3

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Punch In

It was a pretty good week at work. They finally hired a stocker for the deli/cheese. He’s a friend of the other stocker, so he has some idea of what he’s walking in to. But it’s his first job and those are still hard to find around here. It should be good preparation in case he ever wants to work, well, I’m no exactly sure where.

The first thing the team leader was looking for in a new stocker was that it was a male. She feels that unloading the pallets is too hard for women. I wanted to thank her for bringing us back to the 1970’s when it was common knowledge that women would never be able to do certain jobs because they lacked the strength and stamina for them.

It was somewhat ironic that she would tell me these things while she was asking me to unload a pallet of chickens (46 lbs to the box, 20-25 boxes). I’m not very big: 5’2″ with weight proportional to height (as they used to say in the personals). It seems to me that if I can do it, gender should not be an issue.

Nevertheless, New Guy (NG) is great so far. Luckily for him, he is strong. And unlike the last male stocker, he isn’t too lazy to use his strength. He learns quickly and is willing to try anything.

That’s why it was so painful to have to tell him the ground rules. Not for working with me or the other stocker (OS), but being in the deli in general. Over in cheese, there are very few rules. Put the cheese where it belongs and don’t disappear for hours on end. It’s kind of depressing how many people have failed at it in the two and a half years I’ve been there.

Unfortunately, it fell to me to tell NG that the rumor about a lot of women working under stress in a very small space is true in our case. Very few of them play well with others. One woman walked out last week because someone kept telling what lousy work her shift did. (Day shift thinks night shift is lazy and worthless and the feeling is reciprocated.) Another woman kept yelling at her (co-worker, not customer).

Luckily for them, someone talked her into coming back. She’s a good worker and didn’t talk about others behind their backs.That’s probably why people were giving her a hard time; it’s like living in a tough neighborhood. One of the women apologized. The other ignores her. It’s also a lot like high school.

Then there’s the team leader (TL). Apparently it’s common knowledge in the other departments that she cannot order efficiently. We just got in five hundred and some chickens to rotisserie. Consensus was that relatively few people eat rotisseried chickens on Easter.

We can’t put the chickens in the deli cooler because it is too full of deli meat that TL has over-ordered. She insists that I can find room for all the extra chickens, meats, and salsa that she does not have room to store. I wish I had not let my magic license expire. Or could match her up with the people who think that if they complain enough I will be able to find something that is currently out of stock.

I’m never quite sure how much to share before it starts to scare people away. Generally, I like to share enough information so that the new person doesn’t think he/she has been singled out for the weirdness. Like the fact that my section is mainly an annoyance to the TL. It is not in the sight lines of the deli (thank goodness). Out of sight, out of mind.

Yesterday TL came around to ask who could work extra hours. NG and I were working together. She said that if no one volunteered, she would have to enforce mandatory overtime. She didn’t seem to understand that mandatory overtime could not be enforced at a company that tells its employees that NO overtime is allowed. Oddly enough, people schedule things for after work.

Newsflash! TL is not a good role model. She takes cigarette breaks on the clock. She parks in handicapped parking (illegally) so her car is convenient for smoke breaks (guess she doesn’t want people seeing her on her third break in four hours). Apparently all of that smoking has made walking to a different part of the lot uncomfortable.

TL doesn’t like working the counter, stocking, doing the daily inventory work or several other tasks. She does spend a lot of time complaining about being understaffed. I don’t think it has really sunk in that she wouldn’t have as many staffing issues if she picked up some of the slack herself.

No one wants to complain to management about TL. The last time someone did, she promised to track them down and file a complaint about that person creating a hostile working environment. That’s funny to everyone who didn’t have to listen to the tirade.

Once all of that was said, OS and I were able to congratulate NG on being a stocker rather than a slicer. He’ll have to spend part of his time stocking deli which is a little scary, but then he can come fall off the radar in cheese.

(Title courtesy of Dante for those of you who recognized it but couldn’t place it. For the rest of you too, I guess.)

