The Scrunchies Pusher
By R. "Becky" Waites
I was an overweight seventeen year-old when I first started working at Accessory Place almost twelve years ago. It still surprises me to this day that I was never fired on the spot while working at there because I had to have been the worst employee in the history of retail. I hated jewelry as much as I hated dealing with stupid people and I wasn't afraid to show it. I had worked numerous mindless jobs in the past but my short career as a Sales Associate in the retail industry had to be the worst. It was one of those faux one-stop jewelry "utility" stores that catered to middle class women of all ages and backgrounds.
You couldn't throw a rock at a mall with out breaking the glass of one of our store window displays. We were methodically planted in almost every mall in every state across America like the roach motels under a rusty sink. And if it wasn't our store in a mall near you it was probably one of our competitors. They were all the same with their throbbing florescent ceiling lights, imitation watches, plastic handbags, and bitter teenage employees with absolutely no social skills. Accessory Place no longer exists but the memory of that place burns a hole into my mind like an ulcer.
My main job as a sales girl at Accessory Place was pushing anything from plastic rhinestone earrings to multi-colored hair "scrunchies" on every unsuspecting customer. I was forced to actually communicate with a customer by saying, "Welcome to Accessory Place. Can I help you with anything?" Even if a customer actually had a question about a Topsy Tirvy or a banana clip I would always lie and say the same thing. "No. I'm sorry we're all out. You may want to try JC Penny's." I didn't feel like looking because that would've required me to think.
The four-hour shifts, three days a week quickly grew painfully long. I was beginning to believe that I wasn't cut out for mindless work. It was about this time when I started to use my imagination when confronted with a question about a particular store item. I came up with combo questions to counter lame requests like, "I'm sorry would you mind describing that sock to me one more time. Did you say stocking or slouch? Was that 100% cotton or were you looking for a cotton polyester blend?" All the while knowing that we were stocked full with an assortment of socks but I just wanted to watch them discus a sock with passionate detail. Their frustration soon became my joy in life.
Another form of frustration that I enjoyed inflicting on my customers was ear piercing. Some genius marketing manager in the Accessory Place East Coast offices thought it was a good idea to place a torturous contraption into the hands of their bitter pimple-faced teenage employees. This contraption, ironically called a "Piercing Gun", enabled us to puncture holes into the ears of every willing man woman and child. Three-year-old babies and children were my favorite. I love them don't get me wrong. But what I love most is making them cry and getting paid for it. Most of them, if not all cried really loud causing such a commotion and striking fear into the hearts of our customers that some would actually leave or spark a protest. "I can't believe you'd do something like that to your child. It's their body! Their choice!" The parents would just smile and nod their heads then point at their baby's bloody ear and mumble, "Pretty diamond. Pretty diamond. Look see." The defeated English only speaking protesters would then storm off in a huff of frustration into the raging river of freaks slowly stumbling pass the window.
I did however draw a line into the grey carpet when it came to piercing the ears of androgynous looking newborn baby girls. Even if I wanted to pierce their ears I couldn't because their ear lobes were too small. It was a standard company procedure to not pierce a newborn babyıs ear and I knew this but would go through the sales process just to anger the customer.
"Um, I'm sorry. But I can't pierce her ear. She is a 'she', right?" I'd ask.
"Because her ears are too small. Look. I can't even get gun to even touch her ear lobe it won't work. If I were to pull the trigger I might take off half of her ear. You might want to wait a while and come back in a couple of months when she's like eighteen or something."
"Let me see." It was about this time when their true evil nature would emerge; they would desperately pull the baby's ear lobe trying to make it bigger.
"It'll fit. Do it now!" they commanded me.
"I'm sorry I can't do it. And to be honest with you I won't. If you want to complain I'd be more than happy to get you my manager. I'm sure she'll give you a refund," I'd say as I snapped off the rubber latex gloves. "You might want to try growing her hair out instead?"
Despite my attempts to save her little ears her parents would be back in the store two months later seated firmly in that grey piercing chair pulling out her little ear lobes preparing her for the worse. I would watch from the back of the store stocking fake leather hand bags wishing there was a piercing gun large enough to pierce a hole through her parent's head.
Christmas in the retail world can only be described as one thing: hell. If you've never worked in the retail industry during the holiday season just ask anyone who has about his or her experience and most likely they will describe their war wounds. "I remember this one time this asshole I was ringing up..." If you pay close attention to our stories you will realize that the only word used to describe customers is "Asshole." Why? Because that's what customers are during the holiday season. Retail customers in general through out the year are bothersome gnats but there is something about Christmas that transform these generally annoying people into demonic evil entities who if crossed will bite off your head and rip out your internal organs and feast on them with their tiny little demonic children. I could never understand how the holiday of warm fuzzy red and green ho ho ho happy times love your family open a present drink some eggnog and eat some cookies could bring out so much hate in our fellow man. But it does.
