I Keep Having to Stop People From Dropping Their Pants in the Middle of the Aisles

I Keep Having to Stop People From Dropping Their Pants in the Middle of the Aisles
Illustration: Chelsea Beck/Gizmodo

Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? How are you coping with reopening? Submit a story using this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story” and provide as much detail as you’re comfortable with.

Authors’ identities have been verified, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.

Anonymous, retail, Southeast US

I work in a department store. We mostly sell clothing but also sell things like household goods. Since reopening, it’s become extremely apparent both how selfish people on the whole are, and also just how much of a replaceable cog in this capitalist machine I am.

During the shutdown, every analyst and expert was predicting that people would be slow to return to stores. Boy, did they underestimate our consumerist culture.

Our very first day opening, we had a line of 50 people out front — 50 people very angry that we were not open for the day yet (we have modified, shorter hours right now). In fact every single day for the past almost month now we’ve had a large line outside before opening, and then people just refusing to leave at night. We’ve been completely overwhelmed by people every day, and most of them aren’t respecting any kind of social distancing.

Our management isn’t really either, though. We were supposed to not have more than two people at customer service, and every other register open. This lasted all of about an hour, when the store manager said we couldn’t have lines like this and to open up the other registers. My state requires masks but we’ve been told by corporate to not actually stop or say anything to anyone not wearing one. In fact, despite the state requirement, our signs up front recently changed from “required” masks to “strongly recommended.”

Our fitting rooms are closed, and I’m getting chewed out on a daily basis by customers about it. Some people just move the fixtures we have blocking them and try to go in anyway… then yell and scream and act like children when they’re caught. I keep having to stop people from dropping their pants in the middle of the aisles. One woman the other day was just breasts out in the bra section and she too acted like I was the one being unreasonable to ask her to put her clothes back on. We basically had to post somebody outside of the bathroom to stop people from taking clothing in there.

I think corporate is trying to make up the money they lost by having us work with worse then a skeleton crew. We’re also running out of cleaning supplies, and we’re reprimanded for using too much of it. But looking at the spray bottles we have, it clearly says that it’s supposed to sit for a minute before wiping up, which we are not doing because we are supposed to spray between every customer on registers, so it’s mostly just safety theatre anyway.

I’ve also had customers get angry that we even ARE cleaning between people, telling me it’s all a hoax or that they’re not infected so I shouldn’t be cleaning, or just angry they have to wait a couple seconds while I do it.

Then there are the returns. I think a lot of people did nothing during the shutdown but order things they don’t need online. One person will bring in bags, and bags, and bags of things from the website, sometimes not ever even opened from the bag it was shipped in. We’re quarantining all returns for 48 hours which means most of our dock right now is nothing but boxes of returns that we don’t have the staff to deal with. We also didn’t change our return policy at all, and aren’t stopping anyone from bringing back stuff that’s used, sometimes heavily used, and often absolutely disgusting. I returned a urine soaked rug the other day. I really feel like I shouldn’t have to touch a urine-soaked rug, gloves or not, at the best of times but particularly not during a pandemic. Oh and did I mention we’ve had positive cases at my store? I was told I could go and get tested if I wanted to, but wouldn’t be allowed back until I got the results. So I asked what if I just didn’t go get tested, and they said I could just keep coming to work like normal.

Everyone, myself included, is completely stressed out and exhausted.

Hannah, former elementary school teacher, Southeast US

I have been living in my parents unfinished basement for three and a half months now — a move that I presumed impossible after age 30 due to the social stigma and a desire to be “independent,” whatever that means. But what was originally a transitional move while my partner started a new job and I worked on applications has seemed increasingly permanent. Now I can’t help but feel incredibly fortunate to be unemployed and rent-free when so many other human beings are gripped with the fear of being evicted. Perspectives change. Social stigmas change. I’m rather privileged to be here.

I taught elementary school art for three years before this past April. This is the most quiet I’ve heard on a daily basis since I can remember. My career no longer exists as far as I am concerned. How can the school afford to supply me with enough paint and water cups for students to social distance? Am I supposed to sanitize the crayons too? What about the kids who lick the glue off their hands? I used to have five minutes in between 45-minute blocks of 20-30 rowdy children just to pee and gather supplies. Do I have to sanitize all the desks in that five minutes now too? Do I risk my life now to do this and still not make enough to pay off my debts? Would I have taken out thirty thousand dollars to get a masters degree and teaching licence if I knew in three years time my career would be over?

Before this I spent my spare time off from school alone or with my partner. We lived in a small college town and struggled to make friends, not for lack of trying. Ironically living in my parents basement has been the most day to day socialisation with adults I’ve had in over a year. Despite career challenges and the difficulty of sustaining friendships while moving around and trying to become financially stable, I’ve always had my sisters and family as a support system.

When we moved here I was excited to get to spend more time with family. My partner started his new job at the desk in the corner of the basement near the only window. I recognise his coworkers voices from zoom meetings. My second sister moved in upstairs after losing her job selling high-end appliances. My mum is in her late 50’s and was a substitute teacher. My dad is in his 60’s and is a roofer, he still has work here and there. My brother and sister and law were bringing their three year old son over for me and my mum to watch up until three weeks ago. They were worried about him being exposed to coronavirus at preschool but both still had jobs at the time, and my sister is enrolled in an online degree program.

