Joining the Cult of Sam (Part One)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
My experience of being interviewed, oriented, and employed by the unclean beast that is Walmart.

Submitted: January 16, 2014

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Submitted: January 16, 2014

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“Don’t compromise your reputation. It’s a precious commodity. Don’t compromise your integrity...have a good name.”

--Sam Walton


“I warn you that when the princes of this world start loving you it means they are going to grind you up into battle sausage.”

--Louis-Ferdinand Celine

 


I really thought someone else would call me for an interview first. That’s what I was depending on.

I was new in town, having recently moved in with my girlfriend, Maggie. The two of us had met online about a year before, and even though we lived sixty miles apart, we’d decided to do the “let’s meet and see how it goes” routine. Surprisingly, it went very well. I say it was surprising because I hadn’t been in a relationship—or even on a date—in nearly seven years. I had basically given up on the idea of relationships and love. Too much work, I’d decided. The inevitable disappointment was too painful, I’d decided. Fuck people, I’d decided. But Maggie was lovely, intelligent, generous, and enjoyable to be around, so I took a chance and got to know her. I figured that if nothing else, we would have some laughs, have some sex, and eventually get tired of each other. I just hoped that when our relationship inevitably ended, the fallout wouldn’t be too loud and ugly.

But somehow a year went by, and instead of saying goodbye to Maggie, I was saying goodbye to my little apartment and loading my meager possessions into a moving truck. It was a little scary, but I felt that I was doing the right thing. Maggie gave me hope. She casually weathered my bouts of depression, my overall disgust with modern society, and my dislike of the human creatures that had swarmed the planet. Again and again, she tolerated my childish, cynical nonsense and told me that she loved me. It made no damned sense. But for all my flaws, I wasn’t completely stupid: When Maggie told me that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with me, I said, “Why not?” And since Maggie owned an actual house, as opposed to my cramped apartment, it only made sense that I be the one to move. So when the lease on my apartment ran out, I gave two weeks’ notice at work and began packing.

Once I’d moved in and unpacked, I switched on my laptop and began searching the job ads. The prospects were, as the saying goes, slim. This was America in 2013, after all. But I got down to it, applying to any company that might have me. I had a lot of experience doing a lot of different jobs—none of them requiring much skill, but they’re jobs that are always out there. I’d been a cashier, stockperson, warehouse picker, dishwasher, janitor, tire repairman, oil changer, landscaper, maintenance man, and the list goes on. I’d even worked on a horse farm many years before, shoveling shit for three dollars an hour.

I never listed that last one in my job history. It lacked a certain something. And evoked too much of something else.

A week went by and I’d only had one interview, for a job that I didn’t get, and I was starting to worry. It was unreasonable to be worried after only one week, as I know the wheels of Personnel and Human Resources often turn slowly. But I worried anyway. I was living on my savings, and that wasn’t much.

And so, one afternoon as I sat at my computer wracking my brain for new job possibilities and coming up with nothing, I finally had to admit it: There was one obvious place I hadn’t applied to for work. The Church of Consumerism. America’s Mecca. Walmart.

I was not a fan of Walmart. For me, it wasn’t really a matter of ethics, as it is with some people. (There’s never a shortage of online articles describing how Walmart treats its employees badly, how it kills small business, how it constructs its stores on Indian burial grounds, so on.) No, for me it was a simple matter of Walmart stores just being goddamned irritating. Vast, cold, loud, crowded, gaudy. I always felt there was something dehumanizing about so-called “big box” stores. Trudging slowly through the aisles with a rickety shopping cart, suffering the screaming children, the time-worn and depressing pop music on the PA system, the utterly false friendliness of the employees. And I could never get used to looking at my fellow shoppers in those places, their eyes and faces glazed with angry avarice. For me, shopping at Walmart was a reminder that Hell is right here, right now. All you have to do is leave the house.

But I needed a job.

I pulled up Walmart’s website. I stared at it for at least a full minute, then closed my web browser. No, I thought, I can’t do it. Then one of Maggie’s five cats, a female named Bugaboo, leaped onto my lap and mewed. She stared at me with her slitted little eyes and seemed to pass judgment on me. I knew it was my imagination, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that she was accusing me of being chickenshit.

“Yeah,” I sighed, “I know.” And I opened the web browser again.

Such are the hazards of allowing yourself to anthropomorphize animals.

