the person there to do it. Lots of people completely ignore this custom—including myself, which I'm sure surprises you none—and make their own pages. Also an unfortunate result of the receptionist's desk being at the fitting rooms is that the person there feels the need to make three or four announcements between 10:30 and 11:00 about what time the fitting rooms will close and how many minutes that leaves to try clothes on. Nobody cares! Stop talking about your damn fitting rooms! The Vision Center, photo lab, pharmacy, and those other places at the front of the store don't make announcements about when they close! Shut up about it!
But I can't dislike her too much. She is a nice person, and she's actually talked to me once or twice. Well, only once for more than a couple seconds. She's a yankee, and though she doesn't have any sort of New York or Boston accent, her northern (or hell, maybe it's Chicago) way of speaking is part of what annoys me. She is nice to other people, keeps her criticisms to herself when someone (like Clint in the garden center, who talks to her frequently during lunch) says something dumb, and seems like a good person to me. She's probably 50-something, has gray hair shorter than mine, is quite pear-shaped, and doesn't walk too well. One time I was leaving from layaway at 11:00, and she was slowly making it back there to clock out, and as I walked by her, she just seemed like a sad, lonely, pathetic lady who was overweight and limped/waddled, so I really felt bad for her. You can't have ill feelings towards someone you pity. And I don't have any; her voice is just irritating.
Natasha, receptionistNow, Lois's voice irritates me and grates on me; Natasha's voice is just annoying. She, like Lois, can't walk right, but she is about my age, and was born with some type of handicap; her leg bones point the wrong way, or something. So she kind of limps, slowly, on both legs. She's very short and has very short black hair. She does have a bit of a country accent, but her voice doesn't quite match her appearance. Well, maybe it's just the way she shouts into the intercom. She has an amazing way of condensing a sentence into about half as many syllables as it really has; this consists basically of slurring them together. It's difficult to give an example in print form, but I'll try. When she makes an announcement to customers, for instance, she always ends the page with something like, "And as always, we thank you for shopping your Oconee Super Wal-Mart." The "we thank you for shopping" gets condensed at least into four syllables, maybe three. "Your Oconee Super Wal-Mart" is no more than four. And the funniest thing is the way she says "once again" before repeating the page, 'cause, y'know, they have to say each page twice to make sure people hear it. For example, management has a stupid thing about "safety sweeps," in which employees are supposed to go around their departments and pick up things in the floor or objects sticking out of a shelf that could make someone trip or slip; this is dumb because we all do this reflexively as we walk down any aisle; there is no need for specific, designated safety sweeps. But nonetheless, the receptionist has to make these pages constantly, and the way Natasha does it is just funny. "Attention associates, it is now time to do a safety sweep in your area. Once agee-inn, is now time do asafetysweep in y'aaarea. Security cameras are now scanning departments eleven and twelve; security cameras now scanning departmentselevenandtwelve." It really is annoying, honestly, because she has this nasal, southern accent and she yells into the phone.
Becky in housewaresBecky Mathis is the most unpleasant person I've ever worked with. She is the department manager of housewares, and I'm just glad I hardly ever see her. She has the personality of a doorknob but is less friendly. And I'm talking about the more sketchy doorknobs, none of those fancy ones you see in expensive houses.
She always acts like she is just in the worst situation of anyone in Wal-Mart, with way more stress, obligation, and burdens than anyone else, like she has way too much to do and not enough time to do it in and so she strikes back at the world because of this, and I'm not just talking about me, because I haven't interacted with her all that much. She is rude, contemptuous, and sort of impatient with customers as well as employees.
