Saturday, April 7, 2012

Job Journal: Toys R Us

The United States workforce is represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: those who plan on keeping their job for the long haul, and those who are biding their time before becoming the Next Big Thing. These are stories from the second group.

Job: Cashier/Wheel World associate at Toys R Us, Clarksville TN

Duration: 3 months, both times

Year: 1999, 2000

I left my cashier position at Toys R Us at the end of the summer of 1999 to return to school at UT Knoxville. That's something both parties knew would happen from the get-go; something I can't imagine happening today, even at the most menial of jobs. Hiring someone you knew would be leaving in three months? What can I say, we were riding the gravy train that was the end of the Clinton administration. But they knew I'd be back, and back I was in 2000. With a promotion!

I was no longer a cashier (that is, unless the dedicated cashiers needed backup). I was to work on the floor, in the Wheel World. That's self-explanatory, but it meant I was also responsible for the big-ticket items in the back. If you wanted to buy a bike or one of those Little Tykes forts (which were awesome, by the way), or god forbid a swingset, you pulled a ticket from a pouch in front of the display, payed with said ticket at the register and drove around back where I'd be waiting with a giant box. You'd then realize there was no way you could get that box home in your 1983 Datsun, I'd tell you it wasn't my problem, and then close the door and chuckle maliciously.

Just kidding. That only happened a few times, and the customer tied the item to the roof of their tiny car and possibly killed dozens of people on their way home to rural Kentucky. Which is why we weren't allowed to help them tie it down.

This job was one step on the road to manhood. I had a scanner on my hip that beeped when someone bought a big ticket item. I kept a socket wrench in the other pocket, because in my free time I was to assemble any bikes that didn't have a display model. I went from using tools exactly .5 times in my life to regularly assembling bikes and adjusting brakes, gears, & seats. I was always dirty from lugging around boxes in the warehouse. My very kind manager Libby very kindly recommended I wash my shirt. Things weren't so bad.

Eventually, boredom set in pretty hard. In the summer, most people hit Toys R Us on the weekend. I worked at least three weekdays, which usually meant I stood around no less than five hours and tried looking busy. Then my mind would start working, and that's never been a good thing for me at a day job. The result is always a deeply existential undermining of everything the company stands for.

I was a Toys R Us kid. I know what it felt like to score that action figure you'd been looking at for weeks. I know what it was like to take the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sewer playset home and put on all the decals and stage the most epic battle you could imagine. But as an employee and adult, I knew how absolutely worthless all this plastic was. The kids fiended for the toys like junkies. We bought the toys from overseas, marked them up astronomically, and sold them. The kids pestered their parents until they finally caved. The kids played with the toys until the next new one came along. The toys ended up in a landfill.

For what? Six months to a year of joy? Kicking off a lifelong cycle of wanting, getting, and discarding? Material proof that the parents did not in fact wish to undo the existence of their children?

You can see how this sort of thinking can be problematic at 2 PM on a sunny Wednesday. And honestly I think it all came from trying to find an excuse not to re-shelve the toys I found laying around the store. There's the Carl Sagan quote, "if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." I suppose the opposite could be, "if you don't want to do a menial task, you must find a reason that it's a hindrance to all of humanity." I am a pro at this.

Colin Fisher is a lot of things to a lot of people, but mostly he's just an actor and writer.

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