Gut Rumbles

December 08, 2003

christmas jobs

For five years in a row when I was going to college, I worked at K-Mart during the Christmas holidays. I did just about every job available in the store, including running a cash register, doing a "Code Three in the Parking Lot" (go get all the shopping carts scattered all over the place out there) and mopping floors in the cafeteria.

My favorite job was doing night stock. I showed up with a couple of other people when the store closed and the junior manager locked us in the place for the night. We unloaded trucks and stocked shelves until 9:00 in the morning. I saw all kinds of stuff come into that store.

K-Mart had a big, red binder full of fine print that told you what price every item you put on the shelf should sell for. You found the stock number on the item, looked it up in the book to find the price and used a tape-gun to put those crazy 67-cent price tags on a lot of cheap shit. The book also told you how many units K-Mart bought and what price they paid.

I was amazed by what I learned from that book. A lot of those plastic cars and army men were bought in units of over 1,000,000 at .04 cents each. I'm not talking FOUR CENTS each. I mean FOUR-TENTHS OF A CENT. We sold them for anywhere between 27 cents and 98 cents. They sold like hotcakes, too.

I forget what the really "GOTTA HAVE" toy was one year (some kind of talking, pissing Teddy Bear, I think), but every store in Savannah was sold out. Two days before Christmas, we had a truck pull in around midnight loaded to the gills with those things. We unloaded the truck and I checked the stock number in the book. I was astonished by what I saw.

K-Mart paid $28.00 per unit but was selling them for $26.00. They were going to lose TWO DOLLARS on every one of those toys they sold. Those figures didn't look right to me, so I asked the manager about it. That's when I first heard the term "loss leader."

"We have a full-page ad running in the paper tomorrow advertising this toy. We'll be sold out before closing. Most people who come will come for the toy, but that won't be the only thing they buy. You run a loss leader like this one just to get people in the store this time of year. We'll make up what we lose on this toy with the other stuff they buy. But we've gotta get 'em in the store first."

I learned a valuable lesson about business that night. If you're selling something, you've gotta get 'em in the store.

I also learned to HATE Christmas carols for several years after doing those jobs. Listen to "The Little Drummer Boy" about 1,000 times and you'll want to shove that drum up the drummer boy's ass and strangle the baby Jesus right there in the fucking manger. Plus, I wanted to put a "RUM-PUM-PUM" on Mary and Joseph, too, and any goddam wise man who opened his smart mouth. I wanted to stuff sombody's myrrh right up their frankensense, sideways.

Of course, maybe not everyone would have that reaction. Maybe that was just me.


I started hating Christmas carols when I was in high school. I was in the band, and we started practicing the carols in September. By the time December came around, I was ready to throttle the next person that whistled "Jingle Bells".

It didn't help that I worked my way through college working in retail, either...

Posted by: Jack on December 8, 2003 06:29 PM

I recently read an article that equated working retail during the holidays with psychological torture. To this day I cannot stand any kind of Christmas music, with the exception of music from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. It's like nails on a blackboard.

Posted by: mac on December 8, 2003 06:40 PM

Man, no link-love for the Kmart song?

Is it because of the OTHER little smart guy?

Posted by: Key on December 8, 2003 07:07 PM

You'd like my tinkling of the ivories of Pa Rum pum,pum pum and other secular tunes.I play my own Christmas music.One of my self-made traditions.My music has it's own unique touch.

Posted by: Lexia on December 8, 2003 07:21 PM

Reading your blog is like sittin' on the porch on a spring evening, listening to the cicadas buzz. Like climbing the bales of hay piled up in my granddaddy's barn. Like eating homemade ice cream on the Fourth of July. Yep, it's that darn good.

Posted by: Susan on December 8, 2003 07:47 PM

Speaking of the Christmas Season:

The reason you may get a letter with one-day delivery is because of the thousands of U.S. Postal Workers who process and sort the out-going mail, starting usually at 3:00 p.m., and those that work 10 p.m.-6:30 a.m., sorting the in-coming mail to the carrier routes. If the distance is too far for overnight delivery, your two- or three-day delivered mail is being transported between the mailing site, with a possible intermediary sorting facility, to the in-coming area of your local mail processing facility. That's the simplified explanation.

The personal explanation is an exhausting way-of-life for Postal workers during the month of December. I have not sent one Christmas card since my first Postal Christmas season. Seven days per week from the beginning of the second week in December. Contractural limitations of 12 1/2 hours per day. One 30 minute lunch period and 3 ten-minute breaks. That is what Christmas is for Postal Service workers. Unless FedEx or UPS has changed their policies to stay in competition with the U.S. Postal Service, Express Mail is the only way to get Sunday delivery service. The U.S. Postal Serivce even delivers Express Mail on Christmas Day!

