Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Quarts of Action

Once there was a business known across the land as Hill's Department Stores. Actually, four times there was a Hill's. The first three times resulted in bankruptcy as the peasants worried whether or not they would receive their hard-earned shillings.

1987 was a pleasant, if financially tight, year for me. I worked for the aforementioned store for two years, and had any number of experiences common among those who work in retail settings. Each department in a given retail store has its unique challenges. These were often aggravating, even if they did leave us laughing. Those who work retail occasionally run across similar types of things.

Consider this: one summer, circa June 1987, I was tasked with pricing and stocking motor oil. Keep in mind that two factors are immediately called into play here. The first is that quarts of motor oil -even those then-new plastic quart sized jugs (which had recently replaced the old-style oil cans)- were inevitably covered in a light film of oil. Affixing price labels to Penzoil's finest was virtually impossible without requisitioning countless rolls of paper towels from the Housewares Department and thereby inflicting bouts of consternation from the poor woman who had just spent half an hour making the paper towel shelf presentable tov the public. Every time I left a gap in her handiwork, I heard about it in one form or another. I believe it a near certainty that our motor oil profit margin was a pyrric one due to the approximately one and a half miles of towels I used in order to make it possible for the price labels to stay on the oil quarts.

The second factor is that the oil containers remained slippery despite the boot camp-quality level of cleaning which I gave each jug. Inevitably, that meant they would slip from customers' hands and skitter across the aisle into the Ladies' Jeans Department and right under those nifty ones paraded around in by Brooke Shields back in the day. Take it from me as a card carrying member of the Regular Guys Club: if you're a regular guy, you'll do virtually anything to avoid traipsing into the women's department. I once took a shortcut across the "unmentionables" section in order to get to the break room as quickly as possible, and paid for it with icy stares from women which still make my heart race in a cardio-inspired panic attack. It was a small wonder, then, that guys who had planned on spending the weekend tuning up their cars left untold barrels of oil under approximately nine thousand pairs of Jordaches.

Stocking motor oil under those circumstances was challenging at best. It was made intolerable when, with a pricing gun in hand, a quart of oil in other hand, and a bright red vest with the company logo emblazoned on the front, some schmoe would sidle right up to me, look directly into my gorgeous blue eyes, and ask, "Do you work here?" I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to reply with something like, "no, no, dressing like a department store employee so I can stock oil is a hobby of mine". Seriously, look at me. Hello? Pricing gun? Oil? Company logo on vest? That I didn't put a reduced price on some folks and sell them to MCV as medical research subjects is a testimony to this old grump's grace. Actually, I never took that type of thing very seriously. I did snicker quite a few times.

Everyone faces challenges at work. I took a specific "quarts" of action to deal with mine.


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