Nothing Up My Sleeve

Jon Gallagher

Always Low Work Ethic.  Always

It’s been six years since I left the Galesburg area.  I was under the impression that with the closing of major employers such as Maytag, jobs are hard to find.  But that must not be the case.

If jobs were hard to find, then there would be a healthy competition for the jobs that are available.  Only the cream of the crop would be able to hold down a job and customer service would be put above all else.  Anyone who wasn’t able or willing to provide outstanding customer service would be unceremoniously sent to the unemployment line with a shoeprint on the backside of their lap.

After a recent experience in the old home town, I can see that’s not the case. 

See, I have big feet.  I always have.  The size 14s down there at the end of my ankles are good for a few things.  When I was an exterminator, they came in handy for squishing bugs that wouldn’t die via the conventional way of spraying their little butts into oblivion.  They also come in handy when making footprints in the snow for my wife and child to follow because someone in the house (not to mention any names, but he has really big feet) is too lazy to shovel the walk.

And of course, the second most frequent use of my appendages, aside from walking, is making a decoration for my mouth whenever I decide to stick my foot in it  - which is quite often.

Because of the size of my feet, combined with the fact that I go through shoes like Larry King goes through wives, I buy cheap shoes that are comfortable.  I’ve found a brand that I like that last about four to six months before they start looking like Swiss cheese – Faded Glory.

They’re available for less than twenty bucks at a store where I’d prefer not to shop.  We won’t mention them by name, but if you can’t figure it out from the context of this column, then maybe you should apply for a job there. 

This past week, the snow and ice took their toll on my latest pair of shoes and it became time to replace them.  Rather than drive into Peoria to find them, I did the smart thing: I called ahead. 

When the store operator answered, I told her that I wanted the shoe department.  She immediately connected me with the automotive department.  That makes perfect sense if I was trying to buy a pair of brake shoes, but since that wasn’t the case, it seemed pretty dumb.  Maybe the button on her phone for the shoe department was right next to the one for the automotive department. 

When they finally got around to connecting me to the right department, I was told that the largest size they carried was size 12.  That might have worked if the shoes had been sandals, but I really didn’t want to curl my toes up when I wore shoes, so I declined the sales clerk’s offer to set them aside for me.

I remembered that Galesburg had a store in this chain as well.  If I was willing to drive 30 miles to Peoria, then I should be willing to drive 28 miles to Galesburg as well.

I got the phone number for the store and made the call. 

It was this phone call that convinced me that some of the employees in this store only have job there because they can’t memorize the phrase, “Do you want fries with that?”

When the store operator answered, I repeated my request for a particular pair of shoes.  Since I’ve bought them before, I have an empty box complete with the brand, model, and UPC symbol intact.  I figured that would make it easy for them to look up.

The operator put me on hold and transferred the call to the shoe department.  For the next nineteen minutes and eleven seconds, I got to listen to some hillbilly wailing away about losing either his wife or his dog or both (it was hard to tell).  For a while, I thought I was listening to the bad auditions from American Idol in Nashville.

Nineteen minutes on hold… normally I would have just hung up and called back, figuring that they’d forgotten about me, but there were two things in play here.  There was the principle of the thing and that was rammed up smack against my bull-headedness. 

When the call was finally picked up, it was another operator in customer service.  I told her I wanted to speak to a manager, which in hindsight, was a mistake.  It meant going back on hold with the Country singer from Hell.

Fortunately, my wait was only about two minutes this time (long enough to hear the crooner express his undying love for a bar).  The operator told me that the manager was busy and that everyone in the shoe department was either busy or on break.  I explained the situation to her, and thought I was going to get the brush off until she realized that I had the UPC symbol.  She had me read it off to her and within a few seconds assured me that they had two pair in stock.  

Why Galesburg would have two pair of size 14 in stock and Peoria wouldn’t even carry that size is beyond my feeble ability to reason.

It’s way too late to make a long story short, but we drove to Galesburg, ate dinner (so it wasn’t a total loss) and then to the store in question.  It would make a better column if they didn’t have the shoes in stock, but they did.  What they didn’t have in stock was employees.  After wandering around the store for a half hour, other than the greeter at the front and the cashiers, my wife and I counted exactly two employees roaming around the store.  One looked like she was busy and the other looked like he was trying to keep as much distance between himself and civilization as is humanly possible.

On the way out of the store, I stopped to talk with an old friend who works there.  I nodded towards the sign above some of the cash registers which reads, “Express Lane – 20 items or less” and told him it was grammatically incorrect.  It should read “20 item or fewer.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but then 80 percent of our customers wouldn’t understand.”

Nor would 95 percent of their employees.