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‘… So why were you doing it?’ I don’t even remember what I answered.
August 23, 2012 4:59 AM   Subscribe

I Was A Teenage Narc. (via Unfogged)
posted by Elementary Penguin (54 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really enjoyed that. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Shepherd at 5:23 AM on August 23, 2012


So why were you doing it?

This is the dreaded question for most jobs at that age. "The money" seems to be the customary answer, as it is here.

This is a very good encapsulation of how complex life can be at that age -- the kid's thinking, the various adult behavior, the sort-of ridiculousness of the whole "sting" operation (both for cigarettes and for booze).
posted by chavenet at 5:27 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


What gain does he see in this illicit, possibly socially ruinous employment?

Socially ruinous yes, but methinks the author needs to look up the meaning of the word 'illicit'. This article rubbed me the wrong way, and not because of 'illicit'. It might be something in the way it's written - I need to read it again later when I'm more awake.
posted by item at 5:29 AM on August 23, 2012


Wow, that was more interesting than I expected. Thank you!
posted by undue influence at 5:30 AM on August 23, 2012


‘So you weren’t in any way being forced or coerced into performing this role, is that correct?’

‘Yes.’

He looked down at his papers.

‘… So why were you doing it?’

I don’t even remember what I answered.


Life can be like a river that just sweeps you into weird opportunities. And it's easiest to just... go with the flow and take them. Like how I ended up working at a biotech company that I disliked for five years without a science degree because of a fluke internship. I think the lesson in this is that it's okay to do that for a while, but once you wake up to the world, it's your responsibility to step out of that river and do something that you actually want to do.
posted by pwally at 5:38 AM on August 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Illicit" accurately describes the way that the police in this story deliberately avoid monitoring people they think are selling to minors in order to avoid paperwork, and then working overtime to get extra pay.
posted by deathpanels at 5:39 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


‘My briefcase is in the back seat, with my gun in it,’ she said. ‘Sorry, I should have told you that before.’
‘You think I should have shot that guy?’ I said.
‘Well, you could have waved it in his face.’


This seems like possibly bad advice to give a teenager. Actually, the whole operation has an "inadequate resources and inadequate supervision quality" that speaks volumes of legal decisions made by politicians and voters who don't bother to imagine how the thing is going to actually work, on a day to day basis, in the real world.

And if the kid seems rudderless, no one else seems well-directed, either.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:48 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Enthralling. Thanks!

Once when I was... what, 10? I saw a couple of older kids smoking (they looked like adults to me, but I guess they were 14 or something). The next day I went into the office of some teacher and told on them. Meanwhile, the same two kids walk past the window, and I go all bug-eyed and point at them -- and they stare right back at me.

Later that day the two kids happen to bump into me and start dressing me down, but I can tell they're not completely sure it was actually me. So I put on a different voice (which in retrospect I'm sure sounded ridiculous) and they did the classic squinty-eyes chest-poking "We'd bettah not catch you messin' with us again!" "Come on Charlie, he ain't worth it.." (except in the local Hot-Fuzz-esque somerset burr) and stomped off.

So anyway, kids are dumb.
posted by Drexen at 5:52 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


deathpanels: ""Illicit" accurately describes the way that the police in this story deliberately avoid monitoring people they think are selling to minors in order to avoid paperwork, and then working overtime to get extra pay."

I suppose you're correct. I was just referring to its use in the context of that sentence.

It's definitely an interesting story and it's told competently. My high school-era friends would've ripped my throat out for taking that job.
posted by item at 5:55 AM on August 23, 2012


That was really a neat story. Confounded my expectations.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:02 AM on August 23, 2012


I used to do similar work but for a private investigator, mostly customer service inspections for various retail operations along with some spot checking for theft and the like. I did it all through college up until my final year. I got to eat for free at the restaurants I visited, drank free at bar and clubs, usual kid shit that involved filling out the endless paperwork stating that bartender X was polite and wasn't using their tip bucket as a register.

