I’m completely used to retail now, it’s been so long, but I can still remember what it was like to work a desk job. God, I loved weekends. They were magical beacons of hope, a time for rejuvenation, something to look forward to during a stressful week.

Weekends

  • Pro: Fridays are awesome.  Con: Mondays suck.
  • Pro: You’ve worked too hard all week to clean.  Con: Your house is dirty and getting dirtier.
  • Pro: Your friends are off work too.  Con: You can’t invite them into your dirty house.
  • Pro: You only have to work five days in a row.  Con: You have to work five days in a row.
  • Pro: You have time to cook a delicious meal.  Con: Who wants to grocery shop with half the city at the store at the same time?
  • Pro: You have no choice but to relax, no one else is doing business.  Con: You can’t get any business done on the weekend if you need to.

But I’ve grown fond of the retail system over the past year and a half. Taking days off in the middle of the week can be pretty satisfying too.

Days Off

  • Pro: You can get things done while other people are doing the jobs you need them to do. Con: You have no excuse to not get things done.
  • Pro: You get to rest as much as if you had a weekend off.  Con: Weekends in retail are god-awful.
  • Pro: Dreading Monday is a thing of the past.  Con: Two days off in a row is a rarity.
  • Pro: You sometimes only work two days in a row before you get another day off.  Con: You sometimes have to work six days in a row before you get another day off.
  • Pro: Your friends that work normal jobs can hang out with you at night.  Con: Your options for social engagements are limited to what can be accomplished on a week night.
  • Pro: Your house is typically cleaner.  Con: You are probably doing the cleaning on your days off.
  • Pro: You value time with your significant other more when your days off don’t overlap.  Con: Your days off with your significant other don’t frequently overlap.

All in all, I’d say the two are pretty equally matched. I guess that’s why I’m fortunate I get a weekend off every month. If it weren’t for my fella working a ‘normal’ job with regular weekends off, I wouldn’t change a thing. Except vacation time. I’d get much, much more of that. 🙂

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I just tried to hang up a blouse. Six separate times. On two different hangers. The thing was absolutely determined NOT to be hung. Tears were nearly shed.

This little interaction between me and the blouse is the perfect summation of my day.

Having closed the store (at midnight) last night, I planned to let myself sleep until 9 this morning. At nine, I pressed the tiny button on my phone to snooze. At 9:05, I did the same. By 9:30, I was pressing the button without even regaining consciousness. This went on until 10:30 this morning. Folks, please keep in mind I work in retail and am closing the store three nights in a row. I don’t want to sleep until 10:30, even keeping in mind that I get home around 12:45 (or 1:20 am, like this morning), but my body makes me. I can’t change this biological imperative. I must sleep. So my morning is totally shot.

Once I was finally up and going, I started a chore on my lengthy list and then got distracted and began another chore. As this happened multiple times, I accomplished almost nothing.

Then, off to work – and early, too, because the store was busy and an associate called in sick. Our District Manager, the slightly intimidating man that he is, was already there evaluating our store’s level of awesomeness. One bright spot was that I arrived at the store at the same exact moment as a former boss and rather-important-fellow at the corporate office and it had been ages since I last saw him. I can’t tell you what a treat it was to get to visit with him as we worked in the store. Apparently I have Cam Newton to thank for bringing Rather-Important-Fellow to visit the Auburn store. Thanks, Cam. If I could, I’d lift you on my shoulders, too.

There was nothing wrong with the next few hours. Nothing too frustrating. I was coping all right, considering the usual stresses of managing others.

Then someone just had to return an Extremely-Valuable-Piece-of-Technology that required multiple flaming hoops to be jumped through. By me. Before the store closed. And of course, concurrently, traffic at the store picked up due to a book signing. Never will I complain about a book signing that goes well. It’s a lovely thing.

I will, however, complain that I didn’t get a chance to do my hoop jumping until around 10:45pm. And because of a technical malfunction with some of our equipment, I had to literally climb walls in order to jump through more hoops to jump through the ORIGINAL flaming hoops. Honestly, I’m losing track of the hoops. There were a lot. Most of them burning. Acrobatics were required.

Okay so I had a male associate do most of the actual wall-climbing. But I had done a little climbing before I finally decided that was a danger to myself and my surroundings and called in some assistance.

Anyway, it took me an hour to wade through the paper-trail-CYA bureaucracy involved in returning said Extremely-Valuable-Piece-of-Technology, at which point it was half an hour before the store was to close and I had to cash out FIVE registers.

Five.

