The Hunger

By Kristen Henry

I pulled my neon blue Sunfire into the same spot in the Target parking lot I always did. It was 7:55 a.m. – I still had five minutes to run into the store before I’d be late. The drive there had been a blur. After four years of making the same trip there and back, I could practically do it in my sleep. I’m sure I may have at one time or another.

I was tired after the closing shift the night before. It was a Friday night full of teens without lives running around and messing up everything my co-workers did. They would giggle and try on ridiculous outfits as I watched them tear a perfectly folded table to shreds.

I gathered my knock-off designer purse and my already warm lunch, climbed out of the vehicle and walked toward the looming building with faded red letters.

I greeted Derek, the security guard at the door.

“It’s gonna be a long day,” he said.

“Yeah, I’ll try not to kill myself with boredom.”

He made a crack about the line of “guests” waiting outside, holding mugs of coffee and praying to get their hands on a Nintendo Wii that we probably didn’t have. They had been out there for an hour already.

After over four years of observation, I figured out who these people really are. I call them the desperate parents, waiting in line at 7 a.m. for a video game system that their spoiled kid absolutely had to have. They always acted like it was a matter of life and death, getting one of these games. I’ve seen them act like children themselves, attempting to rip one from another’s hands like a wild beast after its prey. It made me feel mature.

I checked my watch: two minutes until I had to clock in. I walked to the rear of the store, thinking about the “guests” outside. The desperate parents are the closest to hardcore shoppers, but they don’t usually reach the ranking. Hardcore shoppers really only emerge at certain times of year, Black Friday for one. They’re a terrifying breed in that they have the ability to blend in with the rest for the majority of the year, making them twice as deadly when they do strike. The hardcore shoppers are much more vicious and violent than desperate parents and as long as they get good deals, the object itself is no object. They’ll buy something they don’t need or want just because it’s cheap.

I think back to my last Black Friday, a particularly eventful one. I stood at the jewelry boat all day, opening cases left and right and practically throwing jewelry into the crowd. Then they unloaded a truckload of video game chairs from the backroom and the crowd dispersed, running to the doors to get their hands on one. I saw an elderly woman walking by me carrying two. She remarked, “I don’t even know what these are but they sure are cheap! I had to get some!’

I’m sure she got a lot of use out of it. Later that day the hardcore shoppers struck again, throwing TVs at each other, giving a cashier a concussion from a credit card machine when their card was declined and telling me that “I had no right to live.” Clearly she was right: I shouldn’t live if I don’t know the exact location of a pink lotion pump.

I burst through the door to the Team Member Service Center, where a crowd huddled around the time clock, waiting for the very last minute they could begin their workday. After a minute of searching for a locker, I deposited my purse and sweatshirt, revealing my red Target shirt. I wore it far too often. It even smelled like the store. It was enough to make you sick.

I made my way through the Employees Only door at the back of the store and took the short walk to meet my boss with her fiery red hair and a list of things to do – things that weren’t officially my job. I cracked a fake smile through my exhaustion and asked about her daughter and fiancé. Bosses like when you ask about them; it makes them feel important.

After a couple minutes of schmoozing, I grabbed my list of jobs for the morning. Good, nothing too extreme. I could be done in less than a half hour.

I walked to the front right corner of the store and stopped at the Guest Service counter. Jess was working there. We’re not friends, but she’s nice enough to waste a few minutes with.

“Hey, Jess, nice to see you’re working mornings again.”

“Yeah, I’m finally getting hours again. Unfortunately, they’re all on days with a hangover.”

She was one of those people who was a borderline alcoholic and didn’t know it. A typical college student. I forced a laugh at her comment and asked about her night out. After a few stories of expensive drinks, skimpy clothes and creepy men in bars, I got down to business.

“Can you grab me the jewelry keys?” I asked.

Jess unlocked the metal container holding the keys to all the precious areas of the store: jewelry, electronics, the stockroom and the cash office. She handed me my set and I signed my name into the log book.

As I walked away, the keys jingled from my belt loop. To some, maybe an annoying sound, but not to me. The jingling keys made me feel important, trusted. They made me feel like I actually had power.

I glanced at my watch — 8:15. Once 8:30 hit, I couldn’t leave from the jewelry boat. At 8:30, you were essentially locked in.

