Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This Christmas, Hug

Dear Diary,

A few days after Lorraine and I got fired from our gift wrapping gig, we were sitting across Paulie Johnson's desk. Paulie is our rep at the 'Good Enough For You' People temporary placement agency. He's balding, his tie and top shirt button are always undone, and he has ever-growing sweat stains below his armpits.

PAULIE: Guys, the mall threatened never to use the 'Good Enough For You' People agency ever again.

Lorraine, who's four feet nothing, petite as a child and in her mid-thirties, spoke up.

LORRAINE: Paulie, as far as I'm concerned, we are all better off if you never mention that mall in this room ever again.

Paulie shook his head, incredulous.

PAULIE: They are a huge client of mine.

LORRAINE: They're also a huge pain in the "sun don't shine" area. Move on Paulie. I say move on.

PAULIE: Don't tell me to move on. Lorraine, you lost me the mall. The mall.

LORRAINE: I hate it when people repeat themselves. Move on.

PAULIE: And this new kid...

Paulie pointed at me.

PAULIE: I don't like the look of him. He's too quiet. He's like a little hamster in a cage waiting for just the right moment to snap a chunk off my finger.

LORRAINE: Just keep your fingers out of his cage and you'll be fine.

Lorraine and I were sent to another mall to work a T-shirt booth specializing in Justin Bieber T-shirts and bath towels. The booth's owner was an elderly Russian man named Kaspov and he smelled of cigarettes. The three of us were swamped all day.

Late in the afternoon, our customers began shoving one another, jockeying for better position. There no longer was a coherent line-up of people. Everyone was grabbing at the merchandise. The three of us couldn't work fast enough; folks wanted their Bieber and there was nothing we could do about it.

I couldn't keep up with the hectic pace. Our booth was rocking back and forth. I began chucking T-shirts and towels and people flung money back at me. I fell over the counter and tumbled into the crowd.

I screamed.

Lorraine reached out but she couldn't get to me. She climbed to the roof of the booth.

LORRAINE: Stop! People stop! Justin Bieber wants you to stop!

Everyone calmed down.

ONE CUSTOMER: Is that true? He really wants us to stop?


Lorraine raised her mobile phone up high.

LORRAINE: I have him on my cell phone.

People screamed, wailed and reached for Lorraine, trying to pull her down to snatch her mobile phone.

LORRAINE: So help me Paul McCartney, I will stuff your Silly Bandz into your nostrils and yank them out your bum.

Everyone froze, not sure what was more important: Justin Bieber or Silly Bandz.

LORRAINE (panting): We are doing our best over here and I haven't heard one 'thank you' or a 'you're welcome'. What is wrong with you people? It's Christmas! These are just T-shirts. First it was Kenny Rogers, then Boy George and now it's Justin Bieber. What I find unsettling is not your taste in music, it's your taste in men.

I climbed up beside Lorraine.

ME: Folks, Christmas is a time of sharing. And caring. If you're with someone you love, give them a hug. Do it right now. They're what's important.

Everyone was hugging.

LORRAINE: And I'm sorry but giving someone a Justin Bieber towel is no way to show love. Trust me.

People were talking with one another, laughing and really caring.

KASPOV: And folks, we are sold out.

The crowd erupted. I saw a flame go up one side of the booth. Lorraine grabbed my hand and pulled me away. We were running for our lives as everyone trashed the mall around us.

LORRAINE: Every Christmas, this town loses a mall.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gift Wrap Your Life

Dear Diary,

I'm getting work through a temp agency I read about in the want ads. They're called 'Good Enough For You' People. I like that name. I like it a whole lot. That's why I called them.

The first thing my rep at the agency wanted to do was test my typing skills. His name is Paulie. Paulie told me their average temp worker can type 50 words per minute. During my timed minute, I was able to type half a word, but it wasn't spelled right.

Yesterday, they found me a position wrapping gifts in a mall for the Holidays.

