Friday, October 10, 2008

For Fiction Friday

Alice tried to remember who had given her the key. Had it been Mrs. Hooper, after the developers purchased her late husband’s store in order to convert it into a trendy new Caribbean-Italian-Sushi fusion restaurant called Dine? Or Gordon, after shaking his head and saying farewell to the street here he’d watched his children grow up? The 2 guys in the basement apartment—what were their names?—Bert and Ernie, that’s right. Bert liked to feed the pigeons, before city ordinances were enforced to forbid that sort of thing in this neighborhood. Which was why the big yellow bird was the first one to leave. A psittacosis scare would definitely cause the property values to plummet. And his giant elephantine friend wouldn’t help the situation. So it couldn’t have been either of them who had given Alice the key. They were already gone by the time she arrived with her real estate agent to see the property.

Next to the stoop in front the building was a collection of trash cans. Alice thought she saw someone with bushy eyebrows and beady eyes peering out of one of the garbage cans. There was a lid on his head, and though Alice couldn’t be sure, she was almost certain he was a grungy shade of green. But maybe that’s what years of homelessness had done to him. Well he’d be gone soon enough. On the way into the building, she and the agent passed one of the current tenants, who’d be moving out soon.

“Hi, Bob!” Waved the real estate agent.
But Bob just muttered something about the stress of trying to find another rent-controlled apartment with the same kind of character as the one he was leaving.
“What’s the matter with him?” Asked Alice.
“I don’t know.” The agent replied. “Usually he is so chipper!”

A few weeks later when Alice returned to show the building to her live-in boyfriend, Eddie, a deaf woman who lived on the first floor said something to them in sign language that didn’t look very friendly.

“What’s going on with these people?” Alice asked. “Every time I come here, I get the dirtiest looks from everyone.”

Gordon must have heard her. Leaning from his second floor window, he explained, “things used to be a lot friendlier around here. Until local politicians like The Count started taking bribes from real estate developers. Mr. Hooper didn’t want to sell his store or the rest of his building, but a few months later he died under mysterious circumstances. Coincidence? I don’t think so.”

“Gordon? Are you at it again with your conspiracy theories?” Called his wife from somewhere inside the apartment. Then she stuck her head out of the window next to his.
“Don’t believe everything he tells you. From my understanding, what really happened is The Count got some crooked cops to frame this kid Elmo for selling drugs behind Mr. Hooper’s store. And the city was able to use imminent domain because it was considered a drug house.”

“Oh, so my version of it is a conspiracy theory but yours is true?” Asked Gordon. “What about what they said about the Cookie Monster? That he sent Mr. Hooper some macaroons laced with arsenic? You know macaroons were his favorite.”

“Cookie Monster just doesn’t have it in him. He’s not really a monster, you know.” She replied.

The tales of the sinister goings on in this block were not enough to frighten Alice away from the building. The unit she eventually purchased had been gutted and remodeled. It had hardwood floors, exposed brick, and antique crown moldings that had been painstakingly restored. The rusting fire escape in the back had been converted into a beautiful iron balcony that would be perfect for her new Weber grill.

There was something very romantic about this place. And even though she was a stock broker and Eddie was a lawyer, they could live like artists here in this trendy new neighborhood that would soon become the envy of all their friends. She had moved to New York City from England after a bad experience with her crazy ex-boyfriend, an accessories designer who made eccentric hats, and an incident involving his Cheshire cat. She had no intention to leave. Whoever had given her the key to the building, it didn’t matter. The place was hers now.

Moving day had finally arrived. The movers had gone on ahead of her. She was trailing them on her new mountain bike. But somewhere along the way she had gotten turned around, so at a red light she asked the driver of a cab beside her,

“Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?”

Monday, October 6, 2008

Retail Hell: 60 Days' Notice

On May 17, 2005, Home Depot decided to close many of its Expo Design Centers, including the one where I worked as a fabric specialist in the décor department and had hoped to become a window treatment designer. We were given 60 days' notice. These are entries written during those 60 days, the last days of Expo Design Center.

Nothing but apathy and resignation. Other than that, nothing at all. Disallowed from placing special orders and banned from customizing things, everyone has been reduced to selling the remnants of a once-great home emporium.

Now the days drag on. The slow ballads they play on the speakers—based upon the theory that shoppers spend more time in stores where slow music is playing—seem sadder now, and much more relevant. Especially "This Used to be My Playground."

I have grown tired of having to explain why the store is closing. I'm tired of them asking. I sit here now at a desk where I am probably not supposed to be sitting. I feel like I have nothing better to do. I've marched around the department several times. Most of the customers seem to not need my help. I do not feel motivated to try to sell things. I'll make the same amount of money no matter what.

I just don't see the point of doing anything anymore. They won't let me do what I was originally hired to do, so what's the point of doing anything else? Everyone else is going to work at a Home Depot store.

