Writing Prompt: A time you wish you had spoken up.
At one point in my life I worked in a famous department store. One day I was standing near the cash register with another saleswoman I’ll call Patty.
On this day a woman and several children approached the register to ask us questions. A little boy said something that apparently his mother took exception to.
Suddenly the boy was on the floor.
It happened so fast and he was down before Patty and I realized what had happened. We were still trying to process this when the boy staggered to his feet and then again said something that his mother didn’t like.
Mother struck again.
He was on the floor again.
Patty and I stood there, jaws dropped. We glanced at each other. Should we call security? We had the funny feeling that security was only concerned about shoplifters. I knew that I would probably lose my job if I “caused trouble” – I live in an “at-will employment” state and they can use anything to fire you. Actually, they don’t have to give any reason at all.
I also was aware that that it would be my word against hers — and I’d also drag Patty into something that should might not want to get involved in. However, we both felt really bad and guilty for not doing anything about it.
This is why child abuse doesn’t get reported as it should. People are afraid to get involved, because YOU can get into trouble for doing the right thing.
In retrospect, I wish that I had called the police. Even though you could not get an outside line on the department phone, I did have my cell phone in my purse in the drawer.
We were also stunned that someone would knock down her child – twice – in front of total strangers. She seemed completely unconcerned about what happened and the whole group just wandered away.
We also wondered: if she did this in public to her children, what did she do in private?
I used to work in retail and Black Fridays were like a death hole of shopping.
None of the workers in my store could enjoy Thanksgiving because we were approaching the next day with fear and loathing. We had to show up on our scheduled work day before Thanksgiving and also our scheduled hours on Black Friday, or we wouldn’t get our holiday pay for Thanksgiving. In other words, if we didn’t show up on Black Friday we lost TWO days pay. That was our incentive to show up.
My first Black Friday was by far the worst. We didn’t open until 6 a.m. but they opened the store 20 minutes earlier without warning (while we were still opening registers) and the lines were long by 6 a.m. The lines snaked down the aisle and around the escalator.
The customers were difficult but it was MANAGEMENT that made us miserable. I quickly decided that retail management intelligence must be an oxymoron. Of course they weren’t the ones who had to ring the customers up and deal with their anger when they continually changed the rules.
Our store manager – from here on known as THE GENIUS – knew that there were MORNING coupons for $10 off a $10 purchase. Can you imagine such havoc such a coupon caused? FREE STUFF! Now I know that was an idiotic corporate decision, not the store manager’s fault, but she still somehow managed to make it even worse.
There was only supposed to be one coupon per customer. Guess what? THE GENIUS decided the customers could have as many of these free stuff coupons as they wanted! These customers must have bought dozens of newspapers for the coupons! Of course it was a MORNING sale but the “morning” went from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.
THE GENIUS also decided that our 9.99 store brand towels could be included in this promotion. So for every one of these towels the customer brought to us, we had to manually change the price to 10.00 (easy, but time-consuming). THE GENIUS also decided that we were supposed to ring up each towel (while changing the price and scanning their accompanying coupon) SEPARATELY (in separate transactions). Some of these people had 25 towels and the line was HUNDREDS of customers long. This was incredibly time-consuming. After a few minutes of this I just decided “to hell with it!” and rang up all of a customer’s towels TOGETHER and scanned all of their coupons all on the same transaction. What difference did it make anyway? They were getting them FREE! The managers never said a word to me afterward.
The merchandising manager had decided that there was only going to be ONE stock person — for the whole store — from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. He not only had to put stuff out on the floor but take customer-bought stuff down to customer pick-up – stuff in housewares, bedding and china can be VERY heavy.
Customers wanted their items sent down to customer pick up but there was NO ONE to do it. We had to call the stock kid over the radio but the poor kid – an excellent worker BTW – was completely overwhelmed by having to do this for the ENTIRE store – I felt so bad for him. The paid-for stuff sat by our registers for hours and we kept tripping over it. Finally customers started STEALING stuff out of those bags (for which others had already paid.) I finally called my extremely lazy department manager and told him this. That finally got his lazy ass in gear and he started taking some of this stuff to customer pick-up even though it was BENEATH him (and he made sure that I knew this).
