Tuesdays With Monkey Wards
Seven is usually a lucky number but not when I’m the manager and have been number-summoned to the Montgomery Ward men’s department. It’s supposed to keep us safe, a number instead of a name.
When a desperate cashier calls out that manager number, it means something, or someone is on fire or stealing a fire-pit (Lawn and Garden) or threatening them with a brass fire poker (Housewares) or One (the automotive manager I make out with behind the tires) is busy with a parole-jumping employee cuffed in front of the tires. We are in love partly because he is there and also because he broke the store’s satellite Christmas music, the one that alternated between Burl Ives “Baby in the Snow” and Madonna’s “Santa Baby” until our ears bled, all in the name of retail love in a store that neither one of us loved.
This time, it’s because there’s a small non-threatening man who looks pregnant with many still-tagged sweaters under his shirt. Someone from Furniture (Six) has tackled him like they are a football star or auditioning to be Loss Prevention (Nine.) We’ve had training discussions about what constitutes stealing and that potential shoplifting requires the thief to leave the store, like the man who rolled a rack of leather coats (Outerwear) out the back exit, alarm tags blaring. This is only a small man with small sweaters.
After this roly poly man is stripped of his sweater haul, I count them 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 and so on and pile them up for someone else to put away. The small man that gave birth to our new fall knitwear line walks out the front exit into the Food Court. I can see the outline of a Walkman in his pant cuff and underwear packages shoved in his coat pockets, but I’m too tired to chase him. It’s my day off and I’ve worked seventeen days in a row and slept in the store last night with the other managers because someone (maybe the sweater man) cut the alarm wires and somehow the seven of us 20-somethings were delegated as security guards, taking turns sleeping and staring at the security gates into the dark apocalyptic mall.
On that Tuesday in late-November, I turn around to find two teen cashiers have decided to put on all the not-stolen sweaters all-at-once in some slap happy, high-five each other version of a sitcom joke. I would fire them but they can count money and Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, so I need them.
Fold sweaters I say to them and they start counting to Seven.
Amy Barnes was a retail manager in the Midwest in the 90s at Casual Corner and Montgomery Ward. Both are defunct stores, the Casual Corner was a victim of a Kansas tornado that flattened it, a failed corporate buyout, and an assistant manager that was stealing dressed mannequins. She’s written and edited for a wide range of lifestyle publications and literary magazines including Taco Bell Quarterly. Amy can be found on Twitter @amygc