Tag Archives: Walmart

The Routine Revolution

Somewhere in my mind there is a hole. Actually, that’s probably understating the situation, but for today lets just focus on the one. You probably have this hole in your mind too. The hole works like this. When you’re growing up your mom says to you, “Honey, it’s a bad idea to poke yourself directly in the eye with a soldering iron,” and you’re all like, “Sure mom, whatever,” and go back to playing video games. But then the day comes when you actually poke yourself in the eye with soldering iron and you say to yourself, “Gee willikers, that was a really bad idea.”

Okay, so maybe the soldering iron example was a bit silly; but I’m trying to make a point. Sometimes you hear something over and over. It’s advice and it’s good advice. You hear it from lots of people who you know and trust, people who know what they’re talking about, people who have lived through the heartbreak that a soldering iron to the eye can bring. But you don’t really listen. Until one day you experience the usefulness of their advice for yourself, very narrowly avoiding the loss of your depth perception. And you make their wisdom your own. You internalize it. And after that you start to live it.

This happened to me recently. See, I had heard the advice, “Try to commit the same block of time to writing every day,” for a long time. I understood the advice. The advice made sense to me. But I didn’t follow it.

Why? Well, a number of reasons. For one thing, my work schedule is nowhere close to regular. I dearly envy those of you who work eight to five, Monday through Friday without fail. As for me, things are a bit different. This very day I will clock in to work at one o’clock and work till ten. I’ll come home and hit the sack as fast as possible because I’ll have to be back up again in time to be at work at seven in the morning. I say this, not so you’ll feel sorry for me, but so you can understand that it wouldn’t make sense for me to say, “I will write every day from seven until eight.”

So for a long time I had no schedule. I wrote when I could and where I could. If I worked in the afternoon, then I tried to write in the morning. If I worked in the morning, then I tried to find some writing time in the evening. The problem with that was, it was often difficult to write every day. Some days got filled up with other things, and I would feel guilty because I hadn’t put in my daily allotment of words. I let myself get stressed out about not writing, to the point that sometimes when I was out spending time with my wife, I’d feel guilty that I wasn’t at home working on some story or other.

And trust me when I say that, while writing every day is a good practice, when writing starts to feel like more like a duty than an oportunity, there’s a problem.

But in the last couple of months I’ve finally found an anchor, a constant place in my day that I can schedule myself time to write in.

See, working for Walmart may not be the greatest job in the world, but one thing I can say for them is that they give you a lot of time to eat. If you work eight hours a day then your mid-shift lunch break is an entire hour. And I don’t know about you folks, but it does not take me an entire hour to eat a sandwich, some chips and a cup of yogurt. Of course for the last seven years that time has been there, and often-times I would do some writing once I was done eating. But I never made it my habit. Some days I would write, some days I would read a book, some days I would wander around the store aimlessly listening to music.

But when I started writing Sons of the Damned, I started dedicating my lunch breaks to writing that story, and after a while something clicked in my head. I had never realized how liberating it could be to say to myself, “This is the time I’m setting apart to write, and whatever I get done in that time is what I’m going to get done for the day.” No longer did I have to feel guilty that I was wasting time while watching a movie with my wife or reading a book. I knew when I was going to write, and possibly more importantly, I knew when I was going to stop.

That doesn’t mean I completely restrict myself to writing during that time and nowhere else. Last night I was taking the dog out for his constitutional at four in the morning, and a fragment of a short story came to me that I felt I had to write down then and there. This very blog post is being written in the morning hours I have before I have to go to work. But the only time I have to write is on my lunch break.

If you don’t have a writing routine, I encourage you to try and find one. Maybe your day is chaotic like mine, but I’d be willing to bet that most of you can find a time you can commit to every day. Try this: make a contract with yourself. Say, “Self, you will write from time x to time y every day. You may not write very much. What you write may not be very good. But you WILL work on this project for the time allotted.”

Don’t let the hole in your brain stop you. Experience for yourself the benefits of making writing a habit. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes.

Retail Rant #3: Morons and Misconceptions

I’m fascinated with misinformation. Specifically, I’m fascinated with the concept of misinformation spread over large groups of people. I want to know how it is that people start believe that glass is really a slow moving liquid, or how everyone simultaneous decided to adopt the same set of incorrect rules for the game of Monopoly?

But some misconceptions are quite literally the bane of my existence. Wait, maybe not literally. What exactly is a “bane” anyway? Whatever.

