Posted by: Vanessa Barneveld | May 28, 2009

She Works Hard For the Money

When I was fifteen, my sister got me a job as a K-Mart checkout chick. She had already landed a coveted role in the hi-fi department, where she pumped out Terence Trent D’Arby and George Michael on high rotation. Five metres away, across the indoor mall, Darren Hayes worked at Woody’s record store. He sold me my first Madonna album. He went on to sell millions of his own records as half of Savage Garden. Years later, he and I would pass each other on the streets of Brisbane and yell out, “Hey, I know you!” every time.

Checkout chickdom was considered the bottom of the food chain. You had to stand in one spot all day, which meant you couldn’t run away from mean customers. Personally, I thought being a trolley boy was worse. They had to wrangle shopping trolleys from the outer reaches of the parking lot and herd those rusty clunkers back home rain, hail or shine. Of course, the more savvy trolley boys took advantage of the fact they lacked direct supervision.

I was rarely more than two feet away from the front-end controllers, as they called supervisors there. So I had to be on my best behaviour. But there was one time where I strayed from the rules and risked my job…

See, this is back when items were manually marked with price stickers. No barcodes or scanners. Each department was assigned its own price sticker colour. Only staff were supposed to know the codes behind the colours. If we were presented with, say, a pair of jeans bearing a yellow, low-priced sticker (the stationery department’s colour, if I remember correctly), we had to call for a price check because that’s a sure sign the customer is trying to swindle you by swapping stickers.

Around Christmas time, a man and his young son stepped up to my counter. The guy wore dirty clothes and he looked like he was about to throw up. He put down a packet of brake pads from the Auto department. From experience, I knew these things were around sixty bucks. Yet this package’s price tag, curled up at the corners, read $9.95 in smudged ink. What’s more, the sticker colour belonged to the Toy section. I looked into his eyes and he seemed to be begging silently. Right then, I thought, “If I don’t give him a discount, he’ll probably have a car accident because he can’t afford new brakes and it’ll be all my fault.”

Maybe I’m a total sucker and maybe the guy pulled that trick all the time, but there are times when you just have to give people the benefit of the doubt and forget about the rules.

What kinds of weird workplace rules have you worked under and/or broken?

Check out the dancers in the background in this Donna Summer clip.



  1. Hey, V, great blog! And I’m glad your heart ruled your head. I hope you didn’t get in trouble. I’ve never been a checkout chick. In fact, I didn’t have a proper paid job until I graduated. Because we had a farm, I used to help out there when I had spare time. I’ve sometimes wondered if that’s why I had such trouble settled down to 9 to 5 in the years afterwards. Now I’m a writer and it’s kinda 24/7 but at least I get to choose what I wear – pajamas are choice du jour!

  2. Hello, lovely Anna! To be honest, toiling away on a farm would’ve suited me–no customers, no phones! So great that you can do your job in pajamas these days.

    I never told a soul about the brake pad guy until now. These blogs are turning into public confessionals! I’ve since made many, many purchases at KMart as penance.

  3. Hi Vanessa,

    Great blog. At least it was brake pads he was buying. I was in a supermarket recently when someone tried the sticker swap between two deli packages – king prawns and chicken necks, then tried to leave the chicken (now marked as prawns) behind. I wondered why the guy being served suddenly took off leaving his shopping behind! It was quite a few kilos and he’d been caught out redhanded.

    Must be a goody two shoes. Can’t remember deliberately breaking the rules at work. Maybe because mine have been mainly office jobs…

  4. My dear Annie, thanks for stopping by. I can’t help but wonder what kind of karma your sticker swapper would have suffered if he got away with it. Food poisoning from the prawns?

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