I don’t often write about work, lest Mom show up on Facebook and post, “Delete! Delete!” like Cybermen assimilated the mother from Carrie. I know it’s out of love and concern. Especially these days, when Donnie Dumpo threatens to erase what little options one has for health insurance procurement, I cannot afford to call certain people buffoons to their faces on the open Internets anymore. Wink wink winkwinkwinkwinkwink.
Still, there’s something about being retail bottom management (this sounds like ass care, which is semi-intended) that gives you a unique perspective on life. You punch a clock like everyone else, and you’re given the responsibilities (which have done nothing but expand over the years) of someone who banks 2-3 times what you do, but you possess none of the authority. The title is usually a bone thrown, along with a meager raise, to keep you from leading an open revolt.
Humans love heuristics, and I am no exception. While I write “retail manager” as my professional title, the term still encompasses a huge range of positions. I’ve worked at exactly two retail establishments over the past thirteen years, so if I’ve worked with you and this offends your delicate sensibilities, pretend I’m talking about the other one.
First you have bottom management (watch your ass?), or the miracle workers. These are managers in name only. There is absolutely nothing they do that would legally classify them as any type of supervisor. They have to punch a clock, they get overtime pay, and they usually have the weight of the entire store thrust upon them with little to no reward other than the gift of continued employment. The M-word, again, is intended to separate them from their fellow workers. It’s the same reason wardens allow prison gangs to flourish. If you’re too busy shanking each other, you can’t organize to overwhelm the guards.
Then you’ve got lower management and upper-lower management. Lower management are the lackeys who have failed their way upward until they’ve hit a ceiling past which their ineptitude would be catastrophic. Yeah, you have rising stars passing through the ranks, but most of these people have been in retail for decades and have survived thanks to their awe-inspiring ability to fuck up just enough to be constantly infuriating but never enough to get themselves into actual, real trouble. If that fails, they’ll gaslight until everyone else collapses from mental exhaustion.
Upper-lower management are generally large department heads or store managers of smaller establishments. These people usually have some business-positive quality that allowed them to reach that level, whether it be an Oprah-esque level of business book Jedi mindfuckery or rote memorization of the 48 Laws of Power, but be forewarned. Even the nice ones don’t want to give up their yearly allocated four weeks of vacation or that heated swimming pool. You’d do well to fly below their radar. Alas, I’m usually Top Gun-ing myself right into that shit.
You might see a middle-manager once in a supermoon if you’re lucky. These are the folks who FedEx overnight a flyer you could have printed off an email. If you’re lucky, you’ll only have to deal with repetitive messages sent from their iPhone about how we have to get this thing into gear. If you aren’t, there’s an angry person on line 2 that wants to know why you can’t do your job. If you work in the district/regional office, my condolences.
Upper or executive management are the unicorns of the retail world. As bottom management you are as likely to meet a World War I veteran. Legends have been told of their prowess at inventing nonsensical sales initiatives. These are usually reversed with great pomp and circumstance by the next regime, which will display these errors like heads on pikes until they come up with their own new avalanche of folly, which will get plowed into the sea by future regimes, and so forth. While they all escape with their lives and bank accounts intact, you and your coworkers may not be so lucky.
Thus begins 2017, on this note of positivity. Consider it the moaning of a man defeated on this, his thirteenth year in the hellscape of the American service industry. One of my lowest moments may have been the time a friend pointed out that even under glorious Communism, I would be considered something lower than a producer. A furniture maker knows how to craft a chair. I move things. I hand things to people. I point to other things. I am a traffic cop. All I know how to make are babies and rage.
If this is my mantle, my craft, ragemaking, then so be it. I am the artisan of angst. Level 99 expert whineworking. I will gobble injustice and squeeze screeds into this latrine.
Feed me, Seymour. Feed me all night long.