A couple of weeks ago I began regaling you all with the worst stories from my retail career. They ranged from the weird and creepy (old guys using Mills and Boons for wanking material) to the downright annoying (self-righteous bible-bashers). Fortunately for you (and unfortunately for me) I have at least six more stories to share about my time working for the bookstore Angus & Robertson, the major retail chain known as Target, and another short-lived independent bookstore.
Old Man Farting on Head
My title for this story matches exactly what happened. At the Angus and Robertson Penrith store, back when I first started working there in 2003, we had these shelving units on the floor underneath the bookshelves where we could store excess stock. When the shelves were looking empty we would get down on our knees and pull out some more stock from underneath.
As anyone who has ever worked in retail can probably vouch, a shop becomes a magnet for the elderly and bored during the daytime hours on weekdays. Most reasonable people tend to do their shopping on weekends, Thursday nights and in the late afternoon - simply because they probably work 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. So in the other hours we tended to get a lot of old people wandering around, most of whom didn't really want to buy anything. Whatevs, let 'em browse, it doesn't really do anyone any harm.
Anyway, there was an old guy in one of the aisles. Like, extremely old - probably in his late 80s, barely knew where he was, just pottering around with this vacant wide-eyed stare. I bent down to pull some books out from underneath the shelves and he stops just next to me and lets out this sloppy rattle of a wet fart RIGHT OVER MY HEAD. It was rank. I held my breath and looked up at him incredulously, but he was completely oblivious to what he had done and he just tottered off down the aisle.
I rolled away and crawled back to the front of the store, gasping for fresh air.
For some customers, a bookstore is just another place that they can treat like a garbage bin. Every day I would find empty coke bottles, chocolate wrappers, receipts, and a whole range of consumerist rubbish just littered around the store. Some of these you can chalk up to absentmindedness, but mostly it's just people being INCONSIDERATE PIGS.
At least twice I found the remains of sticky KFC bones shoved into our bookshelves. How much of an arsehole do you have to be to do something like that? If you've got some rubbish you want to get rid of, just ask the staff - I was always happy to put a customer's rubbish into our bin. Better the bin than the floor. Better the bin than wedged between two of our books!
One day I was tidying up in the kids section and, yep, I found a used nappy wedged between two kids books. WHAT THE FUCK? There was a parents' room for changing babies no less than 30 metres from our store. How could anyone have the gall the change a baby in the middle of a store and then force the shitty nappy between some books. Imagine if a kid had pulled that out? I admit that it would be pretty funny, but it's also pretty fucking gross. The depravity of some people never ceases to amaze me. If this kind of thing goes on in a bookstore then I can only imagine what goes on in a place like Target...
Shit Alert in Target
...no wait, I know exactly what goes on in Target. You'll notice that a lot of these stories have involved shit. This isn't some kind of spooky coincidence, it's simply because a great deal of people are just absolute cunts.
In Target I was usually working on my own in the 'browngoods' section (not a pun, the TV section used to be called this because TVs in the '70s and '80s came with a mock-wood finish). Around 4pm on an afternoon I noticed this little kid (probably about 9 years old) running around and hiding behind furniture and stuff. He was making noisy gun sounds and kicking things over, but it was weird because whilst it seemed like he was playing shoot 'em ups with someone he was actually by himself. I started following him around just to make sure he wasn't trying to flog stuff or doing any real damage. Little did I know, this kid was actually part of something bigger... he was running interference. He was attracting the attention of myself and some other staff members while his mate was doing something much worse on the other side of the store.
His mate was about the same age but quite fat. While we were all chasing this kid and his shooting noises, the other kid was squatting in the corner of the store and laying out a big pile of turds. He got caught just as he pulled his pants up, and security marched both kids out of the store.
The clearest image in my mind from this day was of the fat kid looking really triumphant. His hands were held firmly behind his back by the security guard but the grin on his face was huge. For that 9 year old, taking a shit on the floor of Target was the single most satisfying moment of his life up until that moment. He would be about 19 now, and I wouldn't be surprised if he still looked back at this moment with some fondness... one of the highlights of a life misspent.