Usually by half an hour to close, I have three registers to cash out, count the deposit, and then all of the end-of-day paperwork involved in retail daily closings. If I’m really fast, I can get one register done before closing and the other two counted after close, count the deposit and do my paperwork and be done by about 45 minutes after we lock the doors.

It should come as no surprise that I started cashing out registers at 11:30 and we didn’t leave the parking lot until 1:15. A. M.

There were several moments where I had to remind myself to breathe. I had to stop to relieve myself when I thought my bladder was going to explode. I had to get some ice water when I felt a little woozy. I had to encourage my associates to greater heights while still getting these bothersome details sorted out.

But when I got home tonight, I just about fell apart when the damn shirt wouldn’t stay on the damn hanger. It’s like it all just hit me in that moment that my job can be really frustrating. And I work incredibly long hours. Just today, I worked 10 hours. On my feet, climbing walls, jumping through hoops, trekking from the front of the store to the office then back again, answering associate questions. Helping customers. Scheduling breaks. Cramming a sandwich down my throat. Chatting with an author. Bolstering the attitudes of my sometimes discouraged co-workers. Cleaning spills. Straightening shelves. Reading reports.

Who has the time to breathe with all that going on? Good thing it’s involuntary, or I’d be long dead.

Guess what?

I can make a delicious espresso drink to order! If you give me about five minutes and are willing to taste it in front of me and don’t mind if I take another five minutes to make you another one if it isn’t exactly delicious on the first try.

I work in a bookstore with a cafe. As a manager, I’m responsible for scheduling breaks for all of the associates on the clock, including the cafe workers. For the first few weeks, I was fortunately scheduled to work with bookstore associates who could run the cafe while the cafe associates went on break. This lovely scenario came crashing down around me last week when I was the only person with even the remotest of training in this area available to break out the cafe associate .

And when I say remote, I mean REMOTE. Up to that point, I’d spent half an hour in the cafe making two of the easiest drinks on the menu with another manager. Then all of a sudden last week I’m in the cafe making complicated drinks, the ingredients for which I am not even faintly familiar with, much less know where to find. I believe I held my own – I had customers taste their drink and let me know how it was, and no one asked me to make something else, so I’d consider that a success.

But after that half hour, I was absurdly flushed and jumpy. I thought for sure I was going to screw something up and I felt like I’d rushed around the cafe the whole time accomplishing very little. I looked every bit the Embarrassed Barista that I was.

Since then, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the cafe. I’ve made a little bit of everything, done a little up-selling (of delicious baked goods!), and generally feel less worried that what I’m making is going to disgust my customers. I still tend to exit my time behind the counter a little flushed, but I suppose that will subside as well.

Let’s just hope that I don’t get asked to make a Mint Bliss Frappe (or something to that effect) again. I’m fairly certain the recipe isn’t in the binder behind the counter and I actually had to talk a customer out of it the first night I was in the cafe. That was pretty embarrassing. But he seemed to be pleased with his super-duper easy Hot Apple Cider instead!

It’s after 1 am.

I’m writing a post.

And I’m not even remotely tired.

That would be because I am frequently scheduled to close the store in the evenings, a shift that either puts me home at 11:30 or 12:30, depending on the day of the week. Obviously, tonight was one of those 12:30 sort of evenings. I can’t really complain, I’m a manager, and as such, my duties tend to be less menial and more clerical. Don’t get me wrong, I pitch in, and I work  my tail off every second I’m on the clock. But for the most part, I just supervise and make sure the urinal in the boy’s bathroom is scrubbed without actually having to do the scrubbing myself. This is a cause for celebration.

The only problem is, I tend to need eight to ten hours of sleep nightly to perform at peak efficiency. I am currently getting six to seven hours a night. So, I’ve taken up drinking coffee. In copious amounts. I haven’t quite gotten the necessary quantity figured out, because I’m finding that I tend to drink more than I need and am up for two hours or so after I get home. That is LATE. And the only thing that gets accomplished in those hours is soap opera viewing and the occasional episode of America’s Next Top Model. Or Hell’s Kitchen. If I have the stomach for it, maybe Glee.

So basically I might as well be sleeping, but I’m not, and am therefore not benefiting from those extra two hours of sleep that I so desperately need in order to not have to consume so much coffee. Honestly, I don’t remember when this cycle began, but I wish I’d never had that first cup of joe. Worst choice ever.

Oh wait, I’ve definitely made worse choices. Maybe ‘Worst-choice-involving-coffee ever.’ That seems safer, if I’m going to go for the superlative, which apparently I enjoy.

