I’m Not a Guest at Target

Sometimes something else is better just because it’s not the previous something else. I went to Target with the kids the other day and was reminded how annoyed I am that I am considered a guest there. It’s been a few years since some marketing company or in-house brain trust foisted the mantle of “Guest” upon humans previously fine with the term “Customer”. The focus groups all reinforced what appeared to be a breakthrough moment. In fact, Target was not the first to go this route. When asked if people prefer the term guest or customer I’m sure that all responded that they preferred to be a guest. Why is that? Well, because guests get stuff for free. When I go over to a friend’s house and ask if he has a beer, he usually has two responses – yes or no. If the answer is yes, he will most likely offer me one and he won’t charge me for it. When I was in Target and walked by the aisle with the juicy juice the kids immediately reported their immense thirst to me.  I saw a red shirted Target employee and asked if the kids could have some juicy juice. He seemed confused. I asked if I was a guest here. He said I was. I said that I don’t want to pay for the juicy juices, but thought I could have a couple being as though I’m a guest. He chuckled a little and walked out of the aisle with his hand on his walkie-talkie readying himself for a code 51 in aisle 7.

By the way, I like the red shirts because they are very easy to spot to ask if I can have things without paying for them, but they make me a bit nervous. Maybe I watched too much Star Trek in my formative years but I associate a red shirt with someone who I may never see again. In a way that’s accurate, since I don’t know the Target employees. But, I actually fear for their lives a little bit. It’s ridiculous but I don’t know how dangerous it might be moving bins of consumer goods around. I think it’s a very wily move on management’s part to keep all employees on their best behavior. We live in a time when most younger people don’t have danger in the forefront of their minds, with regard to the red shirt. Even though this is true, I think it’s a numbers game. Some percentage of people will know it’s bad to wear a red shirt. You can even wrap sports fans in with the idea of someone who gets injured is “red shirted”. At least there are some fears to fester and grow. What does a green shirt say? Go. That’s no good. You might as well say, “Employee leave.”

On this particular day at the Target I should have not joked about my guest status. This was a particularly tense visit. Before we entered the Target and only moments after I got my kids pried off one of those damn big red concrete balls, we walked to the entrance. Right out in front of the entrance there was what looked like a wrestling match. It was fairly obvious that no one was getting a letter jacket here.  There was a wiry young man in a security uniform who was lying on top of another bigger young man. The security boy had the guy pinned face down with his arm behind his back and he was seriously not letting go. The other guy, who apparently had been fleeing, was saying “Ow” a lot and that security guy was breaking his arm. There was a Target employee standing over the scene looking on nervously. He said, “The police are on the way.” There was a cart full of stuff pushed off to the side. The stuff was not in bags so I assumed the guy must have made a break for it. It wasn’t a cart full of Barbie Dolls and Missoni Housewares. It looked like it was all groceries. Somehow, I thought this seemed more respectable and the half nelson wasn’t as necessary. It seems more like the kind of treatment that should be reserved for those buying Missoni Housewares. The security boy had a job to do and I wasn’t about to stand in his way. As we approached a police car pulled up. I’m sure the security boy had his application on file with the department and this kind of face time couldn’t exactly hurt.

As we were walking by the scene I could see the kids all reacting in different ways. As a good parent, these are the kinds of obtrusions that you try to move your kids around quickly so as to lessen the sounds of one human almost breaking the arm of another human. These are the kinds of painful things that a good parent tries to shield the kids from. These are the things that the kids should have to wait to see later in life – by themselves, away from the good parent. Iris’ reaction was of giggling joy because she thought they were playing a game. Hoyt’s four-year old boy head immediately knew who was good and who was bad and a shot of testosterone coursed through his body. He wanted to join in and help against the bad guy. He could not take his eyes off the forces of good and evil pancaked against one another. He craned his neck all the way into the store and I had to almost drag him away from the mini carnival of fight. And, finally, Lila’s reaction was like a practice run for her early teens, some 5 years in the future. She was embarrassed for them – good and bad, one red-faced and red eared, one crying out. As we passed she gave them a sideways glance and said, “Weird.”

Thus our shopping experience began that evening. A while later as we tooled through the aisles of Target the place had a certain energy. The employees all had a buzz about them. This is the kind of thing that happens when someone tackles a bad guy. It was like their football team just kicked the winning field goal in overtime. After I pulled the kids out of the toy aisle we moved past the electronics department so dad could see how cheap TVs currently were. This is where I spotted the young security guard, fresh from his heroism, talking calmly and coolly with the electronics staff as the red faded from his ears. He had proven he was worth his weight in wrestling salt. He was truly a team member and not just a guy who stood around the door watching people come and go. Unbeknownst to him was the fact that he might now be over qualified for this normally quiet Target, over run with college students. This may move him into a more crime riddled Target to work his wrestling and pinning magic.

One of my brothers used to be a mall security guard in the days before cell phones and store guests. He accidentally locked himself in his small mall office. How would a fellow do something like that, you might ask? Don’t even ask me how. All I know is that he needed to wait all day, until all the guests left, for his boss to arrive and release him from the security which he guarded. He had no worries about being sent anywhere more dangerous and, suffice to say, he never wrestled any guests to the ground.

We were not guests at Target. That man on the ground started out as a guest and left very much not a guest. I don’t know what ever happened to that guy, but I wonder if there was a chance he could have been confused by the “Guest” terminology. Maybe he was so inclined to believe that he really was a guest. Maybe when he’s a guest at his friend’s home this translates to him freely taking food items from the house. There’s a chance this man had a case similar to the coffee is too hot defense. He was a wronged guest. Target could be charged with being impolite. Their punishment would be to change the name back to “customer” and reserve the word guest for people you want to come visit you, then leave at the right time (most of the time not having to be wrestled out the door).

Sadly Yours,

Jason Spafford

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