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14 December 2010

Santaland Diaries (and Other Holiday Job Tales) part 1, 2, 3, 4. Have you ever taken a job just for the holidays? Tales and horror stories welcome inside.
Late 80s: Worked at The Gap for two holiday seasons. I still fold the way they taught me; the worst assignment was having to fold the Sweats Wall. Remember the Sweats Wall? Remember when Gap Sweats were cool and you needed matching sets? Benefits of my time there were minimal, but I like the soundtrack music they piped in, large tape reels that had about 3 hours' of music on each. Whoever programmed those did a great job and I found some good music that way.

Later 80s: Both my brother and I spent one season working on a Christmas tree farm. It was truly a bizarre experience. This was a very festive place with rides and hot chocolate vending and cut-your-own and precut trees and wreaths. It was run by a very scary ex-marine and crossbow hunter. Also, it was the most sexist place I have ever worked; it was overtly sexist in everything from job assignments to wages to dress code to individual treatment. I was too naive at that age to really grok how bad it was. I was assigned to the office, where I answered the phone and supervised the Wreath Ladies, a bunch of suburban women whose holiday job was decorating wreaths. As if I could 'supervise' them. They really got into this decoratey, Martha-esque job and had fun chatting and drinking Pimm's Cup while winding yards of ribbon around greens and attaching glitter birds. One side bonus of this job is that I am crackerjack at Christmas tree ID now and can tell you the pros and cons of all the tree varieties. (the place is closed now...there was some really dark suspicious stuff that went on there years later).

Early 90s: Worked in Barnes & Noble for two holiday seasons. I sort of enjoyed this, even though I mostly was stuck at the cashwrap. It was fun to see the shiny new books come in, especially all the lavish gift editions that pop up this time of year. I also established a reputation for being a good book finder. When the inevitable people would come in and say something like "My daughter wanted a book she heard about on the radio...something about California..." I could generally find it. There was no real internet that we could access in the store then, but we had a book search catalog with keyword search, and I really liked the challenge of trying to identify what people wanted based on the slimmest keywords.

Mid 90s and early 00s: Since I've worked in museums for a long time, my regular job has always taken on a different flavor during the holiday season because of the holiday programming that history museums generally put on. For several years I roleplayed an 1876 newspaper editor's wife in a seaport town, leading guided lantern-lit tours. A lot of fun, and I really liked the clothing. Then at my last job, we did something similar that was less theatrical and a lot easier to put on, but still pretty festive. My favorite part was listening to the brass bands play and coming up with vignettes for the historic houses. My least favorite part was being Car Park Person when it's 5 degrees and windy.

My job now is really not December-holiday-related in any way. It's kind of a nice break schedule-wise, but I also sort of miss the energy.
posted by Miko 14 December | 12:00
I've probably mentioned this a billion times before, but I hated my corporate software job so much that I quit to work at Best Buy. My first day was Black Friday.

It wasn't so bad, especially since we weren't on commission and they were only juuuust starting to get into the really hard sell for service plans. (I was on the sales floor in the video/tv section.)

The worst customer was a guy who came in and wanted to show off his amazing knowledge about color calibration. "I'm one of only five private citizens in the Midwest who are certified to calibrate color on TVs," he said. "Your COMPETITOR lets me come in after hours so I can perform my studies in the dark, without interference." Okay, dude; then why aren't you shopping over THERE? (Let alone at the actual audio/cinephile store in town, instead of the place where plasma TVs are in danger of being crushed by a 20-foot display of cheapass dvd players.)

We got a ridiculous discount, so given the potential savings of $600 I forced my mother to buy new appliances for her kitchen (in the middle of a 14-year renovation process). She bought a Whirlpool range and a dishwasher, muttering, "I HATE this I HATE this I HATE this" as she wrote the check in front of the salesman. (My parents were not thrilled about my selling out to the corporate Man.)

The stove went in fairly quickly, but she had the dishwasher delivered as late as she could -- June -- and let it sit on the back porch for three years while she pondered her next move. It eventually got hauled away on a sled through the snow when I persuaded her to sell it to my new boyfriend (still in the box, albeit with a squirrel nest burrowed through the cardboard into the insulation layer). She waited another year and bought a smaller model. I think my parents are the only people I know who ended up with LESS counter space and dishwashing capability than when they started.

One day at Best Buy I got chatted up by an older couple who turned out to be a lawyer and his office manager. They liked me so much that they asked if I would consider working in their office. Which I ended up doing, but that's another horror story for another time.
posted by Madamina 14 December | 12:12
"Snowball is playing a dangerous game."

