My crappy job that just got crappier


I’ve written about conversations at work, layoffs at work, people at work, and stealing supplies from work, but I haven’t written much about the work itself. That’s because it’s boring, and I don’t even like to think about work after work hours, let alone write about it. But, you know, this is my diary, my life. It’s Monday, and my life today was work, so here’s my crappy job that just got crappier:

I do monotonous office duties for a major chain of department stores. You probably know the place. Maybe you’ve shopped or shoplifted there. We’re the chain’s Western Regional Corporate Office, located on three floors atop their huge downtown San Francisco store. I’ve been working there for a few years, which is a few years too many.

My job is to input prices and UPC codes. If I do it right, then the pantyhose or diamond necklace or shoes or mattress or purse or whatever you’re buying sells for the correct price. If I mis-key a number then, holy crap, the register might ring up a blue sweater when you’re buying a green one, or charge $29.99 instead of $59.99. That’s when the phone rings, and everyone starts yelling at us, and Lucy has some ‘splaining to do.

It’s work that never ends, because department stores have erratic pricing — there’s a new flyer advertising new sales every week. 25% off on 2,000 items in women’s wear? Buy-three-get-the-fourth-one-free on 6,000 items in kitchens & cookware? 15% off on 800 different neckties? Well, that's me, changing the prices for those sales, and then changing the prices back when the sale is over.

We do this for all merchandise in all our stores west of the Mississippi, and also for two subsidiary department store chains that are almost as well-known, owned by the same corporation.

When I started, eight people did this brain-numbing never-ending work. Then it was six. Effective today there are only four of us. We were barely able to keep up with workflow when we had six people, and with only four, it simply ain’t feasible, if you ask me. Of course, nobody asked me.

Oh, and starting today, we’re also supposed to be doing some different, unrelated work, as yet only vaguely defined.

We don’t have sick leave. If you catch the flu or mononucleosis, you come to work anyway, or you’re not paid. So people come in when they're sick, and there’s always lots of coughing and sneezing in the distance, or up close and personal, and every disease gets passed around like a memo.

We don’t have paid time off. You’re welcome and even encouraged to take a vacation, but your paychecks will stop while you’re gone.

We’re offered health coverage, half-paid by the company, and half-paid by you, so long as you don’t get any expensive illness, in which case you’re fired.

There’s a 10% employee discount on anything you buy in the stores, but everything we sell is overpriced, so it’s cheaper to shop at Sears or Target. The only thing I’ve ever bought from the store was a set of plastic dishes, marked down on the clearance rack in the ‘bargain basement’. And occasionally I buy lunch in the employees’ cafeteria, which I usually regret.

Working for — oh, man, I want to type the name of the business, but that would be stupid, so …

Working for [insert company name here] isn’t much different from being a temp, and in a sense, everyone working there is a temp, because there’s always another round of layoffs coming. A pink slip with my name on it is inevitable (and I don’t mean ladies lingerie, fourth floor).

Today was my first day back after last week’s layoffs, and there are lots of empty workspaces. It’s like a graveyard, and every abandoned computer screen is a tombstone: Here sat Louie. Here sat Hector. On and on through a large and increasingly empty office.

But wait, there’s more. Remember Penelope, the temp I mentioned having a slight crush on? We’re no longer allowed to have temps, so she's gone. Since Penelope wasn’t a ‘real’ employee, she didn’t get invited to Friday’s big going-away lunch, and her name wasn’t on the list of the fired, and I didn’t say goodbye, because I didn’t know she was a goner until she didn’t come in this morning.

They’ve also transferred my boss to another department, where she won’t know the work she’s supervising, and brought in a new office manager who, of course, doesn’t know squat about anything we do.

Say what you will about bosses, and my old boss wasn’t anything special, but she at least understood the general idea of what we do and why we do it. And she treated us sort of like humans. That’s probably why they moved her elsewhere.

Today I briefly met Darla, my new boss. She has never worked in our part of the company. She doesn’t know the software, she doesn’t know the big picture, and she certainly won’t know the details, so she won’t be able to answer any intricate questions anyone might ask. On the bright side, she wore very loud shoes today, so by 9:00 we all knew the sound of the boss approaching.

From my perspective, as someone who’s given up on this job, Darla is perfect — it’ll be like having a substitute teacher. From the company’s perspective, though, I can’t fathom what they’re thinking when they take away a boss who knows some things, and plug in a boss who knows nothing at all.

♦ ♦ ♦

I came home to eat lunch, cheaper and better than what they sell in the cafeteria at work, and — BOOM! There was a hell of a loud noise, the lights went out, and the fire alarm sounded. With no power for the elevator, me and my neighbors at the rez hotel traipsed down the stairs and onto the sidewalk.

All the buildings on both side of the street were without power, because a transformer had exploded underground. Thick black smoke and even some flames were billowing out where a manhole cover used to be. The manhole cover got blasted who knows where. It was all moderately exciting, but probably not enough to make the news since nobody got killed.

A couple of people tried, though. As the fire trucks were still on their way, two young men ran across the street and began dancing atop another manhole cover, one that hadn’t exploded — yet. They were whooping and hollering as if daring fate to kill them.

“Survival of the fittest” or suicide of the stupid — but nothing happened to those two idiots. The firefighters came and nudged them back to the sidewalk, and the second manhole cover didn’t explode, and two really, really stupid people got away with being stupid. Ah well, maybe next time.

Then lunch was over and I hadn’t even eaten, but I had to go back to work. It’s only a one-block walk, but at work they tragically still had electricity.


This afternoon I had a formal meeting with my new boss, and it was quick and cordial. She seems like a nice enough lady, eager to learn what our department does, so I pretended it matters. I described my job, but I only know half of it — the new half of my job, the new duties I’m supposed to do every afternoon, still haven’t been explained to me. Darla, of course, knows nothing about either half of my job.

She told me about her job, though. She says her goal is to improve our productivity, and I told her that’s impossible, since we’re now permanently short-staffed. Probably I shouldn’t have said that? She says she’s certain there won’t be any more layoffs, and I didn’t say anything to that but I hope she’s not dumb enough to believe what she said — I’m not. I’ll believe in job security at that place when the Easter Bunny hops over my desk.

From Pathetic Life #3
Monday, August 1 - Tuesday, August 2, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.



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