It’s the end of the year.
You can tell by the smell of the air, by the proliferation of half-naked men and women running around playing Frisbee in the parks and walking on the beach.
We have roughly nine days of classes, a smattering of finals and a few year-end wrap-up speeches from professors who feel it necessary to tie in psychoanalytic theory or the Russian Revolution to the lives of students and to the world in general.
For most of us, we’re rolling up our sleeves to spend the summer slaving away for a few shiny nickels and dimes. Summer jobs, however, are a learning experience in themselves.
Probably everything I ever needed to know about labor relations came from my summer in the electronics department of Wal-Mart. While I would sooner wish my enemies to a month in hell rather than a summer in the bowels of a corporation that sucks the souls from its employees with a zeal unparalleled by any vampire, Wal-Mart has made me a wiser person.
The first lesson I learned was that, at any job, shit rolls downhill and you will always be at the bottom. The sporting goods department manager, Mike, accidentally sold a shotgun to an unstable man who had not passed his background check. The store manager, a burly man with fingers like polish sausages, demanded that Mike retrieve the gun within 24 hours or else the cops would have to get involved.
Mike, a large man with the temperament of a sedated hippo, agreed to the task. He went to the man’s house and retrieved the gun without receiving any flesh wounds in the process.
Mike got lucky. If I had been in his position, I would’ve told the store manager to go fuck himself and then ran as the ogre tried to chase me down and devour my bones.
The second greatest lesson I learned from working at Wal-Mart is that the customers are always right, no matter how stupid they are. A country bumpkin approached me as I was dusting televisions and wanted to haggle over the price of a television. I politely explained that I didn’t get commission and therefore couldn’t give him a deal on the television.
Disheartened but still determined, he asked me to give him the TV I was dusting for the price of the one next to him. Again, I tried to explain that I couldn’t do that. Finally, he asked me to quote him a price on the display television.
At this point, I called a manager, who told me to sell the bumpkin the display at a reduced price. After lugging the 150-pound glass teat down a ladder, nearly throwing out my back in the process, the bumpkin changes his mind and leaves.
The manager finally arrives and lectures me on store policy – we don’t sell displays. It was good that I had learned lesson one at this point, for I was in no shape to kick the man in the nuts and run.
The third greatest lesson is that there is nothing more humiliating and dehumanizing then taking a drug test for a national general store. Passing a warm cup of your own urine through a small metal door where a shriveled old woman who reeks of menthols waits gives you a satisfying sense of your place in the universe.
Subjection to such strict control procedures for a mere $6.25 an hour is enough to ground anyone’s soul to hash.
The final lesson: you are always expendable. This is the most liberating of all the lessons. It gives you the freedom to completely ignore the first three. There will always be someone to replace you. So if a customer tries to bargain with you, or a manager berates you for his own incompetence, feel free to let loose with a torrent of obscenities and swears.
You’re just someone else’s replacement anyway.
Steven Ruszczycky is the Daily Nexus opinion editor. It’s now his job to pee into a cup.