I’m talking about misconceptions I run up against every day in my wonderful retail job. They’ve been frustrating more for years and today I’m gonna dump all that frustration out into your eager upturned mouths.

Thus follows, the three worst misconceptions I’ve seen in retail.

1. A Bag Constitutes a Proof of Purchase

Here’s the scenario. A customer comes up to the checkout with a pack of fishing hooks. I ring the customer up, he gives me the money, all seems right with the world. Until I ask this one vital question: “Do you want those in a bag?”

Now before we proceed, let me make one thing perfectly clear. We’re talking about a pack of five fishing hooks.  This is not a bulky item. This is not an expensive item. There is no reason why you should need a bag for this one single tiny item.

But invariably the customer will answer back with this phrase: “Yeah, you better. I don’t want to get caught going out the door.”

I repeat. That. Exact. Phrase.

Here is what I would like to say to everyone who uses that phrase: Are you a moron? Are you insane? ‘Get caught going out the door’? Get caught doing what exactly? Leaving with the item that you paid for? Good God, no, not that! What if your neighbor saw? What if your kids found out? Can you imagine the damage to your good name if someone saw you leaving with YOUR OWN PROPERTY THAT YOU JUST PAID FOR NOT MORE THAN TEN SECONDS AGO!? The HORROR. Put the item in your pocket and walk away. If you get tackled by the people greeter with no legs, all you’ll have to do is disentangle yourself and show him your receipt. He’ll let you leave. Really. It’s that easy.

2. Any Open Box Contains a Defective Item

I tweeted this one a few nights ago, but it bears repeating. A woman came into my story to buy a deep freezer. So I went to the back and got a cart to carry it out on (I could carry it across my shoulders, but I don’t like to show off). When I got back with the cart she was looking at the deep freezers with a concerned expression on her face.

“I think this one has been opened,” she said, pointing to one of them. “It has some tape where someone closed it back up.”

“Well, we can get the other one if you prefer.”

“I think that one has been opened too.”

“Ma’am these are the only two freezers we have in this size. But I’m confident that they haven’t been damaged.”

“Can you open the box and check?”

She wasn’t joking. I checked.

And if frustrated me to no end. Because, come on, we’re talking about a deep freezer. Whether is has been opened before is completely immaterial. You’re going to open it when you get home and somehow, some way that deep freezer will survive the incredible stress of being taken all the way out of the box.

Trust me on this one. I know some deep freezers. They’re tough.

3. The Customer is Always Right

People say this to me on a regular basis and it has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. The customer is not always right.

When a customer comes up to me and tells me, “I’m looking for a box of frangible ammo. I know you have it, because my cousin came in here and bought some about a week ago,” that customer is wrong. Provably so.

When a customer comes up to me and tells me that President Obama wants to put a four hundred percent sales tax on all ammunition, that customer (and his six hundred friends who came up to me and said the exact same thing, even though the NRA clearly and completely debunked that rumor on their website) is wrong.

And when a customer tells me that Walmart’s competitive ad match policy applies to non-advertised prices on ammunition at other Walmarts, that person’s name is Captain Ron and he should be aware that I will fight him tooth and claw, bone and marrow, soul and spirit, until Doomsday if need be. The management may override my decision a hundred times, but when time number 101 rolls around, know that I will still oppose him even then.

Also, his hair is stupid.

That is all.

For now.

The Anachronism’s Survival Guide

Dear Theoretical Future Grandchildren,

A few weeks ago I wrote you a letter, bemoaning the fact that it was likely you would never set foot in a physical bookstore with physical books. Because from where I’m standing it sure looks like everything’s going electronic.

Back here in the past there’s a bookstore you’ll have never heard of called Border’s that’s just gone belly-up and a lot of people seem to think that this is a sign of things to come for every book store.

But I was thinking about it the other day, and it occurred to me that I might have gotten it wrong. You little dearies from the future might be reading my post to you from the past and thinking, “What a lark! Good old pop pop, and his ‘End of Physical Books’ nonsense.”

So I’m writing this to cover my bases. But also because, I really do see a possible future for physical books, if only some company is bold enough to seize it.

Let me explain by way of a seemingly unrelated tangent: I work for Walmart. I expect they’re still around in the future, but if not, they’re so big now that I’m sure you’ve at least heard of them.

And here’s the thing about Walmart: when they were spreading and growing a lot of people said that they would push a smaller locally owned stores out of existence. After all, none of those stores could compete with the mega low prices that Walmart had to offer. And indeed many local stores did go out of business after Walmart came to town.

