We’re all in agreement that some people out there are terrible, right? Well, here is a list of the most memorable terrible people that I met working retail.
The mesquite turkey shopper I once worked in what you would describe as a grocery superstore, in the deli area. This store was located in a very affluent, very protestant area. The mega church behind our store did a twenty-six million dollar renovation during the year this story took place. That was the same winter that seven people died under bridges downtown because they were homeless and they froze to death. But whatever, Jesus take the wheel.
Anyway, I find that in all of my work history, customers in this area were the worst. They wanted to let you know all the money they had, and that you were far beneath them because you were serving them, but they also wanted to argue about prices like they couldn’t spare an extra nickel. And they wanted you to wait on them like they were god damn royalty and the only people in the entire universe.
One day, we were super, super busy, when a woman came up and said she was interested in getting some turkey we had on sale. But the problem was, we cut the plain turkey on the same slicer as all the other turkey, including the mesquite flavor, and her son was allergic to the mesquite flavoring. She couldn’t trust the turkey already in the case, and would need us to break down the slicer and completely wash it before cutting her order. Yeah, this was a total pain in the ass, but her kid was allergic, right? What else was I going to do? And you could buy the same kind of turkey in the grocery section, but people who came to the deli were generally buying in pound quantities, or they wanted a certain thickness or whatever, so I didn’t think twice.
So, I work my butt off breaking down this slicer, completely cleaning every part, and praying that the stuff in the deli case won’t run out and I won’t have to slice more turkey and start over. I get it all done, and here comes the woman, and I ask her how much turkey she wants.
“Oh, about an eighth a pound.”
You guys, an eighth a pound is like three slices. I was like, “Are you sure that’s all you want?”
It was. She made me break down an entire slicer in the middle of a super busy day, keeping me occupied so I couldn’t help other shoppers, placing an extra burden on my coworkers who had to scramble even more to keep up.
For three. Slices. Of. Turkey.
The wedding underwear shopper I worked for a while as a sales associate at a Frederick’s of Hollywood store. Though the mall closed at nine, we had a policy that if any customer came in before nine, even if it was 8:59:50, we would help them. Even if customers came in and just browsed a minute and we didn’t have the gate down until 9:06, it still sucked, because your feet hurt and you had to close and you just wanted to go home. But I never hated anyone for staying a little bit over, especially if they were going to buy something.
But I hated these customers. It was a mother and a daughter. They came in at 8:58. And, they explained, the daughter was getting married and needed to try on foundation garments for her dress. This isn’t a straightforward, “Hey, let me grab some underwear,” type thing. Measuring, sizing, trying on foundation garments takes a long time. And she tried every single one. Merry widows, corsets, bustiers, anything we had, multiple sizes, with chicken cutlets, with cloth pads, just.fucking.everything. At 10:30, the mother breezily declared, “Well, none of this will work. We have time, though, the wedding isn’t until May!”
It was September. And they didn’t buy a damn thing.
The inappropriate response to injury I was heavily pregnant with my first child and still working at the deli from the first story when I had a fall. I was headed up to the counter to wait on a customer when I stepped in some grease that had spilled in front of the rotisserie oven. It was a very minor fall, and everything was fine, but it looked alarming, as I hit my stomach on the corner of a steel table as I went down ass-over-tea-kettle. My co-workers immediately called the store’s first aid department and gathered around me to be sure I was okay.
At this point, the woman at the counter, who had viewed the entire incident–that is, saw an eight months pregnant woman fall spectacularly–huffed and shouted, “Isn’t anyone going to help me?”
The Beanie Baby I’ve worked at McDonald’s a lot over the years. By the way, never abuse fast food employees. That job is hell on earth. You work super hard, only to have people scream insults at you all day long because you forgot to put extra napkins in their bag or some shit.
