Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How may I help you?

It is with great joy that I announce my departure from the House of Wal.

It is with a far greater amount of sadness that I announce the likely end of regular posting to behindthecounter.com.

You, my faithful readers, deserve to know the rest of the story.

On October 20, 2007, in the year of our Lord, I walked out of the Wal-Mart a free woman. FREE AT LAST LORD, FREE AT LAST. I had spent 1,097 days in bondage to the Lords of Low Prices.

For most of the last year, I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that the only real reason I worked at Wal-Mart was to have material to post. The increasing popularity of Behind the Counter made it harder and harder for me to walk away from something that I had literally poured my heart and soul into over a period of three years.

This is how the argument went in my head. “My life is horrible. What’s good right now? My blog. What’s bad right now? Wal-Mart. What can I do to make my life better? Quit Wal-Mart. But if I quit Wal-Mart, I won’t have a blog.” Yeah. Vicious, please meet my friend Circle.

When I started my blog back in April of 2004, I was searching for myself, happiness and a purpose in life. Five months later, I happened to start working at Wal-Mart and Behind the Counter was born. Writing my blog gave me a purpose and a focus.

When I began writing, I never imagined that the things I put out there would attract such a diverse group of readers, fans and people who generally appreciate my work.

I started working at Wal-Mart for the sole purpose of being able to pay my bills. Over time, my real job began paying me enough so that – with prudent budgeting – I could survive without the House of Wal. I need to break the Starbucks addiction, but we’re working on that.

I cut back to just the weekends at Wal-Mart and tried to stockpile stories for an entire week of posting. One side effect of this was that I never had a day off from work. Ever. Monday-Friday at the office and Saturday-Sunday at Wal-Mart. It was a grinding schedule that I kept up for more than two years.

As Behind the Counter grew in popularity, I felt the pressure to pump out more content. Most weekends, I would come home after a 2-11 shift on Sundays and stay up writing until 5 a.m. – when I would go to sleep for three hours and then get up and get ready for work at my real job by 9 a.m.

Over the past year, I have battled depression, the likely beginnings of diabetes and come face-to-face with the fact that my life is a completely screwed-up mess of my own making.

In all that time, Behind the Counter – and constant stream of comments people leave – has been one of the only things that made me feel like getting out of bed in the morning.

Every time I checked my email, I hoped for a comment. Comments – be they good, bad, hateful or inane – were like little happiness grenades in the dark hours of my days.

If you, my readers, were making an effort to tell me how you felt about my work – I owed it to you to give you fresh content.

Even the haterade. You don’t exist on the Internet until you have haters. For every voice that speaks out, there are ten more that scream in silence.

I made mistakes – lots of them. If I had it to do over again, I would probably try to interact with my readers more. My paranoia over being discovered led early on to me instituting a “zero-contact” policy for all but the most extraordinary requests. In retrospect, I think that only made some people MORE curious about me – including some stalkers who analyzed every single post for clues.

I also wanted to sell merchandise. I had some T-shirt designs in the preliminary stages, but never got around to setting up a store on Zazzle. I really, really wanted to sell T-shirts where someone tries to return a baby.

Over the past year, my responsibilities at my real job have grown enormously. Some weeks, I spent up to 80+ hours at both jobs. Something was going to have to give.

I have always made no bones of the fact that I personally feel that Wal-Mart is not the best steward of its workers. The company as a whole needs to be broken down to its component pieces and completely rebuilt.

The current attitude of the bean-counters in Bentonville – who are issuing directives for the store-level employees without ever having been inside a store – are incredibly damaging to employee morale. So too is the absolute refusal to acknowledge the fact that stores cannot deliver even a minimal level of customer service if confined to the insanely low limits of the Bentonville directives for staffing.

In the time period from March until I left in October, I got a 2-11 p.m. shift nearly every Saturday and a 2-11 p.m. nearly every Sunday. I can count on one hand the number of shifts that were not 2-11. For that entire time, I was the only person scheduled at the Service Desk after the morning people went home at 4 p.m.

Psychologically, I knew that I could handle it. Wal-Martians don’t scare me. I am smarter, better and a thousand times meaner. However, it is immensely draining to go through weekend after weekend after weekend of the same crap, facing down the ghetto trash, the white trash and the dregs of society that only crawl out from under their rocks after dark. Nearly every Sunday, I had to plead for someone to give me my lunch; if I got a second break I sent a silent prayer up to the heavens and Kali’s waiting arms.

