Thursday, July 25, 2013

One Man's Junk is Another Woman's Job, Part 2

...continued from yesterday, wherein I had just been hired by Flora, bookkeeper at the insurance salvage store.

I reported to Flora for my first day of work. She introduced me to Charlene, a six-foot-tall Dolly Parton lookalike. "You'll be working with Charlene in the pricing department. But we always start new people out in Rubber Boots. Charlene will show you what to do."

Charlene took me to the opposite corner of the store from Flora's ivory aerie. The place was as big as a Walmart Supercenter, but not as well-lit. Charlene picked a couple of boots off the floor. They were an assortment of black and green rubber boots. The kind dairy farmers wear. Some were hip boots for fishermen. And some had liners, like kids wear in the snow. "People are always digging through these. Find the mates, and line them up according to size. Go to Flora when you're done, and I'll come get you."

Talk about a Herculean task. Which became a Sisyphean task every night. It was hotter than forty hecks in that place. No air circulated back in the corner. No windows in the whole place. Only the IN double glass doors, and the OUT double glass doors up by Flora's perch. I was sweating like a member of the world's oldest profession in a house of worship by the time I set the boots straight. I went to Flora. "Oh, you're done already?" She called Charlene, who took told me to clock out so we could go to lunch. That was to become our practice a couple times a week. I could take an hour lunch, or a half-hour lunch, so long as I clocked in and out, and worked my allotted hours. Lunch with Charlene meant walking across the blacktop parking lot to the Chinese takeout restaurant next door, where we feasted on sweet & sour chicken, or cashew chicken. It was delicious. The rest of the state does not do cashew chicken like Springfield does cashew chicken.

My days were spent writing prices on items with a black magic marker. No price tags for people to rip off and lie about. Some crafty customers actually brought in their own magic markers and tried to change prices, but our staff knew our writing, and price placement. All the merchandise came from insurance buyouts. The Old Man might buy three boxcars full of merchandise from a store damaged by fire or flooding or some other calamity. He got stuff for pennies on the dollar. Not everything was damaged. A lot of our best stuff was returns from J. C. Penney. Nothing wrong with it. I still have a wonderfully warm comforter that I bought there. We got an employee discount, too. The way pricing worked was that Charlene would give me a box of stuff and a J. C. Penney catalog. Then I looked up the items and wrote a figure that was half the catalog price on the merchandise. On the bedding and clothes, we wrote it on the tag. Stuff that couldn't be found in the catalog went to Charlene. She had a calculating mind, and was pretty spot-on with her assessments. She would have been a champion on The Price is Right.

When there was no pricing to be done, I was farmed out to Joy, the floor manager. The first day of work with Joy was always Toys and Pet Supplies. That involved picking up items off the floor and rehanging them on the pegboard. It was Joy's version of Rubber Boots. After proving myself to the cynical, Chuck-Berris-looking Joy, I graduated to moving racks, re-arraning displays, and folding Levi jeans. That was actually one of my favorite duties. We had tables and tables of Levi jeans. If you looked close enough, you could find red tabs. I don't know where the jeans came from, but they were worn just enough to be broken in. We did quite a lot of business in them, and they were forever getting toppled and unsized. The tables were near the cash registers and front door, and I could chat with Ronnie the security guard and one of the cashiers when business was slow.

One day a weird dude in a Member's Only jacket was weirding his way around my area. I kind of watched him, but I didn't know what he was up to. I found out soon enough. He went to pay for some single item off a pegboard near the register, and I heard Emmett, Joy's high-school-age son who was cashier that day, tell him he couldn't leave. The guy became indignant, demanding to know why. Ronnie stepped over to the register. Emmett said, "Because of what you have stuffed in your jacket." After much hemming and hawing, Weird Dude unzipped his Member's Only and out fell about ten packs of men's underwear. That's the thing. I should have noticed that normal people don't wear a jacket in late-summer heat. Weird Dude declared that he would never buy our cheap crap, and stomped out. Good enough to steal, but not good enough to buy, I guess.

Ronnie stood at the IN door and looked at every customer's feet as they entered. That's because the boots were the most valuable item in the store, and nobody was gonna walk out in a pair on Ronnie's watch.

To be continued...


  1. The fishing boots? The dairy farmer boots? Those were the most valuable things in the store?

    I'm gonna have to get me some hip-waders...

  2. Now you've got me checking people's feet. This narrative is strangely compelling.

  3. Bet you got pretty good at spotting weird shoppers and unusual boots.

  4. "Weirding his way around..." Love that phrase, may borrow it to describe someone I know. Wow, what a diverse job. I'm a junker so I'd have been in hog heaven.

  5. This is a mini-series! When I was 17 I worked at a grocery store, stocking shelves, delivering groceries, check-out girl. Me being so talented and versatile. The man who owned this store was an interesting character. He had a license to carry a gun. Maybe not such a good idea. He shot the Coke machine for giving him the wrong change. Shot out the store lights when the stock boy didn't turn them off when told to. And, if you are of a certain age you will "get" this ........ he outdrew Matt Dillon. His TV did not fare well and I think alcohol was involved. He later became mayor.

  6. Sioux,
    No, the exotic-skinned cowboy boots were the valuable department. They were up front by Flora. The rubber boots were catty-corner in the back. Silly Madam! Surely you don't thing a newbie would have been trusted with the company jewels. I was not one of the elite foot soldiers.

    The scam was to try on a pair of new boots, put your old shoes in a boot box back on the shelf, and walk out. It rarely worked.

    I did. I became a foot-watcher, and now I've turned Stephen into one, and he is not even getting paid minimum wage to do it.

    You could have hidden in the prom dresses and got locked in overnight. As long as you didn't trip the laser alarm, you could have shopped 'til you dropped.

    And it ain't over yet! It's longer than Lonesome Dove and The Stand combined! But without the smelly cattle and the Dark Man.

    I do not doubt that my boss carried a gun. His was just concealed. He made too much money to run for mayor.

  7. knancy,
    Different town, different mayor!