Kay Jewelers

Around Christmastime when I was sixteen years old, my girlfriend had her eye on a bracelet at Kay's. The piece in question was a pink strap of leather (or maybe pseudo snakeskin) lined with two rows of pearls. The pearls were certainly not high-end by any means, and were probably those freshwater knock-offs from China. Still, they were pearls nonetheless. The bracelet had originally been priced at around $250 and had recently been marked down to the $150 neighborhood. My girlfriend wasn't asking for me to get it for her, by any stretch. She was well aware that at sixteen years of age I wasn't exactly rolling around in spare change and capable of shelling out hundreds. Still, I had no good gift ideas for her, and when the price dipped just below $100 a few days before Christmas, I sprang on the opportunity to exceed my budget and get my girlfriend the bracelet she wanted so very much. She really appreciated it and was very thankful, which is always awesome for a sixteen-year old kid. She wore the bracelet for a few months and went out with me for a few months beyond that. And that concludes the only experience I've had with Kay Jewelers.

But it does not conclude this entry. I have mentioned that I was not raking in money at this point in my life. Instead, I was making minimum wage at the worst job I have ever had. To understand the true cost of the bracelet, we must eliminate "money" as the middle man and consider that, taxes included, the bracelet had cost me about fifteen hours of work as a dishwasher at a place I will simply call Joe's. Joe's was an eatery I worked at for four months of my junior year of high school. Weekday shifts were three hours long and Saturday shifts were four hours. Since there were always two or three dishwashers employed at a time, a typical work week was six to ten hours. So there you have it. Thanks to two weeks of my terrible dishwasher stint, my girlfriend got to have an ornamented wrist when she wanted to. The cost of living.

When I took the job it sounded easy enough. Customers came in and got food, and I would wash all of their used plates and utensils. Left out of the description was the fact that two thirds of my time would be spent down in the basement washing preparation tools and machinery, cleaning bathrooms and ovens, sweeping floors, and taking out garbage. Even though I had absolutely no customer interaction, I was made to wear a company polo shirt. It was stained with bleach when given to me, and made of some of the cheapest and coarsest cotton I have ever felt. Combine coarse cotton chafing with hot dishwater steam for three hours a day, and you're only asking for skin damage. By the end of my four month stint at Joe's, my upper back was peppered with acne, pimples, and a general irritation.

Plenty of other things went wrong right off the bat. In my second week, I finished a shift and went to punch out only to learn that Joe, the owner, had punched me out an hour ago. "Oh! You're the new dishwasher," he said to me after a tense moment. "I was wondering whose charge number that was." I suppose without asking around for confirmation, he had settled on "nobody's." I was never reimbursed for the "extra" hour I had worked, even though it would have cost the place less than the price of their roast beef sandwich. Also, regardless of the fact that it is generally considered moral, legal, and right to pay an employee for his work. We decided that as a nation back in 1863, or so I had thought. About a month in, on a cold and rainy October day, my manager asked me to change the letters on a sign outside. I had never been asked to do such a thing, and was unprepared for any outdoor activity. Nonetheless, I did what I was told, pouring rain and all, and came back inside after twenty minutes only to have my boss say, "No, no, the other sign!"

The job was also not without its hazards. Several times at Joe's I ended up cutting my fingers on knives and tomato slicers. One of these times stands out because I was bleeding so badly that the dirty dishes were getting some blood on them. My supervisor had no bandages to solve this issue, but wouldn't let me keep washing dishes while bleeding, and wouldn't let me clock out early while he washed the last few dishes. Instead, I was made to put on several latex gloves on the same hand, cutting off nearly all circulation to it. Fortunately for Joe's, a lack of circulation means a lack of blood flow. When my shift ended and I took the gloves off, my hand was a deep red, and my cut finger a disgusting purple. Numbness subsided several hours later, only to give way to pain.

But that's they way thing's worked at Joe's. They were too small a place to have a company mission statement, but if they did, it probably would have been "Too hurt to work? Go fuck yourself." One day in November I got my wisdom teeth pulled. I was held out of school for four days. With work being of a much lower priority than school, I told my manager not to schedule me to work on these four days at least three times in the weeks leading up to my surgery. Sure enough, I was scheduled to work on the day I had my wisdom teeth pulled and also two days afterward. When I explained to him that I would be drugged down to a sleeping stupor after the surgery, he only said it wasn't his problem, and that I needed to find someone to take my shift. There were only three dishwashers at the time, and we had no interactions with each other as we all worked on separate days. Still, after introducing myself, I managed to get one of my two coworkers to cover both of these shifts for me. The catch was that I needed to take the day right between them, the day following my surgery. I did so, skipping my painkillers and dealing with agony in my mouth for three long hours.