 

 $  $  $

 

As you might assume, Walmart called me. A cheerful, nasal female voice asked me if I was interested in a position on the overnight stocking crew. I wasn’t interested, of course. But I didn’t tell her that.
 On the afternoon of my interview, I was escorted to a small break room by a woman who seemed to be functional but somehow no longer living. She was old, surly, and sagged all over. Her limp gray hair was cropped just above the shoulders, and it framed a face that was just plain resentful and angry. A very familiar face.

As we entered the break room she gestured at a table and exhaled. “Just have a seat. Someone’ll be withya in a minnit.”
 “Thank you,” I said, trying to sound grateful.

She waved one hand lazily in the air. The message was clear: Whatever. I was someone else’s burden now.

The dead woman walked out. I sat. There was a young girl in the room already, sitting at a nearby table. She was thin and pretty, but looked sickly pale in the harsh fluorescent light. It was a detail I might not have noticed, but the effect was worsened by the girl’s white-blonde hair with pink streaks running through it. A zombie had escorted me into the room, and now here was a ghost. The girl’s arms were crossed on the tabletop, but her fingers twitched continuously, scratching and picking at nothing in particular. Cell phone withdrawal, I supposed. She gave me an occasional glance, but said nothing. I was fine with that.

I picked up a copy of a magazine called Walmart World and flipped through it. There were many photos of happy, smiling employees doing their jobs. They all looked very content and fulfilled with life at Walmart. To put it mildly, I was skeptical of this.

Now. Considering that Walmart is famous for hiring nearly anyone, the company has a surprisingly rigorous interview procedure. I met three members of management that day. The first was a young man named Mark, who identified himself as the Stockroom Manager. (I would later find out that this isn’t an actual title in the Walmart hierarchy. He was probably simplifying matters for me so that I would understand his job function.) Mark shook my hand and sat across from me at the table. He was energetic, enthusiastic, important. His hair was mussed just so, and he had a fashionably bestubbled face.

We exchanged a few quick and meaningless pleasantries, and then he hit me with it. Right away. “So why do you want to work for Walmart?”

I really hated that one. Mark knew perfectly well why I wanted to work for Walmart: I needed a paycheck and the job market was shit, so I was desperate. But these management creatures want to watch you squirm. They want to see the irritation flash in your eyes and they want to see how creative your lies are. The question is nothing but a flimsy tool to gauge your social skills, to see if you can gracefully answer dumb questions from customers. If you answer truthfully, or if you let your annoyance rise to the surface, you fail. Truth has no place in business, and the customer’s ass exists to be kissed.

I smiled and fed him some casual nonsense about how much I’d liked my previous stockperson jobs. How I enjoyed working as part of a team. How detail-oriented I was. How important it was for me to do a good job and keep the customers happy. It wasn’t a bad performance. We both knew I was lying, but that was beside the point. I displayed the ability to amiably bullshit someone, and that was what mattered. Mark nodded approvingly and made a note on his clipboard.

After that, we went through some more standard interview tropes: Tell me about a time you went out of your way to make a customer happy. Describe a time when you had to deal with a customer who was upset, and how you resolved the situation. Describe a situation where you set a goal for yourself at work, and how you achieved it.

With my long and colorful work history, I didn’t have to be very creative for those. I had several long-standing examples of my competence that I always dusted off for interviews. He seemed pleased with them.

The interview lasted maybe ten minutes. When it was done, Mark thanked me, shook my hand, and told me that my next interviewer would be along in a few minutes. Apparently, I had qualified for Round Two.

In the meantime, the pink-blonde ghost girl had been led out of the room by another interviewer. I was alone, so I didn’t bother with Walmart World magazine. I just stared into the middle distance, feeling the way I always feel after an interview: Unclean, ashamed, diminished. I tried not to let it show on my face, since the room surely had at least one hidden security camera, somewhere.

My next interviewer appeared a few minutes later. His name tag identified him as Tyler. He was another young man, probably in his mid-twenties. Darkly tanned, bottle-blonde, and obviously gay. His spine stayed yardstick-straight as he walked and his small delicate hands constantly flipped about, accenting everything he said. His voice was soft, but he had the eyes of a suspicious animal. The eyes of someone who had been persecuted, mocked, abused. It wouldn’t surprise me if every gay man who lives in Indiana has those eyes.

Tyler told me that he was in charge of the store’s dry grocery section. Just saying it aloud seemed to tire him. He looked like a man in desperate need of a vacation. Or a career change. But after a deep breath, he got on with it. The questions he asked were only slight variations of those that Mark had asked me a few minutes earlier. Was this a trick, I wondered? Was I supposed to come up with new answers, or just repeat myself? Were they trying to trip me up, make me contradict myself?