I hurried to finish the work my boss had given me: printing labels, making signs and moving purses and control-top pantyhose. It was 8:27 when I took my post behind the counter. Success! Almost. I still had eight hours in the boat to look forward to. Eight hours of boredom.

I had been working in jewelry for over three years now and I do almost the same thing every day. I occupied myself by watching people who walked by. While they shopped, I studied.

The store was still effectively a ghost town. A few early-risers walked around the women’s clothing department, already making a mess my fellow team member would have to clean up later. I was used to this.

I always make a joke to people about how “this job made me lose faith in humanity.” Maybe an overdramatic statement, but most days it felt true. I’d come to be an expert on judging people, categorizing them into almost breeds.

The night before had been trying. I had faced old women with hats, who tried on Target’s largest and most hideous jewelry imaginable only to be upset we don’t sell clip-on earrings; argumentative men who insist that I can work on their watch even though it’s against store policy and I might injure myself in the process; and far-too-good-looking-men who complained that the men’s rings we sell are hideous and didn’t match their outfits. I hoped today would be different, but I doubted it.

One breed, the overzealous soccer mom, approached the boat.

“Can I help you find something?” I asked. It’s my job to say those words, forced into my brain by my ditz of a boss and passed down from the CEO of the corporation, who obviously doesn’t know correct grammar.

“No, I’m just looking,” the soccer mom answered. She was wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt from last spring’s clothing line. Apparently she came here a lot.

She walked around the boat, glancing and shaking her head at jewelry that just didn’t suit her seemingly expensive taste. She already wore plenty of jewelry. She had a giant rock on her left ring finger and more diamonds strategically placed on her ears, obviously genuine from the way they shone.

She pushed a stroller. Her small daughter played with a doll covered in spit that she kept dropping on my recently Windexed glass counter.

At least it gave me something to do later: cleaning passed the time.

Finally the soccer mom, true to her breed, plastered on a huge fake smile and asked, “Can you show me this necklace please?”

I walked to the case she hovered over. She pointed at her choice, making yet another smudge on my clean counter. I pulled out the necklace she wanted, one of our more expensive choices, and stood there while she made small talk. For some reason she was trying to justify buying the necklace to me. I didn’t care; she could buy whatever she wanted.

After staring at herself in the mirror and fixing her already perfect hair, she decided that the necklace “just isn’t right.” Typical with the breed, she proceeded to ask for necklace after necklace to try on. In the end, she bought nothing.

“Thanks,” she said over her shoulder with a slight fake smile. Apparently Target is just too cheap for her.

I checked my watch again. I had seven more hours of boredom. Seven more hours of watching.

***

As the clock on the cash register blinked to 4:30 I passed off my precious keys to a co-worker, grabbed my things and made my way to the exit as quick as humanly possible. It had been another day full of breeds. The old women in hats and argumentative men had made reappearances as they usually do and I had a few sightings of teenage Abercrombie & Fitch-model-wannabes.

I got into my car and sped off. It felt good to be rid of the Target stench and the mind-numbingly boring work of standing in one place, robotically opening and closing cases when asked.

The relief didn’t last long though. Something that day clicked; something wrong. With all my time standing in my jail cell of a jewelry boat, my mind wandered, thinking about all the breeds I see every day. They all had one thing in common. They hungered. They hungered for material objects that they didn’t really need. People would fight each other like animals to obtain the hottest toy or the best deal on GPS systems. My co-workers were yelled at daily because of these pointless material objects.

They all possessed that trait; that hunger. Even I did. God knows I just had to have the new iPod the second it was released. I was no different from the commercialistic people I mocked in my store, the people I studied from the jewelry boat almost daily.

My mind snapped into focus as I pulled into the driveway of my large brick house. I parked and made my way inside, throwing my bag on the table. I plopped down on the couch with my feet throbbing from the day’s work and turned on my big screen TV.

Kristen Henry

Next Post

The View From a Lifeguard Chair

Mon Feb 16 , 2009
By Mitchell Epstein The water glistened in the sun as I entered the pool area at 11 a.m. on an almost unbearably hot summer day. “Hey, what’s up,” I said to Kirill, the 22-year-old manager of the private pool. “Hey, Mitch, could you dump some chlorine in the deep end?” […]