Marijuana And A Stiff Drink | A Bigmart Confidential Excerpt

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Below I’m providing the first chapter from my book, Bigmart Confidential, as a free excerpt.

The chapter is titled “Marijuana and a Stiff Drink.” I hope you enjoy it, and if so, please purchase either the digital or paperback format of the book here:

Bigmart is always accepting applications. Bigmart accepts these applications in all of its stores at all times. Bigmart accepts them from anyone regardless of age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. All are welcome to try their luck at landing an interview, and perhaps even finding a job. And all that’s needed is a Bigmart application terminal.

The store I was applying at was mobbed when I arrived on a mid-May morning. People flowed in and out of the great behemoth like little worshippers making offerings to a vengeful heathen god. But I wasn’t there to shop.

I knew from past experiences that one of the two terminals in this particular store was upfront in customer service, across from the bustling row of cash registers. The other one was tucked quietly in layaway at the back of the store. But because I didn’t have the patience to fight my way past endless crowds of dismal shoppers and their slow-rolling carts, I decided to hold my breath and beat through the crowds to reach the one up front.

I reached customer service with all of my limbs intact and spotted the boon of my struggle. Next to the counter where peeved customers and apathetic employees did battle over returned items sat the massive gray terminal that would lead me into the underpaid embrace of Bigmart’s retail empire. I pulled up a stray chair and sat in front of the crusty black monitor that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. The cold blank screen responded to my touch and fired up with life. It glowed with the smiling images of Bigmart employees. They stared up at me from behind the glass, looking like lost souls trapped in a hidden crystal treasure.

Once the terminal fully loaded, I was first prompted through a series of screens that asked for a lot of tedious information. My name, address, phone number, and other personal tidbits were requested. Fair enough. I typed it all into the system on a narrow black keyboard, trying desperately not to think about the wide variety of germs I was contracting as a result.

But my information wasn’t enough. I had to also provide personal references—names, numbers, and addresses. Was the store going to perform house calls to see what kind of crowd I ran with? I typed in the names and phone numbers of three friends, but I made up their addresses.

After that, I was asked about my education and past employers. Because the only place I ever worked at was Bigmart itself (aside from a newspaper internship two years before), it made it easy for the store’s personnel office to conduct a performance review. As for my education, I decided to give myself some liberty and made the claim that I already had my bachelor’s degree, even though there was still a year to go. But if I was claiming that I already had a college degree and the loan bills to prove it, and yet I was still applying for a job at Bigmart, was that something to take pride in? It seemed more like a badge of defeat—even an admission to the waning power of a college education.

When asked what store departments I was interested in, I chose only the deli. That’s where I worked for the past two years during my summer breaks, and though it’s one of the worst areas to be in, I grew accustomed to the long lines, feral customers, and splattering blood. But a problem arose when I had to fill out my desired shift schedule, of which I had a major issue—I didn’t have a driver’s license. There was something about lumbering metal machines hurtling toward me at 50 MPH while I, too, was operating one that terrified me. Whenever I tried to drive, I’d either spin the wheel like a roulette table or I’d refuse to move past the safe and comfortable speed of 10 MPH—but never 15. I might have been in the prime of my life, but I was no daredevil. So, at the liberating age of 21, my mother was still driving me to and from work, and though it was embarrassing, it was kind of nice to have a chauffeur after a long day of retailing.

But I needed to take her into consideration when trying to solidify a schedule. Bigmart likes to have the freedom to change and shake up the schedules of their employees at a whim, and that wouldn’t comply with my situation. The policy was so demanding, in fact, that some positions were forced to have total open availability, from midnight to midnight, seven days a week.

But I did have one pro in my corner: the deli always needed afternoon and night workers, and my mother preferred it when I worked the 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. shift everyday, so that’s what I offered as my availability. If fortune were on my side, I’d have that as my shift every day I worked. I didn’t care what days I was scheduled on, though. I preferred to work on weekends, so if I needed to make any appointments, I could easily do so during the week. And I’d rather let those employees that wanted to spend time with their families on the weekend have the opportunity to do so.

With the initial phase done, I checked the boxes stating I was an American citizen, not a veteran or on welfare, and the easy part was over.

* * * * *

My ethics and integrity were challenged next. I was given a series of questions to answer with responses ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” The multiple-choice questions varied from customer service to colleague relations. But none of that was as important as theft. Bigmart seemed more worried about me trying to smuggle a jar of pickles out of the store than committing sexual harassment.

“I believe it is acceptable to steal from my place of employment,” the application stated. It couldn’t even ask. It took the liberty of putting words in my mouth, deciding for itself that I was a petty thief. And though, with all of the company’s power and wealth, I’d never think twice about swiping some pens or eye drops, I strongly disagreed with the statement.

“I believe that people who steal deserve a second chance.” I didn’t know if Bigmart was looking for compassion or loyalty. I was either going to look like a no-nonsense dick or an empathetic brother-in-arms to my fellow workers. It was a gamble, but I decided to follow my heart and agree, but not strongly.

“I feel good about myself after accomplishing a successful day at work.” The topics were now shaken up, and I needed to decide if I was going to tell the truth or lie. No, I didn’t feel good after eight hours of working retail. I wanted to go home and put my feet up. But beyond that, why did it matter how I felt? If the job by day’s end was completed well, why should my inner character have any sway over the situation? Because this was a painfully obvious ploy of rooting out glum and sour grouches—of which I was one—a lie was in order, so I strongly agreed.

“I have stolen from my former place of employment.” The test led me from the theft topic only to throw it back my way. But I wasn’t shaken up by the tactic. Yes, while working in the deli in the past, if I skipped breakfast or was late for my lunch break, I’d slip a piece of cheese or a chicken tender into my gut when no one was looking. So, I technically had stolen from my employer before. Another lie was called for, so I strongly disagreed.

“Smoking marijuana is like having a drink.” It was only a matter of time before theft got old and the drug topic came up. Bigmart was obsessed with pot, and though I felt smoking weed was more responsible than saucing the night away, I disagreed with the statement.

“Some people work better when they’re a little high.” It was clear the person who wrote the test questions had never actually worked at Bigmart. A toke or two would probably improve the store’s personnel and their demeanor, but I still disagreed.

The entire multiple-choice portion of the application was about seventy questions long. It could have been cut down drastically if some topics were not reworded several times throughout the test to cause applicant slipups. And how did my capability for slicing cheddar cheese extra thin and my attitude about retailing correlate?

They didn’t. But Bigmart placed bureaucratic faith in rudimentary hurdles to root out grumps, pickpockets, and potheads. It’s often said that “there are no right or wrong answers” on the store’s personality exam, but that’s a lie. I’m sure there’s a grading key locked up in some faraway filing cabinet that says if question 46 lacks the “strongly” prefix, then a candidate’s character should be second-guessed.

I finished the application in an hour. After I was done and the computer finished processing the information, I was informed that I “passed” and a company representative would contact me within sixty days if interested in pursuing my candidacy further. All there was left to do was sit back and wait.

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About Author

Steven Surman has been writing for over 10 years. His essays and articles have appeared in a variety of print and digital publications, including the Humanist, the Gay & Lesbian Review, and A&U magazine. His website and blog, Steven Surman Writes, collects his past and current nonfiction work. Steven’s a graduate of Bloomsburg University and the Pennsylvania College of Technology, and he currently works as the Content Marketing Manager for a New York City-based media company. His first book, Bigmart Confidential: Dispatches from America's Retail Empire, is a memoir detailing his time working at a big-box retailer. Please contact him at steven@stevensurman.com.

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