Based on a true story about a lowly administrative assistant in the office of a large department store…
I was sitting at my desk, spreading as many papers and opening as many binders on my desk as I could fit, when a sales associate came in.
“We’re out of receipt rolls.”
That didn’t sound good. “Why, couldn’t you use another open register?”
“We did that already.”
“Oh, okay…well, did you check in the cabinets? Sometimes people hide them in there.”
“We tore them all apart. Nothing.”
“Alright…okay. Hmm.” I was getting a little sweaty now, but I was still okay. I was sure there was a box somewhere. “Um, okay, hold on, let me call downstairs to the dock.”
I rang, and luckily someone picked up right away. “Hello, sir? Do you have any boxes of receipt rolls down there?” “No, ma’am.” “Are we expecting a delivery?” “Miss, we haven’t had one in three months.” My stomach dropped. Oh no. “Ah—yes—okay, sir, thank you.” I dropped the phone trying to hang it up. It was my job to order them. How did I forget? I looked back at the associate.
“Okay. Yes. Um—maybe you ought to take the customers downstairs?”
“How? They’re already mad. Plus we got one in a wheelchair.”
“Well, then, perhaps you could take them in the elevator?”
“It’s out of order.”
“Out of order?”
“It’s been out of order for a week!”
Oh poop! “Oh dear…one week—why, I’ll put in a work order right away…how could they forget!” I’m the one who is supposed to put in work orders, but it must have slipped my mind.
I twirled back and forth in my chair a little to hide my shaking. “Alright. Okay. Well. Yes. I’ll take care of this situation myself. I’ll go up and down and ring their transactions.”
I went out and headed to the department. The line was longer now than she had described, and the faces were even angrier than I had feared. A woman with a crutch yelled at me, “How long am I supposed to stand here? My leg is broken!”
“Uh, well—why don’t we—” I looked all around for a solution while all the customers stared at me. “Oh, look, there’s a table over there with some pajamas—I can clear it off for you and you can sit—”
“I’m not sitting on a table like some schnuck!”
“Oh, no, of course not—okay,” I was trying to think of a solution. “Ah, yes. Okay. I’ll take your things downstairs and ring them up for you and bring them back up.”
“How am I supposed to pay for them?”
“I’ll take your card with me—”
“I’m not giving anyone my card!”
“But ma’am, there’s no other way!”
“I’m telling you, I’m not giving you my card!”
I was getting stressed. “Alright, whom shall I help then?” I spied the lady in the wheelchair. “Ma’am? May I take your things?”
Thankfully, she was amenable to it, and so I took her things and headed for the escalator. I could still hear their complaining which the sales associate was trying to assuage. “I’m leaving! And I’m writing to corporate about her!” someone yelled, who I assumed was the woman with the broken leg. I was alarmed, but it was too late to stop.
I started running down the escalator as fast as I could with my arms full of the merchandise. I could see to the bottom. And I could also see a fat, sneaky child head to the emergency stop button and lift the lid. Before I could yell, he had pushed the button and ERR ERR ERR the escalator buzzed as it lurched and came to its sudden stop. I fell down the stairs to the landing, and besides the pain of heavily falling down, I cut one of my knees.
The child was gone before I could say a word. Thankfully, the clothes had softened the fall a bit, but now I couldn’t find the customer’s credit card that I had dropped during the accident. I was searching all around the floor when I heard a voice in my ear:
“What are you doing? Why aren’t you in the office?” My boss.
“I—uh—the customer—I was upstairs—uh, why, uh—to help—well—the escalator—”
“I don’t care. I need you to be in the office.”
“Yes, ma’am—why, yes—of course—”
“And I need you to put that stuff down. No shopping when you’re on the clock. That’s time stealing, and I will write you up if I see it again.”
“Why, but I’m not—”
“Why is your leg bleeding?
“I fell–and and—”
I dropped them on a display table nearby and climbed up the down escalator, now that it was shut off.
I reached my office and sat in my chair. What on earth ended up happening to those customers? And the lady’s credit card? I never found it! Suppose they found me here in the office? Or told my boss? Oh, I was in so much trouble…
Well, there was at least one thing I could control. I bravely logged into my computer and placed an order for receipt rolls. I sat back and deep breathed. One problem solved.
A few days later, my boss came into my office. “Why are we over budget?” She threw the paper at me and I fumbled with it, dropping it several times on the floor until I had it.
I looked at it. We were nearly 50% over budget. “Well, I—my manager—why, it must be a mistake—” I began.
“No, look at it again.”
I looked at it again. “Oh, I see now…the receipt rolls put it over.”
“Who ordered them?”
I looked it over a third time. “Why—well—it—why—I guess it was me.”
“Well.. yes… technically—but we needed them–remember—” I stopped. I didn’t want to remind her of the other day.
“You need to ‘technically’ check the budget before you order.”
“Why, yes, of course, but we needed them—”
“No, we need to keep to the budget.”
“But—but—we need to be able to print receipts! The customers!—”
“I don’t care. Going forward, you need to check the budget.”
“I promise I will—”
“And I’m writing you up this time.”
I got dizzy. “Oh please–don’t—oh poop–I can’t—please—”
“I don’t care.”