Lisa D. (chaoticidealism) wrote,
Lisa D.

Convenience Store Inconveniences

I finally have a job: I work as a convenience store cashier. That means I have to stand up; because employees have to look "Busy, Energetic, Enthusiastic, Friendly" (according to the checklist the manager fills out every three hours). And it also means I'm dealing with what I perceive as severe pain.

My feet are normal. And most people--neurotypical or not--get sore feet after about three hours on the job. The difference here is in perception--how the brain interprets sensory data. And, when I get sore feet, my brain doesn't let up--I'm aware of it every second. Sooner or later, it hurts badly enough that I want to cry. Sometimes I do cry--like I did today.

In America, sitting down to work is something that's not permitted for anybody below a certain societal level. Blue-collar jobs almost never allow sitting down--even when it would be not just sensible but better than standing (for example, a cashier who sits down will have more energy to work harder, especially working long shifts when feet start to hurt later on). If you live in the USA, have you ever noticed that cashiers who work at Aldi's have chairs behind their registers? That's because Aldi's is a German company. And have you ever noticed how very efficient Aldi's cashiers have to be, with only one or two cashiers per store? They can't afford to waste energy dealing with foot pain; so they're given chairs. America hasn't figured this out yet.

I think perhaps American NTs must have the idea that if you are sitting down, you aren't working as hard as you are if you're standing up. Well, that's true; but it's only because the extra work is expended in enduring pain and holding yourself upright--not in productive labor. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if even a typical employee is more productive sitting than standing; I know I am--by a factor of at least 50%.

It's also a matter of appearances: A worker who sits down will, apparently, look less busy than one who stands up. That he is probably more productive is beside the point: The appearance of the worker to the customer is everything.

Many things are not allowed because they don't convey a certain image. For example, where I work, we are not allowed to have piercings other than one or two ear studs. This has nothing to do with modesty, nothing to do with health regulations--it's simply a matter of appearances. I am quite surprised I haven't yet gotten in trouble for having very short hair (a half-inch buzz cut). A fellow worker was recently fired for smoking outside the building--after her work shift--where the customers could see her. Another was fired because his ADHD made him distractible, and meant that he took longer to do many tasks--no attempt was made to work around this limitation; he was simply fired for being (I quote) "a dope".

I am afraid that I may soon have to quit my job soon, myself. We are technically allowed to sit down in the back of the store, but only when there are no customers in the store or buying gas, and when the entire store is clean and all tasks are finished. Because these times are nonexistent, and because I wanted to be immediately available when a customer came in and wanted me, I compromised by kneeling on a step stool at the register, to keep the weight off my feet sometimes. (From the front, it looks like I'm standing.) The assistant manager recently told me I could be fired for doing this unless I had a doctor's note; but I see no real alternative. There isn't enough time to sit in the back of the store to keep my feet from hurting so badly I end up in overload; but using that step stool, apparently, is against the rules too because it looks bad to have a clerk sitting down--even if she's doing it partly because she wishes to be available to the customers. It doesn't help that we don't have a lunch break in shifts that can be as long as ten or eleven hours (but I've only worked nine and a half, myself, so I don't know what it's like when the shifts are even longer).

I think it's so very stupid... I think I am the only one there who wants to do a good job just for its own sake; and I am definitely the only one who hates to cut corners. The others do that all the time, especially if it won't be noticed. They kept pouring bleach down the men's urinal, because they weren't observant enough to notice that gunk had built up under the rim, and that this was causing the entire bathroom to smell horrible. I noticed that on my first day; and I scrubbed that gunk off, and now the restroom smells fine. Tightening loose screws on the cabinets; finding a way to keep the yogurt freeze machine from splattering all over; arranging the tables and chairs in nice straight patterns... Little things like that, which apparently they don't care about... Why? I don't understand. They have been cleaning that restroom every day for years, and never noticed, or never cared.

I am also quite sick of being assigned the jobs that other people don't want to do, while they sit in those chairs in the back of the store that I covet so dearly. I know this is protocol because I am new and they aren't, but I would really like to have a little time to sit down.

