When I was 19 I took a job at Sears, Roebuck, and Co. The company was named after Richard Sears, Alvah Roebuck, and Bad Company (the English rock supergroup). If you’ve ever wondered who Roebuck was, I can tell you (according to Wikipedia) that the name came from Alvah Roebuck, who left the company in 1895 because of poor health. He returned as a spokesperson during the Great Depression and maintained that role until his death in 1948. Anyway, nothing against Mr. Roebuck, but I find that information to be exceptionally irrelevant to this blog, and yet I felt compelled to include it because of my fascination with Wikipedia. Who says porn is the best thing on the Internet?

Regarding my employment at Sears, since I possessed no usable skills other than the ability to read, write, and count, I was stuck in the back of the store sifting through returns where I attempted to determine if we could get compensation for these products from their respective manufacturers. I sat in a cage built out of wire and plywood and examined merchandise under the flickering, hateful light of a single fluorescent bulb. I completed forms in triplicate. Almost no one spoke to me. I tinkered with some of the electronic equipment and repaired the odd piece, which I would declare kaput and then smuggle out of the building. I guess that was stealing, technically, but without my intervention those pieces of equipment would have ended up in a scrap heap, anyway.

Over the next two months I caught the eye of a woman in the front office. Her name was Chris and she was at least 60 years old. She was shameless with her flirtation, in broad daylight no less, regularly dropping inappropriate comments like “What a nice young man you are” or “It’s refreshing to see a young man so punctual” or “I’d love to get you out of those tan Dockers tonight.” I never encouraged Chris’ behavior, but I would by lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the attention. I often found myself walking through the front office even when I had no reason to be there, making copies, looking through files, you men out there know what I’m talking about.

A few months later the store decided to expand its electronics department, which was given the groundbreaking name “Brand Central.” And wouldn’t you know it…that gray-haired firecracker helped me land one of the coveted new sales positions. The brainless store manager wasn’t at all impressed with me, but Chris changed his mind (I cringe at the sacrifice she must have made), and that’s how I ended up getting paid commission to sell electronic toys.

Things were different on the sales floor. There were windows. Breathable oxygen. Other human beings. When there were no customers around you could watch TV or play PGA Tour Golf on the Packard Bell display computer, a powerhouse of a machine that boasted 256K of RAM. I wore solid-color Polo or Bugle Boy button-down shirts with nauseating floral ties. I wore sock ties. I wore Cole Haan slip-on loafers with tassles. I couldn’t afford any of these  things, of course, but it didn’t matter because I had a Sears card and a Foley’s card and Discover! Which offered CASH BACK! It was like free money!

Of course the reason I dressed like such a slab of awesomeness is because my professional goal was not to sell the most equipment or make the most money…it was to find a girlfriend. And at that I failed for almost three years. Plenty of girls worked there, and I flirted with all of them, but I was far too mortified to ever ask any of them on a date. I’d like to say the reason I rarely dated girls at Sears is because I didn’t want to hurt Chris’ feelings, but the reality is by then she had already found herself a new piece of meat.

All kidding aside, I did end up meeting someone special at that store, and began the first important relationship of my life. I also became good friends with a guy named Brian Weir. If you read Golf Digest or watch the Golf Channel, you might even be familiar with him–he holds the distinction of having the World’s Worst Swing…thanks to some creative editing on my part.

I also wrote an essay about my friendship with Brian for a new collection called The Customer is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles, which was compiled and edited by another good friend of mine, the amazing Jeff Martin. I suggest you pick up a copy of this hilarious book at your earliest convenience…like right now. And if you don’t do it for me, or even Jeff, you can always do it for Wade Rouse, my fellow TNB contributor, who also contributed an essay to the book. Until a week ago I had no idea Wade wrote for TNB, nor did I realize he worked at Sears. How ironic is that? Talk about planets aligning. Maybe Wade even dated Chris! You think he would admit it?

Anyone care to ask?

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RICHARD COX is the author of The Boys of Summer, Thomas World, The God Particle, and Rift. He can be reached on Facebook or at his personal web site, www.richardcox.net.

4 responses to “The Customer is Irrelevant: Another Life in Retail”

  1. Tawni says:

    I read The Customer is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles after reading this tale of retail and now recommend it to anyone who has ever worked with the public. Really funny collection.

  2. Lorna says:

    “Maybe Wade even dated Chris!” Wouldn’t that be a coincidence? I like this comical Chris character.

    Lord I suddenly have an abundance of reading to do.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Lorna, I remember when I wrote that how I feared people would think I was serious. There really was a Chris, and she really did like me and help me win over the store manager, but she was the sweetest woman you could ever meet, so nice that writing this was borderline heresy. On the other hand, that’s what makes it so funny (to me, anyway).

      Thanks for reading.

  3. Tawni says:

    Bad Company. *snorts*

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