On Target (part 3): Requiem for the Red and Khaki

During my tenure of nearly a decade spent in the Crimson Limbo above Walmart and K-Mart and below, say, Macy's, I worked most of my time at the customer service desk. Working every single holiday of my life was de rigeur during that time, as was donning the horrid color combo of red shirt and khaki pants -- there's nothing like a pair of khaki pants to make me run (slowly) screaming, even now -- only black pants can camouflage flab effectively, which is why it is now de mon rigeur to wear black pants 99.4% of the time. To this day, you will never catch me, even if all my other clothes have been burned up in a fire, wearing red and khaki together. Ugh.

At Tar-zhay in the 90's, there was a "no-hassle" return policy -- we accepted virtually any item we had ever sold at any time in the past as a return, as long as we could string a few numbers together to make that identifying number and some semblance of a selling price. I have personally refunded money on leaking car batteries, stolen Monistat, and once, a Nintendo box that was still shrink wrapped, but cleverly filled with juice boxes (oops). Generally I was perfectly happy giving away the store's money, as I was trained to do, and tried my best to assist the thirty and forty and fiftysomethings who came to me with desperate shopping emergencies, imploring me to do such things as call all dozen stores in the greater Metroplex area to find that last fucking cabbage rose chintz sham that was on clearance.

Sometimes, however, it got to be a bit much, as with the lady who returned a paper sack full of white $4.00 canvas deck shoes that were severely worn on the soles, split down the sides, and impregnated with so much red dirt, they looked like they had been worn through a full game by every player in major league baseball throughout the 1992 season. We took them back. Another time, someone dug about three stiff pairs of indigo blue jeans out of their closet. They had tags pinned on with straight pins (a practice I remembered from my visits to Target as a wee babe, in the SEVENTIES). We took them back. It was a magic time. Some of that ill-gotten "no-hassle return" cash doubtless went to substances that would eliminate the awareness of ANY of the hassles of existence, and might just end them altogether.

Working at the service desk beat cashiering, though, just because it was more interesting. It was later deemed "Guest Service" after Target began copying Disneyworld's idea that the customer was a "guest" to be treated as such (a silly notion since guests typically aren't charged for the hospitality you show them). In the particular store that I worked at (now closed -- a SuperTarget opened down the road), Guest Service was located right next to the front door, which meant you could watch as shoplifters were physically apprehended by store security. If things got too serious, the call went out for all male store employees to proceed to the front to assist. A few redshirts could claim that they had run some shoplifter down out in the parking lot. The best fight was put up by a man in a trenchcoat, who had long, lanky hair and was probably in his fifties. He struggled against two or three employees, thrashing wildly in the glass enclosure between the in and out doors like a caged animal. If you've seen Blade Runner, it was somewhat reminiscent of Deckard shooting Zora in the clear plastic trenchcoat, without the shots or blood.

Over time, I even worked my way up to being operator, which means I sat in the fitting room and folded clothes while monitoring the passage of tryers-on and also answering the phone. I liked that position because I got to make announcements over the intercom. Give me a mic and I'm happy, I suppose. This post also allowed for considerable multitasking, and I enjoyed the challenge of juggling the daily onslaught of calls that the store would get. Chief among the perks of this job was that I didn't have to close. Closing meant staying until everything was neat and tidy to the assistant manager's satisfaction (zoning). Even today, I will "zone" behind myself, pulling up cans to fill in the spaces I create if it's close to closing time, no matter what store I'm at.

So as you can see, muchachos, when I walk into a Target store, I know the ins and outs. I have done virtually every job there -- even stocking the shelves. Target is where I learned that soylent green is made from people (as one night manager queried me about my movie watching habits). Target is where I learned to get price adjustments by "returning" items on sale and repurchasing them. Target is where I learned to foil confidence tricksters who would ask for change in a repeated fashion until they ended up with more bills than they should have. Target is where I got a whopping 10% discount for so many years. Target is where most of my paychecks from 1988 - 1996 went.

Was the time I spent there pissed away, or a valuable learning experience?



"Breathing in the fumes from so many idling cars,
Right beneath the sign with the dusty yellow stars,
Watching the sun go,
Watching the sun go down."

-- Cake, "Alpha Beta Parking Lot"


sevnetus said…
Joan Osbourne says "I've just fallen from grace." Seems to me I could never get a retail job because I wasn't pretty enough and so I've got no sympathy, except the way you tell it, we've all got a long road to hoe.
random moments said…
I've really enjoyed your Target posts! Especially the "Guest Service" returns!

I went to Tar-zhay last night and the cashier actually had a conversation with me about how pissed off she was that management expected her to follow procedures, but then when she did they were flippant and shooed her off. A drunk man who reeked of alcohol was trying to purchase a fifth and when she called for management to back her up on refusal to sell, they told her they didn't have time for her.
Ari said…
Sevnetus: Welcome to my humble abode! That long road is why I'm here, sharing tales on the way to dusty death. ;)

RM: Thanks! Incidents like that definitely show the caliber of management present in today's (and yesterday's) Target stores. I worked with around 17 managers at any given time, but I could count on one hand the decent ones who gave even a small damn.
Amandarama said…
This has been a fun series of posts! Retail jobs all share commonalities that folks can relate to, even if it's a different branch of retail hell. I used to jockey the register at a jewelry counter in Harrods in London. Same shit, more expensive surroundings.
Ah, I can relate so, so well. "At Osco, you can count on people who care!"

Great post. And by the way, I love me some cake. I'm off to listen to that song on iTunes right now!
Ari said…
Amanda: Thanks! That is true. I'd even go so far as to say all shitty jobs have commonalities up to a certain point.

LBB: I made a new Cake station on Pandora and that song popped up first and of course I LOVE it. They are phenomenal live, if you ever get the chance... Our Skaggs Alpha Beta turned into Alpha Beta, which turned into a Jewel/Osco. Now none of them exist anymore.

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