How a Waffle-Maker Almost Cost me my Job
Burning with the desire to meticulously arrange salt and pepper shakers on a rickety shelf, I got myself a job at Bed Bath and Beyond when I was in college. It was a good job. I liked it. I liked the people. I still fold my towels like a person who should be medicated. The only thing I planned to take with me from the retail world after graduation was a savant-style knowledge of China patterns. But then there was that whole derailing of the American economy thing and after only two good years in the “real world,” I found myself pounding the pavement yet again, dumbing down my resume and emphatically lying about my life-long goal of pleasing shoppers. If I ever have to utter the sentence: “I love customers, nothing brings me more joy than satisfying the needs of the consuming public,” it will be in a padded room… to a one-eyed teddy-bear… that’s actually a rat corpse.
As much as I would have rather undergone a series of marathon pap smears performed by highly caffeinated chimpanzees, I knew I had to return to retail. Naturally, I chose to go back to Bed Bath and Beyond since most of what I had learned there stuck well enough for me to point out the name of every BBB comforter and shower curtain that appeared in a movie or on TV.
That is how I found myself, three years later, sitting in a tiny upstairs office with a team of investigators, a pink slip, and a blossoming panic attack.
Note: All statements made about Bed Bath and Beyond are my opinion. This is an important statement as I am aware that my current district is reading what I write, so I repeat: Every utterance, written or otherwise mentioning Bed Bath and Beyond, its employees, actions, existence, physical locations, and dealings with underworld lords is my opinion. Please call off your minions. Thanks.
I worked at a Florida Bed Bath and Beyond for about two years in college. I made decent money and received regular raises and promotions. I knew the store operations inside and out. Aside from the elderly taking up all the good parking spaces with golf carts, and that lady with the perpetual hacking cough, I have very few complaints about this store. My quirky coworkers went on to be best friends, roommates, and fond memories of a time when a store manager could give you a bottle of fine Vermont maple syrup without being questioned about his sexual motives.
When I came back to the company in Texas only two years later, everything had changed. I started making a dollar less an hour than I started at my original store. After spending nearly three years, I never even made it back up to my starting wage at the original BBB. My first yearly raise was seven cents. This is worth pointing out because Bed Bath and Beyond prides itself on its service standards. Employees are pushed day in and day out to not stab people and with the amount of customers that feel like on-sale trash cans are just a wall of shiny toilets, that’s a big job. I was devastated that after all the schooling (and the money for schooling,) I was back at square one: working as an unskilled cashier who dabbled in urinal scrubbing for less money than I had ever made in my entire life.
I had two options:
- I could skate by doing the absolute minimum, being miserable, and maybe occasionally joining the guy who eats Plinks when no one is looking if I needed company at rock bottom.
- I could suck it up and still do the best job I could. I would try to work my way up in the company, get raises, and write about the people who urinate in their pants while buying coffee makers as I looked for something better.
I chose option number two but it didn’t work out the way I had planned. Bed Bath and Beyond didn’t want someone to try harder or do better. Bed Bath and Beyond wants mindless drones. I should have put two and two together when they would come up with acronyms to help us remember to do every mundane thing from helping customers to using the microwave. One time they actually made us pin a laminated piece of paper to our sleeves reminding us what a drapery panel was. This store wasn’t looking for someone who could actually tell the difference between a curtain and a housecat, they were looking for someone who would pin the paper to their sleeve. Maybe I understood that, deep down… maybe I didn’t. Either way, I mentally and physically cannot stoop to that level.
Regardless, I was never their ideal employee, but I tried. My God, I tried. I had the best bridal numbers, towering over the person below me (who was a manager) by over six thousand dollars. I sold the most “suggestive sale” items, which is the retail equivalent to suffering from jock itch and the flesh eating virus all at once. I outsold every single person by a long shot, every single time and it wasn’t because I enjoyed asking every customer if their home, boat, car, or pet was riddled with stinks. Picking up everyone’s shifts, I never called in and was the single most reliable individual on the planet. I once came in so closely following surgery that my stitches started bleeding. I took on every manager’s extra work. Most of the cashiers sold shower hooks and cleaned toilets. I sold shower hooks, cleaned toilets, ran bridal, took care of all the training and administration for the front-end, was the Shrink and Safety Captain, performed the product knowledge and safety classes, did all the ordering, merchandising, and cash balancing, and even took care of employee incentives. I was literally the go-to employee for every single thing in the entire store. I was never officially promoted. I never received more than pennies for raises. I spent three years working my butt off and going nowhere. It ended one sunny afternoon when I was asked, quite pleasantly, to join the store manager (let’s call him Professor Doorknob) upstairs.
