It’s weird going to work the day after Thanksgiving.

That applies to any major holiday, really, but when the holiday lands on a Thursday it feels especially strange. Almost pointless. It’s hard to get into work mode when A) you’re recovering from the previous day’s food coma, and B) you’re counting down the hours until the weekend.

I remember how much I dreaded this day back in college, when I worked retail jobs in the mall. Black Friday was (and I’m sure, still is) a retail clerk’s worst nightmare. Other than those customers who wander into your store two minutes before closing, ducking beneath the half-lowered gate to get in. I was never sure whether they were just oblivious or suffered from a severe case of entitleditis. I suspect the latter, because they never got the hint, even when you started flashing the lights. Hey guys, this is Brookstone, not a freakin’ discotheque. Time to skedaddle.

If you’re thinking I had little patience for this type of riffraff, that would be correct. When you’re tired after having been on your feet all day and getting paid minimum wage for your trouble, your desire to stick around even a few minutes past closing time is nil.

Despite petty annoyances like that, I actually look back fondly on my mall days. I worked at three different stores in two malls, all in the Bay Area of California: a travel/gift store called The Luggage Rack, the aforementioned Brookstone, and their rivals in the gadget world, Sharper Image. Each job had its pros and cons.

The Luggage Rack was a local two-store chain, and the owner spent 99% of his time at the fancier Pleasanton location. My store was located in East San Jose, which was pretty ghetto. Because we were largely unsupervised, there was sort of an anything-goes mentality there. One of our most popular items were fancy marble chessboards, and a coworker patiently taught me how to play over the course of several months. I developed a pretty good grasp of the game thanks to his tutelage. On the downside, the assistant manager was psychotic. I don’t use that term lightly; during slow periods, he worked on building a homemade guillotine. And then a girl who worked there began stalking me. Flattering at first, but creepy after a while. Perhaps that’s fodder for a future post.

Brookstone was my favorite place to work, and also, the longest-lasting position of the three. The store was located in Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara, a thousand times more upscale than Eastridge Mall. I became close friends with two guys in particular, Alex and Dave — so much so that Dave ended up being best man at my first wedding, and Alex was an usher. We shared similar twisted senses of humor and had a lot of fun. Here’s a prime example: one time I placed a mirror, razor blade, and line of flour on the manager’s desk to make it look like he was a coke head. Spoiler alert: he was not amused. I worked there for a couple of years, but when I graduated from college they wouldn’t give me extra hours while I searched for my first “real” job, so I literally walked across the aisle to their competitor, Sharper Image.

Remember the scene in American Beauty where Lester applies for a job while ordering from the drive-through restaurant because he’s “looking for the least possible amount of responsibility”? That was pretty much my motivation for going to Sharper Image, because I knew I wouldn’t be there long. Plus, they paid me $6.00 an hour (a fortune at the time) and gave me 40 hours a week. Fetching items from the back room for customer orders wasn’t a bad gig at all; I got to dress in jeans and a t-shirt and listen to music. One night after closing, a bunch of us were straightening up the store for the next day, closing out the cash register, that sort of thing. One of the girls put on a CD and we were rocking out to some band I was unfamiliar with. It was rock ‘n roll like I had never before, sludgy guitars and killer drums, the music an interesting loud/soft dynamic. It was powerful and catchy and I saw my life changing before my very eyes. The band was Nirvana, and the album, Nevermind.

Six few weeks later, I landed a full-time job working for a global manufacturing company, so I bid Sharper Image — and my mall days — farewell. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to leave the world of retail behind, but there is a certain degree of nostalgia in looking back.

Still not sure if I’m writing every day this month…

17 thoughts on “Mallrat

  1. We have some Black Friday busyness, yet Boxing Day is the scary shopping day around here. Everyone should work at these minimum wage jobs at some point. Many life/people skills plus, what I don’t want to work at for the rest of my life skills. Psychotic, creepy and stalking, no one needs to learn about. Bonus on learning how to play chess. Happy Thanksgiving, Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I worked as a cashier is a very snobby women’s clothing store at the mall during high school and college. This was where I learned that white housewives were the WORST when it came to shoplifting.

    I do not miss it. I didn’t mind Black Friday so much, but working on Christmas Eve when husband’s suddenly realized they hadn’t bought their wives/ moms/ girlfriends anything yet? Miserable.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wonderful trip down memory lane. I wasn’t familiar with Brookstone, thanks for posting a picture. Here in Canada we have many American retailers, but this one I hadn’t heard of before.

    Also, Nirvana!! Cool. 🙂

    I worked for a department store called Simpsons for 2 years part time in highschool. And at Licks, which was a burger joint not a sex shop 🙃, for a summer full time. We had to sing orders. I was the head cashier. 😳 Both no longer exist.

    Neither of these jobs paid well or were particularly fun, and I didn’t take up smoking either even though everyone around me did. But I’m still glad for the experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wait. Licks was not a sex shop?! Go figure. Sounds like a burgers-and-fries version of Coldstone Creamery, with the singing.

      Ironically, even though Brookstone usually played second fiddle to Sharper Image, they have outlasted them in the retail arena. Sharper Image has been online only for years, but Brookstone still has actual stores.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I seriously thought you were going to talk about discovering Mallrat on Sirius. She’s fabulous!

    Black Friday was bad, but I always felt that December 26 Was the worst day to work retail.

    Liked by 1 person

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