Sunday, 21 December 2008

Time For The Deprogramming. And Maybe Some Pudding.

Ah, and here we are again at the end of the year where going anywhere that has even one shop in the vicinity can either be a terrifying fight for survival or a hilarious macabre dance of consumerism depending on your outlook at the time.

In case you can’t tell, I’ve been trying to do my Christmas shopping and at this time more than any other it becomes apparent that the retail/service industry has broken me.

Put me in front of a counter and I can’t help but smile and be perky at people. Even when I’m the one ordering or paying for something. Stupid goddamn coffee-slave brainwashing!

I could be wearing black from head to toe, my most fun-time hair-do and my favourite jewellery and the moment I go to buy something I lose all my street cred, if I ever had any, which I suspect I didn’t.

I don’t know whether it was this train of thought that led me to take the route I did through the city but as I was bravely elbowing and eye-gouging my way through the Christmas shopping crowds this fine week I happened to GBH my way past an old workplace.

It took almost a block for the sign I had read to click and then I had to turn around and shin scrape my way back to read it again.

The place was shutting down and was going out in a blaze of ‘everything must go’ glory. My nostalgia had a brief stoush with my bitterness before I wandered inside to have a lookie-lou.

I hadn’t worked there for two years and none of my old co-workers were there so I got to wander around pretending to be a regular customer and feeling strangely uncomfortable, like I was about to be caught doing something wrong. Probably because I was going about taking dodgy and surreptitious photos of the place and hoping I didn’t look as guilty as I felt, like a fetishist who hopes nobody will notice they’re taking pictures of peoples’ elbows.

I wasn't by the way. Taking photos of peoples' elbows. I was just taking pictures of the store. I mean there's nothing wrong with elbows, they're very useful and functional, I just don't find them of particular interest... I'm sorry, I've gotten off-topic.

Once I’d finished playing at being a very badly trained spy I headed back out into the hurly burly with my reminiscing gland unfortunately kicked into full effect.
I’d left that job to bum around Europe for five months, I hadn’t gone back for a lovely array of reasons.

  1. The owners seemed nice enough until you realised that they thought it was completely acceptable to use the most offensive racial slurs in everyday conversation. Only in the company of appropriately pale people of course, taking it for granted that anyone in that category would agree with them by default and operating under the theory that “it’s not racism if they don’t hear you calling them names”.
  2. You were expected to be perkier than Richard Simmons, faster than The Flash and have a deep and abiding bond with each of your customers without actually talking with them for too long. This insistence continued despite the fear and consternation that this combined behaviour inspired in patrons.
  3. I was not willing to drink the kool-aid. I can accept a certain level of ‘above and beyond-ing’ in jobs that have a ladder to climb or might form a ‘career path’ or even in a job where you are genuinely matey with your employers and are doing a favour but for a hospitality job with no prospects of promotion I was not willing to put in hours upon hours of unpaid overtime in the name of pitching in or team spirit.

So as I re-entered the stream of consumers being battered from one side of the city to the other and spent a rather surprising amount of time standing in queues that coiled their way through the entirety of some stores I was looking at things slightly differently.

I was looking for the people acting contrary to their normal behaviour due to the orders of their overlords. I was looking for the people who were just realising that the co-worker they thought was kind of cool when they first met is actually a complete tool with a thin veneer of interesting. I was looking for surrogate me’s and trying to work out whether I missed the life they were still living, having shuffled into office-land.

Funny thing is I do kind of miss it, not that particular workplace but general things: the crazy hours you kept, the almost hallucinatory state you might be in at the end of a split shift (or a week of them), the people, the music, the relaxed dress code.

But not the sheer insanity of working during the Christmas period, Jesus God no.

I don’t miss it enough to go back to that.

Instead I will just try to be as pleasant and patient and efficient as possible when I get to the register - in an attempt to lessen the suffering of the person trapped there by even a small degree - and resist the programmed urge to be manically perky at them.

Nobody needs that at the best of times let alone at this time.

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