As I climbed the stairs, I was flanked by our district manager (let’s call her Cruella) and the three of use crowded into an office with a small black and white television. Their moods became menacing and I started to sweat, my heart pounding, wondering what I could have possibly done and what was going to happen to me. Was I going to be stripped of my: “What’s a curtain?” paper?
Professor Doorknob, who was new to our store, put in a surveillance video of the service desk where I saw myself working with several others.
Like a criminal, I was asked to narrate to the supreme retail delegates what I was doing on the tape. I was condescendingly forced to say: “Here I am waiting on a customer. I’m getting her a bag. She didn’t want a bag. I’m putting the bag back,” until they paused it and made me watch, over and over again, a barely visible arm gesture. They kept repeating it demanding to know what I had done and I thought I was in a nightmare, kidnapped in Bangkok and about to lose an eye.
My mind was racing… did I have an out-of-body experience where I had stolen money? Was I shoving money in my pocket? My hand was in my pocket. I would never steal money! Did I take something else? Oh God, did I take a pen? They love their pens! They have acronyms about the pens! I could not for the life of me tell what I was looking at myself doing and my knees were starting to knock together. Cruella, the district empress of evil, was dismayed at my obvious stupidity and yanked a printed page from a concealed binder and slammed it onto the table:
“Well, maybe you’ll remember this!”
I remembered that. Nearly a month earlier a customer had returned a waffle maker, pretty standard stuff except for the fact that this person’s waffles were still in it. I found it funny and my phone, which was tucked in my pocket on silent—like every single other person there, (including managers,) was revealed as I quickly snapped a picture.
My mouth was utterly dry. I confessed I had taken the photo and I have no idea what was said after that because my brain was reeling around question after question. How did they get a picture from my phone? How did they ever notice that—even if someone sat and watched the tapes all day, it was such a miniscule gesture! The answers to these questions would become more evident later, but for now, I was being read my rights. There were forms to be signed.
Now the tears that had been building up were spilling down my cheeks as I was written up for the first time ever in my life. Relief washed over me as I had been fairly certain by the intensity of the last half hour’s events that I was no longer employed. The relief was short-lived, though, and settling in its place was a sick feeling that I had done something terrible: like the hours that follow eating Burger King onion rings.
The more I thought about it, the more angry I became. I knew by now, that they had taken the photo off my facebook page where I had posted it and forgotten about it, a month earlier. I started getting more and more facts about what had actually happened and it was utterly disgusting. It was becoming clear that this was a personal attack on me, and only me, for these reasons:
- My picture was buried in a random photo album. It did not say Bed Bath and Beyond anywhere on it or in the caption, nor did it even say that I worked there on my profile. Frankly, I wasn’t proud of selling duvet clips with a bachelor’s degree, go figure. There wasn’t even a shred of background visible.
- Many of my coworkers had pictures from work, taken during work hours on their facebooks, as well
- One of my coworkers, a full-time employee displayed as his main image an inappropriate pose with some of the stores merchandise; While on the clock
- One of my managers was constantly posting about how much he hated his job and the people who shop there. It DOES say on his profile where he works.
- Another employee was promoted to management and has several photos of himself and coworkers in the stock room with the store name clearly displayed on packages behind him.
I saved all of these pictures, but in the end I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt and I kept them to myself.
I couldn’t help but feel like Professor Doorknob was trying to send a message with his big “bust” on my facebook indiscretion. He wanted the staff to feel like anyone was vulnerable to being fired if I could be.
Ahhh, but I wasn’t fired, was I.
The plot thickens.
