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Worth the weight in spines.   —   Health

In 1994 I started work at Pier One Imports in Flint, Michigan. I was a junior in high school at the time and didn't even have my own car. I worked the evening shift and the weekend shift and relied on my parents, my sister, and occasionally a friend, to give me rides to and from work. It wasn't my idea to get a job mind you, but my father's, and he was known to be very convincing.

I started at Pier One as a "straightener" and a "cleaner", which is to say I straightened and cleaned the messes the customers made while they shopped through stacks of rugs and pillows. I was also a part of "customer care" which means that I patrolled the sales floor asking customers if they needed help and often times fetching items from high shelves or from the storage room. I gradually worked my way up to cashier, and from there eventually took over the world.

My boss was this incredibly funny and light-hearted young man named Jim, whom I was convinced was gay for the first month that I knew him and was absolutely shocked to find out that he was married to a mousy but kind girl named Heather. I absolutely loved working with Jim and wanted to spend all of my time with him whenever we had a shift together. He began to help me with my merchandise displays and eventually began to teach me the art of visual merchandising, because he himself was brilliant at it. Within my first two years working there I went on to become an expert at visual merchandising. Often times if the neighboring location was short on staff on shipment day, I would go to their store to do their displays for them. After my first year of working there I was promoted to Assistant Manager and was presented with the enormous responsibility of opening and closing the store, doing monthly audits, balancing the cash drawers at the end of the night, doing the banking, placing orders, doing payroll, creating the weekly employee schedules, and heading the weekly staff meetings.

I worked for Pier One for five years at three different locations, two that were in Flint, one of which that was in Denver, Colorado. After moving back to Flint from Colorado I resumed working at the last Flint location that I'd previously worked and was heartbroken to find that my beloved boss Jim, had since quit and went back to college. My new boss was this horrible woman who had transferred from Detroit and I despised her instantly. She had an attitude that made it known to all that she was Queen Boss and she treated everyone around her, even her assistant managers, like children. I worked with her for two months before finally quiting Pier One altogether and the day that I quit was not only liberating but extremely validating as well. After weeks and months of putting up with this woman's shit, and after every single one of the employees came to me complaining about treatment, I finally grew a pair and took this woman into her office and let her know just how incompetent she was at being a good manager and at running a business. After I had said my piece and given my two weeks notice, this woman, my boss, then begged me to stay. She smartly agreed that she and I working together simply would not work, but offered me a position deeper within the company, to become a Visual Merchandiser. She praised my talent at helping designers choose items from our stock that would complement their projects, and told me that I was brilliant with my floor furniture displays. The job would have involved taking a Pier One training class, getting certified, and then traveling to neighboring Pier One locations in Michigan and the surrounding states to teach staff how to create merchandise displays. It was an amazing offer and one to this day I regret for turning down. But I was 20 years old and moving out of town, yet again, and after all I had my pride, or something, and told that mean old boss just exactly where she could put her awesome job opportunity.

The five years that I worked at Pier One Imports were the most gratifying and fun experiences that I have had so far working a job. The people that I worked with became friends that I would treasure for years and would come to miss terribly once our communications dwindled. To this day they stick out in my mind as some of the more interesting characters and personalities I'd ever known. And every time I walk into a Pier One, that smell, the Pier One everything-smells-so-fucking-good smell, hits me and immediately I miss those years that have long since passed. But the one thing that I have taken from my early work experience, and which follows me to this day, is a fucked up spine.

Every Monday we'd get a delivery of furniture and merchandise. It would arrive on a semi truck and our shipment would occupy anywhere from 10 to 20 feet of space on that truck. The delivery would arrive around 7:00AM and it would take roughly two hours to unload. The rest of the day two employees would be assigned to the storage room to unpack furniture and merchandise and to prepare it for floor display. It was my job to decide what furniture and merchandise needed to be immediately displayed, and where, and how, and also what furniture needed to be held for customer pick-up. It was also my job to be there at 7:00AM to unload the truck. I would be the opening manager that day, and with two employees (most times women, there was only one or two men working there at any given time) we would lift and carry and cart -dressers and headboards and kitchen tables and panes of glass and dining chairs and bar chairs and night stands and side tables and coffee tables and armoires and papasan chairs and ottomans and settees and loveseats and couch tables and crates and crates and crates of dishes and vases and candles and sconces and artwork and figurines and bar ware- and every other fucking thing that store carries.

I did this, every Monday morning, for five years. In heels. Not to mention the thousands of times I hauled a nightstand or dining chair up a ladder to put in on a shelf that was 12 feet off the floor, or even worse, in the storage room where the shelves were 20 feet off the floor. And of course, what goes up, must come down. In heels. I was mad strong, or at least thought so, and really, who else was there? The majority of the staff were women and if they weren't the same size as me they were just a little taller or overweight. At the time I didn't grasp the idea that what I was doing then would maybe someday have a lasting effect on my health. I was young and I was invincible. But about five years ago my spine just quit trying to be tough and decided that enough was enough. Now, I get back pain if I sit in one place for too long. I can't really lift heavy objects anymore because I know that if I do, I'll spend a week on the couch with a heating pad. I see a chiropractor on a regular basis now, and my back and neck and hips crack and pop when I'm moving normally throughout my day. At any given time I can lay on the floor and instruct you how to crack my back and every time I guarantee it'll crack like a champ, like taking a wad of bubble wrap and twisting it in your hands. I'm sure I can right all of the wrong I did to my spine, with regular doses of calcium and magnesium, exercise to strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine, and regular chiropractic adjustments, I should be fine in another year or so. And to be honest with you, I don't know that I would take back all of those times that I unloaded and lifted furniture at Pier One, because those times, along with many others, contributed to the awesome life experience I had in those brief years working there. And sometimes I guess the benefit just outweighs the cost.

Posted 3.21.2006 12:24:59 PM

Replies
Mr. Space wrote:
One of the happiest guys I know moves dirt with a backhoe. He gets this little boy smile when he talks about finding fresh, clean sand.
Posted 3/21/2006 12:47:29 PM
Dad wrote:

Work ethics form the mold, character fills the mold and lord knows who breaks it, but my precious you are truely one of a kind..............a chip off the old block!!!!!!
Posted 3/22/2006 8:40:29 AM
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