Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stories of a Holiday Sales Associate: The Needy

I work at a department store part-time. It's December, 'nuff said. As a Holiday Sales Associate, I want to say please don't be that shopper.

Today, I am on a mission. I've finally gotten a break, my sweet 15 minutes! I'm making a beeline for the back of the store, for the Employee Only door.

"Excuse me, miss!" 

If I'm walking with such force, such pointed determination, it means I am on an urgent mission. One that does not involve you. One where there is another, a higher priority.

"MISS!" She grabs my arm. Three feet away from the break room door. "Can you help me?"

I'm not allowed to turn her away, but I will also get in trouble if I do not take my break. I'm the one that needs help. She looks at me with old lady, pleading eyes. "I need to find something for my grandson for Christmas."

I definitely don't have the time to be her personal shopper. Suddenly, a wild manager appears, exiting the break room door at lightening speed!

"Help!" I yell to him.

He looks at me with crazed eyes and a fifty dollar bill in his hand. Now I've interrupted his mission.

"What?" he asks in that disoriented tone that mission-blown associates have.

I motion to the lady. He shakes his head. "I can't."

The lady releases my arm. "I can find someone else I guess. It's just that I've been here five minutes and I can't find anybody to help me."

She's not going anywhere except the guilt trip forest. I ignore her. "But my break," I say to the manager and he it is as if a cloud has been lifted. 

He blinks and I can see his brain rapidly processes his next moves as he speaks. "Oh...uh...uh...Yeah, go. I got this."

I bolt the last three feet through the break room door. Safe! As the door closes, I hear my manager pass the fifty dollar bill off to another manager, who was probably interrupted from their own mission.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stories of a Holiday Sales Associate: The Interrupter

I work at a department store part-time. It's December, 'nuff said. As a Holiday Sales Associate, I want to say please don't be that shopper.

Today, I worked the register and I'm supposed to ring each customer through in two minutes. At the same time, I have to push our brand credit card, survey, and any new sales on top of making polite small talk to every customer so that they feel special.

I'm focused, talking to my customer in line when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I am expecting my boss, maybe. Instead, I see this couple. "Excuse me, miss. Can you tell me where the snow pants are?" the woman asks me.

barely understand the words. A customer has stepped around the counter, the invisible boundary, and touched me. "Snowpants?" I ask. They've taken me completely off-gaurd. Couldn't they find an associate on the floor? The people not ringing walk the floor just for the reason of helping customers.

"Yes, snowpants. For kids," the man says as if this will help. My customer clears her throat. I'm not in floor associate mindset. I don't know if we have snowpants, let alone where they would be located. And how the hell am I supposed to show them when I'm on register with a customer?

The couple finally sees that I am not equipped to help them. A floor associate comes up and directs them to our snowpants 'cause that is her job today. I apologize to my customer and finish ringing her up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stories of a Holiday Sales Associate: The Monopolizer

I work at a department store part-time. It's December, 'nuff said. As a Holiday Sales Associate, I want to say please don't be that shopper.

Today, I worked the fitting room, and I noticed that certain people like take the only handicap changing room. 

The Plus Size - These are the bigger people that need the bigger rooms.

The Shopaholic - She has, like, twenty thousand items, and needs, like, all the space she can get because she fucking deserves it.

McSpeedy - Has one item and figures they'll be in and out before a handicap person arrives anyway (I used to be guilty of this one.)

What these people don't realize is that you've made my job a lot harder. Not just handicapped people use that room. Moms with small children and strollers need that room.

Now I've got a mother, toddler, and screaming infant blocking the small entrance to the fitting room as we wait for one of those three princesses to get out. And all I can do is apologize, tune out the screaming, and try not to kirk out.

C'mon people, there are fifteen other perfectly available stalls to use. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Stories of a Holiday Sales Associate: The Flipper

I work at a department store part-time. It's December, 'nuff said.

As a Holiday Sales Associate, I want to say please don't be that shopper.

Today, it's three hours into my shift, a lunchtime job of 11-4. I have not yet had my break. (By the way, I get only one 15 minute break during my five hour trip to hell to navigate the crowds at the food courts and cram burning hot pizza into my face.)

I've been assigned to refold clothing on a table that has somehow become this:

Which, you know, happens.

Yeah, it's not the customer's job to refold an item when she decides she doesn't want it, or to put it back as neatly as possible, or at least close to the original place she found it. I mean, it would only take you like five minutes and some common courtesy, but whatever.

