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Old 04-26-2020, 07:58 AM   #1 (permalink)
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A day in a cashier's life during a pandemic

I wrote and read this for ownitslc.com's podcast. Enjoy.

"Soiled"

Iím up at 5am. Iím working the early shift, I put on my battle gear, sit on the edge of my bed and have a one-sided conversation with life, Something like this:

ďLet me do your work. I will remember that I am your instrument. Let me help others. Give me compassion and understanding. Help me stay firmly in the present, where fear cannot exist. Let me be an example to those who need direction, hope, understanding and peace. Thank you.Ē or words and feelings to that effect.

I set a timer for 11 minutes and meditate.

This is my usual morning routine and it puts my mind in the right attitude of humility. Putting myself in my proper place is how I was able to stop drinking my life away when it was falling apart and now itís how I stay out of fear when life seems to be falling apart for a lot of people.

I remind myself to be grateful that I have a job.

As I go through my day today, Iíll be ever mindful of each surface that I touch and how many others may have touched them before me. I donít touch my face. I am cautious but unafraid.

I get to the store and go straight to the bathroom to wash my hands. I open the door with the paper towel that I use to dry them. I prepare for surgery. Gloves first so I can put on the flimsy, corporate mandated PPE, which I have been instructed to re-use until it becomes, quote, ďsoiledĒ. It probably says more about my maturity level than anything but when I hear the word ďsoiledĒ I think, ďpoopĒ. In truth, there isnít a replacement available, so ďsoiledĒ is necessarily open to interpretation. The point is I donít want to touch it with my hands because after wearing it for three days, who knows? I will adjust it over-and-over throughout my shift, to make sure both mouth and nose are always covered, which is wildly counterproductive to the donít-touch-my-face idea. I wouldnít even wear this thing but really itís meant more to protect you from me and more importantly, send the message that, as a company, we are doing what we can to keep everyone safe. Also, I won't be allowed to work if I refuse to comply.

Some people take it personally when the new rules are enforced, myself included, and the rules keep changing. I get it. Everyone's frustrated.

Iím frustrated. I donít enjoy enforcing rules.

Calm, assertive energy. I learned that from Caesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer. Itís not something you can fake; you have to actually be calm and assertive, but it works. I use it to good effect with cranky kids when they want a lollipop and their mom isn't going to get them one, but doesn't know how or is too tired to tell them no. I'll say, "Hey buddy, maybe you didnít know this, but there's no whining in my line." Their eyes get big with astonishment at the strange man with a beard who would talk to them like this, but almost always, they shut up. I never thought Iíd have to use this technique on grown adults but now Iím glad to have it in my toolbox.

ďSir, Iím going to need you to stay behind that red line until Iím finished with this customer.Ē The line is actual red tape, which somehow strikes me as hilarious. He does what he's told but tells me he doesn't like following rules that he thinks are stupid. That really annoys me, but I take a deep breath and nod my head, "I'm with you, Bud." We are the same.

I make one woman cry because I brusquely tell her not to put her basket on the belt. "Why do you have to say it so mean?" she pleads. "I don't know all the rules- couldn't you be a little kinder?" I really feel for her, and I try to apologize but there's no consoling her.

Aside from the new dress code and the added workload of keeping sanitization logs and making store announcements on the half-hour to wash hands and disinfect work surfaces, my job hasnít changed much. Products move in a steady stream toward me on the conveyor and I scan and bag them. Beep, beep, beep. Iím supposed to clean the credit card pin-pad often but I donít as much as I should, well, because itís a pain in the ass and at the end of the day, Iím still all about me. Iím working on it.

Stay home! This is important, we've been told, but for many people, grocery shopping is the necessary evil that serves as an excuse to get out of the house and have some contact with humanity; a highly anticipated event, possibly made even more exciting because now it's tinged with danger and rebellion.

A lot of people feel guilty about how they were treating us before this mess. Maybe they should. They also know we have them over a barrel. You gotta eat.

"You guys are the real heroes." Gushing overcompensation. "I'm happy to be of service," I say sincerely. But the word "hero" makes me uncomfortable. Iím a fucking cashier, not a hero. I will say that if things get back to ďnormalĒ -whatever that means- I will miss this new found respect and appreciation for what I do. It's sad that it took a global disaster to uncover baseline human decency.

I am starting to see people unravel, though. This all seemed like it could be fun when we thought it would last a few weeks- you know, baking bread, planting in the garden, writing the great American novel, but cracks are starting to appear.

I am starting to unravel. Maybe unraveling is what's required here. We're grieving. For what? For being able to do whatever we want, for one. We won't know for sure until later. Hindsight is 2020. Interesting.

I have to choose my words carefully when I tell the next woman in line that she needs to stand behind the tape and she practically hisses, ďparanoia.Ē

I know better than to try and correct her, but I do it anyway, ďnot paranoia. cautionĒ.

ďNo,Ē she repeats, ďpar. a. noia. this is all a hoax.Ē Oh boy, here we go.

ďReally? A hoax?Ē I gesture to the plexiglass sneeze guard between us, to my hands, to my face. I donít mention the 800 people who died in New York yesterday.

She starts to go into the conspiratorial whys and hows of it but I quickly shut her down before I get angry by saying, ďWe are not getting into this right now,Ē calm assertive energy.

Arrogant denial and crippling fear are just two sides of the same coin, a coin that is enjoying wide circulation these days.

A woman is buying food for her son who is in Park City and canít leave his house. As we talk I learn that he has been sick. She is quick to say she hadnít been in contact with him for 3 weeks before he got sick, because that's what she's supposed to say. I can only see her eyes but I know she is lying. She is an arms length away. I feel a twinge of fear. I remind myself that fear is always thoughts about the future, which doesnít exist. I've already accepted that for me it's probably not a matter of if but when. Even so I wipe down everything when she leaves.

Including the pin pad.
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Old 04-26-2020, 05:56 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Really good stuff mate. Everyone needs a Yoda or two in their life ... why not Caesar Milan?
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Old 04-27-2020, 09:07 AM   #3 (permalink)
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This was wonderful. Thank you for sharing it.


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