Lord knows I’ve written enough serious stuff lately, so I thought I’d give my readers (and myself) a break by writing about my job, which could never be called serious, though it is still quite capable of driving me batshit crazy.
I’ve written about it before, but for those of you unfortunate enough to have just stumbled across my blog, you should know that I am a retired newspaper editor, a career that left me without the skills to accomplish anything else in life.
To help make ends meet, I took a part-time job in a place I’ll call Big Orange. I’m calling it that not because I’m afraid of getting fired, but because getting fired would cause me to have to go out and find something else to do, and who has the energy for that?
For my foreign readers (and I do have a few), Big Orange is a nationwide retail outlet that sells home improvement and construction supplies. It’s not like a normal retail store, but rather like an enormous, sweaty warehouse. A Big Orange store can be quite intimidating for customers looking for one tiny nail in a place with about a bazillion different items for sale, and a bazillion and one places for all the employees to hide.
I have several duties, but the main thing I do is change prices; I bet you’ve seen plenty of dispirited guys like me in the stores you frequent. I have a little printer cart that I push around for hundreds of miles a day, merrily jacking up or lowering prices a penny at a time, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and year after year, until I can truly retire or expire, whichever comes first.
Now because I was an editor, I can’t tell you how to use most of the shit that we sell. For instance, you wouldn’t want to ask me how to wire your house unless you want it to burn down. Similarly, I know nothing about plumbing, concrete work, tiling a floor or building a deck. Please believe me when I tell you that I wouldn’t even condemn a rabid dog to live in a shanty that I’d built.
That’s why my job is really kind of perfect for me, because I’m not specifically charged with helping customers, though I will do it when there’s nobody else around. With that being said, helping customers on occasion is actually something I enjoy. Because I change all the prices, I already know where pretty much everything is located, so when I can direct some lady to the toilet plungers, or tell some guy that if he needs to screw something, then Aisle 14 is the place to be, it leaves me feeling (tragically) fulfilled.
If someone were to ask me where in the name of god the lamp ferrules are located, it would stir me with pride to be able to . . .
A) Know what a lamp ferrule is …
B) Take the customer right to the spot.
See, when I can pull off something like that, I give myself a mental high-five, because I know damn well that nobody else is going to do it. When I can help even one customer, I can drive home feeling good about myself, something I never managed to do in 33 years of newspapering.
Often, however, questions are just too technical for me. But because I roll my cart over all those miles of super-hardened concrete, I see into pretty much every corner, including all the hidey-holes where the true experts are slacking off, and rare is the day that I can’t shame one of them into actually doing his job and helping a person who needs help.
Sometimes, however, the experts aren’t just hiding, they flat aren’t there at all, which means I’m left to my own devices. Like today, when a customer saw me changing prices on light bulbs, and proclaimed, “I need a cheap light bulb.”
My first thought was, “So what do you want me to do about it?”
But thinking better of that approach, and knowing that even an old editor might know a thing or two about light bulbs, I felt strangely qualified to assist. Now Big Orange sells about a million different kinds of light bulbs, but I sized this guy up muy pronto and asked, “Do you mean incandescent bulbs?”
Turns out that was exactly what he meant, though he didn’t know the word for it. I walked down the aisle about 10 feet to where I knew we had some incandescent bulbs on a lower shelf and pointed to them.
“You mean like these?” I asked.
Well, the guy was checking them out pretty closely, still clearly undecided, and it was then that I hit him with my best sales pitch. Even an old dog can learn a new trick, I thought.
“You know,” I started, “if you’re really looking for a cheap light bulb, how about this new LED bulb over here? I just marked these down, and they’re actually cheaper than incandescent, gives you just as much light, uses less electricity, and will probably never burn out in your lifetime.”
The guy looks at the LED bulb, hems and haws for a minute, puts it back on the shelf, and departs with the costlier and less-efficient incandescent.
It provided me with my own light-bulb moment: People are stupid, and this is why you’re not in sales.
Customers are enough to drive me batshit crazy!