I’m a sucker for the so-called magic of the holidays. Twinkle lights draw me in like a Kardashian to good selfie light, I go wild for a rum ball (or four), and I love piling gaudy decorations on the family tree—if only so Auntie Eileen* isn’t the only one dressed like a disco ball on Christmas Eve.
Yet, I feel like in order to be somewhat socially responsible, it is my duty to contemplate how ridiculous the holidays can be—how overstuffed, hyper-consumerist, and exclusive of those whose celebratory traditions aren’t in line with the mainstream. (Frank Costanza was right all along!) But nowhere does the ludicrosity of the holidays come into sharper focus than at the mall. Perched on the lap of a stranger in a chin wig, children scream protest as their photos are taken by tweens with prosthetic ears. Meanwhile, Chapters boils over like a disturbed ant nest, and flustered husbands at Pandora demand to know why the Sparkling Love Charm costs twice as much as the Floating Heart Dangle Thing. It’s madness, and nobody knows this better than the people who must navigate this glittering dystopia daily in order to earn a living.
I am of course talking about retail workers, whose engagement with the Christmas cacophony is not limited to one sweaty, stressful afternoon at the Orchard Park Plaza, but rather an entire season, in which they must act like polite robots, instead of actual people, in order to pacify customers. As evidenced by the stories below, these people put up with some shit. And I mean that literally. From fitting room poops to verbal abuse to Christmas tree jousts to escaped exotic animals, retail workers have seen it all. So forget Santa or Jesus or whoever your holiday idol is—these people are the real Christmas heroes.
Here are their stories:
Once upon a time I was working at a mid-range women’s clothing store and since it was the holidays, everyone was very frantic and stressed out. It was a very busy day and this woman asked if she could use our public bathroom. We said sure. I was working in the fitting room that day, running around getting sizes for people and that kind of thing, and as I reapproached the fitting room area—which is also where the bathroom was—the woman came up to me and said, “you’re gonna need to clean up in there.” I said, “oh I’m so sorry,” because I figured she was complaining about the state of the bathroom. But she was like, “no, I’m so sorry,” and then left. So I went to the bathroom, opened the door, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it looked like someone had sprayed the walls with a hose full of diarrhea. The entire outside of the toilet and the walls surrounding the toilet were covered in projectile shit. There was a giant puddle of shit next to the toilet, and no effort was made to clean it up. Only one solitary square of toilet paper was laid atop the mountain of shit. It doesn’t end there. As a person making about eleven dollars an hour, I went to my manager and was like, “hey, there’s shit all over the bathroom and I think it’s a health risk.” My manager was like, “I have OCD, and I can’t even think about that because I’m going to have a panic attack. So you need to clean it up.” I was pretty sure that it was against a labour code of some kind but, anyhow, I filled up a mop bucket, got a mop, and got to work. But the back area was set up so that the fitting rooms had carpet floors and the bathroom had tile, and there was a slight lip between the carpet and tile. So as I was wheeling the mop bucket over towards the shit bathroom, it caught on the lip and spilled all the water into the bathroom, proceeding to flood the entire bathroom with shit-water, and also spill out onto the carpet of the fitting room area. I ultimately cleaned it up, scrubbed my arms for like fifteen minutes, and threw away the mop. By the time I was finished, the manager had left because the whole situation had stressed her out so much, and so we were short-staffed for the rest of the day. —Jocelyn, 26
It was Black Friday and a lady came in to return some Uggs that she bought on November 2nd. She said her daughter opened them on her birthday and she was appalled by what was in the shoebox. When she opened the box to show us, there was a bunch of candy in the box, along with dead bees, ripped up paper, fur ripped out of the Uggs, and even mouse poop. A mouse had gotten into that box at her house and she demanded an exchange because she insisted it happened in our stockroom, even though we’ve never had a rodent issue or anything of the like. Ultimately we had to take them back and damage them out. —Katie, 21
Well, in over forty years of retail, here is a first for me. I work in an affluent, high-end specialty food store. Lady comes in yesterday with a bulk container of hazelnuts wanting to return them. No rewards card. No receipt. And they were expiration dated November 19, 2008! She’d had actual possession of them for over ten years! Of course our customer service manager said no, so she wanted to talk to the store manager. He comes and listens to her bullshit. Then he lets her do an exchange! We are all shocked. So, she goes and gets another container of nuts to replace her ten-plus year-old ones. She then starts bitching that her nuts were in a sixteen-ounce container and the new ones are only in a twelve-ounce one, and so she wants to make up the difference! I think our manager actually let her have two containers—just to be rid of her. I really, really, really despise some people. —Carol, 59
I had the stomach flu and tried to call in sick on Black Friday because I couldn’t hold anything down. I was told if I didn’t go in, I didn’t have a job. So I went in. My boss said I didn’t look too good. I told him I didn’t feel well and I had the stomach flu. Well, two hours later as he was checking on me I told him I didn’t feel well and I then proceeded to throw up on my boss. In front of a line of customers. —Kassandra, 26
