"I ASKED IF YOU HAD ANY COPIES OF IT IN STOCK, NOT FOR YOUR OPINION OF IT" barked the middle aged crone with the fake tan and bad teeth, her arms folded, struggling to hide the plethora of gaudy Sovereign rings that adorned her wrinkled hands. The people in the huge que behind her murmured and looked in my direction.
This would require tact and diplomacy.
"Unfortunately, we have no remaining copies of Mamma Mia on DVD in stock at the moment. If you give me a moment I can check whether our store in the Liverpool One shopping centre has any available?" I charmed through a fake smile.
She gave me a look like I was something she had just scraped off her shoe and dragged her bawling grand-child along with her, strutting away from the counter dramatically like a bad soap actress, nose up in the air.
"Customer service in 'ere is fuckin' AWFUL" she spat back, more at the que than to me as she barged out of the store, her Primark carrier bags banging into other customers and display units.
There was another low murmur from the que and some embarrassed laughter, and the next customer stepped forward, a young black lad of about 21 in a striking blue Lacoste tracksuit, grinning broadly, gold front teeth gleaming as he handed me a couple of UFC tournament DVD's.
"Too much her, eh mate? What was with the attitude?"
I scanned his items and bagged them, shaking my head with a wistful smile.
"I just made the mistake of laughing at her taste in films... £22.99, please mate"
"Yeah, I heard.... Musicals, man...bad news...My bird loves them..."
I handed him his DVDs back as he passed me his VISA card and I swiped it through the till-point mechanically. In a few moments it registered the sale and noisily spewed out his receipt, which I handed to him.
"There you go, fella, enjoy"
"Thanks man, safe"
A chubby white bloke in a dirty parka jacket and filthy jeans approached the counter, slowly placing two Wrestlemania DVD's in front of me with his podgy hairy hands, topped by grubby finger-nails you could plant vegetables under, not looking me in the face. He spoke in a low, nervous tone, almost a whisper.
"Erm...just those two, mate.."
I paused to glance at him momentarily, noticing slight dribble by the sides of his mouth. His long hair was lank and greasy and his face unshaven and rough. He was maybe near the 40 mark. My vision shot from his face to the two DVD's and then back again. He clocked me and squirmed slightly, averting his eyes to a spot somewhere above and behind me.
"They're....Christmas presents....for me little lad, like...."
I had to bite my lip as I continued to serve him, deliberately going slow. It was disturbing how many grown men were buying stuff like this, I noted internally. The guy before him had bought two blood-thirsty full-contact fighting DVD's, and here he was, picking up two pathetically-choreographed pantomimes. I always found it hard to believe that people actually went into public shops and bought this stuff. They were like the idiots in Britian who still bought the Sun newspaper and watched reality TV shows and listened to country and western music, despite having absolutely no historical or geographical knowledge of the United States. You don't believe they actually exist, but you know they are out there, somewhere, clinging to the collective underbelly.
"That'll be.... £44.00, please"
He suddenly shot his gaze back to me accusingly, his neck upright, the dribble seemingly more pronounced.
"But....but...it's only £20 each..... in Woolworth's..." he stammered, more pleading than aggressive.
I stared at him blankly. I wasn't in the mood to negotiate. If I really had my way, he could have honestly taken them for free. Seriously. Use them as an ashtray, pal. Prop up a dodgy table leg with them. Wedge them under that broken garage door, hell even use them as coasters on your coffee table. Just please, PLEASE don't masturbate over them. Even worse, DON'T try to use them to entice vunerable young boys into your seedy terraced house. That was what he had in mind, wasn't it?
"I'm sorry my friend. I guess you should maybe try Woolworths then, if their price is better?'
He scowled at me, and rummaged through his pockets with a wounded stance, eventually pulling a handful of crumpled notes and loose change from his inside jacket pocket, almost flinging them at me across the till.
"Nah, I'll take it" he grunted.
I queasily unravelled and straightened his cash, which looked as if he had used them for tissue paper, counting off the required amount. I remember thinking of something my father had once asked me: "What's the most diseased thing in the world?" I had answered something like rats, or dog-shit or flies. His response? "MONEY. Think about all those dirty bastards who go to the bathroom, don't wash their hands and then handle cash in their pockets?" Ever since I had been paranoid, religiously washing my hands. Howard Hughes had nothing on me. But then again thinking deeply about it now, money could be considered a double-barrelled answer to a degree. It could also be the most diseased thing on the planet morally...
I snapped out of my daydream and finished serving, the customer snatching the bag and change away, not bothering to wait for his receipt.
Ross on the till left of me nudged me slightly and gave me a nod, his face almost hidden by his long hair.