But the other day I was standing inside a local hardware store called Hall’s Hardware just down the road from Walmart and they seem to be doing rather well for themselves. And as I looked around me I realized that the future of physical books might look a lot like Hall’s.

This is how Hall’s Hardware succeeds in a town that has not one, but two big box hardware stores.

Finnish civilian gas mask from 1939.

Image via Wikipedia

1. They have stuff you can’t find anywhere else.

This is a store that has gas masks. This is a store that has eighteenth century style manacles. And on top of the weird stuff, they’ve also got hard-to-find hardware items, kitchen utensils, pet supplies…you name it they’ve got it. And every day when customers can’t find something at my store I send them down the road with the phrase, “You know they’ve probably got that at Hall’s.”


2. They understand that shopping with them is about an experience.

This is a store that sells gas masks. Yeah, I know I said that already, but…really. Gas. Masks. How cool is that? They’ve got shelves and shelves full of oddities you never knew you needed until you walked past them. There are lots of times when I’ll go in there just to look. And their people? Don’t get me started on their people. Helpful, knowledgeable, friendly… they know who I am when I walk in the door (though to be fair that’s probably because I’m there ever other day). Just being there is a joy.

So what does all of this have to do with books, my theoretical future grandchildren? Simply this: if physical bookstores are going to survive the digital tidal-wave that’s rushing toward them, they’re going to have to learn these lessons too.

They won’t be able to fight the low prices online so they’re going to have to stock books that you never would have found on your own, books that make you stop and do a double-take. They’re going to have to foster the midlist and leave the bestsellers to the online giants.

And they’re going to have to realize that shopping in a physical bookstore isn’t merely about buying books. It’s about an experience.

Will they do these things? Only you can know, my theoretical future grandchildren. As for myself, I don’t intend to worry about it too much. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.

With all my love, your theoretical future grandfather,

Albert Berg

P.S. What did I say about calling me pop pop? For serious ya’ll.

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory

You know that thing people do when they get to the end of the year or they have a big anniversary or something, and they say, “Can you believe it’s been fifty years since we slayed the vacuum cleaner robot monster?”

I hate that.

Because seriously? Yes, I can believe it’s been however many years since whatever important event. I realize that it often seems like less time, but you know what? That’s because your brain is screwed up.

Don’t take offence, mine is screwed up too. It’s our memories really. They trick us. We think of them like snapshots or movies of the past, bits of information retained in our brains for years to come. But thing we fail to realize is this: we don’t remember what we don’t remember.

Those years that seem like they just flew by, that summer that was done before you knew it? Those times didn’t just zoom by like a speeding train. But you think they did. Because bits and pieces fall through the cracks. There are things that happened that you mind decided wasn’t worth saving, entire portions of your life that have simply been erased.

And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m glad. Because on the whole, my life has been boring. Six years I’ve worked at Walmart. Six years. You know how many details of that banal existence are actually worth storing?

Answer: not very many.

But some things I do remember. I remember the day my wife came to work as a cashier. She wasn’t my wife at the time of course, she was just some cute girl with a nice smile. And I walked up to her and said, “Hi, my name is Al. I work back in the Sporting Goods department.” And then I paid for my drink and went and read a book or something.

And later when she was on her break she came back to Sporting Goods looking for me. She said, “I wasn’t sure if you were telling the truth or if that was just some kind of pickup line.”

And I said, “What the heck kind of pickup line is, ‘I sell guns at Walmart’?”

And then we got married.

And really if you think about it, it’s good that your mind doesn’t keep all the boring stuff. Because what that faulty memory is doing, what it’s really doing is making your life into a story. And sometimes it’s not even a true story.

As a storyteller myself I can respect that. It may seem like a horrible loss to be shed of all those moments of your life, moments you’ll never get to experience again, but in the end it comes down to simple editing. So while I don’t have to remember hours and hours of trivialities, I will always be able to reach back and touch that childhood moment when I had been out playing in the streets of my neighborhood, and the summer sun had finally gone down and the street lights were coming on, and in that moment I felt… unbelievably happy.

Moments like that are worth saving, stories like that are worth telling myself over and over again. So to my brain, I say, “Bravo, brain. Bravo.”

If It Was a Snake…

In what has been described as a bizarre twist of fate, local hospitals have reported hundreds of incidents of snake bite victims in the past twenty-four hours.

“It started just after midnight,” said Dr. Malcolm Howell, the attending physician at Sacred Heart Hospital’s emergency room. “We thought the first couple of bites were just some strange fluke, but by the time morning came we understood that there was something much bigger going on.”