But the wisdom tooth episode has nothing on the mono era. That November was not my body's healthiest month, as just a week after my oral surgery, after achieving a fever of 103 degrees, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis. You know, the textbook young adult disease that makes you really tired. After calling in sick with the aforementioned fever, I gave my manager the mono news the next day, leaving it up to him to decide whether or not to lighten my load. Alas, one of the other two dishwashers had hockey tryouts all week, and I was scheduled to work a record four days. All week, I could barely stay awake, let alone work, and was told at least three different times that I needed to "stop moping around" and clean dishes faster. It didn't help things that as we approached Thanksgiving and Christmastime, catering orders were coming in everywhere. My workload nearly doubled, but I was still expected to get things done in three hours, even with my mono. I would stay later and later while the sun set earlier and earlier, eventually reaching a point where I would emerge from the dank basement into total darkness outside, wet through my clothes in sub-freezing temperatures.

I was not scheduled to work for the entire week after Christmas. This was the greatest Christmas gift I could have received that year. I was told, historically, that this last week of the year was always a light week, and that, in general, things were not nearly as crazy from January to April as they were in the fall. Things were looking good. Fully recovered from mono and fresh off of Christmas and a week off from both school and work, I went into Joe's the following week with a new positive attitude, looking forward to the upcoming and comparably easy winter workload. I checked the schedule, only to find that I again was not on it. Amazing, but confusing. I asked around and was told by other employees that I would probably be getting fewer hours, post-holiday season, and that it wasn't uncommon to have a week off. But when I called to find out my hours for the following week, I was told that, again, I was not working. Yet I was promised that there was nothing to worry about and that my name was still on the scheduling grid. In mid-January, at the beginning of what would have been my fourth week off, a co-worker sought me out in school and asked me to cover his shift that afternoon. I accepted, happy to finally get back to working.

When I arrived for my first shift in nearly a month, smiling and eager and happy to have some hours again, my manager looked confused. "You're uh, you're not on the schedule today," he told me. I told him I was filling in for someone else. He seemed troubled to hear that news. "Well, I don't know if you're still in the system," he said. It began to dawn on me. I was no longer an employee here. I had been fired. Fired without ever being told about it. Fired so sneakily and suddenly that none of my coworkers had even known about it. Fired by this spineless man, standing before me, acting as if me showing up to work four weeks after having been fired was some kind of minor misunderstanding. "Yeah, you're no longer in the system," he said. What a politically correct way to terminate employment. "Didn't we send you some papers?" That lying coward. If "papers" had been sent, why was I greeted with "You're not scheduled to work today," as if I could have possibly thought I was still employed? Why the "let me check the schedule" fake out?

I called my mom and asked for a ride home, telling her I'd explain why I wasn't working later. I sat down in the middle of the empty dining area - at least I hadn't been lied to about how calm it was during the winter - and waited for my ride. Before long, the main cashier lady spoke up. She was the only person at Joe's who had ever cared about my life or said basic courteous things like, "I hope you feel better soon," about my wisdom teeth and mononucleosis. She asked me if I wanted a sandwich while I waited for my ride. I had never even had one in my four months there, and she was shocked to hear this. "Oh, you gotta have one then. They're really good," she said. I obliged, walked up to the counter, observed the menu, and finally decided upon the roast beef. She not only charged me, but charged me full price.

If I ever find myself with both the desire and the resources to open up a restaurant, I will do so right across the street from Joe's deli and resort to new lows in order to steal their customers. I will do this with no remorse whatsoever.

Anyway, Kay Jewelers seemed like a fine store, and I'd definitely shop there again.



Hollister is a clothing company for teenagers that is "inspired by the Southern California lifestyle." It is an offshoot of Abercrombie & Fitch, and uses a "fictional background story" to place its establishment in 1922 Los Angeles instead of the actual flagship store's New York, 2000 location and date. By the time it appeared in our mall, I was in college, and thus I have never purchased anything from Hollister.

