Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Working retail can be really really awful

I have a post up at Chasing Ray highlighting some interesting fall books from Counterpoint & Soft Skull Press. One in particular struck me as very appealing The Customer is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles. Here's an excerpt from Colson Whitehead's contribution, "Eat, Memory: I Scream":

Mine is the story of a man who hates ice cream and of the world that made him.

I was once like you, always quick with a “Two scoops, please” and a “Whipped cream, damn it, whipped cream!” I loved a Breyers vanilla-chocolate-strawberry rectangle straight from the freezer. Never mind if it was a bit long in the tooth, nestled in there next to a half-empty bag of carrots-and-peas medley — scrape off the icy fur and it was good to go. Orange sherbet? Cool. In Baskin-Robbins, I used pure will power to persuade the red digital lights of the Now Serving machine to announce my number, which was a sweat-smudged blob on the pink paper strip in my quivering hand. You can keep your Kiwi Mocha Bombasta: the nuclear green sludge of mint chocolate chip was as exotic as it got, and that’s how I liked things.

Then I went to work in an ice cream store.


david elzey said...

Retail is hell.

This looks like a great read, perhaps even required reading for those about to enter the workforce?

I've done more than my share of retail and I always thought that if they reinstated the draft they should give guys the option, if chosen, to do either four years of the military or retail without the option of quitting either.

I'd take the Marines.

Sarah Rettger said...

My favorite moment from working in an ice cream shop was when a customer who had asked all sorts of questions about fat content, etc., told me it would be my fault if she gained any weight from her frozen yogurt.

Unlike Whitehead, though, I never lost my taste for ice cream.

David, I think you've got a great set-up for a YA novel right there - following a couple teenage boys who are drafted into the retail world!

Colleen said...

That does sound funny David - you could set it slightly in the future where such a choice is reasonable and accepted.

I worked at a Little Caeser's Pizza (lasted one month), a toy store (one year) and later a book store (two years). The toy store was the worst. Perfect example:

A father with small child would come in - "my child is going to a birthday party and needs to buy a gift." Okay, what is the age and sex of the birthday child?

Father: "I have no idea."

Yeah, good times.

david elzey said...

I've easily spent half my adult life in various customer service positions and managed my fair share of retail.

Colleen, you have no idea how many times every week I get similar queries. And I'm only doing part-time in book store. What's worse is that half the adults are buying for their own kids and they don't know the last thing they read, much less what sort of books they like.

I've got enough stuff on my plate to last a couple years, but when I get around to it I think I'll title that book "Selective Disservice."

Colleen said...

David, do you get the husband/wife inquiries? This usually happened very close to Christmas Eve, husband walks in and says he is looking for a book for his wife. We ask which one. He says he doesn't know. We ask what kind of books she likes to read. He says - wait for it -

"Thick ones."

Yeah. We loved those customers!!!

(We were often tempted to send them out with a dictionary but always took pity on the poor wife and tried to pick a popular title that had at least a shot of being well received. It was so annoying though that he was going to get credit for our good taste!)

david elzey said...

Fortunately, I specialize: I work in a children's bookstore. But I do get middle grade boys who are their with their moms (always moms, never dads) and are pushed forward to speak for themselves.

"What kind of a book are you looking for"

"I dunno. I like books were stuff happens."

That is a true piece of dialog from my life.

Katie said...

Nothing beats the "um.. the cover was blue?" requests. And when they start with "well, I need a book for my sister's boyfriend's kid. I think he's seven. Err... I think it's a he?", you know you're in trouble.

But the best, funniest book about working in retail has got to be Norm Feuti's "Pretending You Care". I would absolutely give this to anyone to is working, is about to work or has ever worked retail! It's a riot.