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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

For eight weeks last summer, I worked a fairly typical menial summer job at a large office supply store. During the job search, I favored this particular store to my other prospects; I had applied at two fishy-smelling grocery stores and three temp agencies that had all praised my typing speed and assured me they would not find me any work. The office store at least had a neutral smell and the work--by which I mean paychecks--would be fairly steady. In addition, before working there, I had actually liked going to this store. Let me stress "before working there".

          This was my first corporate job and the first one where I actually had to wear a uniform. I was told to complement my company-issued polo shirt with black pants and shoes. Only after I was scolded for wearing the wrong kind of belt and undershirt did I learn that they had directives about those, too. The only mode of self-expression left open to me was through my socks, and that's only because my pants had long cuffs. Of course, the pièce de resistance of the uniform was the shirt, in all its brightly colored, two-sizes-too-big glory, which had embroidered upon it the name and slogan of the store. The slogan--and this is going to be giving away a lot, but screw anonymity--was "That was easy."

          I'm not sure why they chose this particular slogan. It seems dangerous to me. First of all, the company's supposed commitment to deterring sexual harassment seems undermined by forcing all the nubile young women in its stores' employ to wear a common adjective associated with slutty girls embroidered upon their heaving bosoms. More importantly, it really tempted me to end each transaction, not by smiling "Thank you, have a nice day," but by looking contemptuously at the customer and sneering, "That was easy." I could really get into it. "God, a ream of paper? Is that it? This is so EASY. Why don't you challenge me, for pete's sake? Oh, you have a case of bottled water, too? HA! I LAUGH at bottled watter! Your puny purchase does NOTHING to tax my mighty resources!"

          Still, I suppose the idea is to encourage customers to buy office supplies rather than, say, scale Mount Everest, by pointing out the relative ease of the former. Not that it's much easier, mind you, especially with me on the team. I was essentially given no training, so I didn't know where anything was; every time a customer asked me "Do you carry staples?" or "Where are the staples?" I had to call out to someone else working, repeating the question. Somehow everyone else knew immediately. "Back of aisle two on the lefthand side, between the barnacles and bayberries." Customers seemed to get annoyed with my bumbling "Uhhh, I don't know. Try aisle four, maybe? Wait, let me ask somebody else. Well, she looks busy. Hey, can you ask that guy over there? Yeah, he might know." Surely prospective purchasers of office-related equipment could not walk away from such a scenario thinking, "Wow, this trip to buy legal pads has really been a pinnacle of ease in my otherwise insurmountably difficult existence." My new method of customer assistance was to answer each query gunshot-quick with random aisle numbers, hoping I'd get it right by dumb luck.

          "Where are the calend--"

          "Aisle 3."

          "Where do you have gl--"

          "Aisle 5 in the back."

          "Where's the--"

          "North side of Aisle 92, under the troll hats."

          The only time I was able to answer a locational query correctly was when the object in question was within my line of sight. Of course, if I could see it, the customer should have been able to see it, too; but somehow that didn't reduce the questioning. "Where are the..." was about half the time followed by "ink cartridges?", even though about six feet behind me at all times is a wall covered in various ink cartridges, with a giant sign above it screaming "INK CARTRIDGES." This made it something of a challenge to answer the question. "Are you blind?" doesn't tend to go over too well with the upper management. Usually I settled for gesturing behind me and saying "Over there." Pointing at a GIANT FRICKIN' WALL of ink cartidges is usually enough direction for most people, but at least one customer refused to rotate his eyeballs to follow my outstretched index finger in the usual human fashion. Instead, he continued staring at me and demanded "Over where?"

          I sighed. "Bottom of aisle sixteen, between the brain coolant and bugbears." Pacified, the man wandered off on a fruitless quest, never to darken my register again.

          That was easy.


- Laura