I thought I had a loving supporting family. I didn’t know many people who talked to their siblings daily. Now I wonder who these people even are.

I have watched in horror as my fully adult sisters bonded like teenagers conspiring over their dislike for our mother, downing Trulys in reverence for the loss of partying, bars and clubs. My sister and brother-in-law secretly stopped social distancing but continued to come over despite my mother and I having asthma and our parents being high-risk just due to their age alone. I didn’t know social distancing would reveal so much about another person’s character. Or that family members who don’t even live in the same household and thus have no need to come over would be so enraged by our desire to stay alive. I didn’t know my grown sisters could scream at a grey-haired, soft-spoken woman in her late 50’s fearing for her life because it interfered with their ability to party.

It’s one thing to hear stories about people refusing to social distance. It’s different when it fractures the closest relationships in your life. How do you value your own comfort over a human life? Or if you have set out to believe that Covid-19 is an overinflated threat, then how do you value your own comfort over someone else’s fear?

As I sit in my parents basement typing on my old iPad, I wonder how I got to be the way I am when my sisters have shown themselves to be so different. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to be friends with them again. Did my time as a teacher change me or have I always been this way? I miss my students.

I’m Too Old to Learn a New Career, and Too Young to Retire

Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? How are you coping with reopening? Submit a story using this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story” and...

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Barbara, software engineer, Georgia

Late last year I finally got my first job as a software engineer. I sunk my savings into a boot camp and shortly after lost my previous job of 5 years during restructuring. I was unemployed for most of 2019. So, even though my new salary was great, by the time I started I had a lot of debt.

I was hired for a new contract with a large client. Unfortunately, it was a retail client. For two weeks, we worked from home. I missed my fancy downtown office with free coffee, but I enjoyed my work. The commute sucked anyway. Then the furloughs started.

The client couldn’t afford our staff, but my company wanted the contract so they had us doing busywork for months, hoping the client would need us again soon. I have been grateful for the paycheck and trying to balance paying down debt with saving cash as much as I can. My sister and I have also been helping support our parents since my dad is also out of work and my mum’s paycheck isn’t enough to support them. I have tried to stay busy and focus on the positives like my friends, my boyfriend, and more time to play video games. But I have been stressed just waiting for the other foot to fall. Today it finally did.

I have two months to find a new client or a new job or I will be right back where I was this time last year. It feels like a sick joke. I’m trying to keep up a brave face but with so many job seekers on the market I am worried someone like me with so little work experience won’t stand a chance. I am worried I may have to take a position out of state or a substantial pay cut.

In the past four months I have gained 5 kg. I have actually been drinking, which I rarely do outside of parties and conventions. I can’t seem to sleep before 3 am.

There’s nothing to do about it but polish up my portfolio and bone up on interview questions, though.

Brad, software designer, Indiana

I am doing ok. I have a job and am very happy for that since my live-in boyfriend does not. He works in the restaurant industry and was working as a General Manager for two places in Chicago before we moved him here. Moving to a new city, starting a new job I love but that is exceedingly stressful, moving my boyfriend in (we hadn’t lived together before), and a pandemic… it’s been a lot.

I had been watching the news in December and January, already starting to buy canned food and just do little things to put my mind at ease knowing I was prepared. As my teams were told to work from home, it was hard. I struggle concentrating on a normal day I work from home, but add in everything else? I was a wire that was winding tighter and tighter until I would break down, crying or in a fit of anger. So unlike me.

Before I handled my anxiety with the gym and my small group of friends, but then I was stuck in the same walls of my two bedroom apartment with the person I loved but was unable to show around their new city. My doctor wasn’t available for a while so I was stuck and would smoke a little weed just to help push back the walls that seemed to keep closing in on me.

Work eventually slowed as more and more people started admitting they couldn’t continue as if nothing was wrong. Our bosses pushed wellness goals to the top of their lists and the company started offering free meditation session, digital activities for kids who suddenly were unable to go to school or childcare, and resources we requested as we all grappled with our sanity. I have finally found myself feeling less stressed with the help of medicine, meditation, dietary changes like exchanging coffee for tea and finding creative activities (sometimes playing video games together) for my boyfriend and I to do.

Having family in other states sending me videos from fringe sites claiming Covid is a hoax has been exceedingly hard. I love my family but my boyfriend and I both have preexisting conditions and it scares us to be around anyone, and to see my mother (a cancer survivor) going around without a mask. It just makes me want to scream.

The hospitals my aunt and brother’s girlfriend works at in Kettering, Ohio don’t even require x-ray technicians to wear protective gear, even if a patient getting a mammogram says they have been exposed and have a temperature. My brother’s girlfriend was even told she had to come to work and not quarantine despite both her mother and my brother testing positive. The hospital leadership just doesn’t seem to care. If their own bosses don’t seem to care, why should they? Just like if our President doesn’t seem to care, why should others?

I do everything I can to remind those I love to be safe and to also take every precaution to ensure the safety of my boyfriend and myself. Even when he whines about masks making it hard to breathe I remind him it’s the smart thing to do and it’s about not thinking about our own discomfort but caring for those around us to be healthy. It’s not about ourselves, it’s about all of us.

If you would like to be included in a future edition of Sick Days, please use this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story.” Stay healthy and safe.