I’m standing in line for Register 3 with a 24-pound bag of dog food slung across my hip like a cranky toddler. I’m in the throes of a polyester sweat sesh but my hair is down and my edges are frizzing — after a nine hour shift I’m working off a major ponytail headache. My jacket is twisted through the straps of my purse; my name tag dangles off the side. The KT Tape running from my collarbone down to my waistband itches every time my bra rides up but my back no longer feels like a broken window pane. Worth it.
My hands are wrecked. Between the constant cold-damp of the cooler and the unmatched soreness from ripping open, then flattening, thousands of cardboard boxes … ravaged. The backs of my hands are bruised from bashing into the shelves and my palms are chapped and chaffing. My right thumb tip is superglued together and mummified with rock climbing tape. (I cackled when the manager suggested a mere mortal’s Band-Aid.) Every cuticle is missing. Each nail is cracked or torn away. Two nights ago I brushed on some nail hardener in a failed attempt to reinforce what’s left. The contrast between this high-shine polish and my nubs is comical but I’m not laughing.
I’ve shouldered the bag of dog food — the plasticky coating is making me hot. Despite my spasmodic bicep pose I don’t feel like Rosie the Riveter. I don’t feel strong or accomplished and I certainly do not feel pretty.
If I’m honest, I haven’t felt pretty since I was fired.
I know, somewhere in the cacophony of my brain, that achievement is not tied to perceived attractiveness … and so, what? Sure, no outfit can give me skills I haven’t worked to develop — but walking into a room with style, wearing colors and patterns that pop; it’s an underestimated power trip that can trigger self-esteem and help me speak confidently on topics that I love.
I miss feeling pretty.
This was supposed to be simple. Work a few hours each week and earn some carry-over cash between freelancing. All too often we mistake simplicity for a lack of complexity. On paper it sounds obvious, “If it doesn’t look hard then it must be easy.”
No matter what job you do, when comparing “work tasks” to the actual work performed — do not mistake simple for easy.
Since Memorial Day, on which I worked, I’ve learned how to order over 1,000 crates of eggs. It’s simple — scan the shelf tag, compare what’s in the back vs what’s on the shelf, update the number (in increments of 9 or 15 dozen) in “the system”. Approximately 10,224 eggs from 8 different brands will show up next Monday.
I’ve learned how to reduce the price on short-date products. That’s simple, too. Look at the date, scan the tag, select a discount from 10-40% in “the system”, print new barcodes, restock the product.
I’ve learned how to generate a list of every item with an expiration date in the month of June. It’s a very simple time suck. (Spoiler alert: I scan every. single. item. in the dairy department and enter the date by hand — “the system” orders it numerically and prints out a list). The hard part is remembering to put that list on the clipboard before I clock out.
I’ve also learned how to order an entire truck of milk, cheese, coffee creamer, yogurt and other cultured products, canned biscuits, and cookie dough. Scan the tags, look at the stock, increase or decrease the quantity, and “the system” sends it from the warehouse the following morning.
The whole job is simple. Unpack the boxes, put the stuff on the shelves, stay organized; ignore the rude people, say hello to the nice people; don’t get hypothermia, find small ways to thwart the well-meaning managers; scan the tags. Repeat, 40 hours a week, at $7.65 an hour after taxes.
The other day, I wore my husband’s running watch just to check my steps. I had a little extra coffee before I left and hoped to hit two or three miles, maybe.
… not even close.
Half of the day is missing because I accidentally turned the watch off when I bashed my wrist, again, on a shelf. (I don’t know how to operate the sub-functions and somehow triggered sleep mode.) In four and a half hours, it tracked:
• 113 bpm average heart rate with a high of 157 bpm
• 1,534 active calories burned
• 13.02 miles walked
That was one half of one day in a six-day streak.
Sure the job is simple. Now, try telling me that shit is easy.
I’m tired, hot and sore, and the man six feet in front of me is paying with exact change which he does not have. He’s gone to his car to get it — I am emotionally entangled in my contraband earbuds and the nine hours of drum and bass filling my brain. My ankles are swollen and my feet are tight in these knock-off Vans. My pants are smeared with black cake frosting, a busted container of cottage cheese, and several broken eggs. This dog food is getting heavy.
Here, no matter how pro I am at the “J.Crew scrunch cuff” (0.8 seconds per leg) or how ’90s rom-com this Dollar General claw clip is, I do not feel pretty. The khakis-and-polo routine zaps any creative energy I may have had for the day. I haven’t worn earrings (or my other rings except my wedding band which I have to hide in a glove) for three months. The only makeup I wear is a swipe of mascara and a heavy hand of under-eye concealer. I’m getting more sleep than ever and yet I am absolutely exhausted.
No matter what the uniform looks like, or how many days in a row I have to wear it, I am immensely grateful that we can afford the resources to wash those clothes after every single shift. Wearing that uniform helps me know that there will always be hot water for a long shower, electricity and food to cook a warm meal, and plenty of digital distractions to help me unwind after work.
I miss feeling pretty.
Standing in line at Register 3, I’m proud of the way I look — busted nails, sweaty hair and all.