But I have been inside Hollister, and let me tell you, it is an experience unlike any other. For starters, every Hollister's storefront is done up to look like some sort of cabana on the beach. I understand using this design for a stand-alone store, but in a mall, surrounded by plain, ordinary, typical storefronts, a Hollister just comes across as clunky, over-the-top, and silly looking. Obnoxious, to a degree. A thatched roof comes out to cover the entrance to the store, which is already on a wooden porch a foot off the ground. The result is that the front doorway is just over six feet tall. Not exactly inviting for a guy of my height, in spite of Hollister's best efforts to make the place as alluring as possible - after all, height issues aside, who wouldn't be drawn to a surf shack in the middle of a mall fifty miles from the coast in the Northeastern United States?

Things only get more absurd once you get inside. The three words best used to describe the interior of the store would be crowded, dark, and loud. Let's start with crowded. In order to sufficiently place enough gimmicky props in the store to maintain the illusion of being a beachfront surf shack, Hollister limits itself to using about two thirds of the available floor space on actual merchandise. Factor in the clunky tables the clothing is displayed on, and you're looking at maybe two foot aisles between all of the clothing displays. I would be remiss not to mention that the store is not a wide open store either, but an array of small rooms. Why? I imagine the goal is to provide as many walls as possible so that one can have maximum exposure to beach shack decor, but all this actually does is disorient the shopping customers. Between some rooms, there are even hallways with no merchandise whatsoever. During my one venture inside Hollister, I soon found myself at what I thought was the back of the store, only to look to my left and see the front doorway.

But the disorientation is just as much due to the darkness. The store is essentially unlit. Each table of merchandise is under a dim limelight, making it tough to see what you're purchasing until your eyes adjust, and nearly impossible to see anything that isn't on one of these tables, such as the floor, walls, and other customers. It's a land of shadows and silhouettes. I can't think of a worse place to attempt clothing sales. The message I am getting, by reading between the lines, is that Hollister does not believe people will buy their clothing if they can see it. This is not a message an apparel store should be sending.

Don't worry though. You won't be seeing much in Hollister, but you'll be hearing plenty. This is because extremely loud music is piped in through speakers around the store. Alternative rock runs amok, which clearly adds to the beach shack imagery. After all, everyone knows that beaches are just rock concerts waiting to happen. Never mind that the beach's prime attraction characteristic is and always has been that it is a place to "get away from it all" and to "relax;" the catchy new single from the All-American Rejects is playing - what's not to love? But I digress - it's not just that Hollister plays loud music, or that it plays pop-punk music. It's that Hollister's company policy is to play music at 80-90 dB. That's absurdly, ridiculously loud. For those of you unfamiliar with the decibel scale, here's a simple comparison: 85 dB is ten times as loud as 65 dB, which is the decibel level at which the average American watches TV at home. It is more than twice as loud as 78 dB, which is the official point at which experts say permanent hearing loss can result from prolonged exposure to such noise levels. Do you think 20-40 hours a week counts as "prolonged?" Poor employees. Actually, because the company mandates such a high music volume, safety regulations in turn mandate that employees wear earplugs, at least part of the time, making conversations like this one commonplace:

EMPLOYEE (YELLING): Hi, welcome to Hollister! Can I help you find anything?
SHOPPER (YELLING): Yeah! Do you have any cargo shorts?

Finally, there is what is probably the most unfortunate part of Hollister: the live feed to Venice Beach. Yes, somewhere amid the limelights and punk rock and beach decor, Hollister has found a spot to place a television which broadcasts nothing but live footage of what's happening in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. This way, we inland New Englanders can finally, truly experience the much-hyped culture of California surfing, right here, on a plasma screen. The only problem with a live feed of a beach - and it's a big one - is that nothing ever happens on a beach. Waves come in, waves go back out, and every now and again there is a person walking a dog. Aside from that, nobody moves. Everyone just sits there, reading, sleeping, tanning. And who could blame them? They're on a Southern California beach! And thanks to Hollister, it's as if I am too. Only, you know, while physically remaining in a loud, dark, pseudo-cabana.

When leaving Hollister, please refrain from using one of the two dozen smaller doors that line the outer wall as actual exits. They are only there for decoration, despite being left ajar at all times. Perhaps they are really there so that the store can breathe a little. After all, the place is a strobe light away from being a night club for minors. Tough to imagine no one has ever passed out or seized inside one of them.

SHOPPER (YELLING): Help! My friend just fell over and now I can't even find her!



Chick-fil-A is the greatest fast food restaurant there is. They have everything you could ever possibly want from a fast food eatery. Delicious food. Impeccable service. All kinds of variety on the menu. Effective advertising. Healthy options. There really isn't a single negative thing I can say about Chick-fil-A, even when food spoilage is brought into the equation.

