Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Retail Hell: How I Sold My Soul to the Store- Tales of a Tortured Retail Associate by Freeman Hall

Freeman Hall was a gay guy who moved to California hoping to write a big screenplay and make money in movies. But when the demands of making a living while writing got too much for him, Freeman was forced to seek a job- in retail. Getting a job in Nordstrom's was almost his last option, and he hoped to work in Men's Clothing. Instead, he was assigned to a department that seemed tailor-made to emasculate him- Ladies Handbags.

After undergoing a day of Retail Training with trainers who treated the trainees like not so very bright children, Freeman was dumped in the handbag department at the store he called "The Big Fancy", to sink or swim for himself. But first, he had to scale "Mt. Fancy", the employee entrance with its eight flights of stairs- something that the man who started the Big Fancy dreamed up as a workout for his employees, who would otherwise sit or stand around all day.

Adding insult to injury, the staircase was old, dark and had high steps, and the stairs and railings were slick and slippery. Too many employees tripped or fell on those stairs, and later, they were turned into a even worse pit of Hell when someone in management decided to add a spinning disco ball, spotlights trained on said ball, silver strips on the walls, and a stereo playing the same three disco songs over and over to the stairs. Listening to "YMCA", "Hot Stuff" (by Donna Summer) and "Shake Your Booty" over and over as he climbed eight flights of stairs was a retail Hell of a completely new kind.

But Freeman had his own way of dealing with the noise and constant songs, and eventually got them to stop. And he took absolute pleasure in doing so.

Meanwhile, Freeman was hopelessly uninformed about handbags (never call them *purses*, please! That is so very low-rent dollar store!), and three of his fellow Retail Slaves and the manager did nothing to help him with that. It was up to the other employees of handbags to help him figure out what all those handbags were and what all those terms meant, until he could figure it out on his own.

But worst of all in working at the Big Fancy were the customers. Some were actually nice once he got to know them, including his own Shoposaurus Carnotaurus, a woman capable of devouring great amounts of retail items and never returning them- one that proved very lucrative for Freeman. And he made a name for himself in finding the perfect way to sell lots of product for his comission by becoming, as he puts it "Queer Eye Handbag Guy".

But not all customers were that nice, and many of them were a big pain in the butt. There was Polly, who was a retail Stalker-she always wanted to speak to him on the phone, keeping him from making sales on the floor. There were the NAT's or Nasty-Ass Thieves, who stole items from the store, then returned them for money- and due to the Big Fancy's doing anything for the customer, pulling the same scam over and over in multiple locations.

But those were not the worst. Some women would return things in damaged condition, or claim they were never used and then have tampons, bras and the other flotsam and detritus that ends up in used pocketbooks in them. And worse for all of this is that returns subtracted from the commission of the salesperson that originally sold the item. So if a lot of items were returned, the salesperson would eventually end up working for nothing. And if they didn't make above a certain amount of commission sales in a month, they would only get paid by the hour. This was called a "Misfire". But more than two months in a row Misfiring would get you terminated.

But Freeman's job eventually took over his life, and made it impossible for him to even think about writing a screenplay. Every story he tried to write morphed into something to do with working in retail, until it seemed like the store became his very life. But would Freeman sink or swim in the shark-infested waters of Retail Hell? Could he survive his emasculating profession, or would the horrible custys drive him insane first?

I loved this book because Freeman tells it exactly like it is. Relating stories that are amusing, disgusting or both, he is so very relatable that you are often laughing even as you cringe, whether in horror, disgust or pity. And when he manages to get retail revenge on asinine management, Nasty-Ass Thieves or Douchebag customers and co-workers, you laugh and exult in his victory along with him- anyone who works with the public on a daily basis knows how that feels.

Freeman is also very unrestrained in how he expresses his opinions, and how he found the job at the "Big Fancy" personally emasculating. Or how he felt that if he told people he was gay at his training session that one of the women would have killed him- this woman had a husband who had just left her for another man after years of being married. And when he had to pose as a female customer buying lipstick in a job roleplaying session with that same woman, the look in her eyes should have killed him when he asked her if she had anything in cherry red.

Its these sorts of personal recollections that really make the book. I loved the true stories, and Freeman's personality, which he still manages to express even in the stifling world of retail sales. And although it's not mentioned in the book, Freeman also had another outlet for his sales position that acted as amateur therapy, his blog, Retail Hell Underground.

I freely admit I started reading his tales there, and that this was what made me seek out this book to read. So if you want to read more, not just by Freeman, but by other retail slaves, now you know where to go. I highly recommend this book for some laugh-out-loud reading goodness. If you have ever worked retail, you will sympathize, and if not, perhaps this will make you a better customer.

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