I remember this one time while working at Accessory Place during the holidays when this psychotic asshole came in with her asshole child and ruined my perfectly good asshole freak-watching day.
There I was, standing up front people watching people as usual and nursing the world's worst cold with a waded wet piece of tissue when they came in. I regurgitated my usual uninterested monotone greeting "Welcome to Accessory Place blah blah blah" through my stuffed up nose as they shuffled past me. They ignored me, which was a blessing for once and went about their business through the store zigzagging between the four-foot tall white monolithic display cases. I didn't think any thing of them until I heard the woman scream, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU LOST IT!"
"Oh this sounds like it's going to be good." I thought to myself as I stepped away from my perch to observe the catastrophic accident taking place somewhere in between the handbag and hat isle.
"Can I help you with anything?" I asked as I approached them and whipped away the snot that dripped uncontrollably from my nostrils.
"She lost her good headband! I told you to keep that on your head!"
"I can help you find it. What did it look like?" Did I just say that? Oh my, I was sick.
"No it's okay. You have a cold and I don't want you touching it. But thank you." She rudely said to me using her fake sweet I'm not a psycho voice as she whisked her teary-eyed child away towards the necklace isle. Her little girl cried out in protest for her headband but her mother ignored her. "No. You can't have it now. It touched the floor."
I went about my business making my way back up towards the front of the store when I found it. It was a small once white cloth wrapped puffy headband that was covered with little red roses and dirty brown little girl head stains. The headband was so filthy I didn't want to touch it myself but I picked it up anyway because I really wanted to do something nice for that nice lady. I pinched the little girl's scrunchie between my fingers and walked it towards the flu bigot who was thumbing through the necklaces. "Is this what you were looking for? It must be yours cause it looks like a special little girl's favorite headband." Right as she looked up at me from the mood necklace she was trying to turn blue I sniffled then whipped the headband under my runny nose and held it out towards her. "Here you go."
"Mommy, my headband!" The excited little blonde rat reached up and took it from my fingers. Before she could put it back on her head her mother snatched it from her little hands. "Don't touch that! It has HER germs on it."
"Oh it's just a little cold. Everybody gets them." I placed my hand with the nasty napkin on the woman's shoulder and gave her a little squeeze. She jumped. "Is there anything else I can help you with? I can pierce your little girl's ears? Or yours perhaps?"
"No that's okay. Thank you." She quickly pushed her child out the door. Her little girl struggled desperately to grab the headband but she cruelly dangled it just out of reach above her head. Right before they disappeared into the chaos of assholes swarming their way through the mall, I watched the woman distract her daughter by pointing out Santa. When the little girl turned away the woman tossed the headband into the garbage. I was at first a little disappointed in the humanity of it all. This bigot of colds and the flues not only discriminates against the ill and unfortunate mall employee but also discriminates against her own flesh and blood for selfish obsessive compulsive reasons. But then as I started to think about it I grew disappointed in myself. Disappointed that I just stood there and let that woman get away with not only torturing me but her sad little child as well. I couldn't take it any longer so I did something that I never did before. I moved.
I picked up my feet and marched out of the store and pushed my way through the crowd like a marine rushing through the thicket and into the glory of battle. I was on a mission and no one was going to stop me. I made my way through the crowd and up to the trashcan. I reached inside and plucked that tiny headband from its doomed future of biodegrading in some mysterious landfill next to a Styrofoam cup and a Burger King wrapper. I gently carried the sad little thing back inside the store did the next best thing I could think of for it. I immediately stuck a seven dollar price tag on it, put it on the shelf with the rest of the headbands and sold it three weeks later during our after Christmas sale to a 68 year old woman with a perpetual flatulency problem.
A few years after I left the Accessory Place Company corporate leaches moved in and they were bought out by another accessory based store. All the merchandise, customers, employees, and memories recycled into what is now known as Claire's. I think they still exist. But I wouldn't know because I have yet to step inside a mall since working in retail all those years ago. It's not because the scars of retail are so unbearably painful that the thought of visiting one would cause traumatic flashbacks. The thought of retail does leave a bad taste in my mouth but the real reason why I don't shop at malls anymore is a simple one: I'm lazy. Why torture myself under the florescent lights and fight against the current river of bodies when I could instead shop in the malls of the new millennium from the comfort of my home computer? I will be honest and say what I do miss. I miss watching the freaks from the front of the store, the screaming tired children, the gang of female Hindu shop lifters, piercing my ears when I was bored, piercing my co-workers ears when they were bored, brand new bright red cotton slouch socks, the smell of fake leather hand bags, and that heavy metal gate that always got stuck when you tried to pull it down to lock it.