Remember when I said I had surgery and came back early to work? Well, while I was gone, they had apparently handed out a form for all the employees to sign stating that we would never, ever, as long as we live post anything negative about Bed Bath and Beyond on a social network site (or mention them in blogs, etc.)
Well, I never signed this. I was in the hospital. (Not to mention, no one could have any idea that Bed Bath and Beyond was involved in that photo in any way, shape, or form.)
About ten minutes before they were going to make a public execution of my employment status, it was discovered that this key document was missing from my file. Human Resources informed management that, while they were free to write me up and keep an extra watchful/critical eye on me, firing someone at that point would raise some legal flags.
I know this because a friend of mine overheard the phone conversation from the Human Resources end.
I started thinking about why and how they came across that picture in the first place. My facebook page is private. Did one of my coworkers… one of my friends show them? I started asking around because if there is one thing that BBB employees are really good at, it’s gossiping. I tracked the source of my problem to a young girl who had just started working for us. She was Cruella’s step-daughter and had been hired, not out of the goodness of Cruella’s heart, but out of the evil blackness that sits in her chest cavity where a heart should go. Step-daughter, M. was a sweet girl and just wanted to fit in with her new coworkers but naturally she seemed like a good person to blame.
Only M. never showed Cruella a thing.
I did find out that M. was asked to show my page and she refused. Thwarted, Cruella went to one of the managers who I thought had been close friends with me. (We’ll call him Bozo.) She made it clear to Bozo that if he didn’t show her my facebook page, she would assume we had something to hide (strongly implying that there was some sort of romantic fraternization between us, despite the fact that we are both married: An outrage for another day.) When faced with this situation, Bozo caved and logged in to facebook and let her peruse everything about me. She looked at all my private information and photos that should only be available to friends and family of my choosing. Then, she used it against me and nearly cost me my job.
When I confronted ol’ Bozo, he confessed everything and despondently said that he understood if I wouldn’t forgive him. He admitted to feeling despicable. Whether he truly was sorry, I’ll never know, but neither of us work there anymore, so who cares.
I kept going back to the same question: WHY?
The only answer I can come up with is that I would have been an incredible example of the “take-no-shit” attitude Professor Doorknob wanted to portray. He wanted us all quivering in our cheap tennis shoes that we could lose our barely minimum wage job at a moment’s notice. When he isn’t making puppies weep, he’s in his office watching security videos and practicing hours and hours of nut-flexing aerobics.
He was true to his word. He kept his eye on me. He was relentless in his assessment of my mood while on the sales floor. He questioned my every action. I was the only full-time employee who didn’t receive the “guaranteed” hours in a pay week.
I was miserable.
I wish I could say I quit in a blaze of glory, but that’s not who I am. My time at Bed Bath and Beyond ended neither with me quitting, nor getting fired. Instead, Husband got in the car, drove up to work and calmly and professionally told Professor Doorknob to consider that moment my two weeks’ notice.
I worked every day of my two weeks.
I had the highest sales numbers by more than double the person behind me on my last day. I took the high road when I left.
And what of Bed Bath and Beyond?
Oh, it’s still there, despite my desire to see it smited by the hand of God. Most of the people I worked with only months ago are gone now. These are people that had been there for years. Only a year earlier our store had been awarded “lowest turnover.” That’s all changed.
M. still refused to cooperate when asked to spy on employees or show personal information and she was removed from that store. We are still friends and I pity her having to share a household with her step-mom. I’m sure it’s really awkward to walk in on her hanging upside down speaking in tongues at night.
Professor Doorknob is still leading his reign of muscle-milk fueled terror, but I avoid going in there at all costs.
Cruella still has no reflection when she passes mirrors.
Bozo, who turned over my page to the enemy, has left the store. I’m glad because he had been given empty promises of promotion for the entire time I knew him.
The waffle maker is in a landfill. It has no idea what a big role it played in my “career” at Bed Bath and Beyond. Thank God I wasn’t fired. How would I explain to future employers that I spent nearly five years at a company and got fired over a burnt waffle?
P.S. Did I mention that when I left, I was the new-hire trainer…. and I made less than the people I was training?