Wal-Mart literally does not care about its employees. They will mouth pretty words, but they are as empty as Paris Hilton’s head. The final straw came sometime in early summer. I had a rare 10-7 shift on Sunday and was actually looking forward to getting home in time to do laundry and sleep before going to work on Monday. When did I leave? 10 p.m. TWELVE HOURS AT THE HOUSE OF WAL.

I have had several long talks with the very few people in my life that I trusted with the secret of Behind the Counter. (Thank you all, you know who you are!) Every time they asked me “Why are you still working there?” – the only answer I could give was that I needed material for my blog. Finally, that answer just wasn’t good enough anymore.

I had to make a terrible choice – between my sanity and my blog. To be fair, it took me nearly a year to finally decide to walk away from Behind the Counter. I don’t believe that my writing should make me unhappy – and going to the House of Wal each weekend simply made me miserable.

At the end of the day, I wrote about entitled idiots trying to scam the system and generally acting like they need a beating with whips made of scorpions. I saw a niche in the blog ecosystem and I filled it – maybe not especially well or with great style and verve – but I filled it.

My next project is going to be “21 Minutes” – which is linked in the top right-hand column. (I thought seriously about concentrating on my Howler Monkeys project, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it has real legs. I mean, how much complaining about children can I do?)

What is “21 Minutes?” Well, the premise is that I’m going to go somewhere each day and describe the action for 21 minutes. The same snark, the same fashion critique, the same howler monkeys, the same WOACAs, the same witty wordplay. We may even do a post at the Wal-Mart from time to time. I hope you like it. If not, that’s fine too. This is something I’m doing for myself – and it doesn’t make me hurt inside.

Right now, I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve had a few weekends to spend reconnecting with my friends, rebuilding my social life and trying to figure out what exactly it is that I’m going to do with the rest of my life.

For the record, I want to personally thank each and every reader of Behind the Counter over the past three years. Thank you for reading. Thank you for leaving comments. Thank you for subscribing via RSS. Thank you sending me your emails. Thank you for clicking on the advertisements. Thank you for putting links on your own personal Web pages and blogrolls. And to the two people who purchased me gifts off my Amazon Wish ListI LOVE YOU!

At the end of the day, all I did was write. Thank you all for appreciating it.

Yes. You all still have questions. No. I’m still not going to tell you my name or the location of my store. I’m not stupid. Anything else you want to know, please leave it in the comments.

208 comments:

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Anonymous said...

I recommend that you remove that thing about clicking on the ads. If Google finds out they'll ban your account without sending you a check :(

contessa said...

201+ comments in, and I really doubt you're gonna read this but I have to say: this blog was awesome and I'm going to miss it like crazy. I'll start reading 21 minutes but reliving my horrible retail days through you was cathartic in so many ways. Nevertheless I'm glad you're out of it now - retail has a way of sucking the very soul out of a person. PS: I am completely convinced you and I are in the same FL town. I know you hate the stalkers, however it's refreshing to know there's at least one clever snarky subversive person in this sad, godforsaken place, even if I'll never be able to prove it.

BBCAMERICAN said...

@contessa - drop a line to behindthecounter1@gmail.com. Take your best guess. --BBCAmerican

Colleen said...

I'm so sorry to see this blog end, but I'm so happy for you as well. It sounds like you made the right decision. What really matters is your health. And your writing talent does not depend on WalMart. Maybe you found your voice there, but it's been YOUR voice all along that has kept people entertained. I'm so happy you'll be writing at a new blog and will visit you there!

Anonymous said...

I will miss it, but you have to do what you have to do! I look forward to reading your new blog. :)

spleen said...

please please please let us know when you publish a book with all your posts. I must have it!

Chris said...

I stopped by to read this awesome blog every now and then (when I had a few spare moments at work), just wanted to say you did a wonderful job and you'll definitely be missed! Take care of yourself, and best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Now that you are no longer at WalMart, you can keep up with any lingering fondness for the ongoings of white trash by viewing the "White Trash Fat Lady" videos and the "America's Number One White Trash Family" videos.

It will seem like old times.

Harold, from Knoxville

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