Story excerpt: Register 3 is Now Open

Four-page excerpt from one of my short stories, inspired by a nightmare of a high school job at TJMAXX and examining the consumer culture and hyperconnectivity of young people.

Source: Snarky’s Machine                                        

Register 3 is now open.

Hour 1. A man comes up to me, doesn’t say hello, slams down a T-shirt about as hard as you can slam down a cotton garment. Like he’s got a problem. I don’t deal well with these kinds of customers — mostly I just don’t know how to react to them — so I adjust my nametag and play with that electronic pen-thing that’s attached to the credit card machine. I don’t understand why we have that electronic pen but we still have printed receipts, receipts that need to be signed with ink. Confuses every customer. No, sorry, you have to sign here.

 0 unread messages.

 Something about that is backwards.

I try to be friendly to this guy. Hello, I’m Jason. Find everything OK? How’s your day going? Beautiful, isn’t it for February?  But he whispers something to his kid and doesn’t answer me so I smile and fold the shirt, scan the tag, tap the touchscreen with the pad of my finger.

Just like the manager told me to.

Fold, scan, tap.

The man’s got a salt and pepper mustache and cigarette skin. Rough around the edges. Cut-off Giants T-shirt. You’ve got lots of time to notice a person when they’re not looking at you.

Please, sir — I turn to him. That’s $9.99. Credit or debit? Debit, good, then you don’t have to sign a receipt, which means I don’t have to look for a pen. I hand the bag to the man and the man hands the bag to his kid, a blonde kid in a wrinkly red zip-up hoodie whose head barely reaches over the white counter. The kid wants to eat lunch. The man knows the kid wants to eat lunch but has some things to take care of before they do that. He reaches into his butt pocket for his wallet. For how muscley this guy’s arms are it’s kinda surprising he moves in slow motion.

Please, please, please move a little faster. Look at that line.

I slyly reach into the drawer and check my phone.

1 new message: Heyyyy are you going to Brad McNeil’s tonight? He’s having an America party should be pretty awesome. Wear something patriotic!!!

 For a moment I wonder if he remembers I’m here. This guy who’s buying a T-shirt and checking his phone and looking angry. Then the kid gets pissy too about something and jumps up and down in a mini-rage. He wants Mac ‘n Cheese. He can’t have Mac ‘n Cheese till he gets home. So he runs under the line divider, over to the Purse & Wallet aisle and then to the adjacent Housewares. I hear a crash and it’s pretty loud. Sounds like a $15.99 crash to me — probably one of those ceramic platters we got a huge shipment of last Thursday. People have been flocking here to buy those platters.

Thank you, sir, and thanks for shopping at—

I’m so preoccupied with the speech, the speech they literally drilled into my mind during training that I don’t realize the man’s already gone, running after the kid and pinching him on the butt for breaking the platter, then gripping his wrist the way no child ever wants to be gripped. No. Mac. ‘N. Cheese. For. You.

The kid starts wailing — I swear to God I hate when kids do that, plus his screaming voice clashes with the elevator jazz the managers insist creates ‘the most pleasurable shopping experience for our valued customers.’ By the time I tap the touchscreen and prep for the next transaction, there’s already another customer in front of me.

I don’t even remember pressing the button. I don’t remember pressing the button but there’s someone right here.

Register 3 is now open.

The customer smiles at me and I smile back. I bugs me when they do that — come up to the counter before I press the button — I mean sometimes you need to refill the receipt paper or pick up a pen or take a breath or something. But I don’t say anything about it to her because she’s kinda hot. She’s got nice-looking big brown eyes with tons of makeup around them, but whatever. Her lipstick’s bright red. I don’t get why good-looking girls insist on wearing such bright intense lipstick.

She’s hot but Jenny’s still hotter. Jenny Brown who I kissed last night.

Jenny was wearing some fruity lipstick, not nearly as bright as this girl’s, which I thought was cute and complimented her on after I kissed her. But she said she wasn’t wearing any lipstick and that maybe it was the Juicy Fruit she chewed earlier. But I know she was wearing lipstick, she just wanted me to think her lips are naturally like that, which is cute because obviously it means likes me.

This girl at the counter, she seems familiar. She’s super-dark-haired, that almost-black color like she dumped an entire package of hair dye in it and never bothered to wash it out. She’s wearing a matching Juicy Couture burgundy sweat suit with the little dangly J on the zipper.

Dangle dangle dangle goes that silver J, as she talks and moves her hands, dangle dangle dangling, right below her boobs.

Then I realize…I know her. She’s friends with Jenny. Was friends with Jenny, last year at least. I’d see them together at lunch and getting Diet Cokes after school from the vending machine near the theater.

I don’t want her to tell her friends she saw me and I was awkward. I need to make at least a semi-good impression.

1 new message: Where areee you?

