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A Case of Water


I’ve been told by several readers that getting a job in the gas-drilling era is not as easy as I have suggested, nor is having a job one doesn’t enjoy necessarily life-fulfilling. I can certainly sympathize with the latter. I would never again want to be stuck in a position that underutilized my skills, nor would I want to be employed by a company for which I had no respect.

Back in the ’80s, my friends and I often found themselves in that position. There were several recessions, and many people in their 20s struggled to put a decent paycheck together from as many as three part-time jobs, if you could get them. Inevitably, there was one that I hated going to, but it too often provided the most appealing paycheck and maybe some benefits. 

I’ll make no excuses for people in their 20s, as many are quite motivated and more capable of setting and pursuing viable goals than I was, but my approach to ending jobs that I didn’t like during that era was admittedly a bit on the immature side. If I didn’t walk out in a huff after a dramatic dissertation or quit on the business answering machine during the night, I was known for a few revengeful exits. It was only after I realized that I gained nothing from trying to get back at my soon-to-be-former employers that I learned the best way to get out of a job—develop a bad attitude about and share it with your fellow employees and especially with the customers/clients.

Leave home for work at the last minute every day, so that some “unforeseen” calamity like being low on gas or out of cigarettes can be blamed for the fact that you didn’t punch in on time. Call in sick every three to four weeks because everybody deserves one “skip day” per month. Chatter with coworkers in your office while you field the concerns of a client on the phone, or initiate a personal or personnel conversation with fellow cashiers while you’re ringing up your customer’s goods. Then tell the customer, “I’m sorry. It’s been one of those days.”

If you’re a shift worker, blow off restocking supplies because your friends are already partying and you need to get out of there. If you’re paid hourly, make a phone call on the way to and from the time clock. Speaking of phones, give your best friends the office number so you don’t miss anything. If you are a salaried employee, be sure to take an extra long lunch, tell your boss as you arrive that you have an afternoon dentist appointment, and ask if you can turn in your mileage check early. Take all of your personal problems to work with you every day. Remember to include all of your illnesses, properly diagnosed or not, and don’t exclude those of your most dysfunctional friends and family members.

It is especially important to make sure that the customer feels your pain and fully understands how much you hate your job. Abstain from offering any assistance that would indicate that you fully understand your job description. And, by all means, refrain from using manners even if the use of manners by the client makes you wish that you were able to.

These tactics always worked for me, and I’m sure that removing herself from a horrible job was the goal of the cashier at a grocery story that I was frequenting for the first time recently. I found the bargains offered by the store to club members to be very appealing, and I applied for a club card at the courtesy desk before I checked out. Up to that point, I was impressed by both the selection the store had to offer and the friendliness of the employees.

Among the items I bought was a case of bottled water, of which I have bought many as an experienced shopper. As such, I would estimate that 65 percent of cashiers that I have encountered have memorized the code for bottled water or have it nearby. For the 35 percent who do not, I always heave the (first) case up onto the belt and subsequently drop it into my cart as soon as it is rung, regardless of how that plays out.

“I don’t need the water up here. I have the number.”

Huh? Oh, that was the first attempt at communication by the cashier who had, up to that point, been engaged in a “then she said” conversation with the cashier at the next register who, quite frankly, didn’t seem interested in chit chat.

I responded, “Well, that’s not something you can assume from store to store.”

 In the past, my cashier would key in the code or scan the index key in the code folder and slide my water down the belt with a “sold” sticker so that I could put it in the cart while he or she rung up the rest of my groceries. On this day, not another word was spoken, but the sticker was applied to the case of water, which didn’t move as the cashier stepped back and stared at it. At this point, I was willing to assume that this woman, who is fairly thin but otherwise healthy looking, might have issues with her back and has made a conscious decision to no longer lift items as heavy as the case of water. I can fully respect that, even though I’ve been amazed by older, slighter people who have thrown a case of water the same size into my cart before I could. I was wondering how far off base I was at thinking that maybe she would express her situation to me and ask me if I wouldn’t mind putting my water into the cart for her, but it no longer seemed to occur to her communicating such information to me was an alternative to not performing a task for which she was hired. 

I took the hint and pulled the water off the belt and into my cart. The remainder of my purchase was haphazardly bagged. The apples and pears that I had selected based on their lack of blemishes were dumped into waiting plastic bags. The next and final sound that I heard from the cashier was my exact total. I presented my new club card and swiped my debit card to complete the purchase in silence. No “Thank you.” No “Have a good day.” Not even a “Here you go,” which, in its common usage, is pretty weak in itself.

If not for two employees of the grocery store who went out of their way to find safety pins for me, which they unfortunately couldn’t locate, I would never return.

In the meantime, I am confident that the cashier who processed my order will quickly achieve her goal of ending this tragic era of her life. And that’s one of the coolest things about living in America, and especially the Marcellus shale region during an upward economic swing. If there really are many residents in the area who are wishing and hoping for a decent job, somebody’s got your back if you hate yours.

Smile, work hard, go the extra mile, or get out of the way.




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