Anyway, I'm working my way through the rubble when a woman comes up to the table, looks me dead in the eye, and says, "You know you're fighting a losing battle, right?"

Why would she want to break my spirit like that? I don't say anything back, too busy trying to not get fired. As if that wasn't enough, she goes around the other side of the table, finds a pink shirt at the bottom of the pile, and pulls it out which flips a recently folded stack over. Then she leaves.

Like really?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Loopholes in PA legislature exposed

Below is text from the latest installment of my race column. It appeared in the Setonian and Setonian Online in the December issue.


You’ve been searching the newspapers and employment websites for a job, desperately and without much luck. Finally, the proverbial clouds part during this abnormally warm winter, and news for an opening at the mom and pop store down the street shows up on your social networking feed. You submit an application and get a call back.This is your chance! The day of, you pull on your fancy pants and check your face in the car mirror. Everything is in place. You enter the store, nervous but prepared. Before you get more than a few steps in, the manager stops you.

He no longer needs you to interview. In fact, he doesn’t even want your patronage at his store. You leave confused. Was someone else hired? What was wrong with you?

You shake it off and decide to take a night out. It’s not unusual to be rejected by an employer. You hit up a local bar, order a drink, and take a seat. Suddenly, some guy is behind you and he takes your overpriced drink, tossing it to the floor. He pulls you from the stool and starts yelling in your face, something about the way you look.

The bartender is nowhere to be seen. The shouting man’s buddies laugh as he shoves you out the door. “You’re not welcome here!”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. You know if you defend yourself, the drunks are likely to throw down. Besides, there’s three of them, and only one of you. Forget it. Your mother said those kinds of people were white trash anyway.

You return to your two-bedroom apartment where your “roommate” kisses you hello behind closed doors. You have to say “roommate” because the landlady is one of them. If she knew you were dating, if she knew you crossed the lines, you’d get a lot worse than the whispers in the common laundry room. You’d probably lose your apartment.
While it doesn’t happen frequently, there are places in Western Pa. that still have the ability to ban certain people from entering stores, working without discrimination and even drinking out of the same water fountains as everyone else.

These second class citizens are called names, spit at and physically and sexually assaulted on the street and in the workplace. And in this economy, they can be dealt (what I see as) the worst blow to their job: termination.
I’m not lying. This discrimination still happens in America. Law does not protect every person’s civil rights. Just because you are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), you are a second-class citizen in some areas of Pennsylvania.

Make no mistake: this is not solely about gay marriage. This is about our self-evident truths, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Equality PA is a grassroots, human rights organization that works to get these civil rights bills passed. Founded in 1996, it is “the only organization in the Commonwealth advocating in Harrisburg and across the state, exclusively for the rights of LGBT Pennsylvanians.”

Much of the information I have presented can be found on their website along with ways to report abuse and look for legal help. Equality PA’s ultimate anti-discrimination goal is to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which provides legal protection against discrimination on everything but sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

More than 20 states have already amended their laws to protect LGBT rights. Why not Pa.? Already, 25 municipalities and many major businesses, including all the Fortune 500s headquartered in Pa. have added equal protection policies.

Still, “based upon 2008 US Census Data, 73 percent of Pennsylvanians are not covered by a non-discrimination ordinance.”

If you want to help the movement, visit for more information, to donate, volunteer or apply for an internship. If you like their page on Facebook, the organization will keep you updated on bills that you can vote on, legislators to write to and progress on the equality front.

As always,
Peace, Love
& All That Jazz

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Race Column: Angry Letter to Editor & My Response

Below is text from the latest installment of my race column. It appeared in the Setonian and Setonian Online in the December issue.

In response to my last race article (Part II) about how campus can better embrace diversity, a Letter to the Editor was written. Below I have reprinted it with my response, which was also printed in the December issue of the Setonian.

