Wednesday, June 20, 2007


by Gina Sestak

Last post (June 6), I mentioned my self-employment and the fluctuating income I received from it. That unpredictable income is the reason I sometimes took a second job during that time.

One of my favorites of those jobs was taking inventory in stores. Everyone who worked for RGIS (Retail & Grocery Inventory Service) had a day job, so I worked beside accountants and teachers, secretaries and laborers. The pay wasn't bad for part-time work, and we only worked a few nights a week. We'd meet somewhere like a restaurant, then drive out to the site together, descending like a horde of locusts to count everything in sight.

We (a crew of ten or fifteen people) would spend the night counting everything in the store. We carried devices like semi-electronic adding machines into which we entered values -- a shelf containing 16 bottles of shampoo priced at $3.07 each became "16 x 3.07, enter." It was repetitive work, which allowed for developing a rhythm. "27 x 4.35, enter, 6 by 5.15, enter, 74 x .33, enter, etc."

The store would usually be closed while we were counting, but some retail establishments (like groceries) stayed open round the clock. I'd be counting along, lost in the rhythm, when someone would come up beside me and ask, "Where are your paper towels?"

"My paper towels are in my kitchen, where are yours?" I'd want to answer, but I'd really say, "I'm not sure. I don't work here," before going back to counting.

One of the fun parts was finding old, perhaps discontinued, merchandise covered with dust on the backs of lower shelves. I'd read the unfamiliar brand names and odd instructions for use, then count these ancient discolored bottles and boxes just like the newer stuff.

What did I learn from this job that helps me as a writer?

I learned to pay attention -- if you let your mind wander too much, you forget whether or not you counted that Similac already.

I learned to appeciate the voyeuristic aspects of looking through somebody else's stuff.

Most of all, I learned that hidden treasures sometimes lurk under the dust down on the bottom shelves.


Joyce said...

My sister-in-law used to work for RGIS, and so did one of my nephews--it got him through college. He actually won a trip to Hawaii through the company.

Nancy said...

I just finished a book, Gina, so I feel as if I'm rummaging through my dusty, bottom shelves for the next idea. Great post, as usual!

Tory said...

"Most of all, I learned that hidden treasures sometimes lurk under the dust down on the bottom shelves." Unfortunately, though my first novel lurks in the dust beneath my desk, I'm afraid it's merely hidden, not a treasure.

I'm taking a training today and - guess what - it's five minutes from home so I'm home for lunch!

Cathy said...

I'm writing my blog for Friday and it feels like I'm looking for hidden treasures in the dust of my mind. You'd think someone would clean up. And concentrating--that's something I know about--or keep losing track of.

As always, enjoyed your blog, Gina.

Rosemary said...

This brough back memories. I used to manage a Waldenbooks store and the RGIS team would come in to do inventory a few times a year. We'd find those paper tags months later...
Rummaging through my own stuff..I occassionally find somethig I tore out of a newspaper 5 or 6 years ago, that I thought would make a god story. Nice blog...first time here..

Rosemary said...

yikes...where's spell check when you need it..