Most likely answer: They were testing my patience for monotonous bullshit.

I played along, smiling and agreeable. I repeated a couple of my earlier answers and dug into my memory for a few new ones. Tyler nodded a great deal, looking thoughtful and jotting lengthy notes on his clipboard. I was a living man reduced to short-hand scribbles. Nothing unusual about that.

After about ten minutes (again), Tyler put down his clipboard and gave me a thoughtful look. “I think you’d make a great addition to our team, Aaron. So I’m going to make the initial offer to you right now, for a position on our overnight stock crew in the dry grocery section.”

“That sounds fine,” I said. “Um, how many hours per week is it?”

He nodded. Tyler nodded a lot, have I mentioned that? “It’s forty hours per week. Now, this is a temporary-to-hire position for 180 days. Do you know what that means?”

For those who don’t know: It meant that during the next six months Walmart could fire me without reason or justification. And if they did, it would be just tough shit for me. I really didn’t care. I was in no position to quibble.

“I know what it means,” I told him. “That’s fine.”

“Okay, then,” Tyler said, pressing his little tanned palms together. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll lead you to the Personnel Office and Susan will have a few more questions for you.”

I followed him like a good boy. The Personnel Office was staffed entirely by gruff, overweight women who were too large for the hard plastic chairs they were sitting in. These women were all studying printed reports, typing information into computers, growling irritably—and eating. Every woman in the room had some kind of meal or snack close at hand. Hoagies, chips, candy bars, muffins, takeout burgers. As the smell of the food reached my nose, my stomach grumbled. I hadn’t eaten all day. I could never eat before going to job interviews. Nerves.

Tyler led me to an office in the back of the room. Within was another large woman. She was a little over five feet tall, middle-aged, with frizzy blonde hair and a weary air about her. I began to see that nearly everyone who worked for Walmart was fatigued, drowsy, withering. Mark had been an exception, but maybe he just kept up a better front than most.

Tyler and I thanked each other and he excused himself. Susan didn’t waste time on formalities. She put out her hand and said, “I need two forms of ID.”

I gave them to her, and she made photocopies. After that, she began flipping through a stapled stack of papers, marking lines with an X. I need your signature and your initials next to the X’s.”

I signed those. Then I signed some more. Then I signed an agreement for a criminal background check. Finally, I signed an agreement to take a drug screen. Susan was a woman of few words, and I felt grateful for that.

After a few more scribbles, Susan turned me loose. I walked out of the store, trying to decide how I felt about the whole affair. I knew I would pass the drug screen and background check. So I was now, essentially, an employee of Walmart. I was gainfully employed again. I would have a regular paycheck. I wouldn’t have to feel like a lazy bum, lounging on the couch while Maggie was at work all day. I had every right to feel relieved, even happy.

I didn’t feel that way at all. Before I got into the car, I looked over my shoulder at the Walmart’s vast bulk, squatting imperiously upon the earth. Something uncomfortable rippled through my guts. My instincts told me I should flee this place, get away and save myself.

I shook my head and told myself to quit being a candy ass. Then I went to the other side of town and peed in a plastic cup.

 

$  $  $

 

 After making my urine deposit, I returned to my life of unprofitable leisure. Once my background check and drug test were cleared, someone in Personnel was supposed to call and tell me when to report for Orientation. So I stretched out on the couch once again, book in hand, and waited. On the upside, being a lazy bastard didn’t cause me as much guilt now. After all, I did have a job. I just couldn’t start working until Walmart took care of business.

A week passed without any word, and I became annoyed. I called Walmart and asked to speak with someone in Personnel.

The nameless woman who’d answered my call said, “There’s no one working in Personnel today, sir.”

“Really. On a Monday afternoon?”

“I’m sorry, sir. But everyone in Personnel worked so much overtime last week doing store inventory, they had to take today off.”

“Ah,” I said. “Well, will they be working tomorrow?”

“I, uh, don’t know for sure. I think so. Maybe.”

“Ah,” I echoed. “Well, why don’t I just call tomorrow and find out?”

“Okay,” she said, sounding distinctly neutral on the idea. “Thank you for calling Walmart.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Have a good day.”

She hung up.

When I called the next day, I was connected with the Personnel Office. Yet another bored female voice. This one informed me that my background check had not been completed yet, and that it might take another week. She assured me that someone would call me when it was complete. Then I would be scheduled for Orientation.

I thanked her, grudgingly, and ended the call. It was a good thing that I had some money saved and that Maggie was working. You could fucking starve to death while waiting to begin a Walmart job.

 

(End of Part One)

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