Anyway, the only drawback I’ve found to closing is that it negatively affects my sleep schedule. There has been a positive or two: I have to be a bitch every now and then to make sure everything’s done correctly. I wouldn’t normally consider this to be a good thing, but I’ve needed to learn how to be a bitch for a long time. Necessity is the mother of invention…and bitchiness! But seriously, I’ve grown some balls in this process, and I’m proud of myself.

As for the second benefit, I eat a bigger lunch and a smaller dinner (as a general rule, sometimes I just eat a big lunch and a big dinner…but not usually) which Mom tells me is a much better way to have meals. Also, doing paperwork brings me joy. That is probably the lamest thing I’ve ever said, but heck, we all know I’m lame. No revelations of character there!

Ok. The Closer is finally winding down. Fifteen minutes with a book and I’ll be dead to the world. Unless I overdid it with coffee AND soda tonight… Brilliant!

I’ve done a little career shifting of late (which should surprise no one, really) and have jumped head-first into the retail game. Sure, I was ankle-deep in it at my previous job. But I still sat at a desk the majority of my day. And one could argue that I worked in retail previously as an assistant buyer, but I was ten steps removed from the customer at that point, and I rarely got up from my desk chair for anything but bathroom and lunch breaks.

These days, if I get ten minutes out of nine hours to sit down, I’m shocked. I won’t say ‘lucky’ because I don’t really mind all the activity, and not getting to rest makes the day go by so much more quickly. On the other hand, my feet….. well. They hurt. I’ve got blisters. My toes are tired of being shut up in shoes all the time. I’ve taken to propping my feet up to relieve the aching. And oh, the smell. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m the only one who has to endure it when I get home. The Ex (formerly known as ‘Hubby’) is lucky to be outside of a five-mile radius of my feet after a day of work.

I’ve been working at this bookstore for going on five weeks now. My first two days were sketchy. I was certain Retail and I were going to be deep, loathing enemies. There I was, shelving books, holding back tears. I just knew I was going to be awful at it all. Sure. I loved helping the customers at my previous job. That, besides all the lovely people I worked with, was my favorite part of that job. There, I learned that customer service is easy. Smile. Be as professional as possible. Represent yourself and your employer with grace and poise. Keep a calm, patient demeanor. Do whatever you can to make their experience exceptional. It’s sort of like Super Professional Smiling Liz who answered the phone so pleasantly at the university store. Only, in person.

I stifled the tears for those two days, and then something clicked. I got on the register. I sold some things. I got a kick out of reading the customers and trying to do what I thought would make them happiest. I started to enjoy what I was doing. I took a second look at my preconceived notions of Retail. I relaxed a little and gave Retail the benefit of the doubt.

After a couple of weeks, I was ‘promoted.’ Something I’m doing in this position for the first time is managing others. Again, I was ankle-deep in this before, and I learned a few lessons from having my ankles bitten a little. The nice thing now is, I know the answers. People can feel confident asking for my authoritative advice. It’s nice knowing that my previous work for this company is coming in handy now, because I have a level of confidence I never would have felt anywhere else. That makes the limited managerial responsibilities I have much easier to bear. Almost enjoyable.

Plus, as has been the case before, the folks I work with are just awesome. And pretty amusing. I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in. And if you couldn’t tell, Retail and I get along pretty well these days. Especially when the customer grins back at me when I finish ringing up their purchases. Or when my attempts at small talk actually sound natural. Or when a co-worker gets bright-eyed to find out we’re working the same shift the next day. Those are good moments indeed.

So, Retail, it’s very nice to meet you. Let’s see where this relationship takes us, shall we?

So there you are, sleeping soundly when some little bit of your semi-conscious mind says, “hmm…it’s a little brighter outside of my eyelids than it normally is before my alarm goes off.”

But you ignore that. You have no reason to doubt the accuracy of your cell phone alarm. It’s not yet failed you. You sleep.

When you realize it really has to be brighter out than normal, you pull yourself into full waking consciousness and reach out for the phone on the tabletop beside you. Flip it open. Force open the lids.

Oh. Crap.

7:43.

AM.

What time are you supposed to be sitting at your desk answering the endlessly ringing phone? Oh yeah. That would be 7:45 AM.

First step: Call Work.

Still too early for anyone else to be answering YOUR phone so when that fails, you call one of the only other numbers you know. Finally reach a person, explain that you had actually originally planned to be late that morning and had already told your boss you would be but then plans changed and you took your scheduled lateness off the calendar so you needed to let someone know you might be as much as an hour late. Considering you had overslept by an hour and a half.

