By Jeremy Arias
Closing shifts are the bane and suffering of college students everywhere. At the end of a long day of lectures and studying, just as your bed jumps into your field of vision, you have to change into a bright blue collar and head to the opposite side of campus where you’re about to pull a five-hour closing shift into tomorrow morning.
After slapping on a black apron and piercing your name tag through it, you clock in and take a deep breath as you watch your reflection stare back at you from the blackened screen of the time-clock, locking you in place. Just as you begin walking to the storefront from the comfort of the customer free stockroom, through the slit of glass under an “employees only” sign, you see the empty register where you are to stand and charge helpless students like yourself until the end of the night.
You arrive to your crumb-filled, sticky battle post known as the register, arm yourself with the price gun, and summon forth the next customer in line. You are now a robot of few functions, speech choices, and a plastic smile that lies to everyone approaching.
“Hi, how’s it going… Will this be all? Have a good night!”
“Hi, how’s it going… Will this be all? Have a good night!
“Hi, how’s it going…” And again, and again…
And every once in a while you get a zinger, a glitch in the matrix, some spark, or act of god, made so that a customer goes against the natural script and throws your entire system to smithereens.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Good, how are you?”
“Will this be–“ wait what? And you think, am I being treated like a person? “Er– I’m good, would you like a bag– er– will this be all? How are you?” No no no! Ditch the script, this requires human attention…
And every once in a while there is a calm in the store in which there are no customers in line, no drinks to be made, nothing to be stocked, and nothing to be cleaned.
“There’s always something to do” is what the wall says, but “look busy” is more the employee attitude. How could a manager possibly ask you to go to the back and work on something else when you’re clearly busy wiping down the same counter for the fourth time in a row?
You adapt to the break, lower your guard and let your hand spin a moist rag in circles on the counter while you think about all the things you could be doing if not here. You look up from the register and see the customers browsing the variety of chips, frozen foods, medicine, and beverages all around them. You doze off in the middle of this floor scan and eventually snap back into reality where a customer has been standing in the vacant line watching you watch the customers.
“Hey, how’s it going…” And you scan the customer away, quickly reuniting the dry counter with the moist rag, occasionally glancing up to the aisles, then back at the sparkly counter.
Wait. Did you just see that? Did you see that?
You look back up from the register, replaying the hazy memory of the kid with grey sweat pants pocket a pack of cold medicine. He’s still in the aisle browsing the medicine, popping up his head like a whack-a-mole to look around. You pretend to take off something from the screen of the register while he scans the aisle, slithering over to the fruit display.
An urge tells you to follow him. You could report him and be a hero. You’d save the school some money, look good for your employer, and have a story to tell. So you grab the spray and rag to wipe down the counter one more time as you keep an eye on him. He grabs two apples, a banana, and walks over to the register. Your register.
There is undeniably something rattling in his pocket just begging to jump out. His forced limp tries to conceal it, but by now it’s switched twice from one leg to the other looking like a wobbling penguin.
“Good evening,” he sniffles and smiles.
“Hey, how’s it going?” You stick to the script, because anything against the script will cause confusion.
“I’m hanging in there,” he steps back to cough after giving the most honest answer of the night as you finish scanning what he plans to pay for, pretending like you both don’t know he’s stealing.
“I feel you.” You finish scanning as your job entails. “Will that be everything?”
“Um, yeah, that’s it…” he lies, but the customer is always right, and customer service is the mark that’s been branded in our brains.
“That’ll be a dollar eighty-seven,” you say, as he pulls out the most wrinkled dollar bill you’ve seen before digging through his pocket for change. There’s mostly foreign coins, but he manages to scrape up seventy nine cents, and like a heartless vending machine, you return his money.
“I only have this much,” he says as he shows you the pile of change on his outstretched hand. “I can leave an apple.”
“That’s fine,” you say as you swipe your store discount card. “Get well soon.”
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