We sell those here, the Juicy sweatsuits, for 50% off the original price. Did…you buy yours here? I ask her, gesturing towards her outfit. Wow, of all the things I could have said why did I say the dumbest thing ever? God I’m an idiot. She looks offended. I’m an asshole. Ohhhh you onlybuy housewares at this store, obviously I should have known. I’m so sorry — uh, um Marissa…right! I’m—well you can see it on my nametag here but I’m Jason. We were in…Pre-Calc last year, right!

So. Embarrassing.

I consciously keep my eyes off the dangly J but the more I consciously do that the more apparent it is that my eyes are averting it. The silver J keeps dangling, I can practically hear it, louder than the Register 3 is now open, louder than that goddamn jazz music.

That J dangle dangle dangles, around and around in my head.

Focus on the transaction, not the person, I tell myself.

She’s buying scented candles! She says it like it’s the most exciting thing in the world. Like she’s been looking for the perfect set of candles all her life and here, in this store, she’s finally found them. 20 of them! Which she insists I wrap in tissue paper! Individually! And then a second time! Because they’re for her mother! In case the power goes out!

Marissa literally talks like that, with a perpetual smile and wide-open eyes. Okay, yeah no problem, nice meeting — seeing you again too Marissa, see you in school. Yup enjoy your, um, candles and have nice day. Thanks for shopping at—

Register 3 is now open.

Register 5 is now open.

 Register 3 is now open.

A woman approaches, struggling to push two shopping carts to the checkout counter. In the first cart is a framed black and white poster of Audrey Hepburn, for her daughter. In the second cart are 27 pairs of Sevens Jeans. Who are those for? That she won’t tell me. Kinda sketch, in my opinion. I bet she’s one of those women who buys tons of stuff from stores like this and then sells it on eBay. She’s probably also one of those women who show up at the mall during the Christmas sales with two giant pieces of luggage and fill it with loads upon loads of discounted crap.

I reach over to scan the poster and she starts loading all the jeans onto the counter — I don’t know how they’re all going to fit on there but somehow they do. I take a deep breath and begin tackling the mountain of clothing before me.

Fold, scan, tap.

Fold, scan, tap.

They’re all marked down to $39.99. Original price — $129.90. That’s what these people come here, for the prices. Designer stuff they otherwise can’t afford. Coach. Kate Spade. Michael Kors. Marc Jacobs. BCBG. Versace. Oscar de la Renta. Valentino. You name it. That’s why they sacrifice hours of a perfectly good day trekking through the disorganized aisles, inspecting price tags, fighting with that bitch that grabbed the shirt they had already claimed with their eyes. That’s why they drag around three screaming kids, kids who are hungry and tired and just want to go home before soccer practice.

9 down.

Fold, scan, tap.

20 down.

Fold. Scan. Tap.

24 down.

27 times I fold and scan the jeans, tap the touchscreen. 27 times, and I take a deep breath and smile. Now if you could juuust sign on the dotted line—

But no, she thinks I charged her for 28 pairs.

No, no, no look here, it says on the receipt. 28 items. The poster and 27 pairs of jeans. I got it right, I promise. I can’t do them over, that would involve a void, which I can’t do, and a manager to come, and he’s on his lunch break I think, and I’d need to ring the jeans up all over again and who knows how long you’d have to wait.

No, I did not charge you for an extra pair.

Please, ma’am, this is my third day. Technically I’m still training. I know that doesn’t help my case but really, I only charged you for 27. Twenty-seven Sevens Jeans.

Before I know it I feel my manager’s breath against my neck. He asks in a low voice what the problem is and stares at me and then whispers something in my ear. I know sir, I know the customer’s always right, but look here, look at the receipt! The receipt says 27!

The customer is always right.

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2 thoughts on “Story excerpt: Register 3 is Now Open

  1. That sounds like Walmart clientele as well.

    A consumer doesn’t necessarily know what they want, and therefore is not always right. A good number of consumers at these store chains, especially Walmart, are simply driven for the cheapest item on the shelf — no matter how poorly it is designed, not matter how unhealthy it is (or lacking nutrients). They are driven by the concept that more quantity for less is better. They don’t see the point in investing, and if they do its short term. They don’t weigh their options. Their life is dictated by money.

    A smart consumer thinks about the purchase and strives to spend money well. They buy organic food, because they care about their health, they care about their future well-being. They think about the non-edible products they buy; the materials, the functionality, the expected lifespan of the product through its design. Thats investing.

    Oi, look into the food industry and you’ll see your first-hand experience as a checker ballooned into what we eat and why its cheap. (plenty of documentaries on Netflix here)

    Excerpt eh? Seems like a short story as is. ha

  2. Thanks for your comments, Enoch, I completely agree. American consumer culture is largely driven by the “quantity over quality,” “bang for your buck” mentality. This short story, however, focuses more on the the compulsion people feel to buy material items simply because they think it’s a “good deal,” as well as the distorted sense of righteousness customers feel as soon as they enter a store. Stores, like restaurants, operate on a totally different moral code than the outside world because “the customer is always right.” So even the politest people on the street could be completely obnoxious in a store, which I find really irritating and fascinating.

    And yes, it’s an excerpt, but you’re right– it’s not a whole lot longer in its complete form.

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