According to Howell as well as other authorities familiar with the cases, all of the incidents occurred  at local retail centers, though the link between these stores and the snakes is as yet unknown.

Deputy Howard Pickett with the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s office said, “We got them coming from Wal-Mart, Target, Dollar General, you name it. There just don’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.”

Management at all of the affected stores refused to comment, but one employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity, offered a firsthand account describing the bitings.

“This lady was looking for air conditioner filters. She came up and asked me where they were, and I pointed because they were literally right behind her, you know? And then she laughed and said…well she said ‘If it was a snake-‘ And then she was on the floor screaming and this strange looking silver snake was latched onto her arm.”

According to doctors the description of the snakes has been uniformly similar with most witnesses describing a silvery, almost metallic sheen over the snakes scales. So far experts have had no luck in determining the exact species of snake involved in the bitings.

“It’s as if they vanish into thin air,” Dr. Howell told us. “We don’t know what they are or what anti-venom to use. Luckily the bites don’t seem to be fatal but still…” He paused as one patient screamed in the background.

The earliest victims seem to finally be recovering from their wounds, and the rumor that the snakes have some sort of supernatural origin seems to be taking hold in their minds.

“People have been saying it for years,” said Penelope Angela one of the early victims of the strange snake bites. “They find something they’ve been looking for right under their nose, and they say…you know, they say ‘If it was a snake…’ I know it sounds silly, but now maybe it really is.”

Another story employee also speaking on the condition of anonymity commented on the rumor saying, “People have been saying that same stupid thing to me for years, and each one of them thinks they’re the funniest man alive when they say it. If I had a dime for every one of them I’d be rich. But this is almost as good.”

Doctors dismiss the strange explanation as nothing more than superstition, but they have no immediate explanation to counter it.

“Superstition or not,” Penelope Angela said, “From now on I’m gonna make sure I’m not right on top what I’m looking for before I ask for help. Until you’ve been bitten yourself you don’t know. It’s not worth the risk.”

Retail Rant #2: Stupid Answers To Stupid Questions

Once upon a time I heard someone say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”

To that person I say, “You have clearly never worked in retail. Because we get them all the time.”

The following list of questions are questions I have had to answer multiple times a day every working day for the past six years.

1. Do you work here?

No. I do not work here. I wear this navy blue shirt and these khaki pants to signify my solidarity with the mantis men of Sigma 7 and their struggle against the oppressive Clown Monster regime.

The name badge with my name on it and the word “Walmart” printed across the top is a fake that I ordered off of eBay. I’ve been walking around this department for eight hours a day five days a week straightening things and putting up freight over the course of the last six years just hoping I could fool someone into thinking I work here. Finally my patience has paid off! Muahahaha!

2. Do you have this item in the back?

Yes, as a matter of fact we do. See, somewhere around the mid-nineties Walmart decided that instead “selling things” and “making a profit” were for chumps and it would be much more interesting to hold items in the back of the store and not sell them to customers. Really we’ve never been out of an item in the history of the store. We just enjoy watching you be frustrated. Because that’s good business.

3. Can you hold this item for me?

Sure! Because the theoretical money you say you will pay me in the future is so much more valuable than the actual money the guy standing right in front of me wants to pay for it. It’s because of economics and stuff.

4. Will this item be going on sale?

Why yes it will. The home office will decide to mark it down by seventeen and a half percent on a week from Thursday. Also the stock market is going to crash again in June, and a guy named Vinny “Champ” Edwards is going to discover the secret to cold fusion and make the world into a wonderful utopia. Unfortunately, you won’t get to see it because you’re going to get hit by a bus two days before your thirty-eighth birthday. Bummer. But at least my psychic prediction will allow you to prepare for it.

5. When do you get trucks in?

On the third day after the blood moon four thousand eighteen wheelers will descend upon the store like a swarm of locusts. We ship in thousands of hobos from all over the country to help unload those trucks and when they are done we quietly slit their throats and feed their blood to the demon-god that lives in the drainage pound out back. We keep our enormous stockpile of merchandise in the back room until the next shipment comes in and then if we’re feeling generous we might let you buy some of it.

Once upon a time someone suggested that we should try a system where two or three trucks come in every night, but that person was fired for being a moron.


[To be clear, I really do believe that there is such a thing as a stupid question. This is my definition: a stupid question is one to which you could have worked out the answer for yourself with a minimal amount observation and reasoning. Some of the preceding are arguably not stupid questions by my definition. But I’m making fun of them anyway. Because I can.]