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I Am A Retail Warrior: The 41-Cent Saga

So I've mentioned my co-workers before. There aren't many of us - the bosses, the old guy, the part-timer (technically, there are two part-timers, but one only works a couple of days a month), and me. There are many times I enjoy how few co-workers I have to deal with. I'm not much of a people person anyway - part of what makes me good at this job is the amount of time I get to focus on the canines. We've had a few other workers come and go over the years, but only one lasted longer than a couple of months. I got along really well with her, and was sad to see her move on to more lucrative things, but we've remained friends.

Because there are only five of us, we are very much like a family. This can be good - when someone is ill or going through hard times, we tend to comfort one another. My bosses are also my friends and advisers at times. In fact, on days I'm not working alone, I'm often asked if I'm the wife, daughter or sister of whichever colleague is there.

Like any family, though, we have some issues. Over the past year, one issue has been nagging at me, and it's bothersome enough to warrant sharing. My significantly older co-worker, "Joe," either brings his personal issues to work and takes them out on me or he's got a bizarre condition that causes him to have verbally violent temper outbursts directed at me (and only me), even in front of customers.

Early in the summer, we had one in a string of incidents - this one over a register shortage of 41 cents from the night before. It was a weekend, I had counted my register down at the end of a Saturday and found it short some change. I added change to it and thought it was taken care of, but when Joe counted it the next morning, he discovered it was still short. I came in later that day and began preparing for my shift. After clocking in and beginning to count my register, I noticed Joe was looming over me. He's old - my parents' age, in fact, but he's also a big guy, and sometimes a bit menacing.

"Your drawer was short 41 cents, Jane," he snapped.

"Uh, sorry, Joe. I added change last night and thought it balanced out."

"BULLSHIT!" he roared, causing heads to turn. The part-time co-worker "Danny" peered over from the back of the store.

"What?" I was totally incredulous. What was he implying? Why was he cursing? Did he not see the customers in the store?

"You KNEW it was short and you left it for someone else to fix," he snarled.

At this point, Danny, with whom I'd closed the previous night, came over.

"Uh, I was here, Joe. She counted it twice and when it was short she put the money in," he whispered.

"Get back on the floor, Danny," Joe snapped, before turning back to me. "You left it short and you know it," he said.

"You're being ridiculous," I replied. I am the most even-tempered of the bunch, at least while actually at work. "I'm sorry it was short, but accidents like that happen, and I'm more than happy to throw the change into the drawer."

"That's not the point!" he yelled.

This wasn't going well. Customers were getting uncomfortable. I'd seen a few slink out already. And it was obvious talking to him wasn't helping.

"You can think what you like, Joe. Here, I'm putting in 41 cents and getting to work," I said, and went about as if nothing had happened.

On the inside, my heart felt like it was going to explode and I was livid. But Joe had cost us enough time and potential business, so I tried to stay calm. Danny sidled up to me.

"What the hell was THAT all about? That wasn't cool at ALL!" he whispered.

"You got me. Did he say anything to you earlier?"

"He said it was a few cents short, but he didn't make a big deal out of it or anything. That was really weird."

"I'm just going to stay out of his way," I told Danny. "I can't deal with him right now, I'm too pissed off."

But after an hour or so of awkward sales and a general feeling of building malice in the store, I decided I needed to have a polite word with Joe about the way he'd spoken to me. It wasn't the first time he'd gone off the rails over nothing. It wouldn't be the last.

I walked over to where Joe was stonily reorganizing merchandise. Joe is older than I, but he is not my boss and it's not his place to take me to task. Still, I thought we could resolve this with a measure of dignity.

"Joe, we need to have a discussion here. Surely you recognize that all of us have miscounted a register before. And I don't appreciate you calling me out like that, especially in front of customers. That wasn't appropriate."

His face turned pink, then gradually got darker until it was crimson.

"Get the fuck away from me, Jane," he said, not at all quietly. "You just fuck off! I'm sick of your shit."

If he was sick of MY so-called shit, you can imagine how I felt about him at that point. Once again, he'd done it with customers in the store, only this time, he'd dropped an F-bomb. My jaw clenched and my eyes narrowed. Sure, he looked like a complete dick to everyone around, but he was also making ME look bad.

"We're not finished discussing this," I said, very quietly. "But I'm going to do my job now."

I walked away, endured another round of worried questions from Danny, who is a bit of a wuss when it comes to conflict, and put myself into selling and fawning over customers' dogs. Inside, I was enraged. But the customers had gotten to see enough of the Joe and Jane show. Displays like that are always off-putting. They come in to take refuge from their own lives by laughing over squawking rubber chickens and getting their pets the very best in treats and gear. Nobody likes to know what goes on backstage at a boutique. If they want to see things like that, they go to Walmart.

A good hour-and-a-half later, Joe walked up to me.

"Jane, we're good," he muttered. "You and me, we're fine."

Really? I wasn't fine. I was fucking furious. But it hardly seemed like the time to discuss it.

"Sure, Joe," I said, and went back to business.

As I've said, it wasn't the first time Joe had been unreasonably and unexpectedly nasty to me, but it was one of the worst. He tells me to "fuck off" on a pretty regular basis. He has a habit of asking me a question about product knowledge and as soon as I respond saying, "Okay, thanks, now go away."

I've told the bosses. It's not that I want Joe to get into trouble, but no one deserves to work in such a hostile environment. They've responded that they'll have a word with him, but that he's going through some tough times and we all need to be cut some slack from time to time. I agree. There are times Joe's been extraordinarily kind and helpful to me. But in the end, it always degenerates into angry confrontations that I never start.

Still, I make sure to check in when he's out sick, or when his wife's not feeling well, or when his daughter's ex-husband is causing trouble. Because we're family, right? One big ridiculously dysfunctional family.


Previously in I Am A Retail Warrior:
* 15 Things We Wish Customers Knew.

* I Am Not Your Friend.

* Doggy Dress Code.


Previously in Life At Work: Barista! Tales From The Coffee Front; At Your Service; I Am A Security Guard; I Am A Roofer; Working The Door; I Am A Wrigley Beer Vendor; I Am A Pizza Delivery Guy; and the original Life at Work.


Jane Harper is our pseudonymous retail correspondent. She welcomes your comments.


Posted on October 5, 2015

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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