Thursday, 29 September 2011

Sea Turtles Club - The Bad Gift

 December 26th. The day of leftovers, killer sales... And returns. The sales associates at Mind Your Buck department store had formed a sort of unspoken alliance especially for this day. In a lot of ways this was a kind of animalistic instinct - probably about the same as that of the buffalo who circle around their young when wolves are on the hunt. Customers equal Wolves. Young Buffalo equal Employee Sanity. In the name of equality the store manager had made a schedule of rotations for all the employees to work at Returns today. This was the same manager that took about fourteen "breaks" a day. Once, while she was "on a break" a girl from housewares spotted her sticking her fingers in the scented candles and rubbing the wax in her ears. No one was ever brave enough to call her out on this, but it did clear up the question of why you would sometimes get a sniff of Ocean Breeze when standing next to her. Jenna Jenkins, the Assistant Manager was the staff’s saving grace and knew how to gracefully walk the line between total control and superior appeasement.
 The store opened at five am with a line of women (all frothing at the mouth) wrapping around the store. They were a completely feral group of shoppers and the only semi logical idea floating around in their heads was that they needed to return every possible thing they could in order to increase the day’s expenditure limits. Each section could only afford to give up one associate for returns today. As it stood, there was already a group of women climbing on top of each other to get at the Barnyard Boots Bargain rack and a crazed forty-something lady with mismatched shoes roaming the store snatching items out of people’s carts while they were looking away.
 The first unlucky soul to take the helm of returns was Glenda Caphalon from Housewares. The women in line were scowling and clutching their venti quad-shot Sugarbux lattes as if life depended on them. Glenda was a  thirty- seven year old, level headed, systematic woman (who liked crosswords and rollerblading) and she fared better than most would in the initial attack. Glenda found that if she could focus on the tags and numbers and occasionally look at the customer, imagining what kind of animal their facial structure would lend them to becoming in another life, she could get through the returns quickly and keep a smile on her face. Her three hour shift ended faster than she expected. 
Lauren Raphael from Clothing took over at eight. Getting ready to head back to Housewares Glenda patted Lauren on the shoulder and said “Good luck Lo. You can’t imagine the stuff I’ve seen already. Half of it I didn’t even know we carried until I scanned it in. There was one young girl who brought back an extra large red sweater with an Elmo face and words saying ‘you can tickle me anytime.’ that her Dad bought her!”
 Lauren was nineteen and always sang Stevie Nicks songs when she went to Karaoke with her friends. She silently cried to release the tension of inner rage triggered by insults from customers for most of her three hours and the worst gift she saw was a Condolence Wreath of magenta and gold flowers with a plaque on the front that said “At least it wasn’t you.”
 Stan Stanley from Tools was up next. He was the only man in the store that day and the stunned, mouth open look he met Lauren with was the same that he wore his whole shift. He didn’t speak a single word to the customers or the next employee who took over for him at two o’clock, but he was pink around the ears and she could see an old woman putting a Learn to Strip From Home kit (complete with pole) in the overflowing returns bin beside the register.
 Eve Madden worked in the shoe department and was the sensitive type. She spent most of her shift trying to make excuses for the gift givers like “I’m sure he had good intentions.” and “Maybe she’s a bit color blind and didn’t notice this hat was chartreuse.” Her positivity broke when a very abrasive middle aged man with a floppy gut and sausage fingers returned a set of Anger and Stress Relieving Meditation CD’s from his considerate brother. Her shift ended abruptly with her making a comment along the lines of “Maybe he should have bought you a douchebag jar instead!” and leaving.
 Apparently the manager (who had only been spotted briefly today stuffing the complimentary mints from a register stand into her socks) had assigned the five o’clock shift to some girl working at the in store salon. The salon wasn’t actually open today but no one was in any hurry to bring this to the manager’s attention and the five to eight shift passed uneventfully with the person at the front of the line taking a pick me up nap against her mound of disposable Santa plates and everyone assuming there was someone else in front of her since they couldn’t see past her heaping cart.
 Eight to eleven was Eu de Chantelle from Perfume, a haughty French woman who married an American and now had to work at Mind Your Buck to pay for her imported cheeses. Her shift consisted mostly of verbal sparring between clerk and customer and always ended with her sneering something in French and violently shoving the receipt into their hand. A box of California Chardonnay was obviously the worst gift she saw.
 Jenna Jenkins had the last shift and was skillfully pulling the mayhem of the day together (the manager was currently sleeping under men’s belts). After making a round of the store and mapping out the areas to send the forklift for clean up to tomorrow she moved her thoughts of organization to the now nearly undetectable returns counter. Her staff had done well keeping the items in semi distinguishable piles. “Great job today guys.” She thought halfway out loud. “Um, can I return this please?” An attractive, quietly sad looking woman holding a diamond necklace had walked up and startled her. “Oh! Oh, sure. Sorry, I didn’t see you walk up. I’ve been here since yesterday and I’m nearly hallucinating!” They both chuckled. “I quit my job yesterday” the attractive woman said. Jenna smiled, checking the packing of the necklace for a bar code “Oh? You must have had some great presents to merit that step of independence.” “All of my presents were great... except for that one.” “Not into diamonds much?” Jenna asked casually, handing her cash and a receipt. “I guess I’m not.” she replied “That’s the first one I’ve ever had. My boss gave it to me. He said he thought it would look great on my neck. I didn’t want it or that job anymore. I’ll take this pawn shop wedding band over that kind of attention any day.” and with that she walked out, leaving Jenna at the register holding the worst gift of the day.


  1. I forgot to mention I also loved the pace at which the story flowed, especially the steady introduction of each new character.