by Gina Sestak
Last post (June 6), I mentioned my self-employment and the fluctuating income I received from it. That unpredictable income is the reason I sometimes took a second job during that time.
One of my favorites of those jobs was taking inventory in stores. Everyone who worked for RGIS (Retail & Grocery Inventory Service) had a day job, so I worked beside accountants and teachers, secretaries and laborers. The pay wasn't bad for part-time work, and we only worked a few nights a week. We'd meet somewhere like a restaurant, then drive out to the site together, descending like a horde of locusts to count everything in sight.
We (a crew of ten or fifteen people) would spend the night counting everything in the store. We carried devices like semi-electronic adding machines into which we entered values -- a shelf containing 16 bottles of shampoo priced at $3.07 each became "16 x 3.07, enter." It was repetitive work, which allowed for developing a rhythm. "27 x 4.35, enter, 6 by 5.15, enter, 74 x .33, enter, etc."
The store would usually be closed while we were counting, but some retail establishments (like groceries) stayed open round the clock. I'd be counting along, lost in the rhythm, when someone would come up beside me and ask, "Where are your paper towels?"
"My paper towels are in my kitchen, where are yours?" I'd want to answer, but I'd really say, "I'm not sure. I don't work here," before going back to counting.
One of the fun parts was finding old, perhaps discontinued, merchandise covered with dust on the backs of lower shelves. I'd read the unfamiliar brand names and odd instructions for use, then count these ancient discolored bottles and boxes just like the newer stuff.
What did I learn from this job that helps me as a writer?
I learned to pay attention -- if you let your mind wander too much, you forget whether or not you counted that Similac already.
I learned to appeciate the voyeuristic aspects of looking through somebody else's stuff.
Most of all, I learned that hidden treasures sometimes lurk under the dust down on the bottom shelves.