Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Some Retail Experience

I recall a few summers ago, I took a job at a sunglass boutique in a Florida outlet mall. I can say with confidence that the market for sunglasses was much higher in Florida than Ohio. The sunglass store that employed me was hip and fashionable, with oak floors and mod glass cases. The newest indie pop music spewed forth from the speakers.

“Ray-ban aviators are on sale this week,” I’d grin, having never worn a pair of sunglasses in my life. From the looks of me, all pasty white and wearing a pair of black plastic-rimmed glasses, it would seem quite obvious that I was out of my element, a man adrift in a raging torrent of lies, lies, lies. Ah, retail. Ah, sales.

I lied about the life span of a pair of $300 Maui Jims. I lied about the size of that lady’s nose. I lied about my own retail experience to get the damn job. But my manager ate it up. And so did the customers—especially the Europeans who would stroll in, living up their 6-week ‘holidays‘ in sunny F-L-A. With a Cockney-to-American dictionary in one hand and a calculator in the other, they’d attempt to haggle, dropping nomenclature like ‘wanker’ and ‘cheers’ while furiously punching the buttons on the calculator to determine just how much of a deal they were receiving on the pair of $220 Oakleys.

“How’s the exchange rate these days?” I’d ask, taking a break from hocking a bottle of lens cleaner and matching microfiber cloth.

They’d mumble something like, “1.37,” with a French or German or Hungarian accent.

I’d nod, not really understanding math in any language.

By end of my first day at Sunglass Outlet, I had been exposed to many foreign cultures (ahem, bourgeois European cultures) and had made a killing! I had met and even exceeded my quota. Then I attempted to close the store.

In my open-faced fibs, I may have alluded to a bit more retail experience than I actually possessed. I had said ‘some’ on my application, whereas reality led a bit closer to none. Maybe less than none. But it couldn’t be that hard, right? I’m in college, right? I’m a writer, right? Okay, aspiring writer. But like any good writer, I took notes on the closing procedure when my manager had gone over them before she left. And did she ever leave! Like breeze over the list and go, out the door. “If you have any questions, call my cell phone,” she had said, already out the door.

“No problem!” I yelled. “I have retail experience! And I took notes!”

Those “notes” were really just a bunch of truncated words scrawled on the back of a receipt.
Things like “C. draw”—count drawer. Easy enough.

Um. “Of lit”—off light. Turn off light. Gotcha.
Eh. “sec. alm” oh oh!—security alarm!
And “lock,” as in the door, upon me leaving a productive day at Sunglass Outlet.

I clutched my list tightly as everything fell apart around me. First off, I had no idea how to balance a cash register. I’m a writer—excuse me, aspiring writer—not an accountant. That went horribly and took close to an hour. As I went to close the cash drawer, the thing jammed and was left halfway open. Bills were literally hanging out of it.

For the life of me, I couldn’t find the damn light switch. I had just pictured a big lever in the back labeled “on” and “off.” No such luck. I couldn’t find one light switch in the whole store.

So I called my boss. She said she could bail me out. Nope. Three times I rang her, three times—nothing, stonewalled. She was not there when I needed her.

With the cash register jammed open and all the lights ablaze, I opened my toolbox—my writer’s toolbox—and set to work on the most over-the-top explanation letter of my life. Although I don’t remember the content word-for-word, I know I used phrases like “Panicked stupor” (i.e.: “In a panicked stupor, I prematurely closed the cash drawer, jamming it before it could fully close.”). I tried to combine eloquence with hysteria and I think I pulled it off. In reality, I could care less about the store. I had only worked there one day. What did I have to lose? And she said she’d have phone on. Liar.

I strutted out the doors that night, with my Sunglass Outlet shining like a beacon in the night for any eligible cat burglar. The cash register was left open, for God’s sake. Money was hanging out. I didn’t even bother setting the security alarm—I couldn’t find a light switch, how was I going to set the alarm?

I locked one of three necessary door locks, hopped on my bike, and rode home. I expected a call at nine from my manager the next morning. She would say that I was the worst salesman in history, that any moron could close a sunglass hut. But it never happened. I went into work the next day at three, as scheduled, and found the place intact. No shattered displays and stolen merchandise. The place was tip-top. I left the old girl undefended and she held up fine.

And my manager apologized to me for not answering my calls. She said it was her fault. How could such a blatant mistake on my part—certainly one that merited getting fired, if not sued—turn so drastically in my favor?

It was the note. My transient, hysterical note told it all. It explained the unlocked door, unarmed security alarm, glowing lights, and thief-welcoming cash register. I had found my voice.

“I don’t ever want to read that you were in a ‘panicked stupor’ ever again,” my manager said while showing me the workings of the fuse box that controlled the lights.

The summer went great. I sold sunglasses and made a fortune off well-to-do Euros.

“Welcome to Sunglass Outlet. I’m Ryan deBiase, writer and aspiring salesman.”

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

New blog

In the absence of any substantial posting these last few weeks, allow me to refer you to a new project I've been working on, The Burning River Bike Blog.

Launched last week by rockitecture.'s Thed Ferringer and I, this new site combines our love of bikes with our love of blogs. Plus there will be some nifty commentary on Cleveland as well, always from the POV of the ornery cyclist.




What more could you ask for?


Who the eff said that?