It didn’t generate a lot of commentary here, but I got an awful lot of feedback on my hostages-not-heroics piece about working during the COVID-19 lockdown.
After a little over a month with me on hazard duty at my paratransit job, I can tell you that we are still okay, so we have that much to put in the plus column. Both Julie and I are now being supplied with adequate protection in our respective workplaces.
But I am noticing a disturbing trend at the hospitals and care facilities I visit. I want to stress that the majority of the people I deal with are doing everything right. They’re being careful. Keeping their distance, masks and gloves, the whole nine yards.
But not ALL of them are. This is maddening.
Why? Let’s review the biology involved. Here’s a handy video.
Understand that this is a new disease. There’s no antibodies, no herd immunity, no cure, not even a palliative. If you are exposed you probably will get it. The only way we have to try and keep ahead of it is taking preventative anti-infection measures to buy medical researchers some time. And those preventative measures only work if we can get everyone on the same page.
It just takes one idiot to screw everything up. One entitled douchebag. And I’m seeing way too many of those: thoughtless, self-absorbed jerks just ignoring the guidelines posted everywhere. It’s inexcusable. This is hospital and care facility staff.
But that’s nothing compared to the stupid we are seeing in the private sector.
Here’s a typical comment from a young lady who works in fast food:
Honestly I’ve been doing this job for almost 10 years now, ick, and people have gotten more rude, more entitled and generally just shittier to deal with during this whole crisis.
I know it’s stressful times and its hard on everyone right now, but honestly, I just want to not fucking kill anyone I love, or even anyone I don’t know for that matter, just because Karen NEEEEEEEDED her fucking nuggets and is IN-FUCKING-CAPABLE OF GRABBING SOMETHING FROM ME WITHOUT TOUCHING ME. Sorry, didn’t mean to ramble, just had an extra shitty day.
A lot of us are having shitty days now. Sometimes it’s bosses being stupid, sometimes it’s customers. And the lame platitudes are making it worse.
I have been seeing so many of these anecdotes that I finally put out a call to a group of folks I know who are on the front lines of retail and offered them a platform here. I was asked to keep it completely anonymous and I will, but there’s one exchange I feel like I have to share:
–But Karen wants to get her roots dyed and her nails done. That’s more important.
–I do my own, thank you very much
–I do too…OH MY GOD I JUST REALIZED YOUR NAME IS KAREN
–LOL I’m getting used to it
Of course we all know the Karen meme is here to stay but we wanted our comments here to refrain from adding to the dogpile. We considered several alternative names and finally landed on one, endorsed by our own Karen on the panel:
–I’m happy to abide by consensus. Although I’m afraid ‘Karen’ has entered the public consciousness already, all the vile white-bread entitled bitches in the Stepfordesque suburb where I grew up were named Kimberly.
–Every one I’ve met in the last forty years has lived up to the name.
–You have a point… I know one person named Kimberly. …yeah you have a point
So for purposes of this column, we have retitled Karen as Kimberly. But you all know who we mean.
With that out of the way, let’s hear from our panelists. These are all ‘essential workers’ and they are being treated like cannon fodder. Here’s a few comments about the workplace policies they are forced to endure.
Fast food worker: We were allowed gloves at first, but now only the people in the kitchen and the person taking money can wear them. We can’t wear masks at all. Apparently we’re supposed to be presenting an image that we’re clean or something like that. So no masks or gloves on the job. The owners bought us all cloth masks, but we’re only to wear them on our way to and from work.
(This was finally remedied a few days ago, but for the first month of the lockdown, no protection was allowed even for employees staffing the drive-thru window.)
Big box craft store: I almost blew up at work yesterday when we were abruptly told two things: one, there was a sign going up in the front window detailing how we were an Essential Business and two, that as of that moment, we no longer were restricting the amount of customers in the store (instead of employees plus customers not exceeding more than 10 people).
I excused myself and went to the bathroom so that I could have an angry cry before I went off on someone. Then, I told the store manager that I was no longer interested in the extra hours that would require me to be cashier part of the time. I would work in my department for the few hours we are allowed in the week, I would work a day or two pulling curbside orders. But part of me agreeing to the other stuff three weeks ago was contingent on the amount of people in the store being limited. Now that had changed, I was changing my availability for the coming week. I did this partly because I know (at least to my manager) I’m not expendable. Yet, I’ve been quietly opposed to us staying open to the public for weeks ( not counting curbside pickup). We are a fucking craft store that doesn’t sell fabric and only a small amount of sewing supplies. That doesn’t make us “essential.”
