There was a brief time in my life, not very long ago, when I was nearly out-on-my-ass poor. In the end, I came out both more compassionate and more resolute because of it, but at the time, it was desperate. I couldn’t turn the heat on in my apartment unless it was dangerously cold, and even when I did, the heater wasn’t strong enough to do the job. I often only ate one meal a day – usually pasta in melted butter. I had been more gainfully employed before that and had managed a small savings, which was quickly used up paying rent. I remember nearly crying because my state tax return came back in the negative; I simply did not have $50 for the State of Illinois.
A friend of mine was an assistant manager at the Lego retail store on Michigan Avenue and, knowing where I stood, he offered me a seasonal job in December of that year. If he hadn’t I might not have made it, and I’m in his debt. It remains one of the greatest favors ever done for me. Still, it was the Lego store. It was, by far, the most humiliating, boring, unsatisfying job I’ve ever taken. After all, I was a 23-year old college graduate selling Legos for $7.50/hour. I was working along side high school students on winter break. I had to wear a little nametag in the shape of a Lego.
I kept an intermittent journal during my time there that I came across recently. So, without further delay, this is the first in what will be a short Running Downhill serial: Records of Desperation, One Man’s Travails in Legoland.
First thing this morning, I had to read a training manual for Lego. It’s the same kind of thing every retail or
fast food job makes you read, up to and including silly acronyms for customer service like “H.E.R.O.” or “S.T.A.R.” or “H.O.R.S.E. S.H.I.T.” But I stumbled on something interesting. One particular section insisted that I give 100% in servicing my Lego clientèle. It admonished me further by provided a laundry list of what would go wrong if 99.9% was acceptable in the working world.
For example, some 12 babies each year would go the wrong mothers out of the hospital. Or 118,000 prescriptions would be mis-filled (which is dubious, as I am sure it happens even more often than that). After reading the deadly results in store for anyone who gives 99.9%, I found two typos in the following 3 pages of the booklet. I was tempted to add “2 typos would appear in a Lego Retail Employee Handbook” to the list, but I suspected by new boss, Jeannie (a grown woman in Winny-the-Poo sweatshirts and sitting nearby), would not share my amusement.
The day wore on, and I tested the handbook’s theory by intermittently giving anywhere between 57% and 110%, without any change in my apparent approval rating from coworkers and customers. I began to wonder if the 99.9% typos were a trap designed to weed out those over-qualified for the job.