On one occasion I visited a chain restaurant in the suburbs at a specified time of day. They'd never tell me in advance what to look for, maybe a hint here and there, and this occasion was no different. I sat down at the bar, ordered a beer from the guy and watched. Halfway into my inspection, the night bartender arrived and switched over with early guy and I ordered a beer from her, a woman approaching middle age. After my visit, I filled out the standard report and went about my business.

A couple of weeks or so later I'm told that I have to appear at a hearing because someone had been fired based on my report. Bartender #1 was fired for not carding me, giving out free refills to the regulars and helping himself to a to-go cocktail on the way out of the restaurant. Not a big deal, people get fired for less in that business.

The problem is that they fired Bartender #2 for also not checking my ID. She was probably under the impression that I was of age, and I obviously was, because her co-worker had already served me. When she applied for unemployment benefits, the restaurant fought it and the hearing was to determine whether or not she was unjustly fired and could receive benefits and/or compensation.

Outside of appealing to the humanity of the arbitrator, she didn't stand a chance. I had to appear alongside the restaurant's GM and an attorney for the restaurant. She walked in alone hoping to get her job back. All I could do was answer the prepared questions the attorney had coached me on and then confirm that she had indeed served me without carding me. I was then dismissed.

I didn't know the backstory of the whole situation but it was obvious that they wanted her not only gone but punished. I felt like shit just for being a part of it. The whole system is setup to deliver drugs to the masses while a bunch of people parade about pretending that they're actually trying to control and regulate it. The people most hurt by it are at the very end of the supply chain, usually the server and the customer.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:11 AM on August 23, 2012 [21 favorites]


Oh man, you really fucked up in there,’ Raj said. ‘That woman had kids.’
‘What?’ I said.
‘Her manager fired her on the spot. She said without this job, she can’t take care of them. It’s going to be impossible for her to find another job with this on her record.’

I didn’t know what to say.

‘She said she doesn’t have the money to pay this fine,’ Raj said.
I was still silent.
‘If the state takes away her kids, that’s your fault.’


What a sadistic man that Raj is. Interesting story and well written but definitely feel a little conflicted about the use of minors in this area.
posted by numberstation at 6:16 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


What a sadistic man that Raj is.

It is just another look into the cesspool of flextime arrangements and the monstrous embodiments of human evil who use them.

definitely feel a little conflicted about the use of minors in this area.


Me, too, but, if the offense is selling to minors, how can they investigate offenses except by using minors? I'm not sure it's illegal to sell to someone pretending to be a high school student if they are actually of age....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 AM on August 23, 2012


Me, too, but, if the offense is selling to minors, how can they investigate offenses except by using minors?

I was going to comment that they could have hired me at 21 as I was near 30 before I stopped getting double takes when I produced an ID that said I was of age. However, not carding me wouldn't be a crime in that case!

It is an interesting problem. I wonder how many of the kids they hire to do this end up using the confidence they gain to buy cigarettes and alcohol?
posted by COD at 6:36 AM on August 23, 2012



Better article that I expected.

I enjoyed the writing style, he touched me how he accounts the experiences that he's witnessed for the first time in the workplace: Being blamed for something in the workplace that he had little control over, Realizing the impact that a procedure designed and implemented by an upper-level agency that he had no interaction with can have on a person, inability to articulate his reasons for taking the job (regardless whether or not he actually knew the reasons); supervisors gaming overtime.
posted by fizzix at 6:40 AM on August 23, 2012


I imagine the motivation to become an undercover/underage police operative is about the same one as the motivation to purchase alcohol/cigarettes underage: it makes you feel less like a kid and more like a real grown-up.
posted by drlith at 6:50 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


That was a good read, but that job is barely a step up from the scum of the universe, the mystery shopper. Aside from the shitting, demeaning nature of some service jobs, while working for minimum wage, or just barely above (if lucky), you have to worry about random assholes who could cost you your job.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:52 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hope he writes another article in a few years when he has enough self-awareness to understand himself better, though this is a good start.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:56 AM on August 23, 2012