Once, I found a freckle-sized speck of mold on the bottom bun on my half-eaten Chick-fil-A sandwich. When I went up to the counter and asked only for a new bottom bun, the employee apologized profusely, gave me a whole new sandwich, refunded my money, and gave me a coupon for a future free sandwich. That's two and a half sandwiches for the price of zero. You don't see that kind of respect for the customer in many places, and you'd hardly expect to find it in a food court. Yet here is Chick-fil-A, a true standalone class act in the lowly realm of fast food joints. When I thanked the kid behind the counter, he refused to accept any thanks whatsoever, diligently promising that Chick-fil-A hated giving its customers moldy bread. As I walked away, I heard him yell back toward the kitchen, "We need to do a better job checking for mold on the buns!" Again, this was a freckle-sized speck of mold. Totally non-offensive and even consumable. This kid could not have been more than sixteen years old. He was certainly no manager; he was probably making less than seven bucks an hour. Yet here he was, representing the company he worked for in the most professional and apologetic way, sincerely upset that his employer had let down a customer. That's integrity.

And that's really what Chick-fil-A is all about. Not only is the food such a refreshing alternative to the food court norm - delicious, fresh, and healthy to boot - but so are the employees. They respond to every customer's "thank you" not with the standard "you're welcome" but with a smile and a "my pleasure." Once, my girlfriend made a late change to her order and added, out of habit, the word, "sorry." As in, "Oh, sorry, can I have no pickles on that?" The kid behind the counter - again, some fifteen-year-old - let her know very clearly that she should not have been sorry, that there was no need to apologize, and that it, of course, it was his pleasure to make that simple switch. It was almost too much.

Why all the focus on customer satisfaction? It's not just a great business move. It's a religious one. The founder of Chick-fil-A is a devout Southern Baptist, and his religious faith has played an enormous role in his restaurant's goals and policies. The company's mission statement is "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A." The place is even closed every Sunday. If that sounds old-fashioned, it's because it is.

Religion is totally last millennium's thing. In an ever-increasingly secular and atheist society, a business run on Christian principles seems ludicrous, and certainly to some, offensive. It is easy to allow fundamentalist Christianity to scare and repel us. After all, how can we relate to people who don't believe in dinosaurs? It's very easy, then, especially today, to take the bad and leave the good when it comes to religion. Sure, bible-waving preachers from the deep South can be downright frightening, and it's always easy to shake our heads when various Midwestern townships ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. In our haste to ridicule those people seemingly blinded by faith, it is easy to forget about the inherent principles of Christianity and most religions in general. Benevolence, charity, neighborly love. Who does more community service than the religious? Who raises more funds for the impoverished and disabled? There are certainly a number of people out there blinded by faith, but true ignorance would be disregarding all of the contributions made to society by religious organizations.

As long as religion isn't being rammed down my throat, I'm completely tolerant of basically every kind of it. And Chick-fil-A isn't outwardly mining for faith in the least bit. There is no Baptist propaganda anywhere to be found. Their mascot isn't Jesus; it's a cow who cannot spell! If you didn't know Chick-fil-A was run by devout Christians, you'd never learn so by going there. I respect Chick-fil-A not for having religious morals, but for having them without forcing them upon anyone, least of all their customers. And more than anything, I respect Chick-fil-A for having outstanding food and service.

In a day and age where "religious" can be synonymous with "nutty, misinformed, and angry," it's refreshing to see that a company can use basic religious principles to succeed in a secular and capitalist world. Even if it means I need to go to Burger King for my chicken on Sundays.



When I first heard that the mall was getting a Sanrio store put in, I was a little disappointed. After all, we already had plenty of Asian food joints in the food court. I soon learned that Sanrio was not in fact an eatery - but only because I was falsely led to believe that it was an electronics company. Only recently did I realize that Sanrio is the company that brought the world Hello Kitty.

Is there a Hello Kitty comeback in progress? If so, why? I thought we, as a nation, were finally getting over Japanimation. Don't get me wrong; I respect that anime has an important place in both historical and contemporary Japanese society. I just don't understand why or how it's done so well over here in the States. The style is poorly animated, crudely drawn, and generally peppered with plot holes. These flaws are very much accepted in Japan for reasons that warrant an entirely separate discussion, but here in America, we like realistic and seamless animation, a certain level of detail, and coherent and well-organized story structures.