But even worse than Black Friday was the NEXT day, Saturday. Word had spread that there was FREE STUFF! and there were even more customers waiting to get in! The same sales were on Saturday morning but now THE GENIUS decided that customers could only use THREE of the coupons (remember that there was only supposed to be one per customer to begin with). Many of the customers in line had been there the day before and had come back armed with fresh coupons. When they find out that they could only use THREE that day instead of as many as they wanted, havoc ensued. There was nearly a riot.
Customers started screaming at us and refusing to leave, management started screaming at us because the lines came to a complete standstill, and it was a nightmare. Remember this is at 6 a.m. I’m cranky and tired and struggling with PMS – you don’t want to mess with me when I have PMS! I’m trying so HARD not to start sobbing. I was always very good with customer service but this was just too much!
One customer was reeking of heavy perfume. Because of my exhaustion and lack of sleep, this triggered my allergies (I’m allergic to perfume, wool, dust, etc.). I started sneezing uncontrollably and feeling even more wretched. Finally at 7:30 I had had ENOUGH. PMS combined with a fierce headache combined with miserable allergies drove me over the edge. Fortunately by this time more salespeople had showed up. I called a manager over and told them I felt sick and was going home. I had to call my mother to pick me up and I went home and went to bed for the rest of the day. I really felt terrible and did not feel the least bit guilty.
When I came in the next day (Sunday) all of the towels were gone — and so were the customers — no more free stuff! The funniest thing though is that later some customers tried to return some of the free towels and thought we were going to give them money back!
Fortunately the next year things were better organized. The morning coupons were changed to $10 for a $25 purchase. Still incredibly busy but nothing like that first year. The biggest problem is that you can’t use a morning coupon on morning specials — the customers just LOVED that *insert sarcasm*.
I also had a better department manager who wasn’t so frigging lazy as the first one. He was actually nice, although he was later fired for stealing from the store – he had a gambling problem.
So my favorite time of year to NOT be working in retail anymore is Black Friday. I so enjoy sleeping late, and not dealing with crazy management and customers. I plan to sleep late and then sit in my chair and read books all day.
The sad thing is that I really enjoyed helping customers under normal circumstances. Sometimes I really miss it — but not enough to work evenings, weekends, holidays, and be available 24/7 during the Christmas season.
The sad thing is that retailers don’t really give a fig anymore about customer service — I was continuously told that I was TOO helpful and spent TOO MUCH TIME with the customers. The stores only care about sales and SELLING CREDIT CARDS.
The last several weeks have been difficult in the New Jersey and New York area as we recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
After two major storms last year, Hurricane Irene and the weird Snowtober storm, I learned my lesson and made sure that I did not have too many perishables in the refrigerator. Because of several power outages, we lost a lot of food last year and since we have a very limited budget it was gut-wrenchingly expensive to replace, not to mention that we had to out several times. My husband and I live in a tiny apartment so a generator is not an option.
On Monday, the night of the storm, the lights stayed on for longer than we had hoped. But then the lights started flickering and finally around 9 p.m. the lights went off and we were plunged into total darkness. Since the lights did not come back until Friday, we mostly subsisted on granola bars and dry cereal out of the box, washed down with water. The internet service flickered on and off, and occasionally I was able to check out the internet on my smartphone, for which I was very thankful that I received earlier this year. Only occasionally could we make calls, however, since the phone service was sketchy.
Most of the businesses around us were closed due to lack of power. After a day or so, we started venturing out to see what our area looked like. We live in North Jersey, not near the shore.
In the town of Nutley, we saw this:
The area we live in had many downed wires and trees, but that was about it. However, the beautiful Jersey shore suffered heartbreakingly extensive damage. Many homes, cars, and businesses were totally destroyed. The Jersey shore’s topography changed dramatically. It has become a different place now.
