Take This Job and… Quitting K-Mart

Daily Prompt Nightmare Job In honor of Labor Day in North America, tell us what’s the one job you could never imagine yourself doing.


I’ve had some awful jobs in real life, so I’m not going to imagine more. The worst job — this is WORSE than my temporary job cleaning student dorms at the University of Colorado or clerk in a toy store during Christmas or filing fiber glass tennis racket handles or teaching the worst class I ever taught — was the K-Mart Grill when I was 20.

Sure, it paid well — $1.75/hour — but it was only “part time.” Anyone who’s ever worked part time knows it’s never part time. You NEVER get a whole day off and you NEVER get a weekend off. Your hours can be changed at the whim of your boss and you can work two hours in the morning and three at night. But I was getting married that summer and we needed money. My years of experience as a cook/cashier/front-room person at an A&W drive-in made me very good at this job. I was used to multi-tasking  and working under pressure and dealing with (ugh!) people.

The K-Mart grill at that time put out three full meals a day and used a hot-table like you might see in a cafeteria. We cooked the whole bit from roast beef and mashed potato type stuff to short order breakfasts and burgers and fries, etc. the rest of the day. We sold desserts — notably pies, especially cream pies — and ice cream. I had my little white uniform dress and over it went my K-Mart apron with the acronym “TYFSAK” on the chest. “TYFSAK?” you wonder? Huh? Well it was there so the customer would ask just that question and we could reply, “Thank you for shopping at K-Mart.”

After my second week, I was promoted to assistant manager. This was not an honor. This was so the boss — JoAnn — could spend a weekend in the mountains with “the hubby.” The pay off for which I had agreed to work Thursday, Friday and Saturday double shifts was Sunday off. I did my duty. I ran the grill and supervised one of the most desperate and stupid women I’ve ever known — Vi — who was in charge of the concession in the front of the store that sold popcorn, caramel corn, ham and various other mysteriously combined items. At 7, when the concession closed, she was supposed to come back and help me — and she did. She ran the register while I tried to catch up on cleaning in the back, in the kitchen.

I finished washing up cooking pots and came out to find Vi pilfering change from the register into her apron and funneling it into her purse. “Get out,” I said, powerful 20 year old that I was. “I’ll explain this tomorrow to JoAnn.” At 20 I was far less plagued by dilemmas of ethics and Jean Val-Jean confusion than I was later on in life. I didn’t care that she worked three (equally low-paying and egregious) jobs to keep her family together. Stealing was wrong. Period.

So there I was, alone at the grill until 11 pm by which time everything should be spotless and ready for opening at 7:30 am the next day.

An order of a dozen cream pies arrived — five hours late and way too late to sell that day. I did the only thing I could do and ran a blue-light special on cream pies which was only marginally successful. Customers don’t think of K-Mart as their cream-pie destination and running a special on cream pies at 9 pm implies that the pies are not fresh. OH WELL.

Still, in front of me, the Holy Grail — Sunday off to spend with my fiance.

The grill closed for food service at 10. By 10:15 I was breaking down the hot table and starting to wash pots and pans when the phone rang. “Martha? Hi! Hey, honey, listen, I know I said you could have Sunday off, but you know what? My husband and I are having so much fun we’ve decided to come home tomorrow night, so I need you to open in the morning. Vi can run the grill for lunch. I just talked to her. Why’s she at home, anyway? Shouldn’t she be there helping you break down the hot table?”

“I caught her stealing from the cash register and sent her home.”
“Oh honey, well, if you don’t need help tomorrow….”

A strange burst of energy that was cold and hot at the same time ran through my mind. “I’ll be fine, JoAnn. You two enjoy yourselves.”
“Thank you, honey. I knew I could depend on you!”

I went to the kitchen and took a look at the food encrusted hot table trays. Gravy, beef juice, mashed potatoes, dried up ham. I looked at the cream pies in the pie fridge. I looked at the whole gory mess of the K-Mart grill on a Saturday night. I took off my apron and hung it on a magnet hook on the big fridge, turned around, walked through the store and out the front door.

When they called the next day, I just said, “I don’t care. I’m not coming back. Take it up with JoAnn,” and hung up. I went back to get my pay envelope at the end of the week and was told that I would never be allowed to work in a K-Mart again (just part of a longer lecture) and that I had no chance any more of being sent to K-Mart food manager training school.


14 thoughts on “Take This Job and… Quitting K-Mart

  1. I very much enjoyed reading your last post but this post really caught my attention because back in 1991 I was a foot ware manager at K Mart near Fresno CA. I worked 70-80 hours per week for $14,500 dollars per year paid in cash every week. Shoot I paid myself. Your blog was both fun to read and a memory retriever (some of them even fond memories). I hated doing Blue Light Specials but I had to do one ever hour. I hated the dad gum slurpies especially the red ones that kids would drip on my white athletic shoes causing me extra work as I had to scrap and box the scrapped shoes. At Christmas(Oct.-December) we would have moonlight madness sales Moonlight madness sales and bluelight specials were like feeding time at Sea World. it didn’t matter what we were selling customers wanted it and would destroy everything including the shoe racks to get it. The worst was the week after Christmas when it was customer return season. Christmas Season always brought out the nastiest people on earth and Customer return week brought out the best of the nasties………………brrr Outstanding post!

    • K-Mart. YEARS later (late 90s), here in San Diego, the “hood” (it was) where I lived had one of the last old K-Marts and because it had been there forever, it was a neighborhood store. I shopped in the garden section a lot. The vests they wore still had “TYFSAK” embroidered on them. Perverse nostalgia. Thanks for reading!

  2. There are just some jobs you have no choice but to walk away from. I have walked away from a few myself — not because of the job duties so much but because of the people I worked for and their disrespect and/or incompetence. JoAnn should never have been a manager and unfortunately it’s those people who get promoted!

    • All too true…I think she’d been the only competent person in that grill for a long while and when I showed up, she just took her chance without thinking about what I might do. Stupid cow. 🙂

      • I might be less furious if it had been two full WEEKS, Martha. This kind of exploitation of young people makes me … somewhat irritable. But then, anyone exploiting anyone else does the same. It’s bullying, of course – and I hate that more than I can say.

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