According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 20% of the United States workforce is devoted to the retail and wholesale industry. Two weeks ago, I joined this number when I started a job as a checker at Safeway.
Eh. It’s a summer job. It forced me out of my comfort zone, as I’m dealing with a lot of strangers in a row. Considering my history with social anxiety, this was probably a dumb job to take on, but I’ve never been known for making intelligent life choices. Oh, well. The paychecks from this job should sustain me when I conduct my student teaching this fall, and that’s all that matters.
Yesterday, though, I ran into a total asshole. When I first greet people checking out at a grocery store, I always ask, “How are you doing?” It’s inane but polite, and around 95% of the strangers I’ve said this to over the last few weeks have responded, “Just fine. How are you?” I say I’m doing great, and we move on with their transaction. Thank goodness, there’s no drama in that.
Now, yesterday, I had a long line, and then I got stuck for a few minutes with one customer with like twenty items from the produce section. When there’s no stickers on vegetables or fruit, I have to look up each item individually (remember, I’m new, so I don’t know all the codes). This takes an extra minute or two to get through so much produce. However, I got through it, and the line moved down. When one older gentleman got to move his booze on through, I asked him, “How are you?” and he asked how the hell I could maintain a job when I’m so slow.
There was no warning. He just slammed into me. I stammered and apologized, and he proceeded to lambaste me as I finished his transaction as quickly as I could. He even warned the person behind him to avoid this cashier, as I was so inefficient.
I’ll admit…this altercation shook me. For about two hours afterwards, it drove down my confidence to zero, and I made several easily avoidable mistakes.
So, I’ve been thinking about this. I’m 31 years old. I’m currently working towards two Master’s degrees. I’m only going to have to suffer through this job for about another two months, then I go back to working in education. I’ve dealt with much worse freakouts than this one–hell, I’ve been a substitute teacher for three years, a bus driver, and an in-home caregiver for six years. I’m used to grumpy old clients as a caregiver and dramatic teenagers as a teacher. This guy couldn’t throw out any insults that I hadn’t already heard a thousand times over.
Yet, he still got to me. He made me doubt myself.
What really bothers me about this is, he couldn’t have known that my life is more than Safeway. I look young. I could easily have been 19 or 20 years old. I could be looking at years of being a cashier. I could have no other future than Safeway. If I’d been that young and inexperienced…if this was the only job I could get, how much would this have affected me? Ten years ago, this would have devastated me. Just look how much it affected me yesterday.
I’ll admit it–I’m new to the job, and I’m not as fast as the more experienced checkers. However, even if I’m slow as molasses, it is not okay for someone to jump down a cashier’s throat like that. I wasn’t rude, and I was clearly trying my best. When you see a cashier making little more than minimum wage under such conditions, and your first response is to take out all your frustrations on her, it doesn’t make you the bigger man.
It just makes you an asshole.