This page has moved to a new address.

The Heart of Life

The Heart of Life: May 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nice Matters

One day as I was standing on what Smith's Marketplace employees call the "Fod Patio" ('fod'--pronounced 'food'--is a shortened version of the word 'food') watering racks of plants and flowers, a customer called out to me, "You've got the best job in the store!"

I chuckled, but said nothing. I've been told that more than once, and I still don't believe it. I don't think they understand exactly what my job entails. The days I water, I arrive at Smith's an hour before the store opens--6 a.m. It's better than it used to be; during my first summer at Smith's my watering shift began at 5 a.m. Those hours before the store opens are dark, cold, and lonely.

Regardless of how much effort I make to keep my hands and feet dry, it never quite works. Within about an hour my gloves are completely saturated in ice-cold water and my shoes start to make that familiar wet, squelching sound. After a while I usually trade out my gloves for a dry pair from the supply closet, while my favorite gloves dry for an hour or two. My feet are not so fortunate. I am not willing to trash more than one pair of shoes a season for a job that pays $8.21 an hour, so I stick to one pair for the entire day. My feet disagree with my thriftiness, especially after enduring nine straight hours of this squelchy wetness. At first it just makes my feet really itchy. Then after a period of time it evolves into lots of dead skin on the soles of my feet and super painful cracks across the bottoms of my feet.

I definitely prefer the days I do not water, but they are never without their incidents. I had a particularly discouraging day a few weeks ago. First, an elderly lady failed to make some decisions about her purchase before she got in my line, and thus I got halfway into her transaction and had to go check on several things for her. I couldn't find what I needed and there was nobody around to help me. In the meantime she got angry with me because of how long I was taking and she stormed off. As I was trying to work quickly through the long checkout line that had accumulated because of her, she came up to me and told me that she couldn't stand like this anymore, so she was going to drive her car right up to the Garden Center entrance, and she ordered me to ring up the flowers and soil she wanted and put it in her car and she would pay from her car. That's not something we normally do, but she didn't leave me a choice, so I did it anyway. I asked her if she wanted me to scan her Smith's Rewards card, so she quickly rattled off her phone number to me. I ran back to my register and put in as much of it as I could remember, but didn't get all of it. So I had to go back to her car and get it from her again. She was exasperated with me. How dare I not know her phone number off the top of my head! She rattled it off again, but I got all of it this time. Finally she drove away.

Less than ten minutes later I had another traumatic experience. I went to ring up a customer, and I noticed right away that the seven-ish-year old boy kneeling in her cart was autistic. His quirky hand movements and loud (fake) sobs were a dead give-away. He appeared to be upset with either his mother or his brother. As I went to work ringing the mother up, out of the corner of my eye I saw the boy lean out of the cart toward me and wind up with his right arm. The next thing I knew, I received the hardest slap on the butt I have ever experienced in my entire life. After the angry elderly lady, this slap almost put me over the edge. It took every ounce of self control to maintain my composure. The mother said nothing to her autistic son, but told her other son to push the cart elsewhere. She then said to me lightly, "I bet you've never been spanked at work before!" I managed a nod and a small smile. Autism or not, I would have been appalled had my child spanked an innocent checker at Smith's Marketplace. That is a bad touch! And yet she acted as though it was more amusing than appalling. As I finished up her transaction she jokingly mused outloud again about me being spanked at work. She never did apologize. Maybe she didn't see his behavior as something she needed to apologize for. Or maybe she didn't think I was someone worth apologizing to. I am only a minimum wage worker at Smith's Marketplace. It never hurts my feelings when customers go out of their way to make me feel bad about policies I can't change, and being treated like a stupid, uneducated sloth is never humiliating. Minimum wage workers are too thick to feel anything.

Almost every day I ask myself why I'm doing this to myself. While I was an unpaid intern , clients trusted me enough to ask for advice on how to deal with their child's behavior. At Smith's Marketplace, most customers don't trust me enough to ask for advice on what grows best in shade. There are times when I want to pin a disclaimer to my Smith's Marketplace apron explaining that I am a new college graduate, that this job is temporary, and that I'm quitting this job the second I find a job in my field.

Although I hate being a minimum wage worker, it is something that every person needs to experience. You can't understand the importance of being nice to someone regardless of their position until you have been in a position where people weren't always nice to you. My job has made me extremely patient with long checkout lines at stores. It has caused me to be very forgiving when an employee doesn't know the answer to a question I have. Due to my job, I recognize and appreciate good customer service. Because people have not always been nice to me, I better understand how much nice matters.