Anyway, I had the bad fortune of working at McDonald’s when they did their fourth Beanie Babies promotion. Teensy, limited edition Beanie Babies were offered as the Happy Meal toy prize (if you don’t know what they are, you can learn, but never unlearn, about the fad here). Usually, people are able to just buy Happy Meal toys separately. I think they were seventy-five cents or something. But because people were going nuts and trying to buy up whole cases, which left nothing for the kids looking forward to the toy in their Happy Meals, our franchise made a rule: you could only purchase the toys individually if you made a food purchase (any food purchase, even a hamburger that was, at the time, 59¢), and non-Happy Meal toy purchases were limited two to a customer.
People were not happy. Like, super not happy. One irate customer will go down in history as my all-time favorite angry customer. She came in and asked to buy one of each Beanie Baby we had on hand. I think there were like eighteen different ones. I explained our policy to her and she went full-on nuclear meltdown. This wasn’t fair, it might be illegal, you can’t force people to buy food, blah blah blah, and all the while I’m just smiling pleasantly (because it so pisses customers off if you don’t let them rattle you) and repeating the policy. Finally, she slams her purse down on the counter and screams in my face, “FINE! I WILL TAKE A BAG OF COOKIES AND LIPS AND FLIP!”
And I’m like, wtf is a Lips and Flip? Beanie Babies all had names, but since I wasn’t obsessed with them at the intensity this woman was, I had no idea. I was like, “Which ones are Lips and Flip?” and she looked at me like I’d taken a shit on a crucifix right in front of her. Her whole face went red and she screamed, “THEY ARE THE CAT AND THE FISH! I JUST WANT THE CAT AND THE FISH!”
I looked at her, and in the calmest voice possible, as I struggled not to laugh, I said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry, we can’t sell the cat and the fish together.” “WHY NOT?!” she bellowed. And I said, “Because the cat would eat the fish.”
This story ends with “I WANT TO SPEAK TO YOUR MANAGER!”
The Racial Justice Crusader When I worked at The GAP, I had a good time with shoplifters. And since I was a seasonal employee (and my first day of work was Black Friday), I had plenty of opportunities for that good time. Some of my favorite techniques were to follow people around after they shoplifted, and suggest stuff that would go well with whatever item they’d just shoved in their purse. “You know what would look good with that baby blue button down cardigan? These dark wash boot-cut jeans.” One time, a woman who was pulling the buy-something-so-you-aren’t-suspected-of-stealing-all-the-shit-you-saw-me-stuff-into-this-other-shopping-bag stunt, and I rang her up for the items she’d stolen, too. Her face was so satisfying as she emptied the stolen goods onto the counter.
But the worst shoplifter. The worst ever. She was a willowy blonde white teenager who came in with her mother. This was a very Kris Jenner/Kim West thing, where it was clear the mom was sharing her daughter’s clothes and trying to live out her youthful whatever. They came in and looked around, and then mom was like, “I’ll meet you at Starbucks. Here, take my bag,” and left.
So, the girl is wandering around, looking at stuff, cool as a cucumber, picking up stuff, putting it back on the table, going through the racks. And I go over and I say, “Hey there, is there anything I can help you with?” and I happen to look down and there’s fucking tinfoil in the Abercrombie bag her mom had left with her. It was a fucking booster bag. They came in specifically to shoplift.
So, after a while, I’m following the girl, just picking up the empty hangers or really obviously refolding a shirt from the stack she’d just stolen from. Finally, she tries to leave, and the manager (who’d seen me following her and got the hint) stopped her. Right about then, mom comes back with the Starbucks, and she’s shocked, SHOCKED that her daughter would do something like this. That’s when I pointed out that mom was the one who’d left the booster bag with her daughter. And that’s when white, blonde, apparently middle-class mom lost her shit, calling us liars and threatening to sue not just The GAP, but us, personally. And then the daughter began accusing of us of reverse racism.
Let me be clear, both the manager and I were white. But she believed I was “reverse racist to blondes.”
Both women thought that accusation would fly in court, and continued to argue that they were going to call the police on us, until the manager suggested he would dial for them. They threw their bag full of nearly-stolen merchandise down, and the mother declared she would never shop with us again.
The moral of all of these stories is, of course, that people become absolute monsters when they’re given the power of the almighty consumer.