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Novel Excerpt: Retail Hell

Photo credit: Nicholas Eckhart on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: Nicholas Eckhart on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

An Excerpt From My Novel… A Satire Of The Retail, Corporate And Political World Of The 2000s

Eric’s voice was an ecstatic, high-pitched spew of memorized corporate propaganda, insistent on its own singular power as a device of motivation, of galvanizing the masses into a frenzied orgy of driving sales.

He was enraptured, the conference call his sermon, all the attending stores his silent congregation as the voice of our Regional Vice President interrupted to praise, and we, this trio of management seated in the store office, awaited the arrival of angels.

“How many years have you worked for this company?” Mike asked, leaning back in his chair, leering through the one-way glass window at our newly hired cashier, Courtney.

“Well, all through college, years after college, aaannndddd I’d rather not think about it…” I laughed.

“Six, seven?”


“And I bet you never heard an ass sucking piece of shit like this before, uh?”

Our general manager, Mack, a curmudgeon lifer of 401k, stock options and an idealist of Corporate security and advancement, grumbled at our cynical nature. According to Mack, Eric was not a troll with a halo of fluffy hair who resembled a loner of the laserdisc era, as Mike and I portrayed him to be, but an ambitious, exuberant thirty-something destined for the long golden path of CEO.

“Oh, yeah, he’s a real humble motherfucker, Mack.” Mike snorted, his hand gripped and shaking back and forth, mimicking masturbation.

“Ungrateful, fucks,” Mack huffed, an imperious crossing of his arms.

Mack and store team 2778, the intercom burst with the spirit of Eric, What have you and your team been doing the last few weeks to get your guys excited out on the floor?

We stared at each other, Mack spitting a black, cancerous clot of chewing tobacco into the garbage can as he un-muted the phone. “Driving sales, Eric. Mike has been out their like a football coach, as you can see by the report…”

Well, Mack, looking at the last few weeks, your coach really needs to be out there more, maybe even put the pads on himself, because your team has really dropped the ball as your extended warranties are horrendous really bringing downtheregionandjeopardizingthefantasticworkallofus…

Mike reached over the desk, his finger plunging to the RELEASE button on the telephone, only to have Mack swat him away.

“As you can see, Eric, as of today, we are settling into a strong week, sales wise and Mike has instituted a new sales culture…uh, so, with renewed rigor…”

Mike stared at me, his lips sneeringly miming ‘renewed rigor.’

“I expect all of us to contribute to the strong growth of this fiscal year.” Mack with a triumphant smile, pressed the MUTE button.

Mike began a sarcastic clap, head bowing to the magnificent speech of our general manager.

“Bravo, Mack.” My hands following in hollow applause.

The store’s overhead speakers blared with the voice of our flustered, young cashier as she pleaded for assistance, the entire register area inundated with customers. 

“Cattle going through the chutes to be slaughtered.” Mike counted the customers, another worker in a red polo immediately commanding a register to accept the credit cards of ever increasing debt. “Jesuschrist, where the fuck do we work, Scum-Mart? Look at these people. What stone was turned over to unleash this upon us?”

“Hey, these days, everybody is just tryin’ to make it through…” I tossed a pile of corporate printouts onto the desk, the gibberish of Excel numbing my eyes and mind.

“I’m going to fire both of you,” Mack mumbled, exiting the office for his daily stroll through the store. “And clean this dump up, Rey is visiting today.”

Mack’s appearance was like an emperor emerging from his gilded temple to wander among the village peasants. Mack would instruct and harangue, grumbling and pointing, declaring all of them, whose names he only knew from the tags attached to their red polo’s, to be douche bags, and incompetent, incomprehensible fuck twits.

Who taught you to do it like that? Mack’s bitter tongue lashed.

Uh, we’ve always done it like this… Grant, a ten-year veteran of the store, dismissed Mack by turning and walking down the aisle to continue his work.

Don’t you fucking do that to me again, Grant. Mack shouted, shoulders bulging like an insulted Marine drill sergeant.

The other associates smirked and snorted, shaking their heads.

What are you douche bags laughing at?

Go back into your office, Mack. We know what we are doing…

Mack had long abdicated authority and discipline to an ever-revolving assortment of assistant managers, these bobble-headed disciples of his corporate conformist principles whose legacy was felt everyday clogging the email inbox with intricately created Excel spreadsheets that calculated all oddities of numbers relating to budgets, payroll, p&l and whatever else would endear them to those in the suits and BMWs. 

Assistant Manager to Mack had long been considered an honored position, a singular opportunity to be mentored by the most revered Store Manager in the company’s history, devoting yourself to sixty, seventy, hell, eighty hour work weeks, because according to the doctrines of Mack, this would guarantee your salaried soul’s accession to the Corporate Office Afterlife…

‘After a week of that shit, I told Mack to fuck off…’ I remember Mike laughing. ‘I wasn’t  attending his church anymore.”

Somehow, Mike executed a coup: bribing and manipulating a legion of longtime department leads, all loyal appointees of Mack, to begin a campaign of union organization, which of course enraged our boss, who, with HR approval, quickly dismissed those senior associates… A long time, middle aged cashier had been nudged-nudged into a long, unburdening confession to HR that she was involved in an ongoing, six year tryst (as the report stated) with Mack every morning when they jointly opened the store.. Oh, and that file folder of printouts that could, possibly, indicted Mack of initiating “corrective adjustments” to employee timecards to avoid over-time…

‘I extorted the fucker to pay me an extra two hundred a week cash to shred those…’ Mike laughed. ‘Also, I have a flash drive filled with salaciously TMZ incriminating photos.’

Mike had been indicted as a dissenter, a distasteful backstabber and blackmailer by other managers, someone who had acquired his stature only by compiling a damning dossier about one of the company’s deities. 

But, there was no tension between Mike and Mack, rather it was a frayed affinity, proud yet leery, like a father humbled by the son who used the same tricks of his father’s youth.


I remember the rumor: the lone booth at the Chinese Buffet restaurant that adjoined our store, was reserved.

‘So?’ I had asked.

‘It means someone is being admitted to the management training program… It’s like Mack’s little traditional, I dunno, ceremony-like thing he does.’

My name boomed from the store’s overhead speakers, summoning me to the manager’s office.

‘It’s you, man, they’re promoting you.’

A few minutes later, Mack escorted me from the store and into the Chinese Buffet, where I was directed to that sacred corner booth. On the table was that much envied black executive folder with its luxurious gloss and embossed red lettering of Management Trainee Program.

‘The fuckwits, those in the management training program, awaiting their chance, are just that…fuckwits. They’re like the shit that clogs your tub drain. You have a real chance of surviving,’ Mack pronounced as he smushed rice with his dining fork.

A year later, after a Corporate mandate of torrential firings to ensure financial stability and continued bonuses for Corporate board members, I was selected for promotion to Assistant Manager.

‘A salvation of salaried servitude…’ Mike laughed.

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