A publication of the Department of English & Philosophy at Drexel University

Cashiers Are People, Too!

As the sliding doors lurch open I catch a glimpse of myself on the store’s video camera. My expression is stormy and there’s a bleach stain on the hem of my CVS uniform that I’ve never noticed before. My sneakers trudge across the wiry navy blue carpeting, which according to legend is made from yak hair. Suddenly, the scent of industrial-grade cleansers hits me like a ton of bricks. Today must have been one of the few days of the year during which the store’s carpet is cleaned. I weave through displays of honey-flavored pretzel twists, sandals, bags of sour gummy worms, bottles of fish oil supplements, and As Seen on TV products before I finally pass through the sagging swinging door to the register area.

I clock in at 4:06 pm. Not bad, just a little bit past the point of being “fashionably” late. Everyone in our regional district insists that we lucky employees of store #948 in sleepy East Goshen, PA are spoiled, and they’re probably right. No one at my store has ever been written up for lateness, or anything else for that matter, but I’ll probably get teased a little bit by the management for my lack of punctuality.

Sure enough, my shift supervisor, Ian, smirks at me and tells me it’s nice I finally showed up. “Meet us in the stock room when you get a chance,” he adds with a wink.

While Ian walks away, I check his to-do list for the night. He always adds a movie quote to the bottom: tonight it’s the opening lines from Hitchcock’s Vertigo.The store’s photo tech, Mary, told me once that he saves all of them in a folder to make sure that he never repeats a movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true. Thankfully, the only thing on tonight’s agenda is cleaning. I look around the store: Big Joe is stranded on register 6, the day shift finished stocking shelves, and a note on the bulletin board announces that the regional manager, Jimmy V., made a surprise visit yesterday. These are all signs that tonight will be an easy shift.

After I ring up an old woman with drawn-on eyebrows, I fish a name tag out of a plastic bin in the photo lab and join Ian, Moffat, and Mary in the stock room. Moffat slams the door behind me and asks us if we think he could fit into a cart’s child seat. His question is met by one arched eyebrow and a dubious and communal silence.

Undeterred, he pulls up his pant leg to expose a pallid calf and slaps it: “Psh! I could totally pull it off. Look: no jiggle!” he says proudly.

“Fine, Moffat,“ Ian says. “If you can successfully get yourself into a child seat, I’ll lend you my Blu-ray player. But if you can’t, you’re vacuuming the whole store tonight.”

Twelve minutes later, after witnessing much wriggling and writhing, we learn that Moffat’s thighs are apparently thin enough to shove into the plastic openings. But are too large to pull out.

The store’s intercom system cuts through Moffat’s grunted profanites as Big Joe pages another cashier up to the front to help ring.

“NOSE GOES!” Mary yells, and fingers race to meet proboscises. As always, I am the last to touch my nose and am momentarily banished to go deal with customers.

As I log onto my register, one of our most imfamous shoppers darts to the head of my line and pulls out a wad of coupons as thick as a phone book. In the suburbs, a large portion of CVS’s customer base is made up of what I like to call “crazy coupon ladies,” like this woman. These women delight in handing our cashiers stacks and stacks of coupons, bringing their total down to a whopping eleven cents. They then pay using a store gift card, which they obtained by returning a CVS product without a receipt. We hate them.

I ring up her items and scan each line of fine print on the coupons. A very petty part of me would love to find fault with them. Eventually, I hit the jackpot: two of her coupons are for $1 off a Neutrogena product but the deal explicity excludes the travel size bottles she’s trying to purchase. I try to keep the glee out of my voice as I explain to her why I cannot accept the coupons. Her frizzy hair seems to crackle with electricity as she sighs angrily and tries to hand me a coupon for an Olay product.

