The Papa Files
by VINCENT CARDEGIN
Award Winning Columnist
It used to be, for ten years, I didn’t know what I was going to do each day at work. Prior to that, I was in the military and nearly every day was the same. Only when we trained for medical combat were the days full of the unexpected. After I became a civilian the workdays continued to blend together in mind-numbing repetition. Every time I watch an episode of How It’s Made, in which a shift worker is putting caps on bottles or pulling out discolored veggies from a long conveyor belt, I feel depressed with sympathy.
Then in aught-seven (of the twenty-first century, not the twentieth) after half a decade of helping my kids as babysitter and handyman, I got a job at Exwork. My wife told me about it, she saw a sign outside the store advertising for volunteers to help with a remodeling job. I distractedly applied on my computer, and suddenly, much to my vexation and excitement, I was hired.
For three months, as temporary full-time, I did something different every day all across the store, from building a new paint display in GM to moving entire aisles of shelves with heavy crank-up wheels in Grocery. It was great! Then for another three months, after being rehired as full part-time, I stocked shelves, again all across the store, but mainly in Grocery. My favorite was cereal. Those were light-weight boxes, and I discovered I could open the cardboard cases and dump the contents on the floor and stock several boxes at a time, instead of one at a time as I saw other workers doing in boring slow-motion. Three months later I accepted a job in Garden.
I often said at the break table that I’ve had better and worse jobs, but really the distinction was based on managerial interference, from in-house colonels to department co-managers who tried to impress superiors by changing things that didn’t need changing. Not always, but usually a common task became overly complicated and therefore more time-consuming when such authority got in the way.
But every day thereafter—four years of second shift (2-11) and five-and-a-half years of first shift (7-4)—Garden was a wonderland of activity, outside and in. I quickly got my licenses for all four PLEs; forklift, scissor lift, walkie-stacker, and electric pallet jack, and became on-call throughout the store. From unloading trailers and flatbeds of dirt and mulch with the forklift outside to stocking pallets of overstock with the walkie-stacker in the back-warehouse of GM, and so many other tasks, my days were unpredictable and therefore exciting.
Then Exwork went stupid. I’d heard it had gone stupid before, but I wasn’t there during previous stupidities, so I didn’t know better about such things. (It’s a frame of mind Exwork hopes new workers of especially teenage years will fall victim to.) Some idiot from above decided everyone in Garden was a cashier. It’s one thing to volunteer to help on register late at night near the end of second shift, which I did, but it is a wasteland of unfinished work when all of the few of us were tasked with checking people out every time we walked inside during the day. And the stupidity got worse when Exwork decided to eliminate the title of Cashier. Everyone’s badge simply said, Associate. I’m not clear on the details, but I’m sure that played into their plan to lower overhead by stopping the hiring of replacements for workers who quit or were fired or who moved or retired. They want associates who have no specialties (except for the register), and who will, after every other task, stand idly by, waiting to be told what next to do. That was especially true in Garden.
The last few times I shopped there I was astonished to find only one associate working. She ran the register, stocked new freight, had to get propane tanks, and loaded bags of dirt into cars out in the Yard. Whilst that was happening everything was in some stage of disarray. Exwork as a whole is almost empty of workers now. Ask any patron of a big store and they’ll complain the same.
Most disheartening to me, though, is the lack of laughter or even smiles. There is no element of adventure or fun. The new faces I see, if I see anyone at all, walk and stock with robotic grimness. Man, I have got to find a happier store!