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    Finding reliable and steady work as a full-time college student is no rare struggle. Like many a starving scholar before me, I work in retail. There are many perks to the job: with the promise of flexible schedules and significant discounts, it's no wonder so many people my age eagerly compete for the opportunity to spritz perfume on customers and wield a cash register. Once these available positions are filled by the most hard-working candidates, the “simple” work that was promised in the job description slowly becomes more difficult, the small crowds of browsers transform into armies of shopping warriors, and just when an employee thinks they’re starting to get it all under control, the holiday shopping season strikes.

    I learned this the hard way. This is my diary of Black Friday 2015 in Louisville, at a mall I won't name. Lucky for me (I know many other retail workers are not as lucky!) I only had to work from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. on the dreaded day after Thanksgiving. This tale of Black Friday woe is enriched by the fact that Louisville was trending nationally on Black Friday for a mall brawl. 


    11:30 p.m. Thanksgiving


    I left my family’s traditional holiday dinner early to get a few hours of sleep before reporting to one of the country’s most popular retail giants for my Black Friday shift which began at midnight, when the store opened. My Black Friday veteran co-workers had given me mixed tales of the shopping event. Some shared that the day is an amusing, if not downright entertaining experience. Others recalled nightmarish tales of blood-curdling screams, spilled bodily fluids and occasional terrifying threats made by wide-eyed, yes, even fanged customers.

    But was I scared? No. I was simply eager to get it over with. I was naive. 


    2 a.m. Black Friday

    I was one of seven shuffling, fast-talking, robot-like, exhausted cashiers. The line of customers waiting to make a purchase stretched from the register near the front of our mall-based store all the way to the back near the emergency exit. With thousands of sleepy shoppers, many dressed in pajamas and yelling at their equally sleepy children, I felt the way a captain of a ship must feel during a terrible storm, when the ship begins to fill with water and the harsh reality of drowning sets in. I paused between customers to yawn and clean my register area before I heard the snap of a loud, bossy female voice, “Back to work! No time for breaks, Cadet!”

    I had forgotten I was in a military prison, with my every move observed.


    3:30 a.m. Black Friday

    “MA’AM!” I pretended not to hear the middle-aged soccer mom yell at me from her 20th place in line at the register. “MA’AM! I know you hear me!” I looked up from the customer I was currently ringing up and made eye contact with the bellowing interrupter. “MA’AM! I need these shirts in size Medium!” she yelled as she raised her arms above her head, and the heads of those around her, to show the eleven shirts she had gathered from the sales floor. I opened my mouth to respond but before I could, all eleven shirts fell to the floor and the customer proudly displayed her middle finger before grabbing the hands of all five of her children and loudly exiting the store, screeching, “I refuse to shop at a store where I’m ignored!”

    I was wrong to not fear this day.


    6 a.m. Black Friday


    Two more hours to go. Two more hours to go. Two more hours to go.


    6:45 a.m. Black Friday

    “Go ahead and take a break from the register,” said the bossy female voice, now sounding surprisingly comforting. “And clean up the vomit on the floor in aisle three. Some kid got sick.”

    The comforting motherly voice had suddenly become the voice of a monster.


    8:01 a.m. Black Friday

    As I stumbled away from my cash register prison and limped towards the time clock to end my shift, one small tear escaped my right eye and slipped onto my cheek. A spark of pride started a fire in my soul.

    I had officially become a survivor. 

    Image courtesy of Shutterstock/DmitrijsDmitrijevs

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