This is not the same store that hired me. This is not the job that I applied for. This is the Twilight Zone version of Expo. No, not even. This place isn't even worthy of bearing the Expo name. This is a miserable place. I want to sell fabric. So much for that idea. This is no longer a design center. It is a furniture liquidation bargain basement. I am so tired of having to answer the same questions over and over People keep asking me why we're closing. We even have some clueless people here who didn't realize we're going out of business, despite all the big ugly signs everywhere that clearly say "Store Closing."

I don't want to work today. This is not my job. This is not my store. This is not what I signed up for. I'm so sick of retail. It's all been one disappointment after another. Maybe I should have never come here. What's the use of being here if I can no longer do what I liked to do? I don't care about any of this other stuff and I am sick of people asking me about it. I hate selling this furniture and I hate looking for drapery panels and I hate having to answer questions about drapery hardware when I've never so much as put up a curtain rod. I just want to sit here and get paid do do absolutely nothing. Might as well, since this store has done absolutely nothing for me since they announced it was closing.

Being here is pretty depressing. I don't like the environment anymore. Every day is like a funeral. The store is a shadow of its former self. Coming here is like coming to watch someone die. There is a sense of failure in the air, of dreams that never came to be. It is tense and hostile.

Everyone else is content to just move on to Home Depot, but I don't want anything to do with that. I hate the idea of the work I'd have to do there as well as the hours. Opening at 5 a.m. and closing at midnight—are you kidding me?

I just don't see the point of this anymore. I feel like a failure to be associated with a failed store. I hate this place. Why did they have to screw everything up?

I don't know where else I can go. I am so tired of working in retail, but then again it's nice to have the flexible hours. But I really wish I didn't have to work at all until I graduate.

I wish I didn't feel so angry and sad. But right now as it stands I feel as though I can't do anything right. And all around me are prosperous, successful people, our Lincoln Park yuppie customers. I feel like such a screw-up.

Look at these customers: a doctor giving a prescription over her cell phone, people with 4 & 5 kids playing tag in the closet department, all these pregnant women trying to build the perfect little nest for their new babies. . . Many of them are still trying to get additional discounts on things. Is it any surprise that I am trying to hide from them all in this little corner?

It's amazing how this job turned from something I enjoyed into something I hate. Sitting here at the door wearing this name tag and this apron, I feel like I work at Wal-Mart. Nothing makes sense anymore. Everything has taken a turn for the worst and my job no longer makes sense.

So now I am sitting here by the door next to the registers and a long line has formed and customers are looking at me like they want to kill me because I am sitting here writing in this notebook and not ringing up their purchases. Well I don't care. I don't know how to use these weird registers and I can't ring their things up.

So let them get mad. It's not my fault they transferred all those cashiers to Home Depot. Besides, I even paged the department supervisor on duty about the situation and she seemed completely unconcerned about it. Now they are paging me to décor. For what? To answer some whiny customer's stupid question? If they took a minute to read our signs, they would be able to answer them. Things are in such disarray here. We don't have enough cashiers, enough shopping carts, or enough sales associates, and the copy machine won't even work. Cameron said that what happened to me reminds him of an episode of Good Times he saw last week, but I think, more accurately, that my whole life has turned into that show.

August 5, 2005
Lately, it seems like it's too much and nothing at the same time. And so I sit here in the back, relishing the solitude. This small stockroom, with no surveillance cameras and walls that shield me from the scrutiny of prying eyes (not even someone traveling on the escalators can peer down into this room) is the perfect place for me. I've been sitting back here playing Bejeweled on my Clié, reading design magazines, taking little cat naps, and reading my affirmations. All around me I can hear encroaching voices of customers and other sales associates. I heard the cries of a wounded child, the rants of bossy customers, and even one customer who accused someone of not allowing her to purchase a kitchen display because she's Black.

So much, yet nothing at all. So much is going on out there, but it's nothing of substance, nothing that I want any part of. Our department has been reduced to an assortment of mismatched drapery finials, a few packages of curtains, one or two potted silk flower arrangements, and a mixture of odd single flowers. I do not see the point of "helping" people with these things when anyone with two hands can just pick them up and take them to the registers.

Everything is 80% off now. All of the good stuff is gone, including the book and magazines I'd planned to buy. Oh well. Couldn't afford it anyway. Every time that I think I'm out of the hole another bill comes along that''s more expensive than usual.

So this was the way my job ended, no severance package, no tuition reimbursement, just an expensive COBRA plan and a few months of unemployment checks. Later that summer, I installed window treatments for the first time. It was much more difficult than I told the customers it would be. Serves me right. I did go on to work in retail a few more times since then, but nothing as splendid as Expo was before we were given 60 days' notice. There will never be another Expo; I am trying to accept this.
So ends another dispatch from Retail Hell.