Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Day 21

I got my first pink slip today. Which, in Wal-Mrt culture, doesn't mean you're fired, it means you messed up. Last Sunday, the business office figured that I came up $9.89 short for the day, meaning that my bag had $9.89 less than what my receipts said it should have had in it. Somewhere along the way, I must have either given back someone too much change, or been short-changed by someone when they paid. I really don't know. $17,000 changed hands that day, so it's a little hard to say.

On the slip, I had to fill out why I thought it happened, and what actions I was going to take to correct the problem in the future. I basically wrote, "I don't know," and "Try harder," but with bigger words and a superior tone. In other words, I acted like I was writing a graduate level lit paper. But I didn't know what to say. Getting the stupid slip, in an enevelope with my name on it at the beginning of my shift, ruined my whole night. I had no idea what went wrong, let alone when it went wrong. And then there was the fact that it was a godamned memo. I hate memos. Someone should have taken a few minutes with me, explained what had happened, and what the normal course of action is when these things happen. For instance, I have no idea how many pink slips it takes before you get disciplined. I have no idea how much difference between the receipts and total in the bag that it takes in order for a pink slip to be issued. I didn't even know what a fucking pink slip was until tonight. No one ever bothered explaining any of this to me.

I'm really down on this job right now, and how my lack of training is paying off in spades. Tonight was the first night since my training days that I took CBLs on the cmputer, too ("Risk Control" & "Workplace Violence Prevention - Hourly"). According to my orientation materials, I was supposed to be issued a sponsor for my training period and a cashier's handbook that basically tells me everything I need to know. Instead, I get no one, and most of my training has been on the computer or with fellow cashiers, who have never been trained to train in the first place.

Wal-Mart, you've got some explaining to do.

Today's Sales: $6,000

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Day 18

I have discovered the joys of caffeine and sugar. And I have seen that they are good.

Since Friday sucked so badly, I tired working out a system to get me through the day with a little more pep, even if the customers try to make my life a living hell.

When I work an 8 hour shift, it's actually 9 hours long. I work for about two hours, then get a break on the clock. Then back for two more hours, floowed by an hour long lunch off the clock. Back on for two more hours, then another break. Then finish up my shift in about an hour and a half. During break number one I make sure I get sugar -- glucose, fructose, whatever. Fruit snacks work best. During lunch, I make sure I drink some caffeine -- not pop mind you, but double-shot esspressos -- followed by some fruit to take away that awful coffee breath (apples work wonders). During my last break, I finally get candy. My personal favorite is a snickers bars, becuase it's got protein, too. That's makes it sound healthy when it's really not. But it got my through the day with a smile, even though it wasn't too different from Friday.

In fact, it was probably worse. From 11:00-6:00, we had a solid line of customers coming through. I will never do my shopping on a weekend afternoon again, in hopes of giving those who work in retail a sense of equilibrium during other hours. It's the absolutely worse time of the week to shop (unless you're grocery shopping on weeknight between roughly 4-6, which is also a madhouse of epic proportions). After "dinner" is my favorite time, because customers are a little more mellow, and more willing to chat, rather than "How are you doing?" small-talk BS.

Did you catch the fact that I hate small-talk? Maybe this wasn't the right position for me within the Wal-Mart organization....

Today's Sales: $17,000

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Day 17

Slowday today. Yesterday just seemed crazy busy, but today was different. It probably helped that instead of working 10-7pm, I did 4:30pm-1:30am. Which means this day went well into Sunday.

After the rush, most of the night was spent talking to other cashiers and "zoning." Zoning is the Wal-Mart term for making sure everything n your little aisle is straight and in order, making sure there are no items that don't belong. Those little items right before the register get picked up thenput down n the wrong place, and ots of times, customers will leave something they picked up in while in the store on top of the bubble gum or under the beef jerky because they decided they didn't want it. It's just a little window into what makes our compnay work.

Incidentally, I learned that those little items right before the register are called "impulse buys" today. meaning, you pick them up without giving a thought to whether or not you really need and/or want it, dropping it into your cart becuase you're just about to check out. I'm guessing we make loads off of them. Those Wal-Mart execs are tricky little bastards.