I was one of only two males at our wrapping booth. All eight of us 'gift wrappers' wore red aprons and Santa elf hats. I loved it! Lorraine, the only other temp worker (also from 'Good Enough For You' People), was positioned beside me so we were kind of like a team. Lorraine is Italian-Canadian, just over four feet tall, with tiny hands, skinny legs and a child-like face which is odd since she is in her thirties. She also looks like she's wearing kids' clothes – she's that tiny (in fact, yesterday, her sweater sported a picture of The Wiggles). When she first arrived at the gift wrapping table, she asked the regular, full-time, mall employees a battalion of questions.

LORRAINE: Okay, so where should I allow everyone to place their gifts? Are there some people we should refuse service to? Like people going to weddings, birthdays or funerals? Does anyone have any allergies I should know about? Can everyone let the customers know that even though I'm single, I'm not available – my apologies, everyone. I have a small bladder and I need to pee every ten minutes so I may need one of you to stand behind me as backup as the need arises, and also to hold my 2 liter bottle of water. I don't know about you but I need constant hydration. Do you mind not standing so close to me? When I get focused and I get wrapping, there's no telling what I'll wrap.

All the gift wrappers were sighing and rolling their eyes at her. Our boss was the other male at the table.

OUR BOSS: Okay, everyone from the temp agency, just follow the mall employees on how to wrap gifts. Remember, time is of the essence.

LORRAINE: Amen to that! Everyone, you can also follow me! I don't usually give anyone anything this time of year, but I know my way around paper and a big pair of scissors!

The gift wrapping table was hectic with a long line going through the entire mall. Lorraine and I rushed to get all our presents wrapped.

WEALTHY LOOKING MALE CUSTOMER: Excuse me, I don't think this is the present I came here with.

LORRAINE: How am I supposed to know? It's all wrapped up now.

CUSTOMER: Well, it was an iPhone 4 for my daughter and this box is way too big for an iPhone 4.

LORRAINE: Well, someone did bring a big box from the dollar store. Some cheap paper model toy, I think.

CUSTOMER: So where's my iPhone?

LORRAINE: It might still be in this box. No one knows right now; it's all wrapped up.

CUSTOMER: This is unacceptable.

LORRAINE: Well, just give your daughter this box and find out on Christmas morning if it's an iPhone or a paper piece of crap.

CUSTOMER: I want to talk to your boss.

LORRAINE: Listen, your iPhone is long gone, and we're busy. I suggest you scram; I've got a lot of nice gifts here to wrap, not like the paper model garbage your daughter's getting.

OUR BOSS: What seems to be the problem here?

LORRAINE: Oh, nothing. This customer was just leaving with the junk he's giving his daughter for Christmas. What a dead beat.

OUR BOSS (unemotional and efficient): Lorraine, you need to go. I'll call the agency to send someone else.

Lorraine stared up at our boss' name tag.

LORRAINE: Is your name really Valerie?


LORRAINE: Is it okay if I just call you Val?

VALERIE (with sarcasm): Is it okay if I just call you Lor?

All the red-apron-ed, full-time, mall employees chuckled at his comment.

LORRAINE: Not if you want me to strangle you...

Valerie's face went red. Everyone was quiet.

LORRAINE: With your pantyhose.

VALERIE: Get out. Both of you.

LORRAINE: That's fine. Staring at you all day and thinking about how unhappy everyone in your life must be was starting to depress me.

Lorraine and I made our way to the staff room to gather our belongings.

LORRAINE: Eric, stick with me. You'll learn a few things.

I couldn't help but worry as I put on my coat.

ME: Will the agency still get us work? Are we done at 'Good Enough For You' People?

Lorraine didn't answer me. I looked up and discovered her piling everyone's winter coats into her Popsicle stick-like arms.

ME: What are you doing?

LORRAINE: Let's go!

I raced after the itsy-bitsy Lorraine as she spirited down the hall with a mountain of winter gear. Once we were on the top floor of the mall, Lorraine looked down the wide open atrium at the gift wrapping booth on the first floor.

