Chain Store Hell
by Jennifer Lagier

Thirty-year-old male supervisors
wore white shirts, black ties.
Possessing high school diplomas,
they earned lofty salaries,
passed themselves off
as the privileged elite.

We were “girls,”
chain store cashiers
paid minimum wage,
without benefits,
unwitting stars
of their erotic fantasies.

As we hurried from check stand
to break room, through
backroom warehouse gauntlet,
groping hands reached
over Kotex and toilet paper cartons
to detain and harass.

When their wives arrived
with crammed shopping carts,
we were cautioned not to act
too friendly or speak without adding
a respectful “Mr.”
in front of their names.

Powerless, we punched
price keys with a vengeance,
slammed merchandise
across abrasive counters,
wondered what would happen
if the tables were turned.

PHOTO: The author in her work uniform, April 1968.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I started working for a large chain drug store when I was 17. Most of the other female cashiers were high school dropouts, single moms, who couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t quit college to work full time for minimum wage in a chain store as a permanent career. The male managers (there were NO women in management roles) considered any decent-looking cashier as just one more job perk—playthings who had to go along if they wanted to remain employed.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Lagier has published 13 books, taught with California Poets in the Schools, co-edits the Homestead Review, and helps coordinate Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium readings. Her newest books are Scene of the Crime (Evening Street Press), Harbingers (Blue Light Press), and Camille Abroad (FutureCycle). Forthcoming: Like a B Movie (FutureCycle Press, 2018). Visit her at and on Facebook.

Author photo by Laura Bayless.