A Christmas Void, Chapter 5- Pine Pains

Time did make it easier. A little. My second day of “training” involved a cashier who survived Millstone’s for a year. He stayed at his own register and had me call him over whenever I got stuck, which happened pretty much all the time. That day, I got scheduled for six hours, so I took a lunch. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, that people hung out in the break room in silence. I had never seen anything like this because even in terrible jobs, people would make friends or make small talk at least, but everyone here just stared fixedly on their phones. Well, not everyone, a couple of people were taking naps. After that uncomfortable meal, I had a few awkwardness from trying to function with their dysfunctional system. After a while, I started to feel better. Not from gaining some valuable cashiering skills but because it was so bad that it became almost comical!

I closed for the first time that day, and after the last person in line got served, we had to put away our go-backs. I still had trouble finding where things went, but I didn’t have to deal with people anymore, so I enjoyed my last half hour. Or at least what I thought was my last half hour. I paged a supervisor to let them know I was clocking out, and apparently I broke another rule that I didn’t know about. Mara informed me that no one would get released until the whole store got cleaned. THE WHOLE STORE! It felt so disheartening to not only work past my scheduled hours, again, but to keep going for a vague amount of time drove me crazy! Plus, cleaning the store seemed like an exercise in futility, that big mess couldn’t get taken care of in one night! Eventually, I saw people hiding merchandise in back shelves and fitting rooms, and it occurred to me that the supervisors must only walk by to check for its cleanliness instead of inspecting it head to toe. That made things much easier, and Mara finally gave us the okay to leave!

I was so exhausted that it was painful! Literally! We had to do a lot of standing on our feet and walking around the store, and yet because they decided our dress code had to be business semi-formal, I couldn’t find shoes that were both functional and visually appealing. It hurt to walk at this point! I clocked out a minute before I hit the eight hour mark. They didn’t want us to go beyond that because they refused to pay us overtime, which I was actually thankful because if I worked another minute longer they’d have to call an ambulance and clock me out themselves since I wouldn’t have been able to reach the time clock! When I got to the door, I got told that I had to find a coworker to escort me out since it was dark out and they apparently had to make this requirement legally. It seemed kind of funny to only require this now because sometimes people could clock out after sunset but before closing, but, of course, I didn’t bother pointing this out. Finally, someone else came hobbling out, and I got a little energy from the adrenaline of becoming freed hostage. As I took my excruciating walk home, I couldn’t believe that day only marked day two of this job, it felt like a week!

As soon as I got home, I kicked off those stupid shoes and immediately checked to see how long an employer could legally hold employees against their will like that. I discovered they were allowed to do it as long as they paid us. Also legal- an employer didn’t have to give their workers a lot of time between two shifts. A job could give an employee a half hour between two eight hour shifts so long as they didn’t go over forty hours a week, which they could do if they wanted to so long as they paid overtime. I knew they were about to put me on the regular schedule, and I already dreaded it. The next day, it happened. Millstone’s sure made sure they didn’t have to pay any overtime, but they loved to float below the line of illegality with our hours! Often times, I would close, and since their holiday hours extended until midnight, I didn’t leave until two in the morning! I could almost stomach that if they didn’t schedule me to open at eight o’clock the next day! Well, at that point, technically it was later that morning! So, with this information, I discovered another piece of the “Why are my coworkers so grouchy?” puzzle- they didn’t get a healthy amount of sleep!