Good story, but come on. A narc is someone who rats out their drug dealing friends. This person just worked for the cops.
posted by scose at 6:56 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hah, when I was a kid, we used to play a version of cops & robbers in the hallways & backyards of our parent's San Francisco victorian flats called "Narcs," but the narcs were definitely the bad guys.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:02 AM on August 23, 2012


At first I was ambivalent towards this guy, but then:

‘If you ever get pulled over for anything. Speeding, DUI, doesn’t matter. You show him that card, and tell him you know me. I guarantee you’ll get off with a warning.’

Woooooorth it.
posted by resurrexit at 7:17 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have never been on the purchasing side of the equation, but I do remember a conversation with a liquor store owner about this. Background: Oregon still has a liquor control commission that was created during prohibition and really never quite got over that. They send undercover agents in to bust house parties if it looks like an open party.

Anyway, the owner had this fancy new machine that he dropped my license into, it beeped, I was carded. I thought the machine was neat and said so. Apparently he had bought the machine to avoid a $1000 fine (the machine was $1300) so that he never got nailed in a sting again. The clerk also got fined $1000 and was fired.

In all honesty, I think giving the owner the option to buy the machine to avoid the fine was a really good move. It essentially discounted the machine to $300 and the thing was quicker at carding than a clerk. I was surprised that no other stores used such a machine, but compliance was really high in Portland, in part, I think, because of the OLCC.

(Not to say that the OLCC were not jackbooted thugs who did their best to disrupt any party they could, but in this case, they seemed reasonable.)
posted by Hactar at 7:26 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hope he writes another article in a few years when he has enough self-awareness to understand himself better, though this is a good start.

?

In a few years' time he'll have enough self-awareness to understand an even-more-distant past self?
posted by kenko at 7:32 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The biggest thing that jumped out at me was wondering how these officers were able to rack up all that overtime without anyone questioning it. Don't these people have bosses??
posted by gjc at 7:32 AM on August 23, 2012


I was near 30 before I stopped getting double takes when I produced an ID that said I was of age

I'm a pretty young-looking 32, particularly when I'm clean-shaven, and I'm pretty sure that I only stopped getting carded because I started wearing a wedding ring. So kids, that's your in, at least in a place where teenagers don't get married.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:37 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


The weirdest thing to me is that he's so mystified about his motivation and never seems to consider the obvious answer, that he was doing it for the money. Seriously I thought maybe it was some weird volunteer or internship thing for most of the article.
posted by Perplexity at 7:39 AM on August 23, 2012


At one point in my life I was hanging with a 40ish piano player and was under the local serving age. So I'd go watch the sets and always had soda/water/virgin (drink x). Then the day I "became street legal" I ordered the booze. Bartender didn't think anything of it - till the piano player mentioned that yesterday I became 'legal'. Bartender was having a kitten or 2 'till she was reminded that she'd never served me booze so there was no problem.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:42 AM on August 23, 2012


The weirdest thing to me is that he's so mystified about his motivation and never seems to consider the obvious answer, that he was doing it for the money. Seriously I thought maybe it was some weird volunteer or internship thing for most of the article.

I got the impression that he didn't realize the money would be particularly good (or that there would be fringe benefits like a get-out-of-traffic-stop-free card) until he was already doing the job. To wit:
I may not have any idea why I started the job, but once I started, I know why I stayed. The pay was $8.50 an hour, with time and a half for any shifts past eight hours. I was being paid more than my lifeguarding and baristing friends to essentially sit in a car all day.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:50 AM on August 23, 2012


all that overtime without anyone questioning it. Don't these people have bosses??

