Thursday, April 26, 2007

Brushing Off the Dust

It's been a long time since I last vented in this space. Not that I haven't been angry. Or that I haven't been 50, or thereabouts. I guess I've been so much of both in general that I couldn't gather all the noxiousness together into little words on a screen...

For one thing, I previously alluded to working in retail, but never got around to really delving into that devil. Now the truth can be told:

I worked in the Pretty Things Department - crystal, silver, china; yes, Lladro - at Marshall Fields. Now, Fields was always an icon to me. I opened my first credit card there. Bought my wedding dress, my first real furniture, baby clothes, family wardrobes. It's always been my go-to store. I've spent many fortunes many times over in that store through the years. Wandering through the aisles and floors of the State Street mother ship was like taking Xanax and champagne - without the barfing afterward.

One day, while I was meandering through my suburban store, unemployed but relatively serene as only Fields could make me, I saw the sign begging for holiday workers - crying out for me. How perfect! I had been unemployed for a year or so by now and was too beaten to pursue a "real" (i.e., "office") job, and who knew the Marshall Fields Way better than I? Salesmanship, being proud to present the lovely products offered by this fine establishment, customer satisfaction... The details would all fall into place. I was hired immediately and was assigned to the Tabletop Department - perfect for me! Waterford, Baccarat, Limoges, Christofle...

But the reality was that I was making $8.00 an hour, was standing on my feet for up to 9 hours a day with a half hour for lunch, and constantly fighting for schedule hours with the established ladies who guarded their time like raptors. And while there had been allusions to such benefits as insurance and such along the way, I came to realize that in retail everything is illusion. Nothing is written - some people get benefits, but it's only Those Who Are Chosen and the criteria for choice is highly subjective. It's not a time thing, as a co-worker who started the same day as I was "rewarded" with insurance coverage about two years into our service, while the concept was never brought up with me. And no one can really tell you how to go about getting these benefits. They just happen to a lucky few. They just do.

And then there was - finally! - that first raise, about a year or so after starting the job. Mine was $.25 an hour - my lucky co-worker got $.30. They just liked her more than me, and there was no getting around it.

But here is the criterion that really made the difference. I really was a good salesperson for the department. I was "shopped" by the "Secret Shopper" four times, more than anyone else in the time that I was there, and got 4 perfect scores. But my co-worker got more people to open credit accounts, and that is all that counts in the world of retail, ladies and gentlemen.

Still, working at Marshall Fields was, I believe, just normal Retail Hell. What happened after Macy's took over was really The Apocalypse.