Dear Editor, 
When I read the article “Seton Hill’s lack of diversity stems from students to faculty” I was surprised to find out that there are students who have not discovered the greatness of our diverse Seton Hill community. First of all, 16 % of the student body is minority students, and for a small Western Pennsylvanian university, this number is quite high.  
When I first came here, I was amazed by the multicultural community. I understand that the view on diversity depends on where you are coming from. For example, if a student is coming from New York City or any other metropolitan area, obviously Seton Hill will look very homogeneous. But we should take into consideration that our lovely university is located in a rural area and 16 % is pretty amazing. Not to mention the fact that almost everyone that I have met in my four years here has some kind of heritage that is not only “older European”. I know people that have Native American, Indian, Cameroonian, Argentinian, and Columbian backgrounds. How is that not diverse? 
Second of all, the information in the article that the focus of Seton Hill’s ethnic clubs has “waned” is absolutely false. NAACP has had a chapter at our university for 5 years now. And that is only when they gained official status. They have been on campus with their previous name the “Soul Club” since 1972! And they have been active ever since. Another club that promotes “exchanging cultures” is the Spanish Club. They hold numerous events throughout the academic year and they are open to everybody that attends Seton Hill University. We also should not forget the Intercultural Student Organization (ISO) that has had an official status since the early 90s. ISO probably has the most active members than any other club on campus. There are over 90 members and most of them are active. Not only are all of the intercultural students members of the club, but there are also numerous domestic students that have decided to discover culture and share diversity and have joined the club. ISO also hosts various events during the semesters that are educational, inspirational and fun. For example, the Intercultural Student Services Office with the cooperation of the ISO holds annual Intercultural Food Fairs. Those events are probably the biggest ones on campus with food from all around the world and multicultural entertainment. The most recent one had more than 150 attendees. ISO and ISS also host World Week. During that week, there are educational presentations that are showing throughout the day and, at night, there is some kind of entertainment that involves diversity and different cultures. 
I believe that our campus is quite diverse and there are so many opportunities to enjoy that, if only people are willing to invest time and effort in it. 
Sofiya Arnaudova

My response:

I will respond to the criticism in my article from the first issue to the last. To start, I did have a part one to this article in which I talk about how Seton Hill’s diversity is higher than the surrounding areas, and that diversity is all a matter of opinion and perspective. We are diverse, not as much as metropolitan areas, but we are. Second, “older European” is a term from President JoAnne Boyle herself in an interview to describe the Greensburg, Latrobe, etc areas. Not Seton Hill. Our local municipalities are filled with this demographic. While there are people of many heritages, they make up a small minority off-campus which has led some professors to leave the campus. They could not find a significant amount of their demographic, whatever that may be. My point is not that we need more diversity. It is that barriers need to be broken. It is that racism and prejudice still exists, and we need to strengthen as a campus community against them.

As for the NAACP, my source was wrong, and apparently so is the one above. In a recent email, Marilyn Fox Lewis of Campus Ministry told me the campus chapter was started in 2003. I do not know if this means it went on hiatus until five years ago or any other specific related to it, but there it is. I am not saying we do not have a strong history of fighters and lovers and believers. The clubs may have been active through the years, but what is active? Are they simply existing? I am asking for a heightened presence, not simply an active existence in which I have not been made aware of any events.

Last, I do apologize about the ISO food fair. In the original article, I had a paragraph about it but because of time and space it ended up being cut, and another shorter sentence was not written. The ISO does bring intercultural life and diversity to campus. It’s important. However, of the students I spoke to about ISO, they believed the club was for intercultural students, meaning those from other countries. Not for any and all races of people, including generic Americans. Granted, these are not people involved in ISO, but perhaps this means there needs to be work to tell the public that they are open, and WANT, everyone. Get those 90 kids in class to talk about an upcoming event during the semester and how every person is encouraged to attend, how every kind of person is represented. It probably happens, I’m sure. Still, in my four years, I have not seen it. Another idea: change the name and reinvent the club for the fall fair. Personally, I like something hippie-like, along the lines of, “Question Authority” or “Make Connections, Not Separations.” Combat the KKK with the CCC (Cultural Connections Club). I applaud the work that the clubs do, and as a club leader, I know you can only do so much.

What I wish for, what I am pushing for in our future campus is a heightened presence among racial and cultural clubs. If I, the race writer, do not know of their work/is not invited to their events, then how will any other students know? I should, as the writer seek it out. But will the average student? And it’s the average student that you need to enlighten. How will a student that doesn’t take Spanish, that doesn’t pay attention to the fliers falling off the wall, know that they promote an exchange of cultures and not a “learn to speak Spanish” club?

Peace and Love
And feel free to write me, correct me, chastise me. Anger equals action. Action equals clarity. Clarity equality compassion, and we can all agree there needs to be more of that.