From the start of this crisis, it’s frustrated me to work for a company that deems itself “essential” and yet isn’t. One aisle of sewing supplies and bandanas doesn’t make us essential enough to have customers shop inside during a quarantine. Do I want to be unemployed? No. If the stores had closed, I would’ve applied and stayed at home. But I cannot afford to be on full unpaid leave more than a week. I can’t afford to lose health insurance for me and my spouse. So, I will continue working part time and use one or two vacation days each week to add a little more to the check. Then, any sick time I have. We are holding onto our stimulus money in anticipation that it might be paying some of my portion of May and June’s bills.
Barista: About 3 weeks ago when we had reopened after being closed for 3 weeks, corporate sent us a few memos about the need for masks and guidelines for self made masks and a couple guides for example. The next week we received a huge box of black masks that were a thin t-shirt material. I can only assume they sent us these so we can put one over whatever amateur masks we’ve whipped together in an attempt to display uniformity. No one wears them. They continue to sit in a huge box as a “just in case” alternative, but no one is fooled into feeling safe or secure wearing one. Now we’re extending our hours come May the 4th (be with us), so I’m definitely feeling pretty stressed and skittish about social activity rising and people breaking quarantine.
But the real frustration is with the customers who can’t or won’t get their heads around the idea that their carelessness is endangering people.
Big box hardware store: I JUST had two customers give me grief for asking them to respect our rules and procedures during this whole ordeal. One accused me of being disrespectful and yelling at his kid, when I asked him not to enter the store through the “EXIT ONLY” door. Another was when I asked a man to take a different spot in the returns line because he was blocking the door; instead of complying he kept asking why he had to, and stood his ground as he looked down on me. Knowing I couldn’t make him do it.
Big box retailer: I’ve found discarded masks and gloves on our floors. I’ve seen grown adults with their masks pulled down, sneezing and coughing into open air doing nothing to shield themselves. Opening food packages and eating with their bare hands after touching their cart handles, and several other things without washing their hands and sanitizing. Guests actually get angry when they have to wait for us to wipe down and disinfect self-checkout and the cashier counters. We have to do it after every transaction. Like I’m sorry that this is such an enormous inconvenience but we don’t have a choice but to be here. We have to protect ourselves somehow and no one wanting to follow public ordinance makes it so difficult. So, so difficult. Because they want a sense of normalcy they don’t want to think about what’s happening or that it won’t happen to them or their loved ones. One of my coworker’s parents had COVID.
Thank goodness he recovered but he’s weak. It’s so real out here and no one wants to open their eyes.
Barista: So my Los Angeles store closed for a few weeks cuz we’re café only and not a drive-thru. During the last couple weeks we’ve been testing the waters with this mobile order only and walk up to pick up, no contact, no alternative payment system. Now, people are basically reacting exactly as you’d expect with this. Some are already on this page and doing fine, some don’t have the app but haven’t really felt the need to get it before, and some are the techno-Luddites, usually older folks (often over 50) who realize that it’s one of those smart phone things and walk off in frustration because they aren’t going to learn the confounded smart phone applications NOW of all times.
Big box retailer: Our store is one of the only places open in my area besides Walmart, Costco, and Sam’s Club. I’ve seen people spend hours here just to not be at home. I’ve seen people completely dressed up having dates here and getting mad because our Starbucks and café are closed and have been for a month. Parents are bringing in their very small and young children, newborns even, while only putting a mask on themselves and not their kids. Children that young don’t have the lung capacity to breathe through masks or cloth but they bring them in for hours to let them run around and touch everything and climb on our fixtures without any protection at all because school has been canceled for the rest of the year.
It’s stressful. It’s stressful having a store full of people and having hundreds upon hundreds of online orders dropping that need to be filled. It’s stressful that people are shopping as quickly as they are when we’re trying to take care of the people who don’t want to physically come in, and it’s stressful that we will legitimately be in trouble if we don’t make our quota because we are actually timed. It’s stressful that no one listens to the six-foot distance rule even though we blare the announcement over the overhead every 30 minutes. People touching me to get my attention or getting close to my face, showing me their phones for items they see online; phones that they probably haven’t wiped down since they left their house. Wearing gloves that they probably haven’t changed since they left their house.