And the thing is, she's not even good at her job. She knows lots of stuff, and she can criticize and complain with the best of them, but that doesn't amount to much. First of all, she takes too long to do things; the fact that her obligations weigh her down is her own fault, not management's. I think it's because she's too busy seeking out and finding problems with things instead of rearranging an aisle according to some new, unnecessary layout given to us by some district office, or unloading boxes of merchandise that didn't get put up the night before or whatever, or doing new price labels—I don't know what the hell the upper-level people do all day. Basically, I've come to agree with Sarah in HBA (who's about my age), who said, "Becky does jack shit all day long." Second, she doesn't understand anything; she isn't very sharp or down-to-Earth (this phrase actually does apply here!). To use a GRE word, she is not at all perspicacious. This one relates to me more than anything. One afternoon I was responsible for putting a group of leftover merchandise from cardboard boxes onto their shelves, and after I had been there a short while, she walked over and said, "How we doin'?... Not too good..." Dumbass. First of all, her assessment was simply wrong, whatever the circumstances, but the circumstances were these: Most of the crap in the boxes couldn't fit on the shelves because we were all full, so the un-emptied boxes she saw had already been attended to by me (see? the lack of perspicacity?...). Second, and more important, I had to spend about 10 or 20 minutes helping someone transport a dozen big Rubbermaid storage boxes to the register, out to the parking lot, and into her car. The bad thing is Becky knew this; I had to walk up to her and the other Becky and whoever else was with them to ask how I should do this, whether I should use an L-cart, whether I should go ahead and carry them to her car or get someone who's actually done that before to come to the register and help this lady out. The other Becky was the one who actually talked to me, but this Becky was right there, and if she had been paying attention to anything outside of her frustration and scorn, she would have remembered. So that's why it might have appeared that I was doing "not so good."
Another time, probably in the same week, Eric talked to me a little bit right as my shift was starting, telling me what to work on that day, and he said Becky had mentioned that I don't get things done fully enough or fast enough—or I just don't finish what I'm supposed get done each day. Uhh, the only thing I haven't done enough of is get taught, bitch. The two things Eric mentioned were another bunch of cardboard boxes that were left on the floor, and the stuff that needed to be brought down from the top shelves to the lower shelves, when space opens up, so customers can reach them. Again, she simply doesn't understand things. Instead of investigating the situation with these boxes, which is that there was no space for the merchandise on the shelves and the other Becky told me to leave the leftovers right there on the cart, she immediately lashes out at something or someone and blames the problem on them, when there wasn't even a problem. As for the stuff I failed to bring down from the top, she doesn't realize that I don't care about this job and I care even less about satisfying her.
Basically my gripe with Becky is that, as I said, she is simply unpleasant, unfriendly, and seems to think she has such uniquely onerous burdens that the whole world is coming down on her, and none of us does a damn thing to help her, and she must retaliate against the world for her own problems.
Oh, and she walks like Yosemite Sam. That's actually quite hilarious. You know how Yosemite Sam walks: bow-legged, bow-armed, hunched over, out to get someone or something. Just as Yosemite Sam always seems to be walking around with a chip on his shoulder, seeking a rabbit or a duck to shoot, Becky walks around with the same posture, same (well, similar—I don't mean to insult Sam) countenance, and a chip on her shoulder, like she is out to find something wrong and tell someone exactly what she thinks about it, what they did wrong and need to correct. Yeah, that sounds like a good department manager until you consider her overall deportment and the way she talks, which makes even her requests—not "orders"; she actually asks us to do things and doesn't bark orders at us—seem unpleasant and demanding.
Clete Marshall, managerMan, talk about the complete opposite of Becky. Clete is the front-end manager, which includes cash registers, pharmacy, HBA (health and beauty aids), pets, and the lawn and garden center. He is always, always friendly, upbeat, positive, and encouraging. He often wears shorts because people in lawn & garden get to wear shorts, and he's sweaty sometimes from working out there, and he always walks fast and briskly. He has a nice southern accent. No, not the Zell Miller–Ray Barnes–old-fashioned southern accent; it's pretty country, but he knows how to speak in a friendly, positive manner, and I just like the way he talks. He's not real old, probably 28 or 30 or so. In summary, he is a very good manager.
Jeffrey in sporting goodsI don't know Jeffrey too well, but he is one of my favorite people at Wal-Mart. I liked him before I even talked to him. He's an older guy, around 60 or maybe older. He is short and has white-gray hair, and he walks slowly and kind of leaning over to one side—I don't think I'd call it a limp, but it's probably the result of age or injury(ies). He is very nice and always says, "Hi, how are you?" to everyone. I think his friendly face and the way he talks is what made me like him. His voice is deep and sounds like it used to be strong, but it's a fairly weak, kind, gentle voice now. It's really hard to describe. I kind of hoped when Adam and Bobby applied to Wal-Mart, they'd get hired in sporting goods so they could work with Jeffrey because I know it would be enjoyable.
Lauren, management internOh, God, she's so hot.
Adam, overnight stocker, grocery sideAdam is definitely the fattest and gayest employee I've met at Wal-Mart. He's about my age, probably in college, and he hasn't been there too long. I really don't know much more about him, but I assure you there is no Wal-Mart employee anywhere—possibly no person anywhere—who is both as fat and as gay as Adam.
