In spite of the holiday yesterday, I still got to punch in and work a nice little closing shift (which is fine with me because I get time and a half). But I decided to give myself the night off and devote the remainder of my July 4th to cupcakes, s’mores, and a little bit of alcohol instead of poetry.
However, to keep on track with the project, I bring you poem number five, inspired by the events of working a holiday–not to mention closing for the first time in over a month.
This one is a little long, but hopefully also a little less complain-y than the previous two. Enjoy!
It’s a secret of the trade that working retail makes you racist,
Within a week, you typecast customers through minute details,
Predict disaster from the sound of a voice,
The curve–or sag–of a face, the color of skin.
Misanthropy sets in the moment you punch the clock.
For the next five hours, seven, nine, you belong to them.
Time on the clock parceled between employer and customers.
“Always right,” yet so frequently wrong, even vindictive.
July 4th is about freedom, patriotism, independence,
I remind myself, pulling red-and-white lanyard over
An America-blue dress, and add a shock of red lipstick.
Today, I will try not to hate the huddled masses,
Teeming toward us, the only store still open after 6.
My first customer is a man in a turban with rotting teeth.
He has shoved an $8.99 ticket carelessly under a security tag,
Meant only for items priced over $19.99,
So I know at once what he has done. Though he smiles,
We both know that he is caught. The Ralph Lauren Polo
Makes its way to the back counter, safe from shrink.
I want to feel sorry for him, for all of them, these people
Who can’t even bring themselves to pay full price here,
At a discount store where even employees only get 10%.
I don’t always succeed,
Can’t help but cringe as grammatically mutilated sentences
Pour from the mouths of ticket-switchers, of out-right thieves.
And yet there’s always someone, something, to restore my faith,
In humanity, or my own capacity for love, for patience.
Two little girls in matching American flag t-shirts,
Their brother, a toddler in shopping cart, silent and smiling.
Mother and father both watch them, guarding good behavior.
They speak broken, but effortful, English with a Mexican lisp,
Red, white, and blue on each and every one.
Their smiles remind me again how lucky I am to live here,
Free from fear, from poverty, free to believe or not believe,
In God, in Country, in Welfare, Healthcare, Chick-fil-A.
Free even to work on the Fourth of July in my red, white and blue,
Raking in time and a half while better patriots grill burgers
And loose fireworks into the sky, illuminate it as it hastens toward dark.
Note: This poem is about how working retail often leads to stereotypes and how, just like any place else, those stereotypes are constantly both proved and disproved. It’s also a reminder that, wherever you stand on the side of the political line, this is one of the better place you could have been born or immigrate to, and that we should all take the time to remember that in between rants about Democrats this or Republicans that.