The Birdseed Incident

Came across this little gem and thought I would share it. I wrote this for a non-fic class I had at Ohio University. It basically chronicles a day in my life as a Walmart employee, however anyone who’s ever worked retail will be able to relate. Enjoy!!

7:04 a.m., Sunday, arriving to work at Wal-Mart, late as usual…
My car practically takes flight up over the small hill that leads down into the parking lot as I rush to find a space, knowing that I have to punch that time clock before the 7: 10 mark or I’m in trouble. They gave us these ten minutes of leeway in hopes that it would encourage associates to be on time; however, it only encourages me to hit the snooze one more time, whether I have to be to work at seven in the morning or one in the afternoon. I jump from my car, quickly feeling my pockets, front and back, to make sure I’ve got everything I need. Keys? Check. Money? Check. Lipstick? Check. And most important, cell phone? Check. I do this as I’m walking across the parking lot and halfway to the door I realize I don’t have my badge to punch in with. I begin cursing to myself as I turn around and jog back to my car to retrieve it, knowing that the clock is ticking. I unlock my car door and grab the lanyard that it’s attached to from around my rear-view mirror, still cursing myself and all of the slow drivers who think that just because the speed limit sign says fifty-five, you actually should only do fifty-five. Where did these people learn to drive anyway? Kansas?
The parking lot is eerily deserted this early on a Sunday morning, with a snow white fog hovering over top. You can barely make out the bold, blue letters spelling Wal-Mart that are fixed to the front of the warehouse size building, let alone see the automatic doors until you were two feet in front of them. I rush through them and wince as the bright solar lights inside attempt to blind me.
As I trot through the store I can hear the beeps of the registers as the few, lone customers get checked out. The beeping fades away the closer to the time clock I get. As I throw open the swinging double doors leading to the back of the store, I hear the static of one of the manager’s walkies as they try to communicate with each other. I hope that they are no where they can watch me clock in with their disapproving eyes. I quickly swipe my badge in the time clock and pause to wait for the bleep that somehow seems to give its approval for you to begin work. It bleeps and I notice the time. Seven-ten, right on the dot.
7:10 a.m., I punch in and head to the bathroom…
Above the time clock, I notice a new, poster size picture of the dearly departed Sam Walton, the man who started it all in Bentonville, Arkansas in 1962. I wonder if, when he opened that first Walton’s 5 and Dime, if he knew how successful Wal-Mart would end up being. I’m sure he had some idea, but there is no way that he could have known that it would become a multi-billion dollar company, with its yearly revenue averaging 400 billion dollars, and also become the largest private employer internationally. I cluck my tongue and think cynically to myself that it must be nice to be so rich.
I know that I’m going to be the only one out in my department until at least ten, and I go ahead and go to the bathroom so I won’t be doing the pee pee dance while I wait for someone to come in. I finish up in the bathroom and head out to my area, my domain, lawn and garden. As I approach the register I see that there are several buggies full of items for our department, returned at the service desk. I curse once again, this time at the person who was supposed to do this job on the overnight shift, but felt the need to leave it for me. This is a recurring problem with this person who’s been fortunate enough not to meet me. I grab the first buggy and begin sorting everything and taking it to its rightful place.
9:14 a.m., I finish the last of the buggies…
I put the last box, which is a small church for one of the Christmas village collections, back on the shelf and push the empty carts out onto the patio and put them with the rest of the empty buggies. By this time my knee is really beginning to hurt, so I sit down for a moment on a pallet of bird seed to see if it will stop hurting and begin a conversation with old Jim, the door greeter. Since my car accident several months ago, I have pains in my knees from time to time, especially when I walk a lot, which I have been doing all morning. About this time, my co-worker and good buddy John Boy shows up and he joins in the conversation for a moment. Then he wanders off to hide so he won’t be asked to do anything strenuous. (He’s got a bad back you know.)
I make up my mind that the next task I will undertake is the Halloween aisle. I had glanced at it on my way through and I know it’s a mess, so I need to go zone it up. That’s what they call cleaning, “zoning”. Before I can get up, the Golden Boy, Co-Manager Norman, comes walking out to the patio and sees me sitting on the bird seed. He doesn’t see John Boy, who is squatted down, over behind the fall display of mums and pumpkins. No, he sees me and asks a great here’s-your-sign kind of question, “Don’t you have anything better to do than sit on birdseed?”