Contrary to what most customers thought, Target didn't really employ regular cleaning staff at this time. They might do now, but I wouldn't know. Like most big businesses there was a lot of penny-pinching at Target, so most of the 'tidying' was usually left to the sales staff. In this case it was automatically assumed by management that they could just ask one of us to clean it up. They assumed wrong. You see, when you get paid a minimum wage you tend to have a very clear view of what's in your job description. There wasn't ANYONE working that day who believed they should have to pick up human shit.
So it fell upon management to do it themselves. After a rather public heated exchange, one of the department managers gave in and personally had to clean up the mess.
And for that reason, much like that little fat poop-bandit, I too look back on this day with some fondness.
Guy Attacking Me for Not Honouring Giftcard
This story isn't particularly funny but I had to include it here because it represents the absolute lowest and least enjoyable point in my 'career' serving customers. It's hard to believe that this happened only a year ago as so much has happened in my life since the closure of Angus and Robertson, but happen it did.
When things began to look dark for the company known as Angus and Robertson, the head honchos made several rather harsh and drastic decisions in a last ditch attempt to save the company (or, perhaps more accurately, an attempt to give themselves enough time to escape to new jobs). I won't go too much into the story behind the collapse of Angus and Robertson, but suffice to say it was a horrible thing to bear witness to as it pretty much vindicated all my cynicism towards retail (something that I never actually wanted to see proven).
The first major decision Angus and Robertson made was to halve the amount of money on all giftcards that had already been sold to customers. I don't defend this decision in any way whatsoever, and I made no effort at the time to even defend it to the many angry customers we began recieving. However, one guy got so angry that he actually slapped my hand and threw his books in my face.
A slap on the hand isn't very harsh, but it was a shocking moment because there was a line being crossed. In a society like ours you just don't expect to be hit by a customer, ever.
Pedo Toilet Guy
I mentioned earlier that I worked in an independent bookstore for a short time. This is my only story from this place, and the reason for this is because it was very quiet and we didn't get many customers.
The store itself was a bookstore/coffee joint. Towards the end it also began stocking new age stuff, but prior to this it looked like it might've carved a niche in selling gay-orientated literature. I don't say that in a facetious way, Penrith is a pretty big place and (I think most people would agree with me here) there isn't a lot in the way of businesses that cater specifically towards gay folk. This store had a small range in gaycentric fiction, and if the owners (who were also both gay) pushed this angle a bit more (and had a smaller store) then maybe they could've filled a consumer niche in Western Sydney.
Anyway, I digress. For some reason this bookstore had its own toilet for customers to use. An odd idea, since pretty much every other bookstore I have ever been in has been without a toilet, but there you go. As the bookstore was kind of geographically isolated and had a 'hanging out' vibe to it (thanks to the coffee shop area) we used to get a rotating roster of regulars who seemed like those shady lost characters you'd find in a Humphrey Bogart film. The weirdest of these characters was a guy I thought of as 'the Pedo Toilet Guy'.
Pedo Toilet Guy was a white-haired, slightly rotund fellow who had a ruddy, bespectacled face and was always dressed in a brightly-coloured Hawaiian shirt. He never bought anything (not even a coffee), and he never even looked at the books we stocked. He would come in and sit down at one of the tables in the cafe section and just stare at people with this jolly smile on his face. I never heard him speak but he was always giggling loudly.
I guess I shouldn't call him a 'pedo' but his behaviour was definitely suspicious. After a good twenty minutes of sitting at a table he would go over to the toilet and just hang out around outside it. On the rare occasions that someone would go up to use it (always a guy... it was like women just knew better) he would quickly dart in ahead of them but wouldn't shut the door behind him, as if he were anticipating some kind of daytime toilet romp. Dodgy.
