There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path — Morpheus, The Matrix
There is nothing but chaos and upheaval at work right now. The boss has left on maternity leave. As this is her fifth child, she is unsure as to whether she’ll be back or not. The person who was offered the front end manager position turned it down. “Big increase in responsibility, little increase in pay,” was her reason. So, it was offered to a perpetual victim and hypochondriac. She accepted. One of the other supervisors will be heading off to university in the fall, and as such will shortly be leaving to go to a better paying summer job. Add to that a huge influx of new people, and lots of old people starting to leave the evil empire for greener pastures. Everywhere I look, I see change. And in such situations, it’s often best to keep your mouth shut. With a shortage of management material in our department, I sarcastically said one day, “Hey! Why not make me a front end supervisor?” Since I was the only one who showed any interest (joking, sarcastic, interest, mind you), I was soon promoted from bagger to front end supervisor. From bottom of the pecking order to lower lower management. It happened so fast that, had I had the time to think it over, I probably would have said no. But, when you’re a starving university graduate and the opportunity to actually use your degree comes along, you tend to act before you think.
Within the period of a week, I found myself serving my first shift behind a cash register. I had always dreaded this job. In the customer relations department, it’s always the cashier who gets an angry customer’s two barrels. “The sign says 2 for 1, jerkwad!” “That’s too high! I don’t want it! I’ll get it at IGA!” “Not so fast, moron. I have a coupon for that.” And then, you have to try to diffuse the situation with your limited knowledge. “It’s only 2 for 1 if you buy the same kind. You have two different brands, flavours, and sizes.” “OK, ma’am, I’ll put it back, but you should be aware that IGA charges $1 more for it.” “This coupon is for steak sauce. You can’t use it for your cucumber.” But, on the other side of the coin, how hard could it be if they have airhead teenage girls doing it after school and senile grandmothers doing it during the day? As with being a bagger, my “training” consisted of a 10-minute briefing before being sent to do it. I was a bundle of nerves standing behind that register, waiting for the first customer to come. Soon, they came. I slowly went through things, step by step, and I did it right. That wasn’t so bad. Another came. Again, I did it right. Nerves…fading. It was like that episode of South Park, when Cartman was learning how to ride a bull. As long as no one hits the bull in the nuts with a snowball, it’s easy. I just took things slow, and everything turned out all right. Sure, I forgot to charge a guy for his dog food, but that’s an expected, rookie mistake.
Monday was going to be the challenging day. On this day, I was to be taken through the closing procedures so I could close the store myself someday. The first bit of the evening was more cashiering, more practice. I think I’m getting the hang of this. Closing time soon comes, and it’s time to go through the closing procedures. The manager herself was on hand to take me though the process. Take out the trays and put them in the office. Count this money. Count that money. Double-check it with this report. Take out this excess. Fill out the deposit slip. Go to the computer. Enter these numbers. Print these off. You’re done. It all seems simple enough. But so did quantum physics. Like with calculus, all I need is a little practice, and I should get the hang of it.
Tuesday night. Again, more cashiering, followed by being shown the closing procedures. This time, though, it’s not the manager who’s showing me the procedures, but one of the supervisors. It’s the young one, who’ll soon be leaving for a better summer job. Or, as I’ve to think of her, the chibi-supervisor. She says that she’ll let me do it myself, and all she’ll do is stand over my shoulder and make sure I don’t screw up. Right. “Don’t do it like that! You’re doing it wrong!” “I don’t care if that’s how she showed you last night, she did it wrong.” “Do it faster. The company doesn’t like paying overtime.” “You’re going to slow. Let me do it.” “You don’t have to do that, I already did it.” Nothing like being contradicted at every turn to instill confidence in a young man. I think I’ll take back the chibi. I go home that night nothing but a confused wreck of man. I’m like the Riddler in the end of Batman Forever. I curl up into the fetal position, and repeat to myself, “Too many questions…too…many…questions….”
I get Wednesday off. I decide to head into Edmonton to see Pokémon 3. On the drive in, I pass a gravel crusher and begin to long for the good ol’ days. Yes, I hated working nights on a gravel crusher, but at least I knew what I was doing.
I’m told to show up early on Thursday morning. Now it’s time to be taught how to open the store. The manager asks me how things went on Tuesday night, and I share my confusion. “What do you mean she did things DIFFERENTLY?” “I don’t know, just different.” She takes me thought the opening procedures. It’s a lot more simple. Just bing, bang, boom, and the store’s open. Bing, bang, boom, remember that as you do it yourself for the first time on Monday. I settle behind my register and soon slip into what’s become routine oh so fast. The day just breezes by.
Friday, and soon my week of training will be done. No opening, no closing, just doing the job of airhead teenaged girls and senile grandmas. Something soon pops up that I’ve never been trained to do. I call for the supervisor, only to find that she’s gone to lunch. Fortunately, one of the other cashiers knows how to do it and walks me through it. The day just goes on without incident after that. Soon, 5 o’clock comes. Pull the birdie’s tale, everybody knows it’s time to quit. I close off my till and start looking around. Only two tills are open. Long lines at each one. I call for the supervisor. The supervisor seems to have disappeared. Time to use my new, executive powers. This supervisor (point dramatically at myself) says this cashier (again point at myself) can go home. I make one more feeble attempt to contact the supervisor (it’s unsuccessful) and start leaving.
On my way out, I run into the store manager. We briefly talk.
“So, Mark, how’s the supervising coming?”
“Well, I think I’ve got the cashier part figured out, but I’m still having trouble with the supervisor part.”
“What? A smart guy like you?”
“If I’m so smart, why the f**k am I working for you in this backwater division of an evil corporation?” Well, I didn’t say that. But I just about did. Sometimes, it’s amazing what kind of conscious effort it takes to NOT be a smart-ass.
And that was my first week of being giving the auspicious title of Front End Supervisor. Nothing but more confusion and chaos. Before these dark times, a very dangerous thing happened to me. I developed a reputation. The reputation that I was the best bagger there was. That soon evolved into being the best at everything I do. That is always a bad reputation to have because the expectations others have for you suddenly jump to very high levels. The manager was telling me how she and the chibi-manager were predicting that I’d have the hang of this in a week. I think I finally understand that old saying, “Some work for greatness, others have it thrust upon them.” There is nothing but confusion and upheaval at work right now, and for some reason, people think I can rise above. They seem to think that I can bring order to the chaos; put the chaos in a box, as it were. We will see.