They Had the Nerve to Call Us Associates

Dan Boucher

yeah, at the dollar store in 1998
everyone is an assistant manager.
they pay us $8.50 per hour
to replace books, carded toys,
stationary, toilet paper, cookies
to pick them up from the floor
where loose toddlers have scattered them
and to assure customers
that their complaints will be handled
when we know they will most certainly
not be handled, that the notes we are
pretending to take are really just reminders
to buy groceries on the way home
and the customers know that too
but they file their grievances
all the same.
this is what we get paid to do
except for the seasonal workers
who get $8 per hour to do it
and are forced to wear routered nametags
bearing the painted words “Sales Associate.”
we managers to do nothing of the sort,
no managing, unless helping
the seasonals cash out their registers
so they can catch the bus is what it
means to be a manager
which I don’t think it does.
also not managing is using a trick
called a purchase void to steal $900
over the course of three months
$100 at a time, leaving a trail of
receipts that you know will eventually
catch up with you. I bought
orthopedic shoes at the uniform store
for the sake of standing up
twelve hours a day for $8.50 per hour,
a dozen or so albums that I’d been
wanting to hear, some books maybe,
a cheap stereo, and rent, a rent
that I couldn’t pay on $8.50 per hour.
no matter how deep that nametag
punctured my flesh
I couldn’t pay for much
and I think I bought a couple
of movie tickets at some point, and
I did all of this for, as I say, $8.50
per hour. during winter holidays
the mall is open until 11, and so the
dollar store is contractually obliged
to stay open until 11 and all of us assistant
managers have to be there because
customers are never angrier
and toddlers never more numerous
and the store never has as much cash in the safe
as it does at any other time
and at 3:00 am when I wrote a note to
the general manager explaining that I had done
what I could for the night—
the detritus-blotted floors were not vacuumed,
books bearing titles such as
“Minnie Goes on An Adventure” and “The Bible”
remained where they had been,
tossed with youthful vigor across
aisle 4—I had one task remaining
to bring two sealed plastic bags, each containing
more than $10,000, to the night deposit
safe at the bank.
sure, I thought about stealing it
but I reasoned that $20,000
would not cover the cost
of a new identity and a flight
out of the country and a new place
to live, to hang up my hat, as they say
so I decided to be satisfied with
my $900 and a place to sleep for the
night. later, when I was fired, I admitted
all to the district manager with the general
manager and I cramped into her tiny office
(we ate cookies back there when the
company sent us a variety box as a gift
for our hand in having helped them reach
$1 Billion Dollars in sales
that year, I assume because they
pay their employees $8.50 per hour
and wanted to stop the pitchforks
and torches by tossing us a handful of
compensatory factory-baked goods
which, I am ashamed to say,
worked like a charm),
and they made me sign a paper
declaring that I would pay back the $900
and agreed to be subject to wage garnishments
if I did not blah blah blah because
I really did tune out during the speech
and afterward sat in my car thinking that
if I couldn’t get away with stealing $20,000
I could at least get away with burning down
the dollar store, and it took me close to
an hour to snap out of it, drive home,
and tell my girlfriend that I had been
fired because of the very comfortable shoes
I was wearing.