As a change of pace, they used me as a people greeter today, while the real greeter went on her lunch break. So I got to great for an hour, which was fun, but I can't imagine how boring it must be to do it for an entire 8 hours. I think I'd go crazy and cuss at someone just to make things interesting. So that's why I'm not a people greeter.

Good thing.

Today's Sales: $8,000

Friday, September 24, 2004

Day 16

My first day with an 8 hour shift. And it sucked. Hard.

My first mistake was not eating anything that day until my lunch break (at about 2:00 in the afternoon). So I felt sluggish for most the day. My second mistake was not preparing for how boring 8 hours of this would be, and the 4-6pm portion of my shift was going to be utter and disasterous chaos, punctuated by nothing more than frowning, tired customer after frowning, tired customer. I will never, ever, never, fail to respond to a simple hello from a retail employee just because I'm not in the mood. Sometimes, that little response is what kept me going. I'm a sociable person, and when people won't even acknowledge your existance (unless it's to berate your performance as a cashier) has got to be one of the most demeaning experieces on the planet. You want to make someone feel worthless, just let them check your groceries without making eye contact.

I've learned more about people today that I probably could have with a four-year degree in psychology. You won't see many cashier's who believe in the basic goodness of humanity. No sir, we're all about total depravity here at Wal-Mart.

But you won't find that on the website.

Today's Sales: $16,000

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Day 15

Today was my first day all on my own. Well, kind of. I had to keep calling over a CSM to help me out on certain things, so I wasn't really on my own. Only when things were going okay, which surprisingly was most of the time. As a reward (though I go the feeling that most cashiers hate doing this), they let me out of the store to help the guys gather carts for the last hour or so.

There are so many stinkin' CSMs that it's impossible to develop any kind of boss-emplyee relationship. The ones at the beginning of your shift are different from the ones at the end of your shift, there are different ones almost every day, and they all have very different personalities, so you never know how they're going to respond when you need help. Some swoop in, ready to lend a helping hand when needed. Some are reluntant to leave their little alcove, and saunter over, hoping you figure things out before they get there. Still others have a but of a superier air, and are glad to help, ifg only to prove how much they know about everything in the world to both the cashier in need and the customer who is waiting.

I kind of hate those last ones most. I was hoping that by working at Wal-Mart, I could get away from superior-types. But what I've quickly discovered is that you don't have to like art house films and the Talking Heads to be an elitist. You can also know how to run a cash register better than anyone else.

Is this absurd? Because I have a distinct feeling that it is, and that I'm not the only one feels this way. But maybe I'm imagining things.

Today's Sales: $6,000

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Days 12-13

I won't usually lump days together like this, but since not much was different between the two, I figured I could cheat this once.

Monday was my first real day. I got there early, and headed to the front of the store, where I met a CSM (Customer Service Manager) who assigned me to watch other cashiers do their jobs. That first day was four hours of watching, followed by an hour of CBLs on the computer ("Bloodborne Pathogens"; "Hazard Communications" (announcement codes for natural disasters, bomb threats, kidnappings, etc. that might come over the loud speakers), "Personal Protect Equipment"; and "Becoming a Cashier." Lots of short movies to watch, lots of fake inicidents to learn from, lots of ways to get Hepititus.

Tuesday was a longer shift (7 hours), so I watched for a while, took some CBLs ("Learning the Essentials I"; "Learning the Essentials II"; "Electronic Article Surveillance" ('where we spy on products, not people'); and "Customer Safety."

Near the end of the day, "Chattty Kathy" (one of the cashiers) let me use her register for a few minutes while she critiqued me. It was so incredibly nerve wracking, but I loved it! After my lunch break, I asked for my own register, and finished the last hour on my own. One of the ladies I trained with the night before was surprised they let me go solo that quickly. I'm not sure I was ready; mostly I was just bored with watching, and thought, "What the heck. Let's try it out."

And nothing blew up. So that's got to count for something, right?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Day 11

This morning was orientation. And oh the things they've taught me. And about how most of it was worthless.

Grace ran the show today. The only other newbie with me was Jennifer, a girl about my age. We filled out some tax forms, got our two copies of identification copied, and watched a few videos about Wal-Mart. The first was a short history, completely redundant if you've read Sam Walton: Made In America (but with moving pictures). The second was about the associate program -- what it means to Wal-Mart, how associates are the backbone of the program, why Wal-Mart is not anti-union but pro-associate (in a nice bit of 1984 theatrics that would have made Orwelle proud). Yadda, yadda, yadda.

