Employed at a big-box retail store during the pandemic has been like being stuck in a “Groundhog Day”-like loop, but with the intense unpredictability of Russian roulette. My job and our protocol remains consistent, but I don’t know whether I am going to be accosted or leave with a smile.
Moments of happiness used to manifest from the smallest action, like a person placing their cart in the corral for example. Witnessing a pay-it-forward situation where a person waiting in line provided the $10 needed to cover the remaining balance for a recently-unemployed individual so they might eat. Even the smallest gesture like saying “thank you” used to give my toes a tingle, however, everything has changed.
Group mentality, perpetuated by panic, hate and disbelief have remained constant this past year, breeding an atmosphere of looming negativity.
The paradigm of unacceptable behavior has shifted from the actions of a few sometimes ruining it for the rest, to abhorrent actions being constant. There are still plenty of great and patient people that I see every day, but there’s been a dramatic escalation in absurd and dangerous behavior. We have all laughed or at least chuckled at the toilet paper incident at the beginning of quarantine, but this was merely the gunshot at the beginning of the race.
Waiting in line for at least an hour before the store’s opening, people raced to the paper when everything unlocked, sprinted down aisle-ways. People crawled over one another, pulled others down and pushed them to the ground in acts of pure savagery. Then they climbed the steel in hunt for the reserves when we ran out. While the product may change, this mentality and these actions do not.
Every day at work I receive and endure a constant onslaught of verbal assault. Phrases like “fuck you” “fuck your family, I hope they fucking die” “you fucking communist” are regularly belted into my face because I’ve asked someone to wear or pull up their mask, to socially distance, because I told them we ran out of an item, so-on-so-forth. Co-workers have been physically assaulted, pushed to the ground and worse, because someone did not agree with the safety measures we are actively enforcing.
A month ago, after an argument with a manager, a customer lifted up his shirt and pointed at a gun. My guttural reaction was just “…OK” — not because I am a badass who fears nothing, rather it is par for the course. I have become numb, yet I’m always on edge.
I am writing this to make a plea for civility, patience and understanding. This year has been difficult for everyone, but these actions are unacceptable. We are all scared, and mad, and more, but there is no reason to make this way of acting our new normal. We are all in this together, and together is how we are going to get through this pandemic.