Many of the areas suffered not only those damages, but there were many gas leaks in the area and even now, more than two weeks later, many residents have not been able to return to their ruined homes to check the damage. Many towns will never be the same.
Some residents on Long Island and Staten are STILL without power, more than two weeks later.
I got tired of trying to read books by flashlight, so I finally gave up. Taking showers by flashlight, however, is pretty interesting!
My husband and I were lucky, because food can be replaced. On Friday, we got our electricity back; the thing that made me smile most was having electricity and light! Light for the lamps and the television! It felt so luxurious. Once we saw on television what had happened, we were heartbroken. That night we watched the “Concert for Sandy” and luxuriated in the light.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
There are many things that I would change about myself. If I had to choose one thing to change about myself, right now, it would be my habit of procrastination.
I always seem to dread even simple tasks, and I do not know why. There are just some things that I do not like to do, and I try to avoid them, but eventually I know that I will have to do them or chaos reigns.
For example, while studying at the university, I was required to take math, science, and languages. These were not my best subjects – especially math – so I tried to avoid doing the work. Of course my grades suffered. So I finally decided to do the subjects I hated most FIRST. I got it out of the way and could then study the subjects I loved – literature, journalism, history, and geography. My grades improved in all my subjects, because I worked harder at my bad subjects and was relaxed and happy when studying my good subjects.
I found out later that Dale Carnegie endorses doing the hard tasks first, so at least I am in good company.
I still procrastinate over the dumbest things and I then constantly nag at myself to do them.
To try to stop this self-defeating behavior, I write master lists of all the things I need to do. I try to do the most onerous tasks first. Of course, my master list has grown to an unmanageable size do to my procrastinating. My master list includes everything that I need to do – from cleaning and shopping to writing blog posts.
I try to do things I dislike while doing things I enjoy – for example, I will give myself manicures (something I absolutely hate doing, but I can’t afford professional manicures on a weekly basis), I will polish silver, or I will exercise while watching TV shows that I like.
Sometimes I will set aside a whole day for doing things I hate – mostly cleaning. I especially hate dealing with and organizing paperwork. I just hate it. Paperwork seems to multiply like rabbits. I have had several legal and medical issues for the last few years and the paperwork engendered by these issues is enormous – filing cabinets stuffed with papers. I set the timer so I only have to do paperwork for about 30 minutes at a time, because if I do it much longer than that I literally start to have panic attacks. I actually start screaming.
Much of this paperwork is about negative things and makes me feel like an utter failure, so I don’t want to see it on a daily basis. I hate filing, so I have taken to organizing much of my paperwork in binders, especially old files that I keep for legal purposes but hate seeing in my filing cabinets. It’s actually much easier for me, and I don’t dread it so much.
The strangest thing is that I procrastinate doing the things I love to do! I am a professional writer, and yet I find myself constantly pushing off my writing projects. I don’t know why. I love to write. When I finally tackle the project I enjoy it. Is it because I am so self-critical?
The writing usually is well done when I am finished, so I do not know why I do this. I need to set enough time aside to do my writing projects properly, because I need to write rough drafts so that when I enter the editing stage I am ready. I am a relentless editor. I love editing my work. I tell myself to just write the damn thing and then I can get to the editing stage!
Written for Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop.
You’ve been offered a book deal! What would you write about?
Getting a book deal is a dream of mine!I have so many things that I want to write about! I would love to write a book of essays, I would love to write a novel, and I would love to write and photograph a book about New Jersey. I would use some of my photographs from my other blog, New Jersey Memories. I would also have an excuse to buy a better camera. It would give me a good reason to travel around the state and take photos!
Of course I’d like to go to Europe to photograph and write about it – Italy, France, Spain, and Germany – that would be great. I’d also go to Australia and New Zealand and Japan and China — all over the world. It would be great if I had a publisher who’d pay for my travels, especially if I could bring my husband with me.