Lorraine lobbed the pile of coats into the open space, and the coats glided down like glorious, giant, puffy snowflakes.

LORRAINE (in a deep, jolly boom): Merry Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho!

Everyone in the mall looked up as Lorraine and I stepped away.

Lorraine was beaming, on top of the world. She winked up at me.

LORRAINE: Welcome to the winner's circle.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Job Interview at Starbucks

Dear Diary,

Here's how my job interview with Starbucks went down on October 21st at 11:30am.

I sat at a table at the King Street location across from Keith, the young manager, and Allison, the even younger assistant manager.

MANAGER (KEITH): How would you define good customer service?

ME: Well, first, let me start by saying this: I think Starbucks should get out of the coffee business.

MANAGER: Pardon me?

ME: If your baristas didn't have all these complicated coffee requests from your lunatic customers, employee morale would go through the roof.

ASSISTANT MANAGER (ALLISON): And what should our employees do if they're not making coffee.

ME: Well, let's say you have a customer who goes on vacation and they lose something in the water, like an earring, and their pair of earrings is ruined because they're missing one earring. You'd fly out your barista across the ocean and your barista would deep sea dive and find the earring that the customer lost. It'd be exactly like that old lady on Titanic. Another business I can see Starbucks exceeding at is rotating the wheels on trains.

Allison, the assistant manager, looked at me with incredulity in her eyes.

ASSISTANT MANAGER: That's interesting...

MANAGER: Eric, let's just pretend that Starbucks stays in the coffee business for the foreseeable future.

ME: Okay, I'm all for pretending...

MANAGER: Good. How would you react if a customer returned a cup of coffee to you, saying that they didn't like it?

ME: Well, that's a good question. Good question. Well, let me see... I think I'd take the cup and taste it myself. I'd have everyone behind the counter taste it, and then everyone in the staff room. I'd have all our customers at the tables taste it, and then I'd go out on the street and have everyone there taste it. Then I'd have everyone fill out a questionnaire about it, answering questions like: what kind of finish did the coffee have? Did the flavor linger on your tongue? Did it taste like Encore? Then I'd bring it to a vote: is this a good cup of coffee or not? Should it be awarded a medal? Then I'd have our customers at tables draw medals on paper and cut them out and color them gold, silver, bronze and then we'd award the medals to different coffees.

ASSISTANT MANAGER: What would the customer who returned the coffee be doing during all this?

ME: What was the question again... about the coffees and the medals? I forget.

MANAGER: Maybe we should ask a whole new question.


MANAGER: Eric, what would you do if you believed another team member wasn't pulling their own weight?

ME: Mmmm, what would I do?... I would call them out on it, and say, "You're not pulling your own weight... in fact, starting tomorrow, I think you should do my job and everybody else's job and all the customers' jobs." Like, let's say we have a customer named Joe who's dancing in the Nutcracker – I would make that team member who isn't pulling their own weight go to the Nutcracker show and dance for a few hours, see how they like being in those shoes. I'm sorry, what was the question again?

MANAGER: Eric, if I could be candid, I really don't think we have something to offer you here. I'm sorry, it's just that you're not what we look for in a Starbucks team player. You come across as eccentric... and disturbed, and possibly dangerous.

ME: Well, would you consider hiring a friend of mine, and then maybe I could collect a finder's fee from them?

MANAGER: Let's just say I would not hire anyone who knew you, ever. Eric... if you could leave this table... right now... it would make this less awkward... for all of us.

ME: All right... no problem.

I took my paper cup of coffee and began moving away.

ME: Thank you. Thank you for this opportunity.

The two managers just nodded and smiled, with an unsmiling look in their eyes. I sat at the table next to theirs. I stayed there from 11:30 in the morning until closing at 11:00 in the evening, just nursing the same cup of coffee, allowing myself a tiny sip now and then. As they moved about their busy day, I just stared at the managers and their employees. I never even got up to go to the washroom. So, please, if you visit the Starbucks on King Street, don't sit at the table by the newspaper stand.