Two minutes later you’re in the shower, bathing quicker than you’ve bathed in your life. Thank heavens it’s Friday and jeans day. No leg shaving required. Another three minutes later, you’re shoving yourself into your clothes. Thirty seconds later you’ve got the hair dryer going because you can’t even let your hair dry naturally before making it into the office at this point (and wet hair just really doesn’t work in retail). Barest bits of makeup and jewelry, glance in the mirror, and you’re out the door.

Gracious, that was only took fifteen minutes. Unbelievable.

And then of course you get behind the slowest driver in the world. Well, okay they are actually speeding, just not enough for your particular needs. You use the extra time to call work one more time to make SURE everyone knows you are in fact on your way and you’re SO sorry. Fifteen more loooooooong minutes later, you find yourself in the parking lot. You practically run the five jillion miles to the bookstore. Because you are in fabulous shape, you make the trek at about a jillion miles a minute (takes about five minutes) and you’re clocked in, a mere thirty-five minutes after opening your eyes. This is a miracle.

So, to sum up, survival of this situation requires doing everything in your morning routine faster than you’ve ever done it before, a lot of cursing (yes, I actually left this out of the description above, but trust me it was a large part of my particular morning), and several apologies to your coworkers and boss. Oh yeah, and working your butt off every minute of the day you are there. And skipping lunch.

Which reminds me… I guess I’d better eat some dinner!

Similar to what I did last summer with ‘The Lifeguard Chronicles,’ I have decided to share some survival guides for the next several posts. Today, we discuss how LizHarrell survives talking on the phone all day long.

LizHarrell does not like the phone, and does not feel that she is alone. Many people have no love lost for this piece of technology, and, despite its many conveniences, would rather Alex G Bell had spent his time creating the text message so that today I would be texting via direct thought instead of on an ancient Motorola that won’t even allow cuss words in its predictive text. Anyway, I would rather carry on any variety of personal conversation through text and email than over the phone any day of the week, and wish it did not make me appear anti-social and unpleasant that I feel this way.

But, folks, this is a modern world and the phone is a large part of it. I can avoid 85% of all personal phone calls if I’m willing to really put effort into it. But at work, I’m stuck with the business standard way of communication: the phone. Email is fab, but I find that most people feel their problems are more effectively resolved with voice-to-voice communication. I get it. I really do. Especially in my customer-oriented field of work. You want a person to help you.

Problem is, you probably also want a person to help you who has some basic phone skills. Shy as I am, I learned these business phone skills easily while working as a lifeguard and even came to relish the phone answering chore. I honed my talents at the chain bookstore I rather infrequently mention these day for which I served as an assistant buyer in the corporate office. I was so good at it  that the receptionist and back-up receptionist thought it would be cool to go to lunch together most days and leave me to pick up the phone. I ask you, what’s the point in a back-up receptionist if that person is gone at the same time the regular receptionist is gone? Quite right. None.

My phone skills suffered as a sales rep, mainly because I was no longer fielding phone calls; I was making them. Or rather, coming up with every reason ever NOT to make them. Once I had my spiel down it got easier. But I am convinced it would have taken years of intensive therapy to overcome my hatred of the phone had I continued down that path.

Now I’m back on track and answering the phone like a(n almost) pro. I almost never know what problem is going to be thrown my way, but that’s sort of part of the adventure. Until I get fifteen LONG phone calls of an identical nature. In a row. Before lunch. But you know what, even if it isn’t much of an adventure, I still get a kick out of whipping out my secret weapon: Super Professional Smiling LizHarrell. SPSLH is the best phone answerer in the world. She smiles when she picks up the phone, even though no one but her co-workers (who may or may not believe her to be insane at this point) see her. She has a bright, clear tone that people love to listen to. She is the friendliest person on the face of the earth. She is helpful. She knows almost every answer, and if she doesn’t, gosh darnit, she’ll figure it out for you. She is never irritated that you are calling with the same question fourteen other people have already asked her that morning. She enunciates. She oozes charm. She is amazing.

She is obviously NOT me. But I have gotten quite good at pretending to be SPSLH. Not only do I have people thanking me on bended knee when they end the conversation, I’ve actually pulled off a major con at the same time. I am diabolical! I am fooling the world. Little do they know how much I spent the fraction of a second between phone ringing and my answering dreading every moment of the conversation I was sure to have. No, they believe I love it.

And you know what? I sort of do. SPSLH makes me better. And she can make you better too. But I recommend coming up with a new name. And potentially tweaking the gender. Or perhaps her goals in life. Maybe she should be a vegan, or something. You know, whatever works.