Conflict Essay (My First Job)

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Though this wasn’t my first “real” job, it was my first significant job and the one that taught me what career path I did NOT want.  I was a cashier at Lowe’s in Albany, Georgia. Because of that job, as long as I know they’re actually trying, I have the patience of Job with cashiers and other retail workers. 

I had applied for an office job and had been adamant that I did not want to be a cashier. They assured me I would be in the office. About two months later, around late October or early November, they transferred me to the front. Because I needed the money, I worked a cash register for the first time in my life. Right before Christmas. I was not happy. 

I don’t recall having much difficulty learning the system. At first, the hardest part was learning the item numbers, but I learned them and could tell you the item number for several things years after I’d left. In reality, the hardest part was dealing with customers. The first thing I noticed was that people don’t know how to read. One rainy afternoon, I was straightening around my register when I noticed a lady standing by a display of box fans.

“How much are these?”

As I walked over, I couldn’t help but notice the large sign placed prominently in the display, but because pointing out the obvious to a customer is frowned upon, I very politely read her the price. Thinking back on that moment, though, I often wonder if perhaps she truly didn’t know how to read, except that really doesn’t explain all the other times customers stared at large informative display signs and then asked me about the item. One customer picked up an emergency kit for her car and started to ask me what was included in it. She stopped mid-question and said, to herself, “Dingbat, read!” When she was ready to checkout, I asked, “You’ve worked retail before, haven’t you?” She had.

People also had difficulty reading descriptions on price stickers. For instance, someone had picked up a deluxe version of a spray nozzle and instead of putting it back where they got it from, they put it in a bin of 99 cent spray nozzles. A wonderful gentleman tried to convince me that because it was in the 99 cent bin, he should be able to get it for 99 cents. He was not happy when I and my manager explained to him that that’s not how it worked.

Two of my favorite kill-with-kindness moments happened while on this job. The first was an instance of a man not reading a label and someone putting an item in the wrong bin. He was buying fluorescent light bulbs and the total was considerably higher than he had anticipated. He first accused me of overcharging him, which I was used to. Since I couldn’t leave my register, my manager walked back to the light bulbs with him to see what had happened. Several minutes later, he stormed past my register, cursing the store and yelling, “I will NEVER shop here again!” My manager was running behind him, trying to keep up and calm him down. It didn’t work. As she leaned against my counter to calm herself down, she looked at my register.

“Is that his?”

I followed her stare. Before he had started asking about the price difference, he had given me his money – a hundred dollar bill. I grabbed it and ran out of the store after him, not even worrying about the fact that I’d just left my register. 

“Sir!” He kept walking.

“Sir!!” He kept walking.

With a little more attitude, I tried one more time, “SIR!!!”

He whipped around and spat out an angry, “WHAT?”

I calmly held out my hand and said, “Your hundred dollar bill.” He at least had the decorum to look embarrassed as he took it and walked away.

To this day, when I walk into a Lowe’s (or any hardware store really), there are two smells that hit me instantly: the garden center and the lumber department. I liked the garden center primarily because it tended to have fewer customers, but also because I like the smell of the plant food and other gardening chemicals. I’m weird that way. The mornings were particularly relaxing. That’s when they watered the plants. When the wind blew just right, it created a mist that was greatly appreciated in the hot south Georgia heat of summer.

My hands down favorite, though, was the lumber department. I love the earthy smell of wood. It takes me back to running through the woods around my house and it reminds me of books (Hi. My name is Elizabeth and I am a book-sniffer). The customers tended to be easier to work with because most of them were seasoned contractors who knew to look closely at labels and understood what we cashiers often put up with. They also enjoyed flirting and I didn’t mind being flirted with. 

One afternoon in the lumber department, a man approached me and in a deep Southern drawl, said, “Ah need a two bah four.” Now, I didn’t actually work with the wood nor did I know what wood was best for what project, but I did know that he hadn’t given me enough information.

“A two by four by….?”

“I need a G-D two by four! Can’t I get a G-D two by four around here?!” I don’t like being cussed at so, very politely, I went off.

“Yes sir you can, but how long do you want it? Two by four by four, six, eight, ten? And what type of wood do you want? Pine? Pressure Treated? Oak?” 

His response was a dumbfounded stare. He didn’t know the answer. I pointed to the Building Supplies desk and said, “Those gentleman over there can help you figure out what would be best for your project and then I’ll be more than happy to help you.”

Though I enjoyed most of the people and customers I worked with, thanks to those precious few, I will be perfectly fine never working retail again. Ever.