It was November 25th, Black Friday, and to me, the scariest time of the year.
Anyone who thinks Halloween is the scariest time of the year, has never worked in a retail store on Black Friday. That’s where I come in; my name is Sam, and I am a cashier at your local Walmart store.
I always dread this time of year, not because I don’t like Christmas, in fact, I thoroughly enjoy this season, but I hate the madness that precedes Christmas day. Outside of work, I wear my ugly Christmas sweaters and drink eggnog just like everyone else, but during my workday, I watch the clock, hoping for a break.
My boss, Harriet Spinster, yes, that is her actual name, is a grouchy, middle-aged woman who makes The Grinch look like a cute little kitten in comparison. Customers take one look at her and turn the other way. Even the Walmart greeters give her a wide berth.
My day started off routinely; we prepared the tills for the customers who still paid with cash, stocked up on the reusable bags (since we no longer use plastic disposable bags), and wiped down the conveyor.
I waited patiently as the clock ticked closer to 7:00 AM when the store was scheduled to open. There were so many people lined up outside, that they nearly blocked out the sun. I felt like I was about to be surrounded by the zombie apocalypse.
Seriously, when those doors open on Black Friday, it is like a scene out of a horror movie! Frenzied customers push there way through the doors before they are opened six inches. Last year, little Gloria Johnson was stampeded when she tried to slide the doors open. She ended up in the hospital with multiple fractures and a concussion.
This year, Harriet hired addition security guards, two just to manage the crowd at the entrance until the employee gets the doors open and is safely in the clear. I feel safe tucked away behind my checkout counter.
Tick-Tock, it is seven o’clock. Time for Armageddon to begin. I watched as Felipe, one of the new hires, nervously slid the first panel of the door open. An aggressive shopper tried pushing her way through, but security jumped in front of her. The woman stared him straight in the eyes and said, “Get out of my way, son. I have been waiting here all night.” At least, that was what it sounded like from where I was standing. Either way, it was intense.
I swear I felt the ground rumble as the crowd was finally let in. It was like the running of the bulls! Most went directly toward the electronics department, they usually do. Many of the others, headed for the toy department.
I recall an incident a few years ago when we had limited quantities of the most popular toys of the season, and fist fights broke out between customers wanting to purchase them for their children. Needless to say, nobody involved in the brawls ended up with their purchase. Instead, they ended up with a warning from the police and an escort to the exit.
It didn’t take long before I had my first customer of the day. It was sweet, old lady who just wanted to purchase some fruit cake and a bottle of Ducolax, a liquid laxative. I thought to myself that the fruit cake would probably loosen up her bowels just as easily.
The woman set her purse on the counter and gently removed her wallet. She then carefully removed one coin at a time until she had enough to cover the cost of her purchase. Of course, halfway through counting, she lost count and needed to start again.
Soon after, the line-up grew longer. More cashiers had to be called to the front. Another memorable customer was a man dressed in a Santa suit. The funny part was, he wore bunny slippers on his feet. Here at Walmart, you see all sorts.
I remember having one customer about a year-and-a-half ago who came in wearing what looked to be a transparent plastic shower curtain and nothing but boxers and long black socks beneath. I saw others pulling out their phones and snapping pictures of him. I’m sure it is circulating around social media somewhere.
It was a steady flow of customers until I was relieved for my break. I popped in my earbuds and escaped to the world of Spotify for fifteen minutes. In my mind, I was sipping margaritas on a warm, sunny beach somewhere. Then it was back to reality.
When I returned, there were already twenty-plus people in line. Every cash registered had similar lines. I looked over three lanes and saw that Jessica was working on lane six. She was hired about a month ago, and I took every opportunity to work near her.
She looked like a goddess, with long, blonde hair and sapphire blue eyes. She always smiled when our paths would cross, and she was always friendly too, but I am an extremely shy person, at least around pretty girls.
She must have sensed me gazing her way, because she turned and looked my way, giving me a small wave as she mouthed the word, “hi.” I think I turned the color of Santa’s suit when that happened. I did not know how to react. No girl like her could ever be interested in a guy like me.
A man dressed in grease-covered overalls came to the counter. He smelled terribly of body odor. It took all my will to keep my composure. Even the customers who stood behind him, stayed back around ten feet. Jimmy in the next register, however, was a little less discreet. He called out loudly, “Oh, Lord! What is that smell?” My customer seemed disgruntled but said nothing. He just took his purchase and walked away.
The next memorable customer made my day. It was a young girl, around seven or eight. She carried a pink robe and gently set it on the conveyor. I scanned it, and it came to $23.15. The young girl reached inside her coat and pulled out several small bills and some loose change and set it in front of me. “Is this enough?” she asked. Her eyes were filled with joy.
I helped her count the money, and I could hear the frustration on the voices of the customers in line behind the little girl. She only had $15.25, so I had to tell her that it was not enough money to buy the robe.
The little girl began to sob, and I could hear more moans and groans coming from the line-up. I asked the girl why she was crying, and she informed me that the robe was a Christmas gift for her mother that was in the hospital with Cancer. She explained how her mom was always cold, so she thought the robe would help keep her warm.
I felt a lump in my throat and tears began to pool up in the corner of my eyes. I pulled out my wallet and tapped my debit card for the amount of the purchase. I then gathered up the girl’s money and handed it back to her. I wished her and her mother a merry Christmas and said that the robe was my gift to her.
The girl’s face turned joyful once again. She thanked me profusely as she left the store, skipping all the way out the door. I noticed that the complaints from the other customers had ceased. I guess they suddenly felt the Christmas spirit upon them.
I wish I could say that the rest of my shift went as enjoyably as that blissful experience, but I’d be lying. Just like every year, when stock gets low, the fighting begins. This time, it was between a woman and a man over a Backbone One iPhone Gaming Controller. The woman had the man in a headlock as he tried to wrestle it away from her other hand.
Security was called in, and as the security guard removed the controller from the woman’s hand and began to listen to their stories. He set it on a nearby counter and someone else walked off with it.
As my shift ended, I happily made my way back to the staff room where I clocked out. As I was leaving, Jessica was just entering the staff room. She asked me if I could wait and walk her to her car. In my mind, I said, “Sure, I can do that,” but I think what actually came out of my mouth was, “I…um…sure…yep…huh?”
As we walked out to her car, Jessica slipped on a patch of ice. I instinctively reached out and caught her as she fell backward. She looked up and said, “My hero.” I somehow found my nerve after that and asked her out on a date. She excepted with no hesitation.
I guess my scary Christmas turned out to be a merry Christmas after all.