The Dark Side Of Greeting Cards, And Other Lessons From 1994

June 3
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My local Hallmark store shelved more dark secrets than Christmas ornaments.

It was my first job that didn’t require wearing a mouse costume at a children’s pizza arcade;  just a part time gig that spanned my freshman year of college. This particular franchise was owned by a quiet, kind woman who seemed to have a knack for hiring women who could fashion a dazzling display out of seasonal stuffed animals and books that record your voice.

The small crew of employees was a rotating cast of part-timers with the exception of one full timer: Heather. She was much too old to be named Heather; she looked like her name should be Rapscallion or Porridge or Foolnanny because she reminded me of a Disney villain. Everyday she donned a lavender polo shirt and khaki pants; her unchanging white, teased hair and bright pink blush only accentuating her resemblance to a cartoon character. When my shift started at 4:00PM, Porridge would be clocking out and heading home to check on her simmering caldron of snake eyes. As she exited, there would be a barking of instructions accompanied by an icy glare.

I would later learn that too-old-to-be-named-Heather was suspicious of me because she thought I was stealing money from the store where she worked, Full Time. When the owner checked the numbers each morning, she noticed the money wasn’t adding up. Since there were only two closers (myself and a woman I will call Amethyst) there was a 50% chance that I was the scoundrel, or Amethyst and I were partners in crime. However, The Hallmark Embezzlement Scandal of 1994 was a one woman crime ring consisting solely of Amethyst. Since closers held keys to lock the store, Amethyst would let herself back in late at night to sleep in the supply room. On the morning the owner discovered Amethyst sleeping on  pushed-together chairs, she immediately knew I was innocent. In your wrinkly face, Porridge!

Once the squatter was terminated, Sheila began closing the store with me. Sheila had a wealthy husband who wouldn’t “allow” her to have a “real job” but decided she could work part time at the store for “something to do.” (Quotes are her words, not mine.) Sheila used the money she made at the store to pay for her twice weekly visits to her psychic, Donna Sunshine. The nation was knee deep in the OJ Simpson trial and Sheila visited Donna every week to ask if OJ was guilty. Each time, Donna said, “yes, indeed he is.” Sheila also revealed to me that Donna had informed her I was not the one stealing money from the store and that I was a good person who could be trusted. After a year of hearing Donna tid-bits, per Sheila, I was convinced to pay a visit to Ms Sunshine.

On Sundays, I worked with Duane. He was kind and normal and could talk about anything. Duane had a full time job and only worked Sundays to get a discount. He belonged to The Hardcores. That was the name I gave the collectors who frequented my Hallmark. Hardcores have their names on pre-order lists for Christmas ornaments, ceramic figurines and limited addition Barbies. They spend thousands of dollars a year on said items and keep everything in the original box. Never, ever have they laid a finger on Victorian Barbie’s velvet dress – she will forever remain encased by cardboard and plastic. Hardcores make a weekend of expos where one can sell and purchase rare items to complete their collection of Boyd’s Bears. Hardcores follow the rules of any good subculture: create an economy in which the currency is obscure knowledge exclusive to your group, talk shit about each other and grant any freak acceptance based on their collection of rare vintage Snoopy ornaments.

One of the Hardcores who patronized our store was a bearded woman. I never saw her with the beard grown out, but she always had substantial stubble. She came in twice a month to gather her pre-ordered items. At Christmas, she had so many boxes that we needed a dolly to help her get them to her car. The bearded woman never traveled alone. She had a posse of morbidly obese adult sons who didn’t make eye contact or small talk. Duane told me that the bearded woman forced her 20 something sons to share a bedroom because she needed an entire bedroom to house the unopened boxes of Precious Moments and Christmas Barbies – among other porcelain oddities and annual limited edition ornaments. Duane had the best gossip about The Hardcores.

I learned some valuable lessons in the year I worked at the Hallmark store. Each person taught me a lesson I carry with me to this day.

The owner showed me that a staff can be managed with gentle, yet firm authority and that you should always assume people are innocent until proven guilty.

Heather taught me that I am really good at making up nicknames and I should use that power for good, and not evil. Which is really hard because the best nicknames tend to be unflattering. Damn you, Porridge! I just can’t win with you.

I learned that even a fresh faced, innocent looking young woman such as Amethyst can be harboring dark secrets. There had to be a reason she thought sleeping on chairs in a greeting card supply room was better than sleeping in the bed at her home.

Sheila showed me that if you play your cards right, you can trade your personal freedom for a big house, nice car and an emotional affair with a psychic. I wish I could tell Sheila the thought of her life is what kept me going through tough final exams and long nights writing end-of-term papers. But she probably already knows. Because, Donna.

I like to think I taught Duane a little something. I knew he was gay even though he kept referring to his partner as “roommate.” I called him out, told him I loved him and gave him a hug. He teared up and used his partner’s name from that day forward.

Donna Sunshine is still a practicing psychic. I googled her not long ago because I was thinking of contacting her when I realized a few of the things she told me at age 19 came true years later. She told me I would marry someone whose name started with the letter, “J.” (My husband’s name is Jeff Jones.) She predicted I would acquire a luxury vehicle by way of a family member. (My aunt sold me her Lexus for dirt cheap.) And she told me the meaning of a reoccurring dream I had as I child. (I never mentioned the dream to her and had the dream for the last time when I was 10 years old.)

To protect the innocent and the Amethyst, I changed all the names with the exception of Donna and Heather. Because let’s face it. There is clearly nothing you can sneak by Donna Sunshine and Heather is probably dead by now.

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