The bosses are in the union, too.
posted by Nelson at 8:14 AM on August 23, 2012


rack up all that overtime without anyone questioning it

We're doing something about sales to minors! Look at our time sheets! The costs! The horror...

the scum of the universe, the mystery shopper

It's unfortunate that people steal. They just do. Some times they don't know they are, but more often than not it's a concerted effort to enrich themselves at the cost of others that drives them to do it. Easy money. Many times they're sorry, but only after being caught and exhausting their options. That goes for bankers, government contractors, nurses, priests and the night manager at the gas station.

It's also unfortunate that people agree to perform a job without having any intention of following instructions or actually doing the work they're being paid to do. It's a sad state of affairs but that's why we have forensic accountants, managers, foremen, security, you know, all those do-nothing jobs whose efforts go towards keeping people honest. If one is perceived to be scum it's probably due to the people they have to associate with in their jobs, not the job itself.

The mystery shopper is usually someone working part time, making ends meet at night and on the weekends. In my case I usually had multiple low-paying jobs while going to school full time and not coming from means, it was easy to do a job that could feed me while it paid decent money. Did I enjoy visiting every single Ground Round from Bangor to Foxboro? No, but it kept me in school. And I was honest about it. Outside of stealing, the only time someone was fired due to my actions was when I wrote down that "Bartender #2 didn't card me." Management was looking for a reason to get rid of her, they set her up and I did their dirty work. They also operate in a town that has draconian liquor rules, so avoiding the fines and potential loss of license is something all of the establishments in that town do aggressively.

Upwards of 90% of the work I did was customer service inspections on behalf of the client who cannot get an honest evaluation while there. Is my restaurant set up the way it's supposed to be? Are people doing their job like I trained them to? Are the customers paying for their food and drinks?

Other times yes, they needed to know who was walking out the back door with a case of booze and steaks. I've seen live lobsters pulled from a tank and put into a waiter's backpack, knowing that said waiter had just finished a staff meal and a shift beer. Who pays for that? The person that put their money up for the restaurant and all it entails does. The person who keeps the lights on and people employed. Customers don't want to hear about your price increases due to spillage, they're not going to absorb the costs.

Does someone's low pay justify thievery? I'm on the side that it doesn't, and if that's the case I believe myself to be part of the majority of people who don't want to get ripped off.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:17 AM on August 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


I recall a time and place, amongst teenagers, where everyone that wasn't especially liked was called a 'narc'. In the course of a few months, this escalated. A friend of mine got shit, being called a narc. He was relatively new to town. He was also my dealer. It was just baseless bullshit, and the childish shits we had for so-called 'peers' didn't comprehend how narc was a serious thing, and we needed a healthy signal-to-noise ratio when calling folks narcs.

I quit being a kid that year. Quit school, left home, and began my adventures. Only thing I ever did with anything remotely police/authority connections was some voluntary help to the state Vista program coordinator, who was a friend. Oh, I never miss 1974 especially much.
posted by Goofyy at 8:21 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was like a real-life Repo Man movie.
posted by The Power Nap at 8:25 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I did this exact same thing as a teenager, though only for cigarettes. Also, it was in Canada, and the penalties were not nearly so harsh, and instead of a cop it was a bureaucrat from Health Canada. If a business didn't have a record of selling to minors, I'd go in with not enough money, so that if they offered to sell to me I'd just say "Oops, guess I didn't bring enough," and leave. Then they would get a warning. Second time, the business would receive a "Notice of Violation", which was pretty much just a more formal warning. Third time, the business would get a fine of some sort, depending on various factors that I never got to find out about, because we never actually found a business that made a third violation. In fact, in 2 years there were only 3 or 4 places that got the "Notice of Violation".

I can't say that I ever felt the least bit guilty about it--I'm 100% in favour of bans on selling cigarettes to minors. (Also, that's really fucked up that in the US the clerk who sells to you gets as big a fine as the business. I mean, getting caught is already almost certainly going to mean getting fired; it just seems like piling on to give them a big-ass fine, too. At the very least, the fine should be way smaller for the individual.)
posted by tkfu at 8:27 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


COD: "... I was going to comment that they could have hired me at 21 as I was near 30 before I stopped getting double takes when I produced an ID that said I was of age. However, not carding me wouldn't be a crime in that case! ..."