At that moment I easily could have heaved one of the fifty pound bags at him, but I refrain and answer, “Yes, I was about to go over to the Halloween aisle and zone.” I don’t mention my knee and the fact that it was hurting because I figure he would just look at it as an excuse for slacking. My question is, where was he just minutes earlier when I was working my hind end off doing someone else’s job? He says that’s fine, and walks me over to the Halloween aisle, giving me the impression that he doesn’t think I was really going to go over there. This offends me slightly, but I shrug it off, realizing that it’s Norman and no one takes him seriously.
When we get to the Halloween aisle there are two more buggies of merchandise to be put away and sorted through. He asks me if I’ll take care of it and after I’m finished with those two buggies, could I please go through the rest of the store and put away their returns as well. This is the point at which I begin to feel my blood get a little warm, not quite boiling yet. I smile and say fine, all the while wondering, Why the hell can’t the people in those departments put their own crap away? Then I remember it’s because the management is too tight to schedule anyone any decent amount of hours, so there’s probably not anyone working. There have been times when I, myself, have had to cover four different departments, running between them in circles, like a hamster on an exercise wheel.
10:00 a.m., my friend Sharon arrives…
I rush around in haste, from buggy to buggy, grabbing items and returning them to their rightful home. It’s like the busy worker bee who frantically buzzes from pollen filled flower to pollen filled flower, trying to gather as much as he can in hopes of pleasing the queen bee back at the hive. Unlike the worker bee however, I don’t do this in hopes of pleasing anyone, with our queen bee Patty being on vacation this week. I do this to keep the queen bee’s Golden Boy off my back.
I finish the two buggies in Halloween and am working on the domestics department’s returns when I see my co-worker and dear friend Sharon go walking by down at the other end of the aisle. I call out to her and she stops and backs up, searching for who it was that called for her. She sees me and comes walking over. I begin to explain the events that had occurred earlier that morning and she laughs, which in turn makes me laugh a little. We both realize that Norman has given me this horrendous task because he wants to get his money’s worth and probably thinks that because I stopped working for two minutes, I hadn’t been doing anything all day. I laugh and tell her, “Yeah, it was the happy little elves that came in this morning before I got here that put away all those return buggies that overnights left.”
We both know that this is the way it is with the management at Wal-Mart, at least at ours anyway. This has actually happened several times and they think our department is the worst for loafing. If we are the worst for loafing, then why is our department the best looking department in that store? Why is our Lawn and Garden area considered the top Lawn and Garden in our whole district? Why do the head honchos lavish management with praise over our specific area, it being the reason that we did so well on our model store walk-thru? We come in and work ourselves like slaves to get our work done so that maybe we can stand and enjoy each other’s company for a few minutes. But they don’t give us credit for that. No, they only see us when we have stopped working for a minute because our knees hurt or we’ve injured ourselves and need to determine whether or not it deems an accident report. In those cases, people usually just bandage the injury and continue working, not wanting to deal with the flack from messing up the accident free days count and knocking everyone out of their pizza or steak dinner. Yes, they reward us for working safely, but sometimes accidents do happen, no matter how careful you are. They also don’t want to have to deal with having to ask management for time off work if it is a serious injury that requires it. Missing work for any reason is frowned upon in the Wal-Mart world, so much so, that it doesn’t matter if you have an excuse from a doctor or not, you are still counted absent. God forbid you have more than three absences in a six month period, which is reason enough, to Wal-Mart, to terminate your employment.
Sharon says that she’ll help me work on the return buggies since there’s really not much to do back in Lawn and Garden, so we go from department to department, searching for this item’s place and that item’s place. We decide to only do the general merchandise half of the store and leave the grocery side, agreeing that it’s not going to kill someone over there to do their job. She heads back to lawn and garden, and I head to my fifteen minute break, which is by this time an hour and a half overdue. I was supposed to go two hours after I clocked in, but in all of my busy worker bee state of mind, I didn’t stop until the buggies were done at 11:30.
12:04 p.m., I return from my extended break…
Our supervisor Chuck tells us not to start timing our breaks until we actually sit down. He says not to count the time it takes to get us a drink, or stand in line at the register if we’re getting a snack. So today I don’t count the eight minutes that I stand at the deli counter waiting for one of them to notice me. I also don’t count the five or six minutes that I have to wait in line at the register while some old lady counts out the exact change, mostly in pennies, to the cashier.
When I get back to my area, everyone is working on the newly arrived pallet of freight that in-stock has just brought back. I jump right in and grab a box to put away. Unfortunately, I am only able to get that single box emptied because Norman comes hunting. He tells me and Sharon that he needs us to go over to the grocery side and put away the two, heaped over buggies of returns. Once again, the question Why can’t the people over on grocery put away their own merchandise? runs through my mind. But we tell him that we’re on it and head off once again. When we get to the buggies, most of the merchandise that is in them belongs over on the general merchandise side. So I begin separating the buggies, making a buggy for each side of the store. Sharon goes to take her break while I do this and I’m already putting merchandise away when she returns.