Smile when you see your carrier, or customer service window worker, he/she is representing thousands who have worked through the night, so that your Christmas cheer is delivered!

Posted by: Ms Anna on December 8, 2003 07:58 PM

Yeah, business is screwy like that. Good read. I am glad I took the time.

Posted by: Rich on December 8, 2003 08:07 PM

You really need to put a spewage warning just before the Christmas carol part of the post. I almost had to clean the monitor. But I have to agree with your thoughts on it, you're not the only one that feels this way.

Posted by: Wichi Dude on December 8, 2003 08:22 PM

I'd like to see this submitted to Carnival of the Capitalists as your youthful experience learning some of the tricks of the retail business.

Posted by: Jay Solo on December 8, 2003 08:27 PM

four tenths of a cent would be .4 cents.
.04 cents is 4 hundredths of a cent. I'm just sayin...

Posted by: Squirrel on December 8, 2003 08:41 PM

Squirrel caught all of us on that one!

Posted by: Ms Anna on December 8, 2003 09:15 PM

When I was in marching band in high school we always played the same song for the town's christmas parade. In a clever play on words, we referred to it as "Satan's Parade."
That and "My Heart Will Go On" are the only songs I hate because of band. I didn't start listening to the radio until MHWGO had almost played itself out, so I would probably be fine with the song if I hadn't had to play it for three different concerts because the freshmen girls always wanted to play it.
I hate freshmen.

Posted by: Joanna L. on December 8, 2003 09:19 PM

We lose money on every one we sell, but we make it up on volume.

Posted by: triticale on December 8, 2003 09:24 PM

"The Little Drummer Boy" is a piece of shit that should be banned, even if it means rewriting the First Amendment.

Posted by: Steve H. on December 8, 2003 10:04 PM

Steve H.!

How can you say that? Sure it's kinda trite & simplistic, but any song that can be the base of the weirdest musical duet in history has to be kept around, if for no other reason that to baffle folks with its genuine "WTF" quotient.

Confused? For those old enough to remember it, Bing Crosby and David Bowie sang "Little Drummer Boy" on an Xmas TV special back in the '70s. Good arrangement, and in spite of the obvious pandering to both the nursing home sect AND the teenyboppers.

Worth listening to, and if there's a more contrived duet out there, I've yet to see it. (No, Ozzy & Jessica Simpson's recent version of "Winter Wonderland" doesn't come close)

Posted by: El Capitan on December 9, 2003 01:46 AM

1. I worked in a supermarket all through high school and college. If I NEVER hear another Christmas song again, I'll be okay with that - I've heard my fill. Jingle Bell my ass.

2. Merry Christmas. If that offends you, tough shit. Grow tougher skin or get the fuck out of my country and find one that won't offend your delicate sensibilities by wishing you a Merry Christmas. Iran might work.

3. My mother-in-law works for the post office. The month of December is sheer hell for them - they work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. However, they also get INSANE overtime - they ARE union employees, after all. She's making more money than I am, and I have an advanced degree. It's hard to feel sorry for a high school dropout making close to six figures.

4. All that hard work the postal service does is washed from my memory when the fucking moron who picks up my mail MISSES THE FUCKING ELECTRIC BILL THAT'S DUE IN TWO DAYS and I have to leave work early to drop it off in person.

5. If the mouth-breathing fucktards that my town hires to plow the streets knock my mailbox over one more time, I swear to G-d I am gonna mount that mother fucker on a 6" wide, solid core steel pipe that's mounted 10 feet into the ground. Then, when they ride up on my lawn to hit the mailbox, the plow will hit that sumbitch, spin the truck around, and give me time to squeeze off a shot with the 12 guage.

6. I've said this one before, but I think it bears repeating: If you are afraid of driving in the snow, STAY THE FUCK HOME. Do NOT travel 15 mph down the middle of the fucking road, slamming on your brakes for every snowflake. It should be legal to shoot these fuckers.

Okay, that's enough for now. I feel better...

Posted by: Guy on December 9, 2003 07:58 AM

"Buy for a dime. Sell for a nickel. Make up the difference in volume." Milo Minderbender, "Catch 22"

Posted by: Larry on December 9, 2003 08:00 AM

Many years ago, I worked for a trucking company. The sales whiz guys were selling freight charges for $1.00 a mile. I pointed out that their ACTUAL COSTS to move the freight was $1.10 to $1.20 per mile. They really did tell me that they would make it up in volume. "Uh, guys, the only thing that you are going to do is lose money faster."

I left the company shortly thereafter, with the parting shots of "you will NEVER earn as much money EVER again as you earned here" ringing in my ears. The company went belly up about a year later.

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