Thank you for the Santaland Diaries audio. It never stops being funny.
posted by BoringPostcards 14 December | 12:14
Over break one year in Grad School I worked 11pm to 7am for ten nights making fruit baskets on an assembly line. I must have needed to make rent, I can't remember the exact circumstances. It was hard. On your feet. Tight security. I was the only non-minority. The lady who stood at my table with me was nice. At the time she was "older" - but she may have been my age now, 40-ish, and like most of the people, was working the job to make holiday money for her kids' presents. She worked a day job too. She told me as the week wore on nobody thought I'd come back after the first night. I remember having the whole floor come to a stop and getting a big warning about stealing fruit because somebody tried to flush a grapefruit down the toilet. Maybe he was just hungry. Or mad. On the last night, my table mate and I ran out of jellies and she jokingly said I should go ask this really angry lady to borrow some of hers. "Nope. I am not starting something on the last night over some jellies," I said, and took the long walk to the jellies station.

Character building, but I was glad when that week ended.

This may or may not have been the same year some Wiccan Vibe event director hired me to walk around a corporate party as a "snowflake maiden" and hand out ornaments. I had a Medieval gown and she made a head wreath that may as well have been a crown of thorns. Luckily, a little snowflake maiden went a long way and I left with a check after about 20 minutes.
posted by rainbaby 14 December | 13:39
I've never had a seasonal job, but I miss working the holidays at the medical supply company. Since we were in customer service, if there were no phone calls there wasn't much to do - and it was always slow between Thanksgiving and New Year's. We had a really great group of people working there at the time and had tons of fun playing games across the cube walls and otherwise keeping ourselves entertained. I cut out paper snowflakes for decorations and learned to write with my left hand.
posted by youngergirl44 14 December | 14:32
I got a second job at Mervyns (are they still around?) for extra xmas cash and cash in general. I worked at the payment and gift wrapping counter. They liked me enough they kept me on after the holidays. I don't recall any bad customer stories, but I remember why I quit - exhaustion. They had kept us late again to recover the store. Recovery consisted of tidying up all the departments and my job was to close out all the cashiers (run and end of day receipt, bag up money, etc.) and was supposed to take an hour at the most. It usually took two to three hours depending on the mess. I was always done before the floor staff, but had to stay and help them. Anyway. I was getting five or six hours of sleep per night and that wasn't nearly enough. So, I'm driving home one night and decide that yes, letting my eyes drift shut for a bit was a perfectly fine idea. The rational, non-exhausted, part of me said, oh no, that's fucked up thinking and we're quitting this job whether you like it or not.

I never understood why they didn't hire a small minimum wage crew to do recovery. We all made a few bucks above that so it had to be pretty expensive keeping us for hours after regular hours.
posted by deborah 14 December | 19:09
there was some really dark suspicious stuff that went on there years later

Oh, Miko -- dark suspicious stuff at the Christmas tree farm?! You can't just leave that dangling!
posted by tangerine 15 December | 00:41
I did Black Friday and Christmas '08 and '09 as part of my Apple Store career. Honestly, I was more excited for them than anything, and I look back on them with a certain fondness, in no small part because my friends and I were THERE and it was INSANE in a very "we've worked this shit out and you'll be fine" sort of way. Seriously, it's like clockwork from the behind the scenes side of the equation.

I honestly can't remember where I was in '08, but in '09 they stuck me on the cash wrap in the back, where I and several other of my co-workers spent ten hours checking out a wide range of happy and angry customers. My most memorable? Paul Allen. Yes, that Paul Allen. He did not seem to like that I did not know or was not certain who he was upon first sight.

For the most part, it seemed like everyone understood that we were in the same boat as they were. And this was in the rich, bitchy mall in the area.

So, yeah, for whatever reason -- probably denial and repression -- Black Friday has a few good memories for me.
posted by gc 15 December | 07:03
After having worked customer service at Best Buy from when I just started college until I was almost done with college, I quit in the middle of the my last summer because I didn't want to spend another Christmas season hating Christmas because holiday shoppers are INSANE.
posted by TrishaLynn 15 December | 08:28
You can't just leave that dangling!

I'm actually a little spooked to talk much about it, because the crossbow guy was so creepy. Basically, though, there was a family dispute between the owner and his brother. The brother disappeared, and they found his car at the train station, but it had been totally sanitized and there was not a fiber, a hair, or a print to be found -- all wiped clean, vacuumed. Brother was never found, the owner could never be charged with anything, farm closed, today the land is a high-end residential development.
posted by Miko 15 December | 10:35
Oh my.

I see what you mean.
posted by tangerine 16 December | 02:33
Sarah Palin's first "presidential portrait"? || Has eMusic gone scammy?