I would feel bad for this woman if it wasn’t for the fact that she knows very well that she is handing over coupons that don’t apply to her purchases. She comes in every week and banks on the fact that the cashier will be too stupid to actually read the coupons she tries to pass off. Fortunately, I am not stupid and I get a sick sense of pleasure out of ruining her day. I suppose I do it to prove to her that even though I make minimum wage, she cannot walk all over me. Besides, with her designer handbag and plush leather wallet, this woman will not miss that $2 in savings which I have deprived her. As a rule, crazy coupon ladies are well-off financially. Their husbands come in decked out in ridiculous golf outfits as they pick up a few Gatorades on their way to the country club. Crazy coupon ladies have shapely, manicured nails and drive shiny Audis or BMW X5s. Why they devote so much time to the penny-saving act of clipping coupons is a mystery to me.

Fortunately, the rest of the transaction goes smoothly. I push the “Register closed” sign to the front of my counter and wave hello to Sue, who’s one of my regulars. The store is five minutes away from a retirement community, so we get a lot of sweet elderly people like Sue. She asks me how school’s going and I reply with a pretty pathetic joke about how none of my friends from other universities can wrap their head around the fact that most Drexel students give up their summers. She’s nice enough to chuckle at that but I see her forehead wrinkle a little in confusion. Before I know it, I’m half way through the script I’ve created for when I am asked about my schedule. I explain that I am enrolled in Drexel’s five-year co-op plan and that for three of those years I work as an intern in the fall and winter terms and go to classes in the spring and summer. By the time I finish my info-dump, her eyes are glazing over from boredom. Damn. Time to change the subject. I ask her how her grandson’s doing and I grin when her face lights up as she describes the new pair of tiny sneakers she bought him. It’s moments like this when I actually kind of like my job.

By the time I make it back to the stock room, Moffat has somehow extricated his legs from the cart’s plastic trap and is rubbing his thighs and groaning. Ian has made an attempt to weasel out of the wager because Moffat got stuck and the two begin to bicker.

Mary dashes up to me and gives me a tight hug. “Michael Jackson didn’t die, you know. He just went home,” she says wisely. I nod as if this makes perfect sense. “Ian doesn’t believe me and Moffat thinks that he’s laying low in Saudi Arabia to throw off his creditors,” she whispers, sweeping her black hair into a pile at the top of her head. Her blue eyes are eerily pale under the fluorescent lights. She pulls out an envelope of pictures which she developed earlier and we begin to flip through them. From the photos, it appears that the customer participated in some sort of body paint festival. Mixed in with these prints are shots of soft-core porn. A pudgy woman in leopard print panties crooks a finger at the camera man. Her sagging breasts are heavy like bags of sand and there’s a tray of kitty litter in the background. Mary imitates her pose, flutters her false eyelashes and purrs, “I’m ready for my close-up.” We dissolve into peals of laughter.

Noticing that I have returned, Ian holds up a hand to interrupt Moffat’s latest protestation. He runs his fingers through his stubbly blond hair and steps onto an overturned crate to lend himself some semblance of authority. “All right, people, listen up!” he shouts, “We’ve had a good time but we’ve only got four hours ‘til closing time and there’s things that need to get done. Moffat, you’re going to vacuum and relax: I’ll let you borrow my freaking Blu-ray player. Mary, you’ll close up the photo lab and clean up aisles 1-5. I’ll do 7-9 and Danielle you’ll cover 13-17. I’ll tell Big Joe he’s doing 10-12. If we finish early we might be able to go down to the basement and squeeze in a little kickball. So, get to it.”

Four hours later, we have gotten “to it.” The store is in a passably clean state, we have played one game of kickball, and Mary has made a series of closing announcements on the intercom system in which she imitated the voices of dead celebrities.

After we lock up, Big Joe is picked up by his even bigger siblings. Who would have guessed that he’d be the runt of the family? Mary takes off after giving each one of us a heartfelt goodbye in Spanish. Not long after Mary leaves, Moffat’s girlfriend pulls up in his beat-up old Volvo and he grandly waves goodbye to us as if he is a member of the British royal family. I linger around Ian’s car as he roots around in his trunk, searching for a DVD he has set aside for me.

“So when will you be working next?” I ask to try to fill the silence.

“Umm … I’ll be here next Saturday night. You’ll be on, right?” he asks absentmindedly as he shifts a box to one side.

“Yep. 4-10 again,” I groan. But honestly, I am excited at the prospect of having other nights like tonight to look forward to.

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