It's a very depressing moment when you realize that your job could be done more efficiently by a machine. Even more depressing is figuring out why your job still exists in spite of this.

While I was finishing off a 13.5 hour shift on cash, I realized that I was no longer thinking coherently enough to multiply 8 times 7. The fact that this inability to do basic calculations in my head hadn't interfered with my job scared me, and I began thinking over the next few days about how much I actually use my brain while working.

There is nothing that a cashier does that couldn't be done as well or better by a machine. We aren't allowed to make any decisions on our own, we have to call a manager or the department, and have them tell us what to do. Problem-solving is not only unnecessary, it is frowned upon. The only things I'm expected to do as a cashier are to ask every customer the same questions to try and get them to apply for a credit card, scan their items, put the items in a bag, and take the customer's payment. If they pay with cash, I am also expected to count out proper change. Of these things, only counting change seems to require any amount of thought, but keep in mind that pop machines are able to do the same.

One of the possible reasons that stores haven't switched to automatic cashiers (although the idea is being attempted at a few supermarkets in the U.S.) is the cost. It would be very expensive initially to have all of the necessary equipment installed, but not enough to offset the benefits of not having to pay cashiers. At the store I work at there are 18 cashiers on at any given time during the christmas rush. with each cashier making at least $6.22 an hour, and the store being open for 13.5 hours, that works out to $1511.46 a day in wages, $7557.30 a week, and $30299.20 for the month of December. Keep in mind that you still need to pay for the cash registers for the cashiers to use.

I honestly don't think that cost is the reason why major retail stores and supermarkets haven't switched to automatic cashiers. The initial cost would be high, but you'd save enough money in the course of the first year to offset that. The idea that customers would prefer the human contact of a live cashier is also an idea I'd disagree with. People just don't like cashiers in my opinion. Customers respond more favorably to the sales associates in the departments, and would complain if they were phased out, as the sales associates help them shop, and aid them in finding the merchandise they want. Cashiers on the other hand, just take their money from them. People don't want to talk to us, they just want to get the painful part of shopping (paying for purchases) over as quickly as possible. I've had customers who went through entire transactions without bothering to say a word to me, right up until they wanted to complain about something.

The real reason cashiers still exist is much more depressing. You can't bitch at a computer. Well, you can, but you won't get the satisfaction of knowing that you have managed to darken someone else's day by taking your bad mood out on them. Also, when you bitch at a computer, you know its not actually listening, and that it won't help you get your own way. If cashiers were replaced by machines, the bitchy cusomers, would most likely end up transferring thier anger and bitchyness to the managers of the store, as they would be the only people able to change anything. Obviously, the managers wouldn't want that. So, they keep us poor, abused cashiers as a front line of defense against the grief that is an integral part of working retail.

Few things are more depressing than realizing that your job is to be little more than Bitch-Fodder.

The consummate grocery cashier readily becomes the assassin. ... In an idle moment, he spies four flashes from the light above lane 6, and his REGISTER CLOSED sign drops like a jam jar from a little kid's hand: suddenly and without fail. ... Flying coach non-stop to London, the cashier savors this sit. In his mind, the cabinet of dossiers sits beside a warehouse of PLUs. ... Among dignitaries he mingles in a cordial mask his face has learned to accommodate. ... His third hour flattened behind the ambassador's hotel room curtain, the familiar ache crawls up his still frame. But how soothing to be aching here! ... The cashier draws the blade across the jugular as he would a tube of cookie dough across the scann


A line of ink immortalized my hand's startled sprint across the page. My eyes had snapped up into Alice's.

"What'd I say about the notebook?" my supervisor said.

As I rose from my slouch over the register, I closed the notebook and glanced about. All the customers were way over on the other end of the checkout.

"Yeah," I said. She was already midstride, pointed toward the busy end of the store. A couple lights shed above registers. (You switched your light on when you needed a manager, either for help or for that card with the register's security override.) They switched off after about a minute; propped up on my elbows, I watched them until my shift ended.

* * *

For another month I had that job, then I didn't. The team leader (or shift manager, or whatever he was called), Guy (or Greg, or whatever he was called), cited "problems with timeliness". That was a little BS if you asked me, who had it on good authority that there were employees who skipped work often and without hassle. Ten minutes was my worst, thanks to traffic. But I'd gotten pretty quick on the scanner. The schedule was stuffed to the gills, though--maybe Greg learned somewhere that you lay off the new guys.

I smoked a Lucky Strike in the parking lot. A plane emerged from behind a cloud. Maybe one of those guys Guy spared was in Dubai, playing hooky behind a curtain.

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