So I worked at a pet store for seven years in the fish and reptile department, and one day I come to work and one of the snakes isn’t there, and the lid to its tank is unlatched. This particular snake—non-venomous, a mix of red, black and yellow, a milk snake I think—had not been one to escape before. And so, yeah, I discover it’s missing, report it to the bosses, write it down as a non-stolen escaped animal, and progress through the day hoping I’ll find it. You know, I’m looking under bags, up on shelves, checking in the darkest corners behind the aquariums. Several days go by and we find nothing, that is, until a man comes in with the snake, saying he got it at the thrift shop next door. The snake must have gotten into the wall system somehow. Anyhow, he tells me that a little kid and his mom were in the thrift store, and the kid looked on the toy shelf and decided he wanted the toy snake. Lo and behold, when said snake was touched, it moved. It was not a toy—it was a living, breathing, slithering reptile. And I guess this guy was the only person brave enough to pick it up, put it in a container, and bring it back to the pet store, to me. So I put it back in its cage, and surprisingly, I sold it relatively quickly. Because of that story, it had been deemed intelligent, and so it sold fast. —Evan, 28
One Black Friday at my store, a man tried to purchase a sale item before the time of the sale. The sale started at 6 PM but he was told he could not buy the item early. He got mad, went back, and peed all over the display. —Rachel, 29
This weird guy is in our store around Christmas and grabs a ton of x-small girls clothing and takes it to the change room. We’re all immediately suspicious. He's in the room forever and we're all kinda spaced out, waiting to see what is going down. Then he bolts out of the change room, leaving a garment mountain behind in the corner of the room. It’s weird, but nothing is stolen. I go back up to the till, and then my coworker comes around the corner looking horrified. Turns out, the man was hiding a shit in the corner of the change room. Weirdest security call I've ever had to make. —Brittany, 24
So it was 4AM on Black Friday, and our store was of course partaking in the holiday sales. There was a great deal on some GPS systems, but to make sure none got stolen, a display model was put out in the front of the store, and all purchasable units were kept in the back. Now, the front of our store was a wall of windows, so the growing line of customers were able to see the merchandise display. As open grew ever closer, they began to bang on the windows demanding to be let in early. At this point all associates were called to the front for what we could be sure was an incoming nightmare. Sure enough, the doors open, and a rush of people began to flood in, almost trampling each other trying to make their way through the single set of doors. The GPS display was secured higher than your average person can reach, but our customers were not to be deterred. Completely ignoring the associate trying to explain that we had plenty of units to hand out, if they would only form a line, the customers began to climb on top of each other to get what they assumed was the only unit available. At one point, a particularly strong customer was able to rip the unit from it's brackets. A swarm ensued. Located next to the GPS display was a line of artificial Christmas trees on special for Black Friday. The pursuit for deals was on. Not willing to be left out of the deal, another customer loudly proclaimed that they would not be leaving without that GPS. She promptly grabbed one of the display Christmas trees, lowered it to a horizontal position, and began to run, as best one can in a crowd, at the man holding the display unit, brackets still attached. The man then grabbed the tree closest to him, lowered it in similar fashion and charged right back. For a brief moment the chaos broke up as all eyes were on the two people. Full on battle ensued as the trees came apart, turning from jousting lances, to brightly lit battle swords. Cheers from all sides as each one took a turn swinging on the other. All of the front end employees were in such shock that no one really knew what to do. After a few minutes, which easily felt like hours, the smallest manager in the store climbed onto a counter and began shouting that the model they were all fighting over didn’t even work, but if they would just form a line, they could get their GPSs. All Christmas-related weapons were put down and a line was fashioned. It was an eventful beginning to what proved to be an extra long day. — Tricia, 29
Working at a shoe store the day before Christmas Eve, I didn't feel good but was required to work twelve hours as management. During my shift I went to the restroom and proceeded to vomit up blood, and so they called 911, had me transported to the hospital, and I learned I had a ruptured ulcer and was going to stay in the hospital for three days. My company decided to write me up for not doing my twelve hours of work, plus as a no call/no show for Christmas Eve. —Lisa, 38
We have a click and collect system in our store where you pay for an item online and we hold the item for two days, which is stated when you place the order. I had a customer place an order for an item but they didn’t collect it in the time period and they didn’t call the store to ask us to hold it for her. She came into store and I explained this to her. I had the item in stock, so she could have just bought it normally through a till because a refund for her online purchase had already been processed automatically. Instead she proceeded to tell me how rude and ignorant I was, how she runs three restaurants and has no time to be ringing stores to hold orders and how instead of speaking to me about it anymore she would rather commit suicide. She stormed out. If she had been polite I could have sold her the item but because she was rude, I wasn’t going to help her. Remember people, be kind to retail workers they are more likely to help you if you’re polite. —Chelsea, 25
I’m a cashier and I've had customers tell me that I have personally ruined their Christmas because we didn't carry a specific item, or were out of stock, or a sale ended last week and they only found out about it today and want the sale prices. Last year I was working at a bakery and nearly closing time, and a customer comes in and orders a dozen donuts. I told him we only had four left of the kind he wanted, but told him some similar types that we still had. And he literally looks me in the eye and says, “What am I supposed to tell my children?" —Jordan, 27
I worked at Sears at the time as a cashier in a cash wrap. One time a customer asked me if I had a garbage can and I instinctively held out my hand and said yes. This grown-ass person puts their chewed gum in my hand, says “Thanks!” and walks away. I was left standing there flabbergasted. I learned to never stick my hand out like that again. —Liam, 23
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