Actually in Oregon it is.

Washington (the state in the FP Story) has recently dismantled a lot of their Liquor Control department; stores can now sell Liquor in Supermarkets or free-market Liquor stores. Before it was state-owned/managed/franchised(Forget which type) Liquor stores that could only buy the liquor from the state. I'm sure enforcement is probably the same though.

Anyway, as someone mentioned Oregon has the OLCC and they are a pain in the ass for everyone.

Now that compliance in ID checks is near 100% in Oregon they have tried something new: expired licenses. The fine is the same, and if the person OBVIOUSLY looks over 30 and has an expired ID that they show you then it's the same fine as selling to a minor.
posted by wcfields at 8:44 AM on August 23, 2012


The liquor agent I worked with the most was Raj. I don’t know what Raj did before the WSLCB, but he worked liquor enforcement with a reluctance bordering on neglect. Agents were obligated to work 160 hours per month, but were allowed to distribute those hours however they wanted. Raj worked his full 160 in the first 15 days of the month, then flew to India for three weeks, then came back and worked the next month’s 160, all year round.

This is kind of fascinating.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:17 AM on August 23, 2012


I did this one summer. A neighbour of mine worked for a research firm that did this sort of thing, so she wasn't going in to fine them or anything.

I was 15 and they would have sold me cigarettes many times. I was instructed to simply say "oh crap, I don't have enough, be right back" and walk out without buying anything. One time another customer offered to give me the money that I was short and I had to awkwardly refuse as I got outta dodge. I heard her explaining to the clerk that I was some kind of undercover person and she'd seen this before as I left the place.

After this experience, I became to go-to guy to buy cigarettes for my friends in high school.
posted by utsutsu at 9:23 AM on August 23, 2012


I had a class with a real high school narc, Anthony Mendoza. It was health class/driver's ed, and he had zero friends in the class. I felt kind of bad for him, honestly. But I had a job at a terrible Mexican restaurant right next to city hall (which housed the police department), and he'd come in with the rest of the Police Explorers — a cadet program for kids 14 to 21 — and eat. He was kind of glum about not being able to get invited to parties, since he knew there was underage drinking there, and he couldn't seem to buy pot either. It wasn't because he was a narc, per se, but just that he was a weird kid with a huge head who was uncomfortably stiff around people his own age. He seemed profoundly lonely, but I still made sure my dealer friends knew he was a narc, which probably didn't help any. I feel vaguely bad about it now, but since drug convictions can ruin people's lives (especially by making them ineligible for school funding) I don't feel terrible.
posted by klangklangston at 9:37 AM on August 23, 2012


I started off this morning watching puppies play with kittens. It progressed into lions attacking their handlers. Eventually I wound up on Scientology videos (yeah, I don't see the connection either.) I came back to the blue to get grounded and it did me right. Thank you.

The last scene, the tuckered out dog ... that's my psyche.
posted by chemoboy at 9:49 AM on August 23, 2012


Where is this character’s motivation?

At that age? Fun, adventure, a sense of being part of the grown up world.

In a few years' time he'll have enough self-awareness to understand an even-more-distant past self?

That's not uncommon, particularly if he's raising kids of his own.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:19 AM on August 23, 2012


Well, it's one of the few jobs you can get where being a 16 year old kid actually improves your chance of getting hired.
posted by ckape at 10:44 AM on August 23, 2012


Also, that's really fucked up that in the US the clerk who sells to you gets as big a fine as the business. I mean, getting caught is already almost certainly going to mean getting fired; it just seems like piling on to give them a big-ass fine, too. At the very least, the fine should be way smaller for the individual.


