Not so long ago, about seven years now, I donned the red shirt and khakis and clipped a sweet walkie-talkie and an inventory scanner gun on one of my belt loops five days a week. Yes, I worked at Super Target.
My position was titled Electronics/Sales Floor. This meant I would make up facts about digital cameras to sound like an expert and stroll around the aisles pretending I was busy for a period of six to eight hours, not listening to what any co-workers said on the aforementioned walkie-talkie. When a guest (not a customer, we called them guests) asked me a question, likely about the location of a specific item, three different outcomes could arise.
One: I would tell them I had no idea where it was and point them in the direction of someone else.
Two: I would hide behind the large tires in the auto section.
Three: I would tell them I didn’t work there, insisting that I was actually wearing a blue shirt and thus they must be color blind for thinking it was red and accosting me.
Somehow I lasted at Super Target for nearly six months. Then again, my shtick probably worked out better than the other employees, considering one of them my age was fired and indicted for stealing thousands of dollars worth of electronics.
All of this comes to mind because I went to Super Target on Sunday in Dallas, looking to buy a new swimsuit,* and the old feelings returned. They always do. Memories of that summer and fall resurface every time.
*And yes, Super Target is considered classy for me. I mean, I could have bought a swimsuit at Wal-Mart.
When I go, I think about my bosses. One of them was named J.R. His breath reeked of a smell that I’d never whiffed before and haven’t since. I suspect it may have been raw fish heads.
Whenever a new person was hired, the first conversation they had with me always followed this dynamic.
New employee: Who the hell is that guy with the toxic breath standing 70 feet away from me?
Me: Oh, that’s J.R. Wait until he finishes eating his “seafood” lunch.
The breath was a great bonding tool, not that we needed any extra bonding. Target made sure of that.
After all, us workers weren’t a group of individuals (there’s no I in Target). We weren’t even an ensemble or a troupe. We were a team, damn it. And teams don’t just go to work and avoid helping guests. They must plan.
So every afternoon or morning we assembled in the warehouse. A boss discussed sales figures and strategy as if we were planning a two-pronged flank attack in the Caucasus region rather than assisting suburban housewives looking to buy the Mercy Me CD, a frozen pizza and a metallic picture frame all in the same place.
The focal point of this strategy often included “bulls eyes.” Bulls eyes were lingo for credit cards. Employees were supposed to ask guests if they wanted to buy a Target credit card EVERY SINGLE TIME they bought something. If I accidentally listened to the walkie-talkie sometimes I would hear about how one of my co-workers (teammates) sold up to three in a day.
In my entire six months, I asked ONE guest about the credit card, begging him to say no, which he did.
So yes, there are some great memories from that summer. And on Sunday, one swirled back that I hadn’t thought of in a long time.
It surfaced in the checkout lane. The cashier charged me $14.99 for the swimsuit, when I had found it on the sales rack that said all swimsuits cost $10.98. I told her this, and right away she entered $10.98 as the price. She didn’t check. She didn’t use her walkie-talkie. She just took my word.
I might have thought this crazy, but then again, maybe she was just like me.
Every once in a while, the Target managers would wrest me from my hiding spot on the sales floor and ask me to help as a cashier. I always ran into difficulties when this happened because I was actually forced to perform a tangible duty. I’d routinely call a manager for help, and one time, he showed me a cool trick.
A guest had argued that a price was incorrect. The manager quickly did some research and found this was indeed the case. Then he entered a code onto the computer that allowed you to override the designated price and enter a new one.
I’m not sure if it was the same day or many days later, but I was back at the cash registers again, forced to actually work. A lady came through with a curious object. I believe it was some kind of decoration for a garden or some sort of interior sculpture for a house. Whatever it was, it looked as high-end as anything could look at Target. It looked expensive, like $100 or up expensive.
“Sir,” she said, “I couldn’t find the price tag for this.”
I looked. There was no tag to scan that would indicate its cost. She said there was no label on the shelf where she found it.
I looked at the line behind her. A throng awaited. I thought back to my manager’s cool trick. And I spit out a number like $40, asking the lady if she would pay that much.
She was shocked. Her face portrayed a mixture of giddiness and mystery. She wasn’t sure if this was legal but she was sure this would get her a great deal, and she quickly agreed.
But my haggling wasn’t finished. I looked at the sculpture or whatever the hell it was and decided to take another $10 off the price.
My duties at the cash register ended a few minutes later, and I went back to the sales floor more inspired than ever to pretend I knew information about megapixels and hide behind tires.