I never said anything to him. I pointed out his strange and possibly illegal behaviour to one of the owners one day and they just laughed and told me not to worry about it. They were out of business about three months later.
I am by no means an action hero. If I were to be cast in the film Twins I would be in the Danny DeVito role rather than the Arnold Schwarzenegger one. And yet, there must be times where I imagine that I am Schwarzenegger or even Sylvester Stallone, because I can think of no other good reason for some of the stupid things I have done.
I was 22 at the time and working at Target. Theft was an everyday occurence in Target (and no doubt still is)... at least three times a week we would find empty boxes that once held DVD players, and who knew what else slipped through the gaps. A popular way of stealing big items was to simply grab a TV or whatever and just make a run for it through the fire exit. The alarm would go off but once the theif was outside of the store there was no way of really stopping them because store policy was to not chase them. I think a lot of thieves must've known this because it used to happen fairly regularly. We had uniformed and plain clothes security in the store, but there was only ever one person on at a time and they couldn't be everywhere at once.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I was 22 at the time and the plain clothes security guard on this day was a middle-aged woman. She was a nice enough lady and she was good at spotting thieves, and to look at her there was no way you would've guessed that she was a security guard. One day she spotted a couple who had loaded up their pram with a DVD player and clothes and some other things. The woman was my age and I actually recognised her from school. Her partner was this big massive white-Kong of a fellow in snap-button track pants, and the security guard stopped them just as they got to the front of Target.
The woman couldn't go anywhere because she had her pram (there was a baby in it as well), but her boyfriend must've been on probation or something because he legged it straight away, leaving the Mrs and their baby behind. Classy.
The security guard saw myself and another guy, Jordan, near the registers and she shouted at us, "Stop him! Stop him!"
I knew we weren't meant to give chase, but I was 22 and working a shitkicker job. If someone told me to do something I just did it. Jordan and I ran after White Kong.
White Kong slid across the polished floor of the plaza outside target and made straight for the fire exit. He punched through the doors with a loud bang and we both bounded after him before the doors could even shut again. The corridor would've only been about twenty or thirty metres long but it seemed a lot longer. White Kong peered back over his shoulder and saw us coming after him, so he kept on running.
Jordan and myself erupted out into the back dock and saw White Kong disappear into the fire stairwell that led up to the next level of the Plaza carpark. We followed up the stairs, our rapid footfall echoing all around us. We didn't even shout anything after him, we just ran and ran.
When we came out of the stairwell on the second level of the carpark we instinctively spread out. I went to the right and Jordan went to the left and White Kong got caught between us. He ran around a parked car and stopped between its bonnet and the balustrade that lined the edge of the level.
I just kind of stopped. I had my arms spread out like I was trying herd sheep or something, and Jordan was doing the same thing. It was like we were attempting to calm down a wild animal. The guy looked really fucking scary, he was wide and tall and had tattoos and stuff. It was at this point that I questioned what I was trying to do.
What the fuck was I trying to do?
I looked at Jordan and he looked back at me with the same mental shrug. Neither of us were equipped to do anything. This guy would destroy us. Why did we even chase him in the first place?
We were lucky. White Kong had to be on probation, because rather than attack us he climbed up over the balustrade and leapt off the upper level. He sailed down through the air and hit the concrete below, CD cases noisily clattering out of all his pockets.
I was incredulous. I couldn't believe what I'd just seen. I leant over the balustrade and watched as he scrambled to his feet. He almost slipped on the CD cases that had fanned out on the ground around him. He looked back up at us blankly and then ran off. I remember feeling relieved, ha ha.
When we got back to Target we got into so much trouble from our managers... The store's insurance doesn't cover us if we get hurt, don't chase after anyone, don't listen to the security guard, blah blah blah. The security guard got in trouble for telling us to run as well, but it wasn't really her fault - she was just trying to think fast and she was too old and fat to catch the guy. It's funny that my department manager told me off because both he and I later chased another thief across three streets down to the Penrith tax office (we lost that guy too).