Originally published in the print zine "McJob" in 1997.
I lived in New Orleans from October 1994 to July 1995. After living in New York and Chicago and working cushy office jobs in bustling high-rises, I was now confronted with a job market that consisted of service jobs, stripping in sleazy dives and cashiering at Woolworth's. I considered waitressing, but the restaurant managers I talked to questioned me with a suspicious vigor usually reserved for aspiring brain surgeons and CIA agents. Pouring beers in a Bourbon Street bar didn't interest me - the promise of being puked on by college kids from Iowa wasn't high on my "to-do" list. And I wasn't vapid or conservative enough to work for a hotel chain. So, I figured, "Well, I'm not going to be here forever. I'll work at a store for a few months - how hard can that be?" HA!!!!
On a whim, I walked into a cheesy sliver of a storefront on Bourbon Street, and asked the heavyset woman behind the counter if they had any job openings. "Honey, we're always hiring," she laughed, a little too convincingly. A few days later, I was hawking T-shirts and Mardi Gras beads at a store across the street, one of over a dozen owned by a notoriously cheap and cruel family of indeterminate ethnic descent. Now after a few days working in shops on Bourbon and Canal streets, it was apparent to me that the customers, all tourists, were friendly, my fellow cashiers were punk rock girls with nose rings, beer drinkin' transients, or chirpy Dominican women. The display cases were crammed with fake fur covered handcuffs, dildos and talking plastic vaginas. So, what was the problem, beside earning minimum wage? Those polyester-wearing, perpetually angry owners, who I nicknamed the "Mads."
The Mads rarely allowed employees to take breaks or lunch hours off premises. Some of the non-English speaking employees were so terrified of their bosses catching them away from their registers they peed in plastic bags behind the counter. The Mads consisted of the Dad, who had video cameras in the main store to spy on his employees as intently as he spied on potential shoplifters, and his two sons, "Kenny", the nice one, and "Dan", the hothead. "Kenny" (the nice one, mind you), constantly harassed one female employee, a perky Hispanic woman with big hair and orange vinyl high heels, telling her how he wanted to get in her pants. Despite this, the woman worked for the Mads for years. The other brother, who was partial to green polyester pants and print shirts, circa 1974, would swear openly in front of employees and customers alike. "Dan" would stand in front of the register, scooping up rain ponchos displayed on the counter, and toss them behind the register. "You keep behind counter! Customers are motherfuckers! They steal.," while perplexed shoppers stood in line. I never knew chewing gum could melt til I worked in a Canal Street store without air conditioning. Customers would walk in and then walk right out. I wanted to tell the ones who stayed not to buy any snacks, and go to another store for munchies, but it wouldn't have made a difference - the Mads owned all the souvenir/convenience stores in the area! That was soon to change, though. Rumors spread that the Mads were about to lose their empire. It seemed the NLRB had (not surprisingly) received complaints from employees and former employees about back pay, working conditions, etc. And the Mads had allegedly neglected to pay taxes for several years.
A year after I left New Orleans, most of the stores had been sold to legitimate businesspeople, and all but the most loyal (read: desperate) people had left the Mads employ. The Mads had paid a huge fine, and were adhering to federal rules about breaks, lunch hours, and working conditions. Working for them was like running away to join the circus - especially when I worked in the porno shops they owned - tourists bought risqué T-shirts and wind-up plastic penises while the leather hoods, body glitter, and anal love beads gathered dust on the shelves. Needless to say, my stint with the Mads has not been included on my résumé.