Still, it is undeniable that there exists a niche within American society in which anime is not only accepted but also the preferred form of storytelling. I know some people in this niche, and have been told (and made) at various times in my life to watch episodes of different animes. Having done so, I can safely say that, as with any genre, anime has its highs and lows. I wish I could make some recommendations, but honestly, I have seen so little anime, and committed even less of it to memory, that doing so would be leaping way beyond my area of expertise.

This has been a very weak entry, lacking both direction and substance. And for that, I apologize. However, in a way, it's oddly fitting, because direction and substance are sparse in anime. I guess my main problem in tackling this subject matter is that I have no idea what I am talking about when it comes to Hello Kitty and other American-embraced Japanese phenomena, but don't care enough to educate myself on such subjects. I am willfully ignorant. I wish I still thought Sanrio was a cell phone company.


New York & Company

New York & Company is a women's apparel retailer in the mall. There are at least a dozen such retailers, and none ever seem to go out of business. What makes this one noteworthy? To the untrained (man's) eye, nothing. Nothing at all. Half of these women's clothing stores could disappear without me even noticing. In fact, the only reason New York & Company stands out in my mind at all is a very painful memory.

I was at the mall with my girlfriend, and we were about to leave. On the way out, she noticed NY & Co. out of the corner of her eye and decided she needed to drop in really quickly. They must have been having some kind of sale; I see no other reason she would have needed to check it out, having already purchased some clothing from other stores. But, being a 21st century gentleman, I put up no fight and followed her into the store. I waited in diligence as she sauntered around the store taking various shirts off the racks, inspecting them precariously and hanging half of them back up. "Does this look cute?" she'd ask me once every few shirts. I nodded solemnly each time, long immune to having any opinion on generic women's tops no matter how hard I tried. My girlfriend ignored my obvious lack of enthusiasm for her choices and eventually was off to the fitting room.

Now, I had waited for her outside of fitting rooms before. The minutes crawl by and it's hard not to get a little bit bored. Usually I'm told to come inside the fitting room area and wait outside her stall to offer commentary on the various outfits she models. I guess even despite my blatant apathy toward her shopping, I still make a great person to bounce wardrobe ideas off of. Here at New York & Company though, I was not allowed inside the changing area. A short Asian lady held out her hand when I tried to enter and with a stern look on her face said, "You can't come in here." For whatever reason, and it was admittedly probably a good one such as "rape prevention," New York & Company had decided to forbid all men entry to their one fitting room area. Plenty of apparel stores use co-ed fitting rooms with the understanding that only one person can occupy any given stall at any given point. Did NY & Co. really think a man clearly accompanying a girlfriend would begin to molest other customers while being under employee surveillance the whole time? I know it's a women's clothing store, and a privately owned one at that, but their refusal to allow men inside a changing room must have been sexual discrimination to some degree. After all, what about transvestite shoppers? Had I approached the fitting room already wearing women's clothes and holding a few dresses in my hand, would I still have been denied entry? Still, ultimately, I did not care in the slightest about being man-hated on. In a way, I was relieved to have an excuse not to accompany my girlfriend to her fitting room. Now, I could stay outside and not feel obliged to create commentary on different pieces she was trying on.

I knew I was in trouble when she went in with ten shirts to try on. I was clearly in for a longer wait than usual. Still, "usual" was five to seven minutes. Worst case, this would be fifteen, I figured. Oh, how wrong I was. You can only check hockey scores on your cell phone for so long. You can only watch the same people walking around the store for so long without them noticing that a large bearded man keeps looking at them. Dirty looks peppered me as the minutes wore on, even though I'd made it my intention not to stare at anyone. I suppose it is only in the nature of the eyes to wander and zone out after enough time of standing and waiting, but I felt embarrassed and guilt-tripped by every cold glare nonetheless. The minutes wore on and on. I wondered if my girlfriend had passed out - jokingly at first, but eventually I could find no other rationale for her extra long stay in the fitting room.

She did finally emerge from the fitting room. The final tally? Forty-seven minutes. That's longer than an episode of any scripted drama series. That's longer than plenty of studio albums. That's 0.0001% of a long and healthy lifetime. I was too zoned out at the time to even give her a little guilt trip about it. The worst part? She didn't buy a single thing. I had just wasted nearly an hour waiting for her to finish playing dress-up. Terrible. Just terrible. There is not even a word to describe what it is like to waste away in boredom while being ashamed of your own gender. Perhaps the Germans have a specific word for such a concept, but I'll just have to make do without one. Simply terrible. Quite easily my most painful mall memory ever.

New York & Company: where 21st century gentlemen go to die, one millionth of a lifetime at a time.