Not really if you think it through a little bit further. I'm a bar owner. I don't know about selling cigarettes to a minor, but I do know about issues surrounding serving an underage person. In this case the business gets the violation although on occasion the actual bartender will also get charged, but then it is invariably thrown out of court.

I hire bartenders. I train them, have staff meetings with them, warn them endlessly that they WILL lose their jobs if they don't ID people, harass them if I catch them not properly IDing people, and even bring in spotters to make sure that they ID everyone, but you know what? I can't control whether they actually do it or not when I'm not there. I have to trust that they are doing their job correctly and luckily 95% of the time they are.

However, when they decide for whatever reason not to ID someone and they get caught in a sting, it's my liquor license on the line, not theirs. It's my business that potentially gets shut down or at a very minimum has to pay an attorney to go to both civil court and SLA administrative hearings, and it's me that will pay the thousands of dollars in fines (on top of the couple of thousand in attorney fees). Despite my best efforts in making sure employees do their job correctly, I still carry all of the risk when they don't.

If the employee carried more of the burden of this risk, I guarantee they would forget to ID someone a lot less frequently.
posted by newpotato at 11:03 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


They should lower the drinking age to 18. All the current laws do is ensure that college kids (who want to drink, unsurprisingly) have to spend three years learning awful drinking habits amidst a harmful culture of illicit drinking before they're allowed to sit down and order a beer with dinner.
posted by vorfeed at 11:17 AM on August 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


"I hope he writes another article in a few years when he has enough self-awareness to understand himself better, though this is a good start."

I am 46 years old. I have spent a lot of time examining myself. I have reluctantly come to grips with the idea that I will never understand myself. The fact that he understand that he doesn't understand is a lot more self awareness than most people will accomplish in a lifetime or three.

My motivations are simple, then they rapidly devolve into complexity that...no. Strike that. They devolve into chaos. My motivations change on a daily basis. Some days I want to see the world burnt down for a fresh start, then I watch - of all things - an autotuned Fred Rogers video - and I realize that maybe the world isn't such a goddamned bad place with an even worse destiny. That maybe we can at least enjoy our short ride. Later I will be annoyed that I got strung along by false hope again.

Naw, this guy's on the right track, or well, he kind of hints that he is. Maybe he is an even bigger rat now. At least he looks back and wonders what the hell he was thinking. And it made for an interesting story. Is there anything more to life than that?
posted by Xoebe at 11:23 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's interesting to compare this story to my own experiences growing up, regarding the changes in tobacco and alcohol laws and their enforcement. When I was a young teenager in Wisconsin, in the mid-seventies, teenagers could buy cigarettes at bars--not from a machine, from the bartender--and even though we technically didn't serve the red wine at Boy Scout spaghetti dinners, they were careless enough with the non-empty glasses that we could each sneak a slug of the stuff while we were clearing up. I went to college in Illinois and, while it had raised its drinking age to 21 by then, I was old-looking enough that I could usually get served at a non-campustown bar or restaurant, although I usually only tried once in a while just to see if I could get away with it. The only time I sold liquor was during my short time, in the early nineties, working in a drug store that had a small liquor section )a loss leader to bring more customers in) and I can only remember carding one person who objected to it--someone who looked quite young and pretended not to have her driver license, even though she was driving and had her wallet with her.

Not long after that, I started seeing those "We Card Hard" signs in stores, and started reading about clerks getting busted for selling to minors; specifically, one technique used was to have members of the police-based Explorer posts that klangklangston mentions above who looked significantly older than they were go into convenience stores and try to buy cigarettes or alcohol. (The author of this post says that he never tried to wheedle the clerks into selling to him, but I knew and still know people--your basic volunteer hall-monitor types--who would have, and even if the clerk tried to plead entrapment, it was their word against the kid's.) It seemed like sort of a dirty trick, especially as you probably still had a lot of clerks that had started work when there wasn't so much emphasis on enforcement; if they're so keen on getting people who like, or at least don't mind, checking IDs, why not hire those Explorer cadets in a few years? But at the same time, I can understand why someone would get into it, because you get to hang around with cops and they have all this cool gear and cool cars and you can pretend that you've got a secret identity. I'm glad that at least this guy got to see the real human impact of what he was doing, not to mention find out that some of the ostensible adults that he worked with had no compunctions about passing the buck for that responsibility onto a kid in the worst chickenshit fashion.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:58 AM on August 23, 2012


