Thursday, February 3, 2011

Retail Wars [COMPACTED]

There is a rumor going around that people can change. I don’t buy into this. I think habits can be altered, I believe that people grow up, but the innate characteristics that define an individual have always been, and will always be imbedded deeply in each decision they make, invariably.

My older brother will always try to fix things rather than buy new ones. He will also always take something entirely apart, regardless of whether or not he is confident he knows how to put it back together. My mother will always strike up personal conversations with strangers, even if we’re in a hurry. She can’t help it. Consequentially, falling under the category of a learned behavior, now I can’t either.  

And I, no matter what the device or circumstance in which I have been put into contact with it, will never be able to successfully operate heavy machinery.

In eighth grade, everyone in my year was required to take an aptitude test. When we got our results back, mine was heavily in favor of a creative career path. Music and arts, maybe technology. So if ‘successful’ can be defined by how on par I am with that write up, then my hours logged on the internet should deem me the most successful 23 year old to ever have lived. However, the most interesting part of my test results was in bold print, down at the very bottom of the page.

Due to remarkably low scores in the spatial relations portion, this candidate should not pursue the operation of heavy machinery.

Now, I was inclined to roll my eyes and remark the ridiculousness behind the notion of unfolding hole-punched pieces of paper in my mind as an end-all answer to my ability to judge relative distance. And yet, I am who I am. Constantly slamming my hands into tables and counters, racking my knee on the edge of the footboard and taking turns around corners too sharply, resulting in a collision of shoulder and doorframe.

Then there was the time I crashed my uncle’s motorcycle into my other uncle’s house.

What I’m trying to say is, the signs are there. The test put it in bold print. If a girl can’t imagine where the stupid holes are in the folded square of paper when you unfold it, she should not be your go-to with something that could crush an Excursion into a tiny little Wall-E sized square.

So when the receiving manager sends me out with a trash bin full of cardboard to the trash compactor, maybe I should have reminded myself about that blurb at the bottom of my aptitude results. But I didn’t.

Maybe I should have prefaced the assignment with, “I’ve never used a trash compactor before.” But I didn’t.

And maybe I should have considered my uncanny ability to break large objects by simply being exactly who I am. But I didn’t.

Rather, I wanted to be the confident, capable employee I worked so hard to pretend to be during the interview process. And in my defense, I never actually lied. He never asked if I was comfortable with this task, nor did he inquire about my previous experience with compacting things. To this day, I don’t think he would have cared. No, assigning a trash run to the new girl simply meant that he wasn’t going to have to go outside in the cold and do it.

It took me about 10 minutes to navigate my way through the service halls of the shopping complex. Being an “authorized personnel,” which doesn’t mean much more than ‘walks with disgruntled intent’, doesn’t automatically give you a sense of direction. And the halls look the same. Really long, cold, and a perfect place to get murdered. Had it not been 10 in the morning, I probably would have assumed homicide to be inevitable.

But after I ran the trash bin into a parked UPS truck for the second time in the loading zone, because on top of my stellar sense of direction, I’m a great full trash can driver, I finally found a really big machine with a door that said “COMPACTOR.” Now, I might not have scored off the charts on the logic part of the aptitude test either, but I could deduce this much. Chalk to up to a life skill. Stuff that says “compactor” probably compacts stuff. It’s like “toaster.Or mircrowave…er. Okay, that one doesn’t work.

So here I am. And I’m a girl, so I read the instructions on the door. The door that was broken and wouldn’t stay shut, which made following number 7, the rule that textually yelled, MAKE SURE DOOR IS COMPLETELY CLOSED TO PREVENT BODILY HARM, very difficult.

The device had four buttons. A green one that said “forward.” A red one that said “reverse.” A bigger red one that said “Emergency Stop” and a black one that had its label rubbed off. I made a mental note that if the machine started to smoke, I’d just throw caution to the wind and hit the black one. Maybe what it used to say was “anti catch-fire setting.” However, the implied usage of this feature was just one more thing to make me very uncomfortable.

So I open the door and start throwing cardboard in. Fifty plus boxes later, the free space in the compactor is full, and it’s button-pushing time. I go with green.  It starts up, I take several steps back, my arms glued to my sides, and a little bit I’m holding my breath. Everything is going okay, until the machine starts making this vibrating, grinding sound. And then the boxes that had been progressing forward, began to move in the opposite direction.

Holy crap.

My heart is currently residing in my throat, as I look around to see if anyone else is around to notice this sound. I figured if they were, but didn’t think anything of it, then I was all good. It doesn’t sound like a good sound, and then again, I’m instantly reminded that I have no freaking clue what it sounds like when trash is being compacted correctly. The boxes are moving in the wrong direction, this I’m sure. So I panic and hit the bigger red button, all the while saying, “EMERGENCY STOP!” to myself. The machine stops. Thank God at least that one was labeled.

At this point I am just staring at the machine. I still have half a trash can of boxes left, and I can’t just go back with them and be like, “Eh, changed my mind!” But now visions of a broken trash compactor are dancing through my brain, and I’m weighing my options.

I could ditch the remaining cardboard in the big dumpster and walk away. I could pretend I was never there. I could let the next low-level employee think she or he broke it. There’s no way I’d get caught.

Except that all the boxes on top of the freshly broken shopping complex trash compactor are all labeled with my company’s name.


That idea is out. So okay, now I just have to fix it. I’m handy. I fixed the squeak in my office chair the other day. I fixed my friends computer. I can fix…a trash compactor. Oh wait. No. No I can’t. I don’t even know what the black button really does.

Maybe the black button is the “fix trash compactor” button.

All this time I’m just standing in front of the door to the compactor, staring at the traitorous boxes. “Why can’t you just work? Why me? Why do you have to break on me?” Yes, I’m trying to evoke sympathy from the machine. And I’m getting nothing.

At this point, I have to just make a decision. Do I go back, admit defeat and get fired? Do I call mall maintenance and try to get it fixed without my boss knowing? Does my big brother know how to fix a trash compactor? Cause I could call him. Finally I just hit the green button again. Because what are the chances that I’ve really broken this machine? Honestly. Like 50-50. So I am really holding my breath this time, and the machine is still making the grinding sound and the boxes are still moving in reverse, but maybe that’s just how trash compacts? I have no idea either way. It looks wrong, but then again, anything outside of a computer screen looks weird to me.

And then, all the boxes fall to the bottom of the compactor and there’s room. And the machine shuts itself off. No black button necessary. So I take a few hesitant steps up and peek over the edge of the door. It seems there’s a big blocky thing that pushes forward all the boxes, and the ones that don’t fit accordion upwards as the blocky thing retreats. And then you put more boxes in, and it does the whole thing again. Forward, then reverse. Blocky thing. I now understand the trash compactor. It’s a Christmas miracle.

So I throw the rest of the boxes in there, and since they didn’t fill up the open space, I just left them. Because I know better than to push my luck. And I know better than to push any more buttons.

And now I just do my best to never be around when it’s time for a trash run.

And also, it smells really bad over there.