Ricky in petsRicky is one of the ones I feel pretty bad for. He's a white guy about my size, around 40 or 45, with dark brown hair, and a country accent. This might sound weird, but regarding his age, he somehow seems like he looks older than he is; that seems to make no sense, because I can only base my guess on what he "seems," but that's just the impression I get. I feel bad for him because he doesn't appear to like his job too much, he's probably been stuck there for a while, and will be stuck there for the forseeable future because he can't do much (any) better for himself.
One time I came back to the break room for lunch while he was on lunch, and he was paged to come to the fish tanks to help a customer. Well, he didn't go because he was waiting until his hour was up, which he has every right and privilege to do. After he was paged a second or third time, he said to another person, "They can wait right there for me. If they want to wait until 8:30, I'll be out to help them, but I'm using my whole lunch break," or something to that effect. I mean, I feel the same way and I don't feel bad for myself, but this is more or less his permanent state in life, and he always looks tired, frustrated, and generally unhappy, so I felt bad for him.
Another thing was one Friday in July when management bought several pizzas from Papa John's for us and then called the evening meeting in the break lounge; everyone (except newbies like me) knew that meant there was a special treat for us in the form of food. (I was actually leaving my break when I saw someone bringing the pizzas back there, and so I was lucky to be able to take an extended break and eat pizza to boot, since my 6-hour shift allowed me no lunch that day.) Ricky sat right across from me with two or three slices of pizza, and said to another man at the end of the table, "Boy, I'm glad they got us pizza today, because I sure didn't want to eat those baloney sandwiches I brought." That was just so sad. He doesn't like his job, he doesn't like his food, he probably doesn't like his life in general. He probably did poorly in school (really his own fault, I know), he certainly didn't go to college, he's working at a job he doesn't like because he has to because he can't do any better for himself, and he might not even be able to provide himself with much more delectable food outside of work, because of finances and/or culinary inadequacy (like me!). He just seems like a sad, lonely, pitiful middle-aged man, which I desperately don't want to happen to me, nor does anyone.
Johnny, cart pusherJohnny is, for lack of a better term, not quite right in the head. He's a black guy of about 30 or 35, maybe 40, and he's also missing a few teeth. He's about medium size and walks kind of hunched over, with his head sticking forward. He always wears this cool orange t-shirt that says "Wal-Mart Pride!" on the back. I want one of those! But they're for the cart crew. I'm not sure what exactly is not quite right about him, but he thinks he is on friendly terms with everyone—not that he just sees everyone as a potential friend and someone to talk to, but that he doesn't quite differentiate between people he's worked with for a while and those he's never seen before—and he shouts just about everything he's thinking to most of the employees nearby. I've been in the break room twice when his shift ended, and he went around to four or five of us, being all friendly and patting us on the back and saying, "I'm gone! I'm gone!" (obviously in the typical black southern accent). The first time I encountered him, probably my first week, he was walking out to the parking lot as I was walking in, and he was saying something to the effect of, "I'm off Father's Day! That's the worst day to work! Glad I'm not working this Sunday!" One time he was eating lunch at the same time I was, and he was saying he was glad to be off the next day or something, so one of his friends said, "What day is tomorow, Johnny?" "Thursday!" "No it's not, Johnny, tomorrow's Tuesday. Today is Monday. You ain't off tomorrow." (He was obviously teasing him for his own amusement, which would have been quite sad, except he was Johnny's friend, sort of, and it didn't work.) "Today is Wednesday! I'm off Thursday!" "No, today's Monday!" "Wednesday!" "Monday!" "Wednesday!" And back and forth a few more times. Another semi-friend of Johnny's was sitting at another table, who had already talked to Johnny when he came in, and we were both kind of chuckling at this. Johnny wasn't so oblivious as to not realize this other guy was just trying to annoy him or have fun with him; he at least knows how to do his job well and keep track of his schedule, his hours, and such. Still, it was cruel, and sad, and the guy wouldn't have tried it on anyone else. But he's always cheerful, and always smiling. Every time he sees me—and anyone else, I imagine—he says, "Hey, buddy!" or, "What's happenin', my man?" I would expound upon the sadness of the fact that his continuously happy demeanor is due to more of a Gumpish ignorance than an optimistic outlook on life and the world, but that would just depress both you and me.