Same as tkfu, I did this for Health Canada. They only did cigarettes, not booze. Which was good because:
a) I don't actually care about underage drinking, nor did I at the time.
b) The summer I began, my bubby was dying of lung cancer. So I didn't, and don't, have that much sympathy for the people trying to sell kids smokes.
c) [the actual reason is that the law prohibits buying AND selling alcohol for minors, but only selling for tobacco!]

And similarly, I know they weren't fining the clerk. As I recall, and know from my employment law classes the owner isn't allowed to dock the clerk unless there was a history of it with that particular clerk or there's clear evidence of a policy/training - as my controller put it: "it's because they don't have a policy in place, or because they're not teaching it properly." Which, yeah pretty much. I've been cashier at a convenience store, it was DRILLED into me to card if I was unsure.

It was...not super-exciting, to be honest. 90% of places weren't selling to me. And we only did out-of-town stuff, because in-town I might know people or they'll know me/my family (small-ish town, 20k people) and that's bad for obvious reasons. So it was a lot of driving around rural Newfoundland, which is fun enough but honestly I don't like driving that much, if I'm not travelling.

HOWEVER, I did have one event from that time which I still tell. And because I just got back from a hearing and don't want to spend 25 minutes trying to work:


So it's near the end of the summer, I've been trying to buy smokes for 3 months now. We're on an overnight trip up the coast, from Corner Brook (my home) to St. Anthony's. On the way home, we're in Gros Morne National park (or at least nearby), and we pull into a small little convenience store / tourist trap. Brian, my controller, asks me to grab him a diet coke and attempt to get some cigarettes. It's been a long two days, I'm tired, and the shop is pretty sunny, as the waning sun is just right to shine through the windows. So I don't remove my sunglasses. I actually feel embarrassed about that now, because I'm a strong believer in the social "decorum" of taking off my hat / shades when I'm inside / talking to someone (no judgment on others, but it's something I try to do).

They sell me a pack (of what? I can't remember, I had a standard cheap brand I would ask for) without a second glance and I bring it out to Brian in the car down the road [naturally, he would only rarely pull into the lot and wait, because it's a little more obvious]. It's their first offence* so he's just giving them a warning. But he's in there for a lot longer than I would expect for a warning. Whatever, maybe he knows them, I sit back and drink my cream soda.

He comes out, probably 20 minutes after going in, with this super straight face. The kind I would describe as 'sober', y'know? And Brian's a pretty relaxed guy, I dunno what's up. He walks calmly to the car, gets in, turns it on, and buries his face in the wheel. And then he BURSTS out laughing. We start driving away, and he tells me what happened. First, as is usual, they stammer and try to evade. Then, they told him:

"Yeah...I thought he wasn't 18, and I was going to ask him to take off his sunglasses to prove it, but I thought that he had Tourette's Syndrome."

To which I respond, naturally, "Tourette's Syndrome? They thought I have fucking Tourette's syndrome? What a bunch of fucking jerks."**

He told me that he was so confused by the idea of my having Tourette's when I didn't say anything that would imply it that he forgot to ask them about how looking into my eyes would prove my age. Maybe it's like a tree, you count the rings in my iris or something.

That was the first time it was said that I have Tourette's. The other was an accusation by a prof.***

What a great job.

*In my memory there were only two - warning and then fine. Might be differences in provinces / time between me & tkfu, or I'm remembering wrong.