5

Only in America

I may have mentioned that we are short-staffed at work. Another one bit the dust at noon (12:30 to be exact). Mid-morning, a fellow stocker came up and told me that Jane (not her real name) was quitting at 12:30. It’s not all that unusual for people to leave with no notice, or even in the middle of their shift. The unusual part was that she told us that ahead of time that she would be leaving part of the way through her shift.

I think she was actually trying to be nice, coming in an staying until the deli was as fully staffed as it gets these days. It reflected the reason she was leaving. She wasn’t unhappy with the work, her coworkers or her hours (which should have given us notice that she was somewhat unique).

She had to leave because of health insurance. Specifically, too much health insurance. Like a large percentage of the country, our company makes us sign up for healthcare in the fall with coverage to begin January 1. Jane (not her real name) needed insurance. She was going to compare what the company offered with what she could find on the online “marketplace”.

I love that name for the government enrollment site. It makes me think of a Persian bazaar. Although from the sounds of it, at the beginning it was more like a freeway at rush hour. When someone has lost a load of cooking oil on the road.

So Jane, being a good American, wanted to make sure she had insurance on January first. Having the same luck as many Americans, she was unable to get on the government website at first. Or for quite a while. It probably would have been easier to get insurance in Mongolia, as some of you know.

So Jane made what appeared to be a logical decision. She enrolled for the company coverage. Of course, her big mistake was using the word “logic” anywhere near the words “healthcare insurance”. The company insurance is expensive, for adequate coverage. I had it for awhile and am still here to talk about it, so how bad could it be?

The insurance contains the standard rule that open enrollment is the only time you can enroll without a reason. Guess that’s  why they call it “open” enrollment. The only time you can make changes is if you have a “life event”. Gotta love insurance talk. Life events include major changes: birth, death, change in other coverage.

Well, lo and behold, Jane finally got the government system to work for her. And the advertising was right! She did find better coverage at a lower cost. It’s hard to believe our government was even involved. So she signed up for the coverage. All she had to do was cancel her company coverage and life would be good. Assuming that having medical insurance is one of your goals in life..

Well, apparently the company does not include finding your own insurance as a “life event” change. Individual insurance does not impact your ability to have group insurance. Being covered as a part of the entire national population is not considered group coverage.  They told her that she could not cancel her coverage until the end of the year. No exceptions.

For whatever personal reasons, she had two options. She could carry the two coverages for eight months or quit. As you may recall, we are paid enough to put us somewhere in the far lower end of the 99%. Paying for two coverages was not an option. So you can guess the rest.

Needless to say, there was panic in the deli. One of the full-time employees is on vacation for the next ten days (and then is probably going to be promoted out of the store). So the rest of the morning was spent trying to figure out how next week would be staffed.

It was your normal situation. The group can’t do anything, so they stand around arguing about how awful it’s going to be. Which it will be. Since Fridays are busy to start with, it became the perfect storm of angst. Nothing like a small space filled with semi-hysterical people to make an enjoyable workspace.

At least the team leader had the day off. She is one of the most excitable people I have ever met. Unfortunately, it’s not a positive energy. She probably would have smoked herself into a coma.

We had three people they interviewed and liked. One of them did not pass the background check. Looking around at some of the people who did get hired, I can’t imagine what heinous act that person committed to get turned down.

We are waiting for the other two backgrounds checks to come back. Management is sure they will be starting soon. So whatever the other guy did is apparently heinous and rare. One of those people is supposed to join me stocking cheese. Yeah, sure.

I love working on the floor. Grumpy customers are rare and leave after a few minutes. Grumpy coworkers go on forever. We are all going to need our mental health benefits soon.

6

I Hate Dead Chickens

Actually, I’m not too fond of the living ones either. As far as I’m concerned, the only good chicken is one that is somewhere in the process of being made into a meal.

My particular complaint at the moment is that they are taking up more than their fair share of my cheese cooler. Apparently the manager told my team leader that she should always have two extra carts of chickens in my cooler at all times. That usually translates to three overfull carts, although a couple of weeks ago there were two pallets plus two carts.

I’m hoping that whatever chicken splurge the manager is hoping for happens soon. For some reason, the very fact of us having more chickens has not translated directly into more people wanting them.

