Monday, April 20, 2009

Ring Bell for Service

My palms were sweaty. I wanted this job so bad. I prayed that the interview had gone well, that my hopefully-future boss liked me. That she thought I’d be a competent, capable employee. Sure, I didn’t have any previous experience, but I was motivated and enthusiastic. This was the perfect job for me. It had a short commute, and the hours were flexible.

It was Eckerd drug store. And I was 16 years old.

Of the many firsts we never forget, we never forget our first job. My sophomore year of high school, it seemed like everyone was getting a job. Always among the youngest in my grade, I was jealous of my seemingly grown-up peers and their new after-school endeavors. Some were scooping frozen yogurt at TCBY. Some took CPR classes in preparation for summer lifeguarding. Some folded sweaters at the Gap. And me? Apparently I just wanted to sell enema to the elderly.

No seriously. Of all the products I scanned and bagged during my days at Eckerd, few stick out in my mind as more frequently purchased than Fleet Enema. And Depends undergarments. Many a middle-aged man and woman came into the store to purchase these humbling items for their elderly parents. They usually brought coupons with them, so I suppose the humiliation was two-fold. There would be the clipping of the coupon: ‘Honey! $2 off Depends!’ And then the actual in-store purchase, wherein the customer would pick up the items (in the appropriate size, no less) and sheepishly put them on the counter for all--including the smug cashier, yours truly--to see.

The thing I learned about older people, in general, was that they loved their coupons, and they took them rather seriously. I’ll never forget the man who came in one day armed with a stack of coupons, and about 12 bottles of Dawn dish detergent to match. Dawn was on sale that week, and with all the coupons, well, I can only assume this man was confident that at the end of the transaction, I’D be paying HIM money.

He passed me his coupons after I’d scanned all the items. Right away I noticed they looked a little yellow, like a newspaper that’s been sitting out too long, or a book that’s been gathering dust in the attic. I took a closer look. The bottle of Dawn pictured on the coupon didn’t look like the ones on the counter. It looked like a version from a different decade. I checked for the date printed on the top of the coupon. Mysteriously, the date was missing! The coupons had been carefully clipped. This man was trying to cheat the system! With coupons that were easily 10 years old!

There were customers who would line up outside the store on weekend mornings before we opened at 9 a.m. Come rain, come winds, come winter, they’d be there. Let me tell you, there’s little power in the world more satisfying than being the cashier inside the store before it opens on a cold winter’s day. If I was feeling spiteful, I’d walk down the aisle closest to the door, and then just before reaching the door, I’d hang a sharp left and head for the register.

I recall wondering why these customers had to be there the very second the store opened. Worried you’re going to miss out on that 8-pack of Bounty? The 24-pack of Charmin? Even if you did, we offered rain checks. Would you believe some people actually accepted our rain check offer? And would then COME BACK two weeks later to redeem it?! They most certainly did.

There were some sanctimonious individuals who would wave the flyer in my face when they couldn’t find something.
‘YOUR flyer says Royal Butter cookies. I don’t see any Royal Butter Cookies.’
‘I’m sorry, ma’am. We’re all out.’
‘But YOUR FLYER says you have them!’
The flyers might as well have been placed by Gideon himself, for all the reverence they were awarded. Who had the heart to tell these customers that their precious flyers were created by some poor sad sack in Olathe, Kansas who couldn’t give a shit whether store #0876 ran out of Royal Butter Cookies?

My first Eckerd paycheck amounted to $65. But for life experience, I’d say it was priceless.

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