Sunday, November 11, 2007

On Target, Part 2: Ask me. I like to help.

Back in 1988, "Ask me. I like to help." was printed on a white plastic card in large Arial script on a ground of thin red-lined grid. This card was fused in some fashion to the large, uncomfortably identifying name tag which is the universal badge of shame of the retail store employee. I would have preferred, as at the telemarketing job that I held for one day when I tried in desperation to quit the red-walled retailer, to have been able to use an alias emblazoned above the lofty plastic claim of undaunted helpfulness, but it was not to be. From the first time I pinned on that promise of unqualified assistance with ANYthing the customer might need, it galled me daily.

I started my training far earlier than that first week of employment. As a kid, we took weekly trips to Target, complete with the obligatory two-foot tall bag of popcorn. Once, when I wouldn't obey my mom, I got my ass flat-out busted in front of the shopping carts, to the amusement of the whole store, it seemed. This was only to be the beginning of Target-fueled punishment, however.
In September of 1988, I was 17, and really only cared about two things: going to as many rock shows as humanly possible and my serious boyfriend. I was taking a fluff Marketing class during my senior year of high school, for which I was 20-30 minutes late almost daily. I hated high school with a passion, almost enough to quit, because, except for English class, it was nothing more than passing time doing things I had little interest in on the way to a murky future for which no one had really helped me prepare. To stay in this class, one had to find a job at some sort of retail establishment. I had been given 2 or 3 weeks to do so, and in my teenaged efficiency had halfassedly applied at 1 or 2 places. Apparently Sears didn't like the Peter Frampton-haired look of me, so some guy in the class grudgingly referred me at his place of employment and off I went. Little did I know that that successful interview would spell retail imprisonment for the next eight years.
It was a sad time, my time of toil at Target between 1988 and 1996, but a time that has nonetheless shaped my being permanently. I have come to recognize with laser sharpness, the lack of training in giving a shit for the customer's wants of most stuff-vending places today. For back in that day, when I jockeyed the register, valiantly staffed the complaint desk throughout all seasons of the year, flipped burgers at the snack bar for an additional $0.10 per hour!, or sometimes filled in at the jewelry counter, we were instructed that the customer's word was as a magical bush aflame, to be heeded as we fell prostrate before its echoing sound. (Though I know that is, even at Target itself now, a foolish dream, I still on some level want the same level of service that I was trained to provide.)
I started working there BEFORE the appearance of laser scanners by probably about a year or two. Even now, all Target's merchandise is identified by means of a six-digit number: department, class and item. At that time, you had to punch in EVERY SINGLE NUMBER for EVERY item you rang up through the use of what they termed "ten-key", as well as sliding items into the bag immediately after ringing them, and properly, too. You were periodically tested and made to run cashiering gauntlets of more and more difficult items. Not only did I learn how to cashier correctly in those crimson lanes, my awareness of and opposition to the workplace as "The Man" began there, too. I would frequently remark how Target cared nothing for developing marketable skills in its wage earners: over time, I became the fastest cashiering gun in the store; however all the number punching I did was not in traditional, office transferable ten-key, but REVERSE ten-key. Now of course, I accept as given that companies do not necessarily wish to train their employees to better themselves out from under their serfdom. Then, my idealism had not yet faltered...
Next time: Fun with Complaints! (unless I bore myself any further with this)


Lightning Bug's Butt said...

Whoa, great post.

I had a similar experience at Osco. It was my first real job. I kept in into my early twenties. It exacted immense gravity on me. I couldn't escape.

I hated, loathed it. I have many, many stories, similar to yours.

In fact, I feel a new blog post coming on!

Azathoth100 said...

Yep, I spent 7 years in Retail slavery myself, and I don't miss it at all (except the discount at the jewelry store I worked at). I have a feeling I'll be enjoying this look back at the hell o retail in your next few posts.

Ari said...

LBB: Thanks much for your kind words. I can't decide whether that lengthy stay at one job was a positive or negative overall.

Aza: I hope my slackerly lack of ambition or direction will at least provide some amusement. :) Our Target discount was 10 whole percent!!

random moments said...

I think most people who worked in grocery stories have similiar stories, so I'm always intrigued at a new look on it.

I think your service at Target was one that shows serious patience and strength, especially knowing the about of customer service you had to give. I only lasted 4 years (through school) so bravo!

Amandarama said...

I remember having to key in all the damn numbers when I used to work for Payless Shoes. That gig sucked.

Ari said...

RM: I only lasted through school, too. It just took me 9 years to get out. I did it, though, by God.

Amanda: The only advantage to having done that is my current keyboarding skillz.

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