The Liquor Department
In the twilight of my Osco career I worked at a downtown location, in an "economically diverse" area. It had a dreadful clientele. Many lived in squalor. And of course, many were alcoholics who made daily visits to our liquor department. God help you if their brand of bottom-shelf liquor was out of stock. This one cantankerous, Bojangles-looking-mutherfucker, one of the regulars, insisted that I produce a "fifth" of Sunnybrook Whiskey when he couldn't find any on the shelf. We had sold out, and there was no Sunnybrook in the warehouse. Still, he demanded a fifth of Sunnybrook. I didn't know what the fuck a "fifth" was. I was 17 years old, and not an alcoholic. The only "fifth" I knew of was the disco smash-hit, A Fifth of Beethoven. Anyway, this guy gives me the stink-eye and a rash of shit because I can't sell him his favorite hooch. The whole time, I'm thinking to myself, what the hell difference does it make which hooch you blitz yourself out of consciousness with tonight? Why are you giving me grief? I'm a 17-year-old high school student who still has a chance at happiness and a meaningful life. Go grab a bottle of Ten High and pass out in a dumpster, you piece of garbage.
Also, the alcoholic regulars knew a little bit about everything. They'd engage you in conversation because they knew you were trapped on duty and couldn't run away. They'd ensnare you in a one-sided conversation and inform you on some facet of life. It's amazing how much somebody panhandling for beer money knows about life and the human condition. This one guy counseled me how I might earn better grades in college! Really? Should the four 40-oz. malt liquors you buy every other day part of my study regimen? How about you and I knock back a couple 40s of Mickey's Big Mouth liquor and kick out a 10-pager on the economic ramifications of post-Civil War Reconstruction?
Politics was often the subject of their soliloquies. These dirtbags loved talking politics. They couldn't keep a roof over their heads, but they were competent to manage a 10.2 trillion dollar national economy. That's a what a nightly fifth of Sunnybrook will do to your brain. Jeez! I'm still so bitter, even 15 years later!
During my first few years at Osco the store piped elevator music through the PA system. But eventually they made the transition to contemporary pop music (Phil Collins, Barry Manilow, pre-disco Bee Gees, 50s and 60s hits, anything lacking pizazz and the potential to offend). This change afforded me another opportunity to mock my employer. I took to injecting my own dirty lyrics into easy listening hits from the 70s and 80s. I was, after all, a high school kid. If you're going to force me to listen to Phil Collins, I'm going to spice up his songs with a few educated F-bombs and crude innuendos. I'll look over my shoulder for customers before I belt out an X-rated Barry Manilow tune, but if a customer is in a neighboring aisle, oh damn well.
Speaking of dirty lyrics, some of you may remember the Osco jingle: "...at Osco, you can count on people who care." YouTube has a 30-second video clip featuring the melody at the end. I made my own version and sung it often: at Osco, you can count on people who SWEAR..." and then I'd swear, something in a "God Dammit." Why the gratuitous swearing? Because, fuck Osco. That's why.
I wondered about many of the employees with whom I worked. Some of them were high school and college kids who needed a part-time gig, and who didn't want to flip burgers. I understood them. But then there were adults, people as old as my parents, who worked there. What the fuck are you doing here?, I thought. Using my Jedi-interrogation technique, renowned for its subtlety, I'd elicit from the adult clerks the cataclysmic sequence of events that led them to this lowly station in life. Most explained that they had other plans, but that as the years whizzed by, their plans didn't materialize. And Osco was always there to soften the landing. I observed that Osco exacted tremendous gravity. I met many who couldn't escape the retailer's tractor beam, like when the Millennium Falcon got sucked back to the Star Destroyer. Nowadays, poor Han Solo's been working the liquor department going on 14 years, making all of 7 bucks an hour. It was a telltale sign that this Jedi make the Kessel Run to college at light speed, lest I fall in the hands of the Death Star, too. Alright, enough Star Wars trivia. The point is, people who planned on making Osco a part-time gig in their youths wound up giving it their lives.
Here's the fundamental staffing model problem at Osco. There's an inherent values conflict. You have adult, middle-aged people who've hitched their anchors to a drug store franchise. For them, this is it. Fuck college, vocational training or the rich relative who didn't remember them in the will. These people aim to climb the corporate ladder at Osco. They've resigned to the fact that Osco is their future after several failures to launch at college, self-employment, etc. They've read their inspirational paperback management books from the Borders' business section. Now they're motivated. They've written their goals on 3x5 inch notebook cards. They've looked in the mirror and affirmed, "I will make a vice-president position within 5 years," or similar hogwash. And they've convinced themselves they can do it with effective goal-setting and a lot of hard work. Go team!
Here's the problem. Their goals depend on a bunch of I-don't-give-a-shit high school and college kids who are hanging out at Osco for beer and gas money. Condemned to minimum wage, they aim to do as little as possible. Thankfully, I didn't stick around long enough to confirm it, but I theorize that a good working definition of hell is when your career success depends on motivating a bunch of teen-agers to give a damn about the retail business.