We also found out that most of our oreintation will be taken in short lessons on computer terminals. These lessons are caled CBLs, which, apparently, don't stand for anything. Grace had us take the first two lessons, "Tobacco Compliance" and "The 3 Basic Beliefs." Each lesson has a small quiz that must be passed in order to advance. The tobacco lesson was the basics of not allowing minors to by tobacco, and had to be passed with a 100% (all other lessons only need an 80% in order to pass, which seems to imply that the lesson on "Bloodborne Pathogens" isn't as important as letting 17 year-olds purchase tobacco).

The 3 beliefs lesson briefly explained Wal-Mart's general business philosophy. the beliefs are, as follows: 1) Respect for the individual; 2) Service to customers; and 3) Striving for excellence. And that's that. Number 1 focuses on servant leadership. Number 2 on making the store a place customers want to shop at. Number 3 on always trying make things better, being open to change even if things seem to be going fine. Sam had a list of ten rules, that really fleshed out how his 3 Basic Beliefs could be applied in the life of a Wal-Mart employee (and can be found in ch. 17 of his book), but it was his 3 Beliefs that established the parameters for all of his business decisions.

And that was that. It took maybe three and a half hours, then we were out. Now I really work for Wal-Mart. I've been on the pay roll since 9am this morning. So far, so good.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Day Seven

So I got the job. You're looking at the newest cashier for Wal-Mart. Yes, that's going to be me in the sharp blue vest, bagging groceries and counting change.

And here's what was weird: I called the personel office, talked to Grace, and never heard those magic words. Here's the conversation:

Grace: Hello?
Me: Hi, this is ------, I interviewed a couple of days ago and was wondering if the results of my drug test were back.
Grace: Let me check (silence for a few moments)......Yes, here they are. So we have an orientation schedlued for Sudnay, would you be able to make it to that?
Me: (fumbling, because I didn't expect the jump from A to D) Ummm....this sunday?
Grace: Yes, this Sunday. Will that work?
Me: (still fumbling, and a little over the top enthusiastic) Yeah, umm....that'll be perfect.
Grace: Good, be here at ten and bring two forms of ID.
Me: Okay....
Grace: Bye.
Me: Um...okay, bye.
(end of call)

So, you might be wondering when I was hired. So am I. No, "You passed!" or "You're hired!" or "Welcome to the team!" I'm more than a little dissapointed. They couldn't even ask me if I wanted to accept their offer, because no freaking offer was made! It was all too anti-climatic.

I feel a little jipped. Plus, I work for Wal-Mart.

This is not the best way for them to start our relationship.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Day Six

No word yet on the old drug test (or is it a tox screen?). I called to find out the results a little after 4:00, and the personel office had already left for the day! Bunch of lazy, no good....

So tomorrow. Tomorrow I know if they want me or not. Mostly, I think they will. But then I think, maybe I didn't give the right further comments during my interview to my responses on the aptitude test. Or maybe I will somehow fail the drug test because I ate some weird mushroom (on accident, because I generally loathe mushrooms) and will not be hired, having to wait one year before I can even apply again (official Wal-Mart policy; if I had failed to be tested at the facility 24 hours after my interview, I would have had to wait for a year as well). All this is way too weird. Do I really want to work for Wal-Mart?

Oh God, I'm going to hate this job.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Day Five

So cashier. Yeaaaaahhhhh......

I dressed up. Wore a collar (but with shorts). The first part of my interview was with Grace. She's the personnel person at Wal-Mart. Most of that interview was going over the basics of the job. And telling me that I was going to interview for cashier. Period. Because that's what they need. We also talked about some of the jobs I've had, and what I could bring to the Wal-Mart or some other jibber-jabber. I couldn't figure her out.

Grace is in her 50s maybe, with graying hair, and no desire to connect with the people she interviews. It was all business. Not that she wasn't nice. She was very, very polite. But she almost seemed to be annoyed that I was calling her Grace, and not by her last name (which I don't know, because Wal-Mart name tags don't give that information), or maybe Madam Grace. I couldn't win her over. I was just another part time punk.

