The Customer Is Always Wrong: My Life in Retail

Friday, September 19, 2008

A while back, I was asked to contribute to an essay collection with a wonderful concept: Authors writing about their experiences working in retail.

The book, entitled "The Customer Is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles," will publish October 1 from Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press, a smaller, independent press. I contributed to the book not only because it featured a wonderful concept and great group of contributing writers (T Cooper, Colson Whitehead, Po Bronson), but it was also my understanding that a portion of the proceeds would go toward helping independent bookstores, an incredible cause, to say the least (contributors, btw, received no advance and will receive no royalties).

I was asked to contribute by editor Jeff Martin, who is (steady yourself here for the biggest irony of all), a bookstore clerk in Oklahoma. Jeff contacted me because he had read my first memoir, AMERICA'S BOY, and was taken with my experience working in retail at Sears. As a child, I was a Winnie-the-Pooh clothing model, before ballooning into a Husky's kid and college student, whose first real job came, more irony here, working at Sears. In AMERICA'S BOY, I wrote about how I told my supervisor at Sears -- after witnessing an endless army of effeminate chubby boys march through the Husky's corridor crying -- that I truly felt a therapist should be stationed in the section along with a clerk. My suggestion was not heeded.

For "The Customer Is Always Wrong," I wrote an essay entitled, "Sears, Sbarro's, Sayonara," which told the full story about my returning to Sears, the Husky Hell of my youth, as a self-hating, not-yet-out-of-the-closet college kid who only wanted a summer job in order to stay at my frat house and earn enough cash to buy Ramen noodles and cases of Meisterbrau. The point of the story was to provide a nostalgic trip down the '80s retail lane (Units, the Go-Go's, Orange Julius) and cast a light on my shocking lack of self-esteem. I was a catty, bitter bastard at the time, and I was an awful employee (I didn't lay away the layaway, I pulled down the tops of mannequins to reveal their plastic breasts to shocked shoppers, I was rude to customers). But the main point of the essay was that I although I was incredibly immature I learned a great many lessons from my retail experience, which I still carry with me today. In the end, I was fired ... and I deserved to be. That was a hard, but necessary lesson, to learn early in life. And, ironically (yes, more irony), all of that coalesced into my second memoir, CONFESSIONS OF A PREP SCHOOL MOMMY HANDLER. Ahhh, self-esteem ... or the lack thereof.

I was thrilled to get an e-mail yesterday from a friend in Boston alerting me to the fact that the Boston Herald had done a piece on the essay collection. It deserved the attention, I thought.

"Just brace yourself for the bit about you ... " she wrote gingerly.

I slugged my coffee, and braced.

Darren Garnick, aka "The Working Stiff," who, it seems, writes a business-y, working-man's column for the paper, remarked about the book (and me), "Thus, there is no shortage of whining about customers, co-workers and bosses - some of it totally unjustified. Sears exile Wade Rouse seems surprised he was terminated for scaring a young child for knocking dresses off a rack and getting candy-smeared fingerprints on the clothing. Given they weren’t his dresses, why not outsource the outrage to a manager?"

I must say that after I screamed, like Sarge in Beetle Bailey, "YOU @#$!*^!", I managed to chuckle.

First, what he writes is true ... it happened. And, I still think, it's funny as hell. Have you ever re-hung hundreds of little girls' dresses, fluffing the ruffles, re-ballooning the arms, knocking out the wrinkles, only to have a little girl with M&M fingers run through like a tornado knocking them all off and soiling them? While her mom chuckles at her "energy"?

And, btw, I was 19 and hungover. So I did hide in a rounder and screamed "Stop it, little girl!" before she and her mom pointed out "the bad man" to my manager. I was, of course, let go. But my boss told me, and I will never forget, that I was a good person, but a terrible employee. He told me to grow up, to find myself, to take pride in myself and what I did. Cliches, right? But I listened. And I did. And I still try to do that, every day.

To miss that point I so clearly make in my essay baffled me. As did the sentence, "Given they weren’t his dresses, why not outsource the outrage to a manager?"

Outsource my outrage? Hello! ... it was the '80s. I mean, I took business classes. We didn't even use those terms back then.

Still, I respect everyone's opinion. To some, the '80s seems lightyears aways.

But one of the things I learned in retail (and from my mom) was that respect goes both ways: Customer to clerk, clerk to customer, person to person. I still try and treat every clerk I encounter with respect, because I remember how I acted. I still stand up for baristas who get abused, still re-fold any sweaters at Banana Republic I hold up to my torso.

We were all young at one time. We all did jackass things. And then we grew up. Or pretend to, at least.

Which is why I must admit that, even at 43, I know I would still crouch my bad back down in the middle of a rounder and scare the bejesus out of that little girl all over again.

Talk about a lesson she probably never forgot.

For the entire Boston Herald article, please go to:
http://www.bostonherald.com/business/general/view/2009_09_17_Customer_is_wrong:_But_there_s_whiners_on_both_sides_of_counter

5 Comments:

Blogger Anonymous said...

That sounds like a wonderful trip! The main thing I notice when I go to other parts of your writing. useful link and this page are really reliable for any kind of writing service on the response side.

November 30, 2018 at 4:32 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

The sounds are great, would love to read it. There have so many ways to do your writings for the educational propose. www.verbchecker.com/try-our-professional-verb-tense-checker/ and here is some reference to those people who can help you with writing your personal statements.

November 30, 2018 at 5:02 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

I tend to go on runs---find an author I like and then blast through their entire corpus. For more content, you can see more details for education. I hope it will be so more helpful for us.

November 30, 2018 at 5:03 AM  
Blogger mitchelle Cook said...

Perfect blog to understand the mentality of the customer of buying something. Seller often got panic while dealing with such kind of irritating customers. We have https://www.biographywritingservices.com/5-reasons-of-writing-a-biography-with-our-experts/ to all of you.

December 17, 2018 at 2:21 AM  
Blogger joe said...

This collection is awesome and i can say that you must read review about these writing. I hope people will learn about the writing techniques sepcially education.

December 23, 2018 at 10:03 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home