In the midst of our project that Norman has given us, we stop for a moment to ask a fellow associate how he is adjusting to the new baby at home. He begins to fill us in and we talk for a few minutes. Before we can say our see-you-laters though, here comes Norman, “Can one of you girls go ahead and be working on this other buggy?”
I feel my blood begin to percolate slightly as I explain to him that most of what is in the buggies belongs on the other side of the store and that we are almost done with this side, then we are going to begin on the next buggy. As I’m explaining this to him, I’m also thinking of the scientifically proven fact that stress does raise your blood pressure and I’m wondering what mine would register at about now. Due to my quick temper, I’m easily aggravated and it’s another scientifically proven fact that it’s the small stressors that cause strokes, not the large ones. This leads me to believe that I’m headed straight for a stroke, especially if I continue to work here. Sharon plainly sees from my tone I am about to say something I shouldn’t that will probably get me reprimanded. She comes to the rescue, telling the Golden Boy, “That’s okay, I’ll go on over and get started. You only have a couple of things left anyway.”
He thanks her and prances along his merry little way. She rolls her eyes and tells me to come find her when I’m done. I say screw it, stick the last two items randomly on the nearest shelf, and go with her. We work diligently to get the job finished in time for me to go to lunch before I’m a meal exception, which can get you in big trouble also. They’re all the time threatening to coach us, or write us up rather, if we work even one minute over six hours without taking a lunch or clocking out for the day.
1:06 p.m., I clock out for lunch…
I make it with four minutes left to spare. I immediately pull my cell phone out of my back pocket to call Michael and tell him what a god awful day I’ve had and to vent about Norman’s harassment. This will make me feel better and I know I need to do something to relieve the stress, or I will blow my top the next time Norman even so much as looks at me today. I head up to Subway, located in the front of the store, to get some lunch and I fill Michael in along the way. He agrees that Norman is totally ridiculous and that I need to just smile and nod and go on about my business. But he knows that with my temper, that isn’t usually possible.
2:06 p.m., I reluctantly clock back in from lunch…
I stop by the bathroom before I head back out to my area to kill a few minutes, not really having to use it, just not wanting to go back out there. I answer a couple of text messages and straighten up my make-up in the mirror. I kill about ten more minutes doing this, and then I begin walking, very slowly, to lawn and garden. I’m stopped by customers with questions a couple of times along the way, so this kills a few more minutes, which I think is great.
As I approach the register, the phone starts ringing, and being as how everyone else is nowhere to be seen, I rush over and answer it. One of the customer service supervisors, CSS for short, needs a couple of the guys to go out and pick up the trash off the lot on our side of the store. Well, there are no guys to be found, as usual, and I don’t see where there is anything else that needs my attention, so I volunteer to go do it myself. Before I can make it out the door, Sharon is coming back from lunch, having gone shortly after I did, and she volunteers to come help me.
Around 3:20 p.m., we finish cleaning the lot…
We empty the trash into the garbage can and grab us a drink of Gatorade from the cooler that old Jim keeps full for us. We cool off for a minute and I head inside to straighten up the register area, feeling a little better because I’m about to leave for the day. I time it just right in my head, figuring I’ll sweep a little and bag up the trash until a quarter to four, then I would start walking, slowly, back to the time clock and punch out at ten minutes till. Yes, we are allowed to clock out ten minutes early, but absolutely not a minute earlier. The majority of associates take advantage of this and some will even stand back there and wait until it clicks over to the ten minutes till mark.
As I’m sweeping and straightening, the assistant manager over my area, Mark, comes walking up to the register. He’s grinning like the Cheshire cat as he says, “Norman wants to know if you can come and sit on some birdseed for him.”
Yep, that was it, good mood that I felt coming on evaporated in the steam of my blood boiling over. Now I know that this won’t be the last I’ll hear about it. I know that when I come to work almost a week later, Chuck is going to ask me about it. “Sure, I can do that for him! I’ve done every other god forsaken damn thing he’s ask me to do today!”
The smile quickly fades from his face when he sees how infuriated I am. He doesn’t know how to respond, probably because he’s never seen me angry before. I look at the clock on my cell phone and see that it’s time for me to go. “Tell Norman to sit on his own goddamn birdseed. I’m going home.”
3:52 p.m., I clock out for the day…

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