The second phase of my interview was with Claire. Claire was incredible. She is one of the assistant managers at the store. She is a mom and a wife, and radiates it. I think she may be the greatest mom at any Wal-Mart ever. Her portion of the interview went over the strengths and weaknesses portion of your typical interview. Also, why the interviewee would like to work at Wal-Mart. We talked about Montana and the kids I used to work with. She seemed to connect with me as soon as we started talking about Montana. Out of f the blue, she started talking about her dream of moving out there and being a cowgirl, with that far away wanderlust look that Tolkien and Jules Verne only wrote about. She started talking about roads not taken, and giving that up when she got married. It was sad and brave and something else all at the same time. And then I was shipped of to Rick.

Rick is one of two co-managers at the store. We went over getting paid (and how much), responsibilities (like don't come to work drunk), and some other things where he was trying to act the par of the hard-ass, but it really wasn't in him. I'm sure he could fire people if he had to and all, but he just seemed to stretch his own character a little, in order to give me a "realistic" view of what the job would entail, like, "You've heard the women folk talk, now here's what the man has to say." I had to stop myself from laughing a couple of times. He would make a good basketball coach, I think.

Then I had to drive to another part of town to get my urine tested for drugs. By the time that was over, the whole process had taken about two-and-a-half hours. And unless I ate poppy seeds and something crazy like that without realizing it, I think I have this job. I'm the shit. No really, I am.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Day Four

I got the call today. And I go in for an interview tomorrow morning at 10:15. And I have no idea what to expect. I really hope I get a job in the home entertainment section, with the cds and tvs and home stereo equipment. I do not want to be a cashier. Please not cashier. Anything but cashier. Anything.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Day Two

It's Saturday, so I don't expect to hear back from Wal-Mart today. I have been reading up on them -- Sam Walton's little autobiography, Made In American. He was a really down to earth guy, who really believed that giving people the lowest price possible was the right thing to do, even if other businesses went under. It was a nearly a moral issue for him, intertwined with his near fanatic faith in the capitalist system. Sure, he's had his share of failures, so he knows what it's like to be close a business, but he learned from them, and in the end, those failures have made Wal-Mart the colossus it is today.

To be fair, Walton died in the early 90s, right before the boom. Today, Wal-Mart is as recognized on a national level as McDonalds and the New York Yankees, but at his death, Walton's discount stores were still a regional affair, mostly known throughout the Midwest and South. There are other books that discuss the post-Walton years, and we'll get to those later. I'll discuss the book a bit more in depth anoter time, just to give you an inkling of where Walton was coming from. But for now, let's just hope I can get hired! This weekend seems like it might never end...

Friday, September 10, 2004

Day One

I'm writing this because a friend of mine said I should. I think when he said it though, he meant for me to write it down with pencil and paper. But i forgot how to use those years ago.

Today, I walked into Wal-Mart and applied for a job. I was a little nervous, because I haven't applied for many jobs thus far in my short life. But the lady at the Customer Service was nice, and when I asked her where they were hiring, she told me "everywhere!" Which was a good sign, I think.

They don't have you fill anything out (lucky for me), instead, I sat down at a touch-screen kiosk and typed all the important stuff. References, previous employers, work experience....But then they had this sort of aptitude test, where I answered certain questions about my views on management/employee relationships, past work problems, and a bunch of ethical questions about workplace theft and drug use. Not if I had been involved in these sorts of things, but hypothetical questions about how I (or sometimes management) would/should react if employees were stealing, or if someone came to work "just a little bit high" (their wording). It was weird. I'm guessing maybe they've had problems with this in the past, and they try to root out potential "bad seeds" before the interview process?

So I tried to answer the questions with a mix of honesty and reservation for what answers they might be looking for. Which brings me to the why of this whole thing. And I don't have a specific answer. I want to work at Wal-Mart. I want to understand this culture that's talked about so much. I want to find out why so many people hate them. Why they're so anti-union, why they don't seem to have much of a problem with importing products from countries with less than reputable labor practices, and why they're so intent on taking over the world with lower prices and satisfaction guaranteed.

Oh, and I'm weird. Until today, I thought for sure I'd get hired. But after that aptitude/ethics test, I wonder if I'm not Wal-Mart material. Then again, they really need help. So cross your fingers and hold on to your hats. Cause here goes nothin'.