Friday, October 12, 2007

Red Dot Country Store Confusion

I like Target. I really do. Sure, it may have union issues (just quieter than Wal-Mart), and it is putting "Mom and Pop" shops out of business, but there's just something nice about being able to get everything under one roof.

Need groceries? You can get them.

Need baby clothes? Just a couple aisles over.

Need an air mattress for that cousin coming to stay with you? Right this way.

It's wonderful and horrible at the same time. You can get everything you want, but it also makes you become dependant...and slightly angry when the materials you want aren't there.

There is another issue, however, that seems to occur to me all the time: People think I work in the store.

You see the school I work at has red as one of its colors. The first Tuesday of October, as part of Homecoming Week's "Jersey Day", I wore a red shirt underneath a red Minnesota Wild Jersey. My wife, son, and I needed to head to Target to pick up some groceries (diapers, bubble bath, etc...I like a clean kid...moving on). I took the jersey off and sported a nice, red polo shirt and khaki pants. This is otherwise known as the Target Uniform.

I knew it from the second I walked in to the store. Eyes immediately turned to me as if to try and figure out what I could do to help them.

I turned to my wife.

"I have to take off my shirt."

"What are you talking about," she replied.

"I'm wearing khakis and a red shirt. I can't lose the pants so I need to lose the shirt," I said and began to take the polo off.

"Leave it on." She was on the edge of being mortified as her husband was stripping in the middle of the store. "No one will bug you. Just LEAVE it ON!"

And as soon as the final syllable has left my wife's lips, the first questions start.

"Where do you guys keep the shampoo?" an older woman asks me.

"I don't work here," I replied. A second passes as her face let's this sink in.

"Oh...sorry. You just you work here."

"I know. Sorry...and shampoo is right there by the sign that says 'Shampoo', ma'am."

This woman shuffles off, but still others are starting to make way toward my wife, son, and I. My instincts tell me to get away, so I step on to the cart, push hard with the other foot, and begin gliding away. Imagine a two hundred pound man squealing like a small child as he flies past children's clothes.
You're probably smiling. My wife was not.

Throughout the next half an hour (who knew shopping took so long?), I was pulled aside many times for help. However, three of the times were by employees, which was fascinating and funny.

Employee 1: She pulled me aside to ask me, "Why aren't you wearing you're radio? It's a team job, you know?"
I smiled politely and said, "I don't work here."
She shook her head. "I've heard that before. Go to the back and get the hand cart."
I held up my hands. "No, I really don't work here. Look." And I reached into my pocket and produced my school badge to prove I was a teacher.
"Oh," she said, " you want a job here?"

Employee 2: My wife is looking at Halloween costumes for my son. (FYI: He will be a dinosaur this year. Yes, I will post a photo.) I feel a hand on my arm and suddenly I'm spun around by this guy.
"Where are you supposed to be?" Number Two asks obviously annoyed.
"I don't work here. I'm actually a shopper."
This news sinks in for a minute.
"Can I see your id?"
"Why?" I ask.
"Verification," he replies.
I show him my school ID. He takes it, picks up his radio, and calls someone.
"Yeah, Jerry. Do we have a 'Leab' on staff?"
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"Making sure," he gruffs.
My wife rolls her eyes and says, "You had to wear red?"
The radio squelches. "There's no 'Leab' on staff."
A moment of silence as Number Two and I lock eyes.
"My ID, please," I say while pointing at the badge.
"Sorry, just had to make sure," Number Two says. He starts to turn and then adds, "In the future, sir, you shouldn't wear red in the store."

Employee 3: It's checkout time, and the Leab family is scanning its purchases. The gal behind the counter is quite jovial and is laughing at my jokes about the weather and such. She even guffaws when I pull out my signature line (not sharing that won't laugh when you see me). As we finish ringing up, she hits all these buttons on the register and goes through screens I've never seen before. After a few seconds she says, "Your number?"
As I'm still in "smart-ass" mode, I say, "eight."
She punches in eight. "And the rest," she says.
"Oh you were serious," I say. "Numbers for what?"
"You're employee discount number," she says.

A moment passes in which a scene from My Blue Heaven plays in my head. Steve Martin's character (Vinnie) is supposed to give Rick Moranis' character (Barney) a social security number. He starts giving random numbers until Barney says, "Wait. That's too many numbers," and Vinnie replies: "Take off the 5."
I wondered if I could give numbers until she told me I had too many.

Of course I didn't even try. My wife and I laughed almost simultaneously. "He doesn't work here," my wife said.
"Oh," Number Three says. "It's just the red shirt and khakis. No one outside of Target employees usually wears...that."

This leads to one of the more interesting issues of our world. Regardless of the advice of NOT judging a book by its cover, we find it so much easier to truly look at someone and say, "I know you."
I'm guilty of it on certain levels. The way a kid dresses can tell me a lot about the group they hang out with on a regular basis, the kind of mindset he or she probably has, and how I should talk to him or her.
Kid wears all black, a Pantera shirt, and has tousled hair. Metal head. Will play video games and act weird for the hopes of attention.
Kid wears expensive name brands, is eager to announce his or her use of money, and plays a high profile sport. This kid wants the name recognition and is very competitive.

I could go on and on. Remember, I can read people, for better or worse, but we, as human beings, are about slight and quick judgements.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression we've been told. Why are first impressions so important? Because more often than not that's how we figure out what we will think.
I walk around Target in a red shirt and khakis, and the assumption is (and in some ways MUST BE) I work there. We are trained to see it, but we also make the leap.
Each of the employees I talked to only talked to me for a short time, but I can look at each of the three conversations and come up with a first impression.

1. Tired of dealing with lazy colleagues.
2. Unhappy and angry.
3. Good natured, but annoyed at ignorance/idiocy.

We would love, as human beings, to believe that we don't snap judge, but it's a way of life. It's why people are afraid to be near other people in dark alleys, why we avoid homeless folks, why we gravitate toward trusting good-looking people, and why we tend to move away from those we deem unattractive. This is why newscasters are supposed to be good-looking. We trust them from our snap judgements.

It's why teachers will wear suits on the first days...and why we aren't supposed to smile.

Then again what do I know? As a first impression, the adjective most likely to describe Leab is crazy. I could be wrong.