In an effort to not take up any more room than necessary, the deli stocker usually tries to put as many cases on a cart as possible. Sixteen cases at 46 pounds a case means a cart weighing over 700 pounds. If I have to unload the chickens (the team leader says it isn’t a job for women – so she lets me do it*), there are only 12 or 13 cases on the cart. Less cheese space but I can move the cart without throwing myself at it. Probably less entertaining for people walking past. *My team leader is taller and heavier than I am.

In order to give the little beasties their due, I have looked at some “Fun Facts” from Smithsonian.com. The best stuff involves male/female relations:

A rooster announces to a flock of chickens that he’s found food with a “took, took, took.” But the hens don’t pay attention if they already know that there is food around. Sorta like when I tune my husband out as he tells me for the whatever time the specs for his perfect TV.

Roosters perform a little dance called ‘tidbitting’ in which they make sounds (food calls) and move their head up and down, picking up and dropping a bit of food. Researchers have found that females prefer males that often perform tidbitting and have larger, brighter combs on top of their heads. Sounds like this might have been the prototype for disco. Makes me think of a group of guys strutting around to get the girls’ attention while the girls are giggling about how silly the guys look.

Scientists think that the rooster’s wattle–the dangly bit beneath his beak–helps him to gain a hen’s attention when he is tidbitting. It is just too disturbing for me to make any sort of analogy to a person with loose skin that looks like a wattle.

A female chicken will mate with many different males but if she decides, after the deed is done, that she doesn’t want a particular rooster’s offspring she can eject his sperm. Empowered females – I like this. Maybe this is what that politician was thinking when he said that women could prevent a pregnancy caused by a rapist. Did he come from farm country?

There are approximately 25 billion chickens in the world. More than any other species. They are found all over the world. If they weren’t known for the habit of pecking themselves to death, I would say that it’s a conspiracy to take over. Even our politicians should be able to take on something that dumb.

Chickens are not native to the Americas. It is generally agreed that they started somewhere in the vicinity of Vietnam. They were either brought by the Polynesians to Chile or the Spaniards to Central America. I’m going with the Spaniards. One of the things the indigenous people noted about them is how bad they smelled. Ever been to a chicken farm?

I did not realize that chickens are omnivores. I thought they ate seeds and grains. Turns out they also like insects, mice, and lizards. Both mice and lizards are pretty quick. Maybe male chickens give them to lady chickens when they are trying to impress them. I can picture a rooster holding a mouse by the tail as a gift. Pretty scary.

OK, now I know more about chickens. I still don’t like them. And I think they know it and are going on the offensive. Yesterday a carton of eggs attacked and spilled yolk all over me.

4

Quit Teasing Me!

Our weather has been pretty lousy this winter (yeah, I know, it’s been a lot worse other places). Friday it was sunny and close to 50 degrees. Yesterday it was overcast and in the low 30s. The next couple of days it’s supposed to be sunny and in the 40’s. Then on Wednesday we expect accumulating snow.

As the days get longer, cats’ fur is supposed to shed and the cooler (?) summer fur grows in. We’ve had plenty of shedding, but the cats have replaced the old fur with electric blankets (ours) and heating pads (ours).

There’s nothing quite like waking up in the morning and not being able to move because one cat is on one side and the second cat is on the other side, pressed tightly to you for warmth. Generally speaking, you wake up because sleeping between two cats is so warm that you feel like you’re melting.

Regardless of snow and cats, you can always rely on retail to tell you when the warm weather is/was supposed to arrive. The first thing out was the Easter candy. It had to be expected since it had been sitting in the back room since the week after Christmas. Besides, holiday things always have to be out early enough for the customers to be tired of them by the time the holiday actually arrives.

Next were the grills. I know people who start to grill as soon as they can run outside to check the meat without getting frostbite (it’s a northern thing – like wearing shorts as soon as it gets above 40 degrees). So the grills weren’t too depressing.

Same with the golf supplies. I once knew a guy who bought orange golf balls so he could practice putting in the snow. I also know people in golfing leagues who schedule their first matches at the beginning of April. They generally end up rescheduling that match. Golfers must be the most optimistic (or stubborn) people around.