I can be a very, very good employee. I know I can. But the things that I'm good at, no one notices; and my limitations--like being overwhelmed when I have to stand up too long or cope with tiredness on a busy shift--are glaringly obvious to the people who want a (falsely) perky, energetic worker.

Why do they smile when they don't mean it? How can they smile like that? It must be like lying.

When I smile at a customer and tell him to have a nice day, I really do mean it. A customer isn't just a unit of work, but a person with a life and a mind and worries and hopes. I'm only their cashier, and they'll forget me. I'll forget them, too, I'll admit; I won't even recognize them if they come in the next day--I'm faceblind, and lucky to recognize a fellow employee. But that's not the point, is it? The point is that they're people, whether I remember them or not, whether I care or not. And because they're human beings, I'd rather they had a good day than a bad one.

I don't pick up people's emotions--I have very little sense of empathy. If a customer gets mad at me, I'm not all that disturbed about it. I'd be much more disturbed if I made a mistake, no matter how forgiving the customer might be.

The lack of empathy might be a good thing. The other day, my manager was quite upset. Some customers had tried to scam her into taking a fake $20 bill; but that wasn't why she was upset. She was upset because she had thought they were nice people. I pointed out that they couldn't have been nice people because they had tried to cheat her, and that con artists have to look like nice people because otherwise they won't be able to talk anybody into anything; but that didn't make her feel any better.

Speaking of scams, it may be easy to put something over on an Aspie; but if it has a concrete element, don't try it. The other day, I had a woman come in and try a short-change scam on me (the kind where the con artist tries to confuse you into giving too much change). I detected no hint of deception in her voice or in the way she behaved; but my mental count of money in my till and in her hands wasn't easily changed by her actions, and I knew I had been given less than she said I had. I thought we had made an error--that she was mistaken over how much money she had given me--and only after my manager counted what I had in my till and matched it (exactly) to the computer's total, did she admit that she hadn't given me what she said she had. Only after she left and my manager informed me that she was trying to scam me did I fully realize that her intent had been to deceive. Still, I found it rather interesting that I might have actually been less likely to "fall for it" than a typical person, since my mind is focused on details and totals, rather than the talk of the woman across the counter. Classically, Aspies are supposed to be gullible.

I want to keep this job. It means independence--it means I can live on my own, be productive, take care of myself. It's so very hard to do, though, for reasons that could be so easily solved! When work is literally torture, it's hard to go back, and getting harder. I've only just now learned to get to work on time (usually I get so involved in what I'm doing that I forget); and I was so proud of myself for making it an entire month with only one day of tardiness! That was my problem on my last long-term job; and I thought that, now that I'd solved it, I'd be fine. Apparently not. There are always new problems.

The last-ditch effort to keep my job is going to be my going to the BVR (bureau of vocational rehabilitation) and begging them to send my boss a letter that says I need to sit down sometimes--five minutes out of every hour is all I need, even without a break for lunch. But this requires somehow convincing them that Asperger's isn't just social problems, but sensory problems too; and that sensory problems can extend to pain perception; and that it isn't just my overweight causing foot pain, because it was just as bad when I weighed fifty pounds less; and that yes, I have the best possible jelly insoles and the best shoes I can afford. All that, and I have to convince them that my feet actually hurt, despite being anatomically normal--and these are people with desk jobs, who may not ever have had to stand up for eight hours at a time, and who, if they did, were probably able to filter out the pain--something I've never been able to do.

I don't want to lose my apartment; and my cats need food; and I need to pay the bills and go to college and live, somehow. If only I could get that engineering degree more quickly, then maybe I could get a job where all I have to do is think and come up with new things--those things that I do at my job now that nobody else seems to care about doing. I could think of all the little ways that could make life easier for people like me, and people with other differences; and I could write them down; and people could make them and sell them; and maybe life really would be easier for us, at least a little.

But first, I have to convince my supervisor that sitting down doesn't mean I'm lazy, and that even if "everybody else will want to sit down too", they'll probably (NT or not) benefit, just like I would.
Tags: employment, stress
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