**For clarity: I absolutely don't mean to denigrate anyone with Tourette's, nor is Tourette's only characterized by heavy swearing. I was 16 and kind of a jerk, making the super-obvious joke that when thinking back I'm kind of ashamed of. It was definitely based on the fact that they really didn't think I had such an issue but were trying to dodge responsibility.

***And again: I'm only using the word "accusation" because that's how it was when said to me, not necessarily so due to the condition. I'm actually in the process of writing a letter of complaint to the prof about that behaviour.****

****I think I'm overexplaining myself. Anyways.

posted by Lemurrhea at 1:25 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


jsavimbi, for my part, I worked in a mall at a bookstore, and I had friends both in the store and at other stores. The evaluations we got shown from mystery shoppers had nothing to do with stealing and were instead focused on corporate missives and the rules equivalent of not having enough flair. I knew people who got marked down for not hounding the shopper about the preferred customer program, even though the purchase they were making was too small to make the deal in anyway meaningful. Maybe the system was different for restaurants, but for retail, it seemed that the mystery shopper was the cheerful police, and god help you if you weren't bending over backwards for roughly minimum wage.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:07 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't get the expired license thing. I mean, as a driver license, I get having it expire. What I don't get is having it expire as evidence of your age. If my date of birth was official for the entire period of the license being valid, and then the license expires, what, now we're not so sure what my birth date is?
posted by ctmf at 7:10 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree, ctmf. It's probably all a giant scheme to continue to make you spend money at the DMV for no good reason.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:18 PM on August 23, 2012


even though the purchase they were making was too small to make the deal in anyway meaningful

Right. Do you really think a business owner wants their minimum-wage employees making up their business processes as they go along? Outside of someone who has 100% ownership of a business with complete control and authority, I'd be hard pressed to find someone who works with total independence bereft of checks and balances.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:42 AM on August 24, 2012


what, now we're not so sure what my birth date is?

I'd imagine it's more about old licenses not having modern anti-fraud safeguards, so they're easier to fake. You could have a law that says “no expired license issued before X shall be valid proof of age,” where X is the last major revision to security features, but I can imagine regulators deciding keeping it current would be too fiddly.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:47 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Right. Do you really think a business owner wants their minimum-wage employees making up their business processes as they go along? Outside of someone who has 100% ownership of a business with complete control and authority, I'd be hard pressed to find someone who works with total independence bereft of checks and balances."

Oh, yeah, absent mystery shoppers, no doubt those "minimum-wage employees" are no doubt in total anarchy Lord of the Flies mode, what with their total independence bereft of checks and balances.

When I worked at Kinko's years ago, it was in the midst of the FedEx merger/buyout, and that came with hundreds of new, idiotic rules about employee conduct. (Though worse than the actual mystery shops was the stupid meetings about mystery shoppers that we had to have twice a month. Because I worked third shift, that the meetings were always scheduled at 8pm would fuck up my sleep schedule for days.)

I've also worked as a mystery shopper, and had to deal with bullshit from the shady companies that contracted it — often hard to get paid on time, reimbursements were contested, they were just generally morons and more hassle than it was worth.

So while there definitely are some benefits, the basic problem is generally more an idiotic top-down approach by executives who have never actually done the jobs that they're trying to regulate, at least in my experience, both rating and being rated.
posted by klangklangston at 11:59 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, yeah, absent mystery shoppers, no doubt those "minimum-wage employees" are no doubt in total anarchy Lord of the Flies mode, what with their total independence bereft of checks and balances.

Someone has never seen Clerks apparently.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:10 PM on August 24, 2012


absent mystery shoppers

Absent supervision.

Mystery shoppers are just one of many sensors that management will employ to gather information. In some instances they are used poorly and that's usually a reflection of the person paying for it. The world isn't level and when you have someone stressing some mechanism like mystery shopping over fundamentals then you should consider walking because you're not dealing with a competent individual.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:23 PM on August 24, 2012


This was a really great article, and I'm most impressed by his honesty in being baffled by his own motivations or lack thereof.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:37 AM on August 28, 2012


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