I started to get depressed when I saw the first army of garden gnomes. Generally speaking, they do not like the snow. Besides, I really dislike garden gnomes. I think they’re creepy looking. I will admit that they are an improvement over the previous fad. There were (too) many houses with wooden cutouts of fat women bending over so you could see their underwear. I never understood why those replaced the concrete animals and dress-up geese. I admit to a reflecting ball and several concrete animals (the best is a large bear).

My son asked me to buy him a shirt in early February. He wanted green, some type of forest green. It seems forest green is not a spring/summer color. Spring and summer are when forests are green. He also prefers soft cotton. Apparently soft cotton only comes in heavier weights. Much heavier weights. Like flannel. We certainly didn’t have anything like that left (no discount, rats). So I looked around. The only thing I could find was cream and green. Soft medium-weight cotton. Worked out OK. Shortly after that, the temperature went below zero. Guess I could have bought close-out flannel – of course, the green was gone.

Next thing out were the tiki torches and citronella candles to keep away the mosquitoes. By the way, I’m told that the hard winter means fewer mosquitoes. I’m not sure I believe that. The Upper Peninsula gets lots of snow and cold every year. Not only do they have huge mosquitoes, they also have biting black flies. I can see it now – everyone spends extra time outside this summer to make up for the winter but has to go in before dusk to avoid being eaten alive.

The worst for me was when they put out the seeds and small bags of potting soil (with starter pots, of course). There are several things they recommend you don’t plant in Michigan until after Memorial Day.  I used to spend hours in the late winter looking at seed and plant catalogs. We had a very nice garden when we lived in the city. I expected great things when I moved out here. I forgot that most of the cute animals that live around us are herbivores or vegetarians.

We knew to put up a fence. We didn’t know that deer jump fences. We knew that woodchucks and bunnies would burrow under. We didn’t know that woodchucks can climb small trees. Taller fences. Deeper posts. Finer wire. Increasingly innovative animals. Food motivates.

We were going to put in decorative trees. Apparently very tasty. Put a fence around the bottom. Deer eat the top. Tree grows big enough to defend itself. Deer rubs itself against the bark and destroys it. Put in bushes. Bunnies eat bark during tough winter. We have oaks and pine trees. And a lilac bush that is probably older than any of us.

The final straw came last week. They put out the kayaks (the life jackets had been out for several weeks). I do not know anyone who kayaks before the risk of hypothermia disappears. Unlike a boat, there’s a fair chance you will tip over a kayak. Particularly if you don’t know what you are doing. If you do know what you are doing, you should not be buying a kayak at a big-box store.

There is one thing still sitting in the back room. It’s a display of starter bushes (roses, etc.). The display says “Plant Now”. At the rate we’re going, they will probably be able to put then out with the back-to-school supplies.

6

Chicken-Induced Flashback

Every once in awhile, I get something for the deli mixed in with my boxes. I put it in their refrigerator, which is usually full of chickens. If I’m lucky, it’s pieces that have been fried and will be put out for sale cold. They always smell wonderful (but not as good as the stuff over in the bakery). On my less lucky days, it’s the chickens that have been spitted for the rotisserie. These chickens are generally covered by a plastic sheet, but still smell like raw chicken (go figure).

Today it was different. It smelled like greasy fried chicken. It smelled just like my first job. I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood just outside Detroit. Nobody had parents who could get them a job, so most of us ended up in fast food. McDonald’s was at the top of the heap. I had a friend who worked for McDonald’s her first summer. It was so bad, she took a kitchen job at a nursing home as a step up.

I ended up at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was kind of a weird building for fast food; rectangular with the short end facing the road. Lots of parking for the employees. Too bad most of us didn’t have cars. The front end had the counter and cash register. And a cooler with salads in it. The customers had to pick out their own side dishes – we were the epitome of customer service.

The back end was where the friers were. I guess the Health Department must have come around once in awhile, but it was really disgusting back there. Around the time I worked at KFC, there were rumors that one of the stores had mistakenly fried a rat and sent it home with a customer. It didn’t help that a little while later, someone shot a video of a KFC with rats running around behind the closed glass doors. If we served rats, no one complained.

