Mean People Do What?


Years ago I worked in a discount retail department store specializing in salvaged or odd lot merchandise--a great place to find bargains as long as you weren't looking for anything particular. Most of my co-workers were terrific people, and I often thought of them as "salt of the earth" types. In this particular company, the more mean-spirited and less likable people were, the more inclined they seemed to climb the corporate ladder and become supervisors, and the more passionately they pontificated about "teamwork."

I finally came to the conclusion that the more someone talked about teamwork, the more likely he was to think of himself as the leader in charge of a team and the less likely he was to think of himself as part of one. Teams work together amiably, and it's never a team member who cracks the whip to make them pull harder or run faster. Teams pull together without trampling anybody in the process--they work together for faster or for slower, and for better or for worse. (For the record, I'm an individualist anarchist.)

One day I walked past the store manager as he was engaged in conversation with the son of the company owner. Apparently their conversation concerned me because the store manager caught my eye and said, "Well! Speak of the devil!" I looked at him innocently and asked, "Why? Have I been promoted?" In all likelihood I lost a promotion that day, but I sure had a good laugh and I honestly never pictured myself climbing the corporate ladder at that job: at the time I liked to wear mini skirts, and I had my dignity to consider.

Strange things happened in that store, and I once thought I'd write a book about them, but now I only clearly recall a few standout incidents. One time an irate family returned a well-used toilet seat that apparently hadn't met their high expectations--unfortunately, it had met plenty of their lower excretions, which they had neglected to clean off before returning it to the store. In retail, the customer is always right, so they probably got their money back--or at least a new toilet seat if we had one, but they made an awful stink about it at the service desk, and we marveled about that incident for days afterwards.

Another time, I was called to the service desk to retrieve a carriage of drops and returns for the clothing department. "Drops" were items of clothing people carried to other parts of the store before deciding not to buy them and "returns" were returned items. I pulled a T-shirt out of the carriage to put it on a hanger and noticed something very strange about the T-shirt . . . someone had obviously used it for an unbecoming purpose. That struck me as hilarious, and I laughed until I was practically blue. The poor gal at the service desk was dumbfounded and asked me what was so funny . . . . I think I gingerly handed her the gooey T-shirt with one hand while my other was still holding my rib cage. She called the store manager. Neither of them shared my perverse sense of humor, and the next day one of the male employees was summarily fired, coincidentally or not. Oddly enough, I don't recall much talk about that after the fact; I suspect that word got around quietly, and the company grapevine prevented much ado about unmentionable nothings.

I could tell other stories about the most entertaining job I ever hated, but I meant to get around to my title subject . . . mean people. At the time I worked there, close to half of the employees smoked, and we enjoyed a congenial atmosphere. Two or three non-smoking employees petitioned for a non-smoking break room and got one--a windowless, dingy little storage room, but it was a smoke-free break room, and they had it all to themselves. The rest of the employees got along with an expensively well-ventilated break room (as mandated by law, before the anti-smoking jihad recruited more rabid fanatics) inhabited by a smoking or smoker friendly majority. Then the state stepped in to save the day with new rules shortly after I left to explore greener paychecks elsewhere, and the break room majority no longer ruled, as I discovered soon after when I went back to visit my friends.

I moved on to a management position with another discount retailer, a smaller clothing store with a much nicer clientele and better pay. At times I was the only one in the store, and my employer hired me knowing I was a smoker but also a hard worker fully capable of managing the store. We had no break room, so occasionally I'd step out for a cigarette on the front steps where I could keep an eye on the register when customers were in the store. All it would have taken to make me a criminal or put me on the unemployment line was a bureaucratic mandate prohibiting smoking within X number of feet from door, and I'd have been without a job while my employer sought a reliable replacement for me regardless of how well the existing arrangement had worked for all concerned.

Only bureaucrats can create a problem where none had previously existed: I made a point of being courteous about my smoking and often snuffed out a cigarette when customers arrived or exited, or to attend the cash register. I lived with the daily fear of losing my job due to just such an arbitrary regulation, until that store eventually closed and I was offered a job in a new line of work. Mean Green folks may be happy to know that I now work in an office building that's so openly hostile to cigarette smokers that I bought an SUV partly because it makes a comfortable break room now that I feel obliged to smoke in my car to avoid unnecessary unpleasantness. Fortunately, my new job allows me the freedom to take outside breaks without having to keep an eye on an inside cash register.

Today I encountered a familiar analogy likening smoking to peeing in a swimming pool, and that analogy never fails to piss me off--if you'll pardon my saying so. How many of you non-smoking folks would patronize a restaurant or spend time at a swimming pool that neglected to provide convenient restroom facilities to accommodate your toiletry needs, however impolite you might feel about waving those needs in anyone's face, or making a stink about them? Does everything have to be treated as a contentious issue for public dissection or discussion, or can people quietly meet their needs without making a messy, public production of them?

The second store I worked at (as mentioned above) was converted from warehouse space to serve as a bargain outlet for a wholesale distributor. The single rest room accessible to customers or employees involved a trek through the office suite, and it was inconvenient for all concerned. One week a customer clogged the toilet terribly, and for a week or two we had to tell customers they couldn't use the rest room. Nobody was happy about that, except perhaps a few insulated office workers who didn't have to turn away the sweet old ladies with incontinence or the frustrated mothers with screaming toddlers. I hated to say "No" to them--it seemed uncivilized, and I hope my apologies meant something to them.

Some smells bother me, even though I'm a smoker. One popular brand of glass cleanser leaves me gagging, and unfortunately my fellow office workers like to use it, so I gag a lot. Certain soaps, perfumes, and deodorants bother me intensely. I can't help that, but I don't make a fuss about it, and most of my co-workers have never made a fuss about my smoking, because we respect each other and view each other as human beings.

People have personal needs: however impolite it may seem to mention those needs, it's totally rude to pretend they don't exist. Whether that need is peeing or doing number 2, having a smoke, getting a fix, or having a private conversation, allowing people some courtesy never hurt--especially when the alternative is asking them to do private things in the street where it's apparently more objectionable. Courtesy was once considered as common as common sense, and both seem to have disappeared simultaneously. I'm tired of mean people that refuse to mind their business and ram their burdensome sensitivities down other people's throats. Bean counters who don't like seeing objectionable behavior in public should try to understand why respect for privacy means so much to countless human beans.

I'm a smoker: these days that should make me a fully informed authority on mean people.

Enjoy your pee-free swimming pool, mean people--I'll find one that provides rest rooms, because nobody's pee-free. Stuff that concept in your oh-so immaculate pool filter and strain it.

I'll be damned if non-smoking fascists haven't beat a path to Hell, and while I might gamble on heaven having a non-smoking section, in Hell I'd suspect that smoke comes with the territory. See you in Hell, mean people. Have fun trying to find your non-smoking section in Hell . . . at least we smokers may still feel at home somewhere. Ha.

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