Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Behind the Counter Chapter Four: Store Manager Jacinda

Store Manager Jacinda was a 23-year lifer who had worked her way up from the sales floor at a store in Wisconsin before joining the management training program 15 years ago.

She moved to Florida to be closer to aging parents and had to be convinced to leave her old store to manage the build for a new SuperCenter. She, the entire personnell office, both co-managers and four assistant managers are gone within two months in an unspecified "scandal."

Rumors swept the store.

"Unauthorized raises during store build." A breathless report from the Garden Center.

"She took the fall for Molly and Ken, because they were the ones who did something, but we don't know what." Grocery stocker, who heard an assistant manger talking to the produce manager

"She didn't get fired. She was just tired of Wal-Mart." The know-it-all girl at the jewelry counter, who you always suspected of "taking stock home with her." She also dealt weed and pills out of her car.

"Her momma up in Montana real sick. Dey say she gonna die." A Haitian cashier.

Who knows. I never knew.

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I was always impressed by Jacinda. She was a prodigious worker, the rare leader who didn't just walk around, she pitched right in building shelves, dragging pallet movers and helping calibrate register scales.

The woman could speak. Regular post-lunch "updates" on the progress of the store offered her a chance to rouse her growing throng of workers and preach the gospel of the House of Wal.

A moving and gifted orator, she told us "People are hungry to shop," as she relayed the story of a couple who came in during the 8 a.m. rush as workers reported, filled their cart and waited at a half-built register to check out. When told the store would not open for another week, they asked if they could pay anyway.

"People are hungry to shop."

People were so eager to buy cheaply made plastic from China that they willfully ignored the fact that workers were still building some displays. They ignored the completely empty aisles in the grocery department. They ignored the empty Garden Center. They ignored the workers standing on the registers.

"People are hungry to shop."

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Jacinda did care about her employees. I only had one significant interaction with her before she departed.

Very late one Friday during store build, I had been sent to the grocery side of the store with a pallet mover to bring a load of shelves to the Toys aisle. In Wal-Mart, when someone higher-ranked than you said "jump," the only correct response was "how high?" so off I went with the pallet mover, even though manual labor wasn't really my thing.

I located the shelves.

I backed the pallet mover into the stack of shelves like I'd been working in stock rooms all my life.

I hit the swinging bay doors of the grocery section with speed and purpose.

I saw the corner of one of the big freezers that would eventually house corn niblets, chicken tenders and assorted finger foods.

I swung wide like a goth in tights trying to avoid thorns in a rose garden.

Jacinda was nearby, helping put up signs in the grocery aisles. She noticed my ability with the pallet mover and nodded approvingly.

"XXXXXXXXX," what did we hire you for? A cashier?" she asked.

I nodded an affirmation.

"That's good work," she said. "Keep it up."

I always worked harder at Wal-Mart than I did my white collar job. I'll never understand why. Certainly everyone cared less.


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