There is a Kimberly that I will never forget. This was before Easter. She ordered 30 chocolate Easter bunnies online. And 70 Reese’s Pieces carrots. She came in to the store about 20 minutes after she placed it.
But we can’t prioritize orders or find names. It’s completely anonymous until we print the order information into a label to stick on the bag. And we had almost 350+ orders still pending at the time. Her order was lost in the void until the system would finally generate it. This woman went OFF on us. Guest service, our fulfillment team members, my bosses, EVERYONE. She was in the store. Standing at guest service. And she refused to open her phone and cancel the order so she could run back to our Easter section to grab it herself. She wanted us to pull this ridiculous amount of Easter candy out of our asses and refused to budge even after countless explanations that we could not do the exact thing she wanted. We can cancel the order ourselves, but we have a score that reflects on our performance. If we said “item not found” to nearly 100 items, our score would plunge so deep into the red our district manager would be all up in our business demanding what happened and who’s responsible.
Because fulfillment is the only way that the store is making a solid profit. And they don’t want to lose that profit. Because we live in a capitalist world.
Big box craft store: As hard as it is for me, I feel very much for you. We’ve had our online orders go from about 20 a day to as high as 100 right before Easter. It was more like 50-60 a day this week, sometimes being a few items, sometimes being 50.
I’ve avoided Target since this began and avoided Walmart except for one online pickup of an item more difficult to otherwise get. You mentioned something that spoke to me: the customers annoyed by the sanitation precautions rather than finding them reassuring. Some of our customers, as I said last night, have been considerate. Some others (yes, usually ones with no face protection and impatient attitudes) really burn me by acting like this is all a very personal inconvenience to them.
Last week, we had -no joke- a manager take a call wanting to know when our custom framing department was going to be open normal hours again and be fully staffed. Evidently, they’d driven up earlier and didn’t want to wait in line to come in and a framer wasn’t working that day. The answer would be — um, when we have more than 12-18 hours allotted for someone to work in framing and the store isn’t on reduced hours? In three weeks to a month or so, when all this is closer to whatever the new normal is?
I’ve edited these comments for length. But there is so much more. All with the same theme: Most people are on board, but the few that aren’t make my job almost impossibly difficult. These are all adults who usually enjoy their work, not cranky high school kids running into workplace reality for the first time.
Big box craft store: As much as the pushy, impatient curbside pickup customers that I’ve posted about bother me, people who are reasonable, wait for a confirmation email, then come to pickup and go are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. The people who showed up, waited in line and then spend a damn 30-60 minutes in the store while others wait outside getting frustrated (before we lifted restrictions) — and have no masks or gloves on— I’ve got a problem with them. People who treat it like a pleasure outing. If the store was closed to foot traffic, they wouldn’t be there. Now, we’ll just get more of them.
Becasuse of various personal things, I didn’t get this posted last week like I intended. In the interim, a bunch of idiots protesting the lockdown have hit the streets, and our Vice-President chose to flout the sanitary-precaution rules at the Mayo Clinic (you know, the place where they send extra-vulnerable patients regular hospitals aren’t able to handle) visiting people that frankly have every reason to loathe him.
I keep thinking about fifteen years ago, when I was teaching at the Alki Art Studio. Every year we put on the art fair, and as one of the instructors, I was on the committee.
We met about once a week in the two months running up to the event and every meeting took an hour longer than it needed to because of one woman. She didn’t listen, so we had to constantly repeat things for her. She would volunteer ideas that were so completely out of the question for our micro-budget that it was ludicrous, but even after we carefully and politely explained why these things were impossible, she would stubbornly circle around to the same idiocy the following week like it was a fresh idea. Most of the ideas involved custom-printed balloons we would give away. She was obsessed with balloons.
Over the years, Julie and I have come to use a phrase as shorthand for stubborn, stupid, can’t-look-beyond-themselves people who needlessly prolong an ordeal: “Like the balloon lady at Alki.”
Lately it feels like the whole world is the Art Fair Committee and we are all being held hostage by balloon-lady Kimberlys. They are few in number but they are loud and stubborn and constantly getting in the way.
I hope sharing these stories with you all will help raise a little awareness of what they are putting us all through. Maybe if enough of us call them out on it they’ll stop. Because God knows we can’t expect any help on this from corporations or the government. That’s been made clear.
Back next week with something cool. In the meantime, please, for the love of God, remember your mask and gloves if you HAVE to go out.
And wash your hands.