Back then, the uniforms were orange stretch polyester. Ugly, hot and ill-fitting. And they retained the smell of chicken fat. It didn’t matter that I worked in the front of the store, I smelled like old frying fat. It was really a nauseating odor. As soon as I got off, I took a shower. My mother was really good about washing my uniform every day I worked. I think it was better than letting the smell have a chance of spreading through the house.

I had planned on working there during my senior year at high school. Unfortunately, teen tragedy struck. A bunch of my friends were going to a football game, and I had to work. I couldn’t get my mother to understand the trauma of missing a night out with boys. The boss was the same way.

One of the cooks was in a band. The band played at one of our school dances. Seeing him there was kinda cool. Except for the brown paper bag with whatever he was drinking. And the fact that he was so stoned that he could barely put two words together. Luckily he was playing drums, so he was at the back of the group. What a disappointment. And before I really had a chance to decide whether or not I thought he was cute.

The end was quick and painful. One night I was closing, and a drunk guy kept giving me trouble. This was before sexual harassment was an issue (for men). I went in the back, asking the manager to handle the guy. He kept sending me back out. I was too shy to really say anything to the manager, but, boy, if I saw him today…. (assuming I could remember what he looked like).

The next night I worked, the manager had some friends in while we closed. They all sat around talking and laughing while I worked. Finally I got fed up and told him I was leaving. He said I couldn’t do that. Guess what?

Afterwards I was so embarrassed I asked my dad to return my uniform and get my check.

A couple of years later, they moved to a much bigger building with an open cooking area. Much cleaner and the customers couldn’t get their hands on the food until they paid. Didn’t smell at all. The girls working there were much larger than I was/am. I’m guessing that’s how they dealt with the drunks.

I’m going to avoid the deli for a few days. The memory of those orange uniforms is giving me nightmares, and I haven’t been to bed yet.

4

Please Stop the Music

Disclaimer: I have always been unable to study with music on if it had lyrics; I wanted to listen to the words. I may be genetically incapable of ignoring background music. 

The eighties are alive and well at Ralph’s (the pseudonym for the store where I work). Sometimes the music they play sounds like a Top 40’s list from 1984. (I guess that ages me since I don’t remember the last time I heard the phrase Top 40.) As hard as I have tried, I cannot find any type of research that says a constant stream of Billy Joel and Huey Lewis induces people to buy more lettuce and canned corn.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like some of the music. But I remember a business trip I took to Toledo one time. I only lived a couple of hours away, so I drove. I made the mistake of taking more than one album (age alert!) by the same artist with me. It was months before I could listen to some of the songs.

The first year I was there, I only noticed the Christmas music. There really are a limited number of songs a retail store can play at Christmas without offending someone. When you’re open 24/7 and start playing the music right after Thanksgiving, everyone’s teeth are on edge by December 24. So they decide to extend the “mood” by continuing to play it until January 1.

Then I noticed that we also have patriotic music on Independence Day (July 4th). There is a seriously limited supply of patriotic music. Once you get past the anthems for each branch of the military, the Sousa marches, and America the Beautiful, the pickings get slim. Stars and Stripes Forever and the Washington Post March start to sound an awful lot alike by the fourth or fifth repetition.

It was last fall that I started to realize that some of the songs were on heavy rotation (yes, another phrase from the 80’s). I know that stores pay a service to get a certain package of music, so I wasn’t really surprised by the repetition. I just started started wondering why they would choose what they did. Maybe it’s cheaper to get older music? I guess the 80’s were when music started splintering into so many genres, so maybe they were looking for something generic. I just wonder if they really know what they got.

For example, fairly regularly we get to hear Ballroom Blitz by Sweet (1973). I’ve loved the song since the first time I heard it, but as music to shop by?

What about My Sharona by The Knack (1979)? Has anyone listened to the lyrics? They’re a little suggestive.

Or Rock the Casbah by The Clash (1982)? For one thing, people really don’t hear that first word well. More than one has thought it was F*** the Casbah, which would really be in poor taste. But the rest of the lyrics are pretty iffy too, if you actually listen to them. And the video is worse:

I’m going to end with another song that we hear a lot, although it’s from the 60’s. I really like it, but right now it hits a little close to home.

