Season's Gaming

Season's Gaming
Christmas Behind The Cash Register

Sean Sands | 19 Dec 2006 11:00
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Finally, I have my full crew on the clock. Customers flow through the front door like tiny blood cells, fat with cash liquidity instead of oxygen, feeding the beating heart of specialty retail. The day is in full motion, and I feel a strange kinship with George Bailey fighting off the run on the bank at the Bedford Falls Building & Loan.

My assistant manager, June, is a girl of some 20 years, Midwestern in every way that a person can be, paying her way through technical college on a salary I know to be obscenely small. Many assistant managers mitigate this unfavorable sum by reducing the amount of work they actually do to more closely match their pay scale. June is unusual in that she does all the work, complains very little and succeeds at almost any task I put before her. Unfortunately, the district manager doesn't care much for her, and that pretty much means that she has reached the ceiling of her upward mobility.

My other full time employee, Adam, is an awkward man-child who is exactly the kind of person you might cast in the role of retail clerk were you doing a treatment for an episode of Cliché Theater. He is wearing a black button-up shirt with red Japanese characters emblazoned down the right side that I think might mean "I'm With Stupid." I adopt a don't ask, don't tell policy on the translation. His black denim pants strain at his girth, and his face is pudgy and coated with a thin layer of something that I suspect could be harvested as an industrial lubricant. As we work, he proselytizes with impassioned, almost academic rhetoric that graphic novels should be counted as serious literature.

The third member of my team is Katie. Katie is 16 and working at her first job because her parents thought it would teach her important life-lessons about responsibility. She is approaching the task with the kind of casual detachment one can only achieve as an adolescent or a corpse. Her friends wander past the door, pointing at their watch or cell phones, clearly describing great plans in what I assume to be some kind of adolescent sign language. I don't let Katie work the registers.

"I want to trade in my PlayStation 2 for an Xbox." A kid, who would be offended that I think of him as a kid, lifts up a grocery bag and sets it unceremoniously on the counter. At some point it has become afternoon, and until now, the pulse of the store had been healthy. This transaction is the retail equivalent to throwing an embolism.

The paper bag is filled with PlayStation 2 parts and a stack of games that wouldn't move even if I offered them for free with candy. The system itself has a marijuana sticker centered on the console, and the smell wafting from the clutter makes me wonder if that particular sticker is scratch-and-sniff. Behind the kid, nine waiting customers unanimously adopt a boy-did-I-get-in-the-wrong-line expression.

"Does it work?" I ask.

"Yeah," he answers with a degree of certainty I wouldn't find credible had he announced that gravity is what makes water flow downhill.

An all too familiar dance begins, as impatient fathers slowly merge into the single moving line like LA rush hour traffic in a construction zone. I explain I will test the system. He explains that maybe it doesn't always work, but usually it does. I explain that we consider that to be a broken system and can offer only $30. He has the temerity to be incredulous that we would only offer him $30 for a system that doesn't work with a pot sticker on top. I apologize, not meaning it in the slightest. He still has me tally up the total amount I can give him for the broken system and games no one wants. I waste 15 minutes of everyone's time to come to an offer of $51. He declines and leaves. The music fades, and with a flourish of paper bag and sullen expressions, the dance ends.

The clot having been excised and the blood flow now restored to normal levels, the afternoon rolls into evening, as nameless holiday shoppers shuffle briefly in and out of our lives with half-hearted well wishes and desperate desires to be anywhere but here; a sentiment I increasingly share.

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