Q: How did you start working for one of the big-box retailers?
A: I was in telecom in 2001 when the dotcom bubble burst and we had a big layoff at the company where I worked. I got a job working part-time in the toy department on evenings in weekends, just in case I was going to be laid off next.
Larry was the other guy working there, and I don’t know if you remember Newhart but we were Larry and Daryl, we just needed another Daryl, which we never got, but anyway…
Q: So you started working in the toy department.
A: Yeah, but they kept harassing me to go into the management program. So eventually I did the management training, which was like memorizing a three-inch binder worth of paper. You read it and they deem you smart enough to run cash registers and manage hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Q: How long did the training last?
A: Three months. I worked in Spokane but you can’t train in the store where you’re from, so I had to work in Colville, WA, which is an hour and a half north of Spokane. It’s basically a town full of loggers and people hanging out at drum circles. It’s like barter fairs in the middle of the woods, along with your standard militants…
There was a manager there who’d been with the company for like 30 years. He was just coasting by. He was a really nice guy but, for example, there were twins working there and he didn’t even realize it. And no one had the heart to tell him.
He was also the one that introduced me to Mother’s Day—aka the first of the month when EBT/Welfare debit cards were loaded.
Q: So you had to drive up to Colville each day.
A: Yeah, I had to drive there every day.
Q: And what did training really entail?
A: You went through the book and you were supposed to learn all these things. Management trainees are seen by resident management as free labor. Free to gather carts in the parking lot. Free to take out trash. Pretty much free to do anything they don’t want to do. I wouldn’t necessarily call it hazing but it was crappy.
Then I spent time working different shifts and in different parts of the store. I spent a week working with the loading crew. They’d show up half-cocked.
Q: You mean drunk, I assume?
A: Drunk or whatever else. These were guys that never graduated from high school.
Q: Was this the overnight shift?
A: No, I did have to work the overnight shift though. And this is kind of mean but there was one lady I remember who only had one tooth in her head—she looked like a can opener. A lot of the people who worked overnights were just anti-social or had other issues.
Q: What did the night shift do?
A: They stocked the shelves and talked about how the day shift sucked. Things like, “They never do anything.”
Q: Overall, how long were you with this company?
A: I was there for about five years.
Q: Do you feel strange being so honest about your experience?
A: I’m not saying anything bad about the company. It was actually a great experience. You’re managing a specific large chunk of a store. You learn the art of business, I got to learn how to read P&L statements…
But I never got to see my family because if you want to become a store manager you have to work all these different shifts.
For a year you’re in charge of the soft line, which is clothes. Then you’re in charge of the back L—toys and pets, lawn and garden.
Q: The “back L”?
A: You probably never noticed but if you go into any store in the US you’ll see that the back corner of the store is shaped like an L.
Q: And you said they sold pets?
A: They sold fish. I remember we would get stuck scooping fish for people. I don’t know if you know what Oscars are but we used to feed the “feeder” goldfish to the Oscar fish (aka the Astronotus Ocellatus). They were seemingly always hungry. Even if they couldn’t finish the entire goldfish they would keep it in their mouth till they were ready for more. They are like the cockroach of the fish kingdom.
Q: So you had to work the overnight shift.
A: I worked a year and a half of overnights. It sucked.
Q: What time was that? Midnight until 8 a.m. or something?
A: 8 p.m. until sometimes noon. It was supposed to end at 8 a.m. but I was working with this guy who always shooting off his mouth. He would always say something to piss off the manager and so we’d end up staying until noon.
Q: So you weren’t the manager? There was another manager?
A: I was an assistant manager—you have to do all the garbage.
Q: Did you have to fire people?
Q: How many people have you fired?
A: It got so that my son would always ask me when I got home how many people I had fired today.
Q: Was it more than 50?
A: Yeah, probably.
I fired this one girl, or I should say I was in the process of firing her. We have these green sheets that we have them fill out. So I started with, “This isn’t going to work, it’s not a good fit…” And she said, “Are you firing me?” And I started to say, “Yeah.” In despair, she slammed her head on the desk and I had to fill out an accident report for this mental midget before I could fire her.
It sounds mean but you get immune to that crap after a while.
Q: It sounds like you learned some lessons on how to conduct yourself.
A: I did have this one manager who was great. He said, “Don’t steal from me, don’t screw around, and you’ll be fine.” And of course he told me the Golden Rule, which is “don’t never stick your pecker in a checker.”
Q: Were there any other characters that you worked with?
A: There was Nick who ran the back room and insisted he be called Satan.
Another girl, Anna, was great, totally quiet, but she’d get so angry that she’d start shaking. I moved her to overnights so she could work with people with similar mental disorders.
Q: Did you have lots of shoplifters?
A: We always had shoplifters. Sometimes they would poop their pants, pee their pants, cry, want to fight.
Q: How many per week?
A: I’d say 3-4. What they steal is probably a small portion of what is stolen though. There’s probably a lot more internal theft. People have had huge scams, theft rings. Some people were probably making more money on the side than we were paying them.
Q: Do you remember when you decided to leave the company?
A: I had transferred to the Vancouver, WA/Portland area. At this point, I’d gone into the Tire and Lube Shop division. I got this call that there was a guy on Ocean Beach Highway who was really mad. They had changed the oil in his truck but didn’t put any oil back in.
The guy who did it was named Garth, which was strike one. He also raised mice, which was strike two. Strike three was when he told me I had to give him a ride to work every day until his truck was fixed.
Anyway, I stayed until the end of the fiscal year to get my bonus. Then I filled out my own green sheet.
Q: Do you ever shop there now?
A: No. It’s too bright and the overhead intercom gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Q: Is Larry still there?
A: Yes, Larry still works there. He got his new teeth. He was saving up for them for a long time. They look really good.
Q: Was part of you sad to leave?
A: No, definitely not.