On the other hand, any of it is better than the Muzak stores played in the 80’s.

2

Dude, You’re Harshing My Mellow

A few thoughts after recent people-watching:

Guy sees a car skidding ahead of him. Car then slows down to continue. Guy gets irritated because first driver is so slow, starts to tail-gate. First car slows more (probably because truck is so close behind him).

Guy A hates job. Spends numerous hours trashing it on Facebook and with co-workers. Comes to work one Saturday. After 15 minutes, tells his boss he quits. Goes home and trashes job on Facebook. Guy B has to do both his job and Guy A’s job on Saturday. Gets on Facebook and sees Guy A’s post about how he got even at work and walked out. Guy B flames Guy A. Guy A bans Guy B. Guy A surprised because Guy B always had his back at work.

When I had a job with real responsibilities, I was always a little nervous about returning after a vacation. There was usually some crisis waiting for me. I was reminded of that yesterday when the Health Department made a surprise visit to the deli on the day my team leader was off. Apparently it’s a health hazard to have chickens’ bodily fluids on the floor of a cooler where you store food.

Woman stands in front of a food display talking to someone about buying an object. Gets frustrated when another customer wants what she is blocking. More irritated when employee tries to put something on the shelf. Finishes phone call, grabs what she wants, and leaves.

Man shopping with small child in cart. Child starts crying. Man snaps his fingers in the child’s face to get him to stop crying. Surprised when it doesn’t work. Reprimands the child.

Man says he can’t find hand warmers (inserts for his gloves). Employee explains that they are seasonal, and that the winter stuff is gone and has been replaced by spring merchandise. Man explains that it is not yet spring.

Woman yells at man to come to where shes looking at something. Then woman snaps at man that he is getting the wrong thing. Proceeds to tell man that what he is looking at is not healthy enough for her. Woman seems surprised when man steps aside and lets woman choose the rest of what they are buying.

Driver proceeding along dry road at 20 mph slower than posted speed. Slows further every once in a while. Driver behind appears to be following patiently. First driver suddenly comes to an almost complete stop to make a right turn (onto a road). Second driver honks and swerves around first driver making turn.

Workers arrive to find a snowplow has blocked the entire section by the door while it removes snow from the lot. They are forced to park at the far end of the lot and walk through the new snow. At actual start time, the snow plow moves to a new section, opening up the employee parking.

Employees are allowed 12 unscheduled days off before they are terminated. The days drop off after a rolling 12-month period. Employee keeps track of when a day falls off so he can call in again. Since it is unscheduled, other employees have to pick up the slack.

Employee tells manager that he cannot come to work before 3a because of family obligations. Department is short-staffed. Management schedules him to start at midnight. Tells management he cannot start at midnight. Management does not change schedule. Employee gets marked as late.

Customer leaves cart in middle of aisle while she looks at merchandise. Gets irritated when other customer moves her cart a little while trying to get around.

Kraft tells everyone there is a Velveeta shortage. We do not have a shortage. Kraft sends large quantity of Velveeta after the “shortage”. Extra Velveeta sits on the shelves.

Trash compacter is full one night, so all trash needs to be held until the next morning. When deli trash is taken over, the deli team leader brings the used grease. Management tells her she can’t put that in the compacter, it will leak out. Team leader gets frustrated and pulls cart with grease quickly through the swinging door back onto the floor by the meat department. Jerks cart and grease containers fall over, spilling grease all over the floor behind the meat department. It smells horrendous. Team leader tells employee she has to help clean it up. While employee is working, team leader gets a phone call. Team leader walks away to talk on phone. Employee finishes cleaning up grease for next hour.

Next time, the deli cleans out fryer Monday morning and puts old grease in container in receiving department. It is considered hazardous waste. It is not going to be picked up for several days. It smells horrendous. Back end of store continues to smell like rotting chicken.

Company wants to cut staffing costs. Cuts hours. Complains that floor doesn’t look as good as it used to. Brings in vendors to stock during the day. Vendors are responsible for stocking, not customer service. Company wonders why customers are not giving them the same outstanding customer service reviews they have received in the past.

Can you believe it? I managed to get through without one situation that directly impacted me.