Saturday, December 17, 2011

May I Help You?

This Christmas season, I got a second job in the world of retail to help finance Christmas. My husband often takes side-jobs so when I saw an opportunity to help, I jumped at it. It didn't hurt that the job was at my favorite store, World Market. This Friday, December 23rd, is my last day. And strangely enough, even though my feet are numb by the end of a shift, my weekends have been non-existent these past two months, and I've missed my family, I'm extremely grateful for this little job. And I think I will miss it.

Here's why:

Reason No. 1: My full-time job is great but I work from home. I know, I know, most people would love to work from home and I love it, too. But I miss the separation of working outside of the home. I miss leaving at a clearly defined time, clocking in, doing a clearly defined job to the best of my ability, clocking out, and coming home and leaving it behind knowing that I've accomplished something. I'm done. A friend of mind who's in the timber-cutting business said to me once that he couldn't stand sitting at a computer all day or working in a cubicle because at the end of the day, if he doesn't have "a pile of something to point at," he doesn't feel like he's accomplished anything. I can relate to that. At the end of the day, I have a pile of something. I have bagged goods, made a customer laugh, straightened my assigned areas in the store, re-stocked the registers and clocked out.

Reason No. 2: I think too much. I have a daughter who left for college last August, who I worry about, and another leaving next August, who I worry about times a million. I have a grown son who's married with two kids, who I worry about. I have aging parents, whom I adore, who I worry about. And a step-daughter living two states away, who I worry about, too. When I'm at work, my over-analytical brain is occupied. And when I come home, I'm tired and sleep like a baby.

Reason No. 3: And the best thing of all? I get to see what I've looked like in Christmas' past. I'm on the other side of the register. I'm the one who most people don't see. They don't see me because they're busy, overwhelmed and sometimes, resentful. I can see it in their faces when their total shows up on the screen. They sigh, they swipe their card, and furrow their brows as they grab their bags and hurry on to the next store. An obligation. A burden. Another job. Not all of them, mind you, some of them look me in the eye and even take a minute to look at my name-tag and call me by name as they leave. And the ones that don't? I try to treat them the same. I try to remind myself that I don't know their life, their day, where they are and give them a break. I don't always succeed. Sometimes I judge them just like they judge me. But it reminds me to be patient. It reminds me that the next time I'm in a store and there are only two lanes open with lines full of people, I won't be so quick to look at the customer next to me and roll my eyes and mutter something about the lack of service. Maybe there isn't anyone else to call up front. Maybe they're fully staffed. Maybe I can just get over myself and wait for a few minutes because it really isn't the end of the world and I'm not the Queen of the Universe.

Reason No. 4: The connection that comes among people when a group is working hard towards a common goal. At first, I didn't really want to know them because my time there was short but I can't help it...I have. There's Emily, she's only 27, who trained me. In the short time I've worked there, I found out she and her brother were basically abandoned by their parents when they were 16 and 18. They've raised themselves since then, together. She's just a few months away from finishing nursing school. She's got a sharp wit, a great sense of humor and takes food that the store would otherwise throw out because the packaging is damaged, downtown to the homeless community. All by herself. Just because it's the right thing to do. Then there's Crystal, also 27, a single mother who's soon to be married. She's freckle-faced, hard-working and likes to wear a knit cap to work because she doesn't like to mess with her hair. She loves my Sean Connery impression and she also has a great, big heart. There's Kara, who's closest to my age. She has a voice like Janeane Garofalo, sarcastic and dry, works two jobs, and goes to school. She's an Aquarius like me and says the younger kids like to tease her by asking her if she watches "Murder She Wrote" for fun. She and I are the oldest two women in the store. Ancient. Then there's Ann, also a nursing student, a sweet strawberry blond who works her ass off and drops the f-bomb frequently and then quickly says, "Excuse my language". She's also a supervisor and in nursing school but doesn't look a day past 16. There's Alanna, also a supervisor, who may smile at you or look at you like she wants to punch you in the chest, you never know. She's got kind eyes, long curly dark hair, round spectacles and says her time of the month is so bad that the manager keeps track of it so as not to schedule her during those first two days. She's tough but I believe she has a soft side underneath. Something in her eyes. And then there's Porsche, a large, chocolate woman who stands up for all of us. She gripes about a lack of breaks, if need be, saying that her people have always been oppressed and she won't tolerate it any longer. We love her. She gets us those extra fifteen minutes. And she has the biggest smile.

The extra Christmas money has been great, but the experience has been priceless. Who knew?

Merry Christmas everyone. Take a minute to say hello to the people working in the service industry this time of year. Wish them a Merry Christmas and call them by name. You just might make someone's day a little brighter. And in return, your day will become a little brighter, too.

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