"Say, it's 2 o'clock. You wanna take your break now?"
That sounded smart. I'd been on since 8am, and my legs were aching and stomach rumbling. There hadn't been time for any breakfast, it had been a killer shift alright.
"Yeah, nice one. You go on yours after me, yeah?"
"Yeah, man sweet" Ross drawled, as I made my way around the till past the other staff, halting to tap Fern on the shoulder as she checked for stock on the computer at the end.
"Listen Ferny, I'm off on my break - cover for me will ya?"
She smiled sweetly back and silently nodded.
I kissed the top of her multi-coloured head and made away through the heaving shop floor, dodging homicidal single mothers with prams in the Disney section and moody-looking unwashed scally kids who should have been at school. Stooped, shifty old men with baseball caps pulled down over their faces hovered by the world cinema section, suspiciously close to the adult films. It was as surreal a workplace as it was perversely amusing.
I eventually made my way out to the back of the store, headed up the two flights of stairs and reached the ZAVVI staff-room. It was almost better than my flat - a large rectangular room with a small kitchen unit at the right side as you walked in and a huge flat screen TV dominating the wall at the left end, with a smart black leather couch facing it. Perched on it were Big John and Hanksy from the video games department downstairs, both locked into a highly-contested game of Pro-Evolution Soccer 2009 on the staff Playstation 3. They both paused the game and turned simultaneously to acknowledge my entrance, giving me a silent wave. I waved back and headed to the fridge, rummaging through it until I found my chicken pasta bake ready meal. I placed it into the microwave, set if for 6 minutes and took a seat at one of the two wobbly tables in the centre of the room, watching Liverpool and Inter Milan battle it out in extra time. The microwave hummed away noisily, punctuated by shouts and screams of frustration as both teams were denied by the woodwork and a dubious off-side decision respectively.
I'd been working at the store around 2 weeks, not too long after I had moved into my new flat. It felt like I had been there forever - the staff were all on the level, great fun to hang around with both in and out of work, and the role itself wasn't too demanding. Selling products which I had a great passion for was play-school for me. The only trouble that crept into this little paradise was the wages weren't stunning.
But job satisfaction was more than ample compensation.
I'd had countless previous jobs that had been for far greater money. Yet they were repetitive, banal. Many of the staff were egotistical, self-centered, career minded jobs-worths. It just wasn't my scene. Coming in on a Monday to some mindlessly boring administrative role in a Solicitor's office, with bitchiness and gossip flying around, trying to stay remote and aloof from the bullshit. Having no out-of-work social scene, because you just couldn't connect on any level with the other people who worked in there, no matter how hard an effort you made.
I needed something that was to my tastes, and ZAVVI was ticking all the right boxes. We were all pretty much on the same amount of dollar, of a similar mindset and we all clicked together. It was actually fun. I liked these guys and I liked the job. You can't ask for much more than that after what seemed like a life-time of ass-kissing Nazi superiors and performing tasks that depressed you to the point of tears.
The microwave chirped and I rose from my seat, digging out a fork from the drawer by the sink, which was piled up with grimy dishes and cups. I gingerly removed the piping hot plastic tray from the microwave, lowly swearing to myself in pain as I peeled the wrapping film from the top, scalding my fingertips. I sat back down and tucked in.
"YYYEEEEEEAAAHH DRILLED IT LAD!! HAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!!!" roared Big John, as Inter Milan's Ibrahimovic screwed in a dipping volley from the edge of the penalty area .
"That's getting SAVED and ya KNOW IT HAHAHAAA!!" he playfully punched Hanksy on the arm, who had his head in his hands in disbelief.
"118 minutes I don't fuckin' believe this...Been absolutely mauling you in this match as well.."
Big John deliberately left the action replay run and run, winding Hansky up mercilessly as he savoured what was almost certainly a last-gasp victory. After groans from his opponent in protest at having to wait whilst he insisted on saving his wonder-goal to the PS3's internal memory, he eventually restarted the game. The two remaining minutes plus stoppage time flew past with no real further chances, and he chuckled to himself as the final score flashed up:
Inter Milan 4 - Liverpool FC 3
Hanksy dejectedly dropped his control pad onto the couch and rose up to his feet, adopting a mock spoilt brat tone as he strolled languidly out of the staff room back to his department.
"I don't wanna play this game no more..." he whined as he headed out down the stairs.
"Eh Freddy... I got 15 minutes left of my break - you wanna crack at the title, lad?" smirked Big John as he held the spare controller out mischeviously.
"I can take you down on that game anytime, John-Boy. Just lemme scran this chow first" I replied through a mouthful of blisteringly hot pasta.
Yeah, I thought. This is the job for me.......