Perhaps this wanderlust comes from my parents. My mother was born in Lappland in northern Sweden. She always wanted to see America, so as soon as she saved enough money, she traveled to England and stayed there for awhile. She hitchhiked around England and Scotland (it was a lot safer then), and then finally came to America.My father was born in Odense, Denmark. He rode his bicycle by Hans Christian Andersen’s house every day. He traveled all over the world, including living in New Zealand for awhile. Then he came to the United States, where he eventually met my mother in Brooklyn.
I was born and raised in New Jersey, but I grew up in a with a strong European environment. I did live in Denmark briefly as a child, after my father started writing for a Danish newspaper, but my mother was homesick for America, so we came back.
I always heard their exciting stories about their travels, and I would really like to do some traveling, too.
I’d love to travel around the world, take photographs, and write books about the places that I’ve been.
Written for Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop.
I take lots of photos for my other blog New Jersey Memories and I especially love taking photos in the springtime! There was an especially early springtime this year because of some unseasonably warm weather in March and April.
All of these photos are “borrowed” from my other blog. They are from the Cherry Blossom Festival in Newark, New Jersey (bigger than even Washington D.C.’s!) and also from around Montclair, New Jersey.
My favorite things that I can own right now are books. I love books in every way, shape or form. Since I live in a tiny apartment, I can’t have too many physical books around. Just enough to fill up two bookcases. That’s where Kindle comes in.
I can pack over 3,000 books on my Kindle and love it! Yes, physical books are still my favorite. But they take up space and sometimes are quite heavy. It’s hard to read heavy books in bed at night. But many nights I fall asleep clutching my Kindle. I love that I can organize the books on my Kindle in whatever order I want – The Most Recently Read, by Title, by the author’s last name, etc. I also love that many pre-1923 out-of-copyright books are free! I have downloaded Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, and Charles Dickens for free.
My place is neater, too. An e-reader is a minimalist’s dream, and while I will never be a minimalist at least I don’t have books scattered all over the place, covering almost every available surface.
I recently acquired my very first iPhone, and immediately downloaded my first app – the Kindle app! I now need an iPhone intervention. Since I don’t like taking my Kindle out of the house, it’s lovely to know that all those books I downloaded from my Kindle to my iPhone are right there with me wherever I go, every time I want to read them.
More than anything else, I love to read and write. So if I could choose anyplace to have a time out, it would be a bookstore or library. I love going to bookstores, drinking in the cafe and reading magazines. I always carry a small notebook and pen in my purse, and will sit in the bookstore, writing away at essays, short stories and blog posts. I love to write with pen and paper. I even collect small notebooks — I love anything that is in the shape of a book! I also love to wander the aisles of books in the bookstore and look out for new books that I want to read.
I just feel so comfortable, safe, and secure surrounded by books. When I was in college/university, I would always do my homework at the university library. I would study there for hours in the second floor “stacks” area. I had a heavy load of reading and writing to do, since I majored in English and minored in Journalism. I would sit in a private carrel, tucked away on the sides of the building, and work hard, occasionally gazing out the windows at the passing students below. I was especially happy if I was studying a subject I liked, such as World Geography, History of Cinema as Art, or my literature and writing courses. I would look around me, surrounded by books, and sigh with pure contentment.
I used to own over 4000 books, but the very small space that I live in now doesn’t allow me to do that. But I still have 4 bookcases filled with books. I cannot imagine not having books surrounding me. Even if I ever was able to afford an e-reader, I would still have physical books around. I love the look and feel of books.
I had so many books because I live in a town that is obsessed with them. In the spring they have dozens of book sales all over town. There is one weeklong sale that has a bag sale on the last day — all the books you can stuff in a paper grocery bag for $5.00. The line forms by the door and down the parking lot before the sale even opens for business. I still always carry a paperback in my purse.
My elderly car was called The Bookmobile. I always had many books tucked away in the glove box, seats and trunk. I didn’t want to end up stranded without books!