After a month of working there, I pretty much got the hang of the register. I still had questions, but so did my more senior coworkers! It took me a while to realize that most of the people who worked there didn’t have a full grasp of all of the store’s policies. For example, I had a customer ask me how long she had to return an item. I asked three other cashiers, and none of them could give me a definitive answer. Lots of customers got angry, and I couldn’t blame them sometimes! Though I knew most of their insane rules, once in a while, I still unknowingly broke one or two of them. I once got yelled at for not dealing with my go-backs, which would have been understandable except we were so busy and shorthanded that day that I didn’t have the time to leave my register and do that. I never bothered to point out any of their logical fallacies, I just took their slings and arrows for the sole purpose of leaving the store sooner. We were constantly shorthanded actually. If we had enough cashiers, they were short on people on the sales floor. Sometimes people had to cover two or three departments at a time, which explained why the store never got a chance to get properly cleaned! If the cashiers were shorthanded, we could have floor people ring people up, but we couldn’t leave them alone at the registers so we could take a break. They had this rule that only a bonafide cashier or a supervisor could get left alone at the registers, and guess how easy it was to get a supervisor to relieve me when I was the only cashier! The supervisors took ages to get over to the registers, even when it was important! One time, my register ran out of cash for two hours! I had to tell people who wanted to pay with cash to go to the other side. When Korah finally came over, she blamed me for not selling enough Pine Passes! I didn’t understand how she could think that when some people had one and still wanted to pay in cash. Or they paid their bills in cash sometime, so having money in the register seemed imperative! I didn’t bother pointing this out though. My first month there felt like a whole year!

Oh, about those freaking Pine Passes, I had no idea just how much pressure would be on us to sell those things! I knew it would become part of my job, sure, but my main job? Really! We constantly got yelled at for not selling enough of them. They expected us to sell at least three every shift, which was pretty much impossible because, no joke, ninety percent of our customers already had one. As for that ten percent who didn’t have one, half of them had already tried to get one and didn’t qualify, but we still were required to make them try! So pointless! I found it hard to sell them to the people that didn’t want one because they had a terrible shopping for a variety of different possibilities, but the supervisors never saw that. One time, Brennan scolded me because I didn’t ask a lady to sign up when she had a Pine Pass in her hand! According to him, sometimes will use a family member’s card, so we were still required to ask. Even if I was out on the sales floor with a pile of go-backs in my hand, I was still supposed to ask! If a person came into the store without purchasing anything, I still had to ask that person! The store could be a complete pig sty, but all the supervisors cared about was Pine Pass quotas! So insane!

I thought with a work environment like this that my coworkers would band together to fight our oppressors, but no one had the energy. People were too tired and hungry in their shifts to form any kind of friendships. Other than Finn at home and Ruth on the phone, I really didn’t have much of a social life. I didn’t have a regular schedule ever, so joining a club or taking a fun class was out of the question. I usually felt too sore to go exploring and meet people, and most of the people I knew before had left. Speaking of people who left, in my short time at Millstone’s, I already noticed a lot of people quitting. It complicated things because of how shorthanded we were, but it made me sad that no one formed any bonds with each other to miss one another. People still hardly talked to each other, unless you count the supervisors. They sure did like to gossip, and they were brutal! Well, except for Cecil, the warehouse supervisor. He was the only nice supervisor, but unfortunately, he wasn’t very smart. Most of the time that didn’t bother me, but it could become problematic sometimes. Like, one time we had to spend an hour after closing to help him find his glasses, and eventually he realized he didn’t wear glasses at all! At least if we weren’t in an earshot of another supervisor, he would let us vent to him. I don’t know how he lasted twenty years there when I could hardly last twenty minutes! Sometimes I met a customer who was pretty cool, but no one really stuck around long enough for me to befriend them. The people who did stick around were not people I wanted to hang around, like the fussy, upper-middle class socialites who wanted to challenge the few rules that made sense such as not accepting an expired coupon. Yeah, I would rather be lonely than try to make friends with them! I kept hoping one day I would bond with someone there because doing this job alone made everything so much worse!

Luckily for you, dear reader, this wasn’t the end of my story. I expected a couple more months of this agony, figuring they’d keep the extra hands there until after the holidays and cut a bunch of us to save expenses, but sometimes life has a funny way of throwing us a curve ball. Once in a while, Fate throws you a solution that gets disguised as more problems. For me, that was the much dreaded Black Friday. I’m sure no one in retail looks forward to that day, but considering that this Millstone’s was chaotic on a normal day, I expected a disaster of epic proportions. Never in my life did I imagine that anything good would come out of it! Black Friday became a blessing in disguise for me, a really, really good disguise! My fortune changed forever that day all thanks to one minor complication that went by the name of Isaac!

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