Thursday, March 15, 2018

Toys "R" Us Kid

I worked at Toys "R" Us for five years, and though those were many years ago now, I'm still saddened to see the company preparing to shut down for good.

I started at Toys just before turning 17, figuring that if I had to work, I might as well work with toys, right? I certainly had a lot of fun at the Route 46 Totowa store: dinners at the nearby (and long-gone) Calico Kitchen with the mildly lecherous women of the front end who trained me, toy-gun fights in the aisles, store closing announcements (occasionally with assumed accents), flirtatious (and not-so-flirtatious) cashiers... I met many great people there, too, and while I'm sorry a lot of them have dropped out of my life, some of us are still friends on Facebook, and I've seen a few over the years. Jon and I still get together irregularly, more than two decades after deciding to try working on some tunes and naming ourselves "Not An Exit," after a sign hanging over the store entrance (which I took home after a remodel).

the Totowa Hell Patrol

Some of the most fun I had, of course, was in the creation and publication of the Underground Giraffe, with Steve and, later, Autumn. It started out as sly but predominantly innocent teasing, but we and the Company became rather more antagonistic toward each other over subsequent issues, to the point where Steve and I were written up and warned that our jobs could be on the line. While we did plan on changing our creative direction, UG effectively fizzled out after that.

At least, until I made the decision over a year later to finally leave T"R"U for good. Over the years, as the Company became more corporate and managers became more managerial, I found myself more harried and less happy at work, to the point where I was going home with headaches. After joking for a long while that I would leave upon becoming fully vested in the profit sharing and 401(k) after five years of service, I came to realize that it would really be best if I did. I wrote a lengthy open letter of resignation, which I turned in with my two weeks' notice. To my surprise, the assistant store director sat down with me to discuss the letter and several of the points I'd raised, and she convinced me not to leave just yet, but to give management some time to address my complaints.

It didn't take very long for me to give up again, however, and I put out the last two Underground Giraffe issues before walking out after work one night and... not coming back. Or calling out. I would never leave a job that way now, needless to say, but at the time, it felt like the only way. When I stopped back in at the store a week and a half later to get my last paycheck, everyone was so happy to see me, and apparently no one had interpreted my absence as a resignation. Heh. I set them straight.

For a few years afterwards, I wasn't very comfortable setting foot in a Toys "R" Us store, or even seeing a giraffe. I got over it, and I'm glad for the things I learned and the experiences I had and the friends I made at store # 6304. (OK, I worked a few months at the Cherry Hill store, too, while attending Glassboro State College, but it was never the same.)

One of my former co-workers, Judie, remarked on Facebook, before we knew that the chain's end was officially coming, that "we may need a final edition of the Underground Giraffe." I jokingly agreed that it might be time for the "Corporate Liquidation... of Death!" issue, but today I'm thinking that maybe I do want to put out one last issue, for old time's sake. Only I don't want to do it alone, so I thought I'd ask the old T"R"U crew to pitch in. If you've got a story, funny or scary or sweet or whatever, that took place in our old store, want to write it up and send it to me to be published in the last UG? Anyone have photos they might want to include? Jon, Steve, care to throw together a bit of artwork? I would love to print up some copies and bring them to the reunion. :-)

some of the many name badges I wore over the years

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