My first work day was spent watching videos, filling out forms. It had been almost thirty years since I’d been a new employee. There had been a lot of changes over those three decades. The most glaring change was the “pee test”–submitting a urine sample for drug testing while an armed guard stood nearby. Apparently, drug-free “pee” was in high demand. If I’d known this in advance, I might have chosen a different, more lucrative, career path.
There were lots of hoops to jump through for a job that didn’t pay much over minimum wage. Didn’t anybody trust anybody anymore? “Welcome to X-Mart, we’re glad you’re here,” really meant–we trust you, but not that much. X-Mart provided opportunity for advancement, stock purchasing, group healthcare–all deducted from the wage base. The word “union” was an obscenity never to be uttered on the premises. My previous union membership would remain a secret.
One of the most bizarre experiences of my working life was about to begin. It was early afternoon, the time of day this retired person would rather take a nap. Instead, work vests were passed around. I found an extra-large with an adequate fit. Then, I learned how to clock in and out and was assigned an employee number.
The human resources person brought out a plastic tub filled with plastic name tags and peel-and-stick letters. Some tags were blank, others had names of former employees. The small conference room was all abuzz as new employees peeled off old names, spelled out their own unique names. Nobody else noticed, but there was a problem. I was aghast–there were no “L’s.” Especially, since my first name is William–nickname Bill. Only my mother called me William, when I was in trouble.
I couldn’t remain incognito–although “incognito” had a certain Latin flair. My junk mail came addressed to “Occupant.” Could I use that? Not a chance–don’t rock the boat on the first day. Who was I going to be? What name was close to “Bill”–same amount of letters sans “L’s?” There was “Buzz,” like Buzz Aldrin the astronaut. And then, there was “Biff.” The name reeked toughness–like Batman and Robin throwing punches at a villain. So, that’s how I became known around X-Mart as “Biff.”
Biff needed extra toughness on late shifts. Most late evenings were spent staring out the front windows at the empty parking lot. Two weeks passed, and before shift end one night, an attractive, thirtyish young woman approached, and introduced herself. “Hi, I’m ‘Julie,’ your immediate supervisor. You’re mine–you work for me. I want you to be my door greeter from now on.” That was news to me. Why hadn’t she been there on orientation day? Had she disappeared along with the missing “L’s?” Was this simply a coincidence?
My supervisor quickly made up for lost time. “Biff get this, Biff get that. Biff go to ladies wear and pick up all the loose hangars before you clock out. Biff, go out in the parking lot and round-up the stray carts–pick up any trash you find along the way.” The job wasn’t difficult–the hardest part, finding someone to relieve me to go to the restroom. That required a strong constitution. I gained new respect for those working entry-level jobs.
My alter-ego, Biff, existed for only a few short weeks. Biff made some friends–including the night security guard. We discussed sports, talked about shoplifters, and store security. But sadly, Biff had to go–he needed new challenges. Shortly after, I found employment at a big-box home improvement store. The missing “L’s” remained a mystery for the ages. Best of all, I could be myself–no more Biff!