Ten minutes only | Mark’s Remarks

One of my favorite parts of working at a well-known retail store was the intercom.  

Somehow I finagled around and gained access, being allowed to do the “the time is now 8:45 and we will be closing in 15 minutes” speech.

I also loved to aggravate the people in the lawn and garden section. As much as possible, I’d say “Horticulture, red line, please.” 

If things got too boring, I’d press an outside line and actually call the store. It was fun to hear the ladies who answered the phone page the various department names I came up with.

“In-store page for Willie Make-It. Willie Make-It, you have a call at the service desk.”

I also did a spot-on impersonation of the bossy lady who worked at the service desk, and I’d get on there and ask departments to come to the service desk for returns.  

It was fun to watch all the workers scampering up there every five minutes.

We were evaluated at times when we worked at this store, and you may guess that almost every manager wrote “Plays on the intercom too much.”

“Runs with scissors.  Talks too much. Eats paste.”

Finally giving up, my manager while I was working in college relegated me to “red light specials.” 

I’m not sure if they still have them, but back in the day, there was a little brown desk with wheels on it.  Attached to the little desk was a tall pole with a red light on the top, resembling the light atop a police vehicle.

Red light specials were an attempt to get rid of merchandise that had been sitting around too long, or stuff that needed to be moved to make room for new stuff.

As you may guess, I had a blast.

With price gun in hand, I’d move my little wheeled desk to the department of the moment.  Then, I’d find the nearest intercom. My beloved.

 “Attention shoppers. For the next 10 minutes and 10 minutes only, we are pleased to run red light specials on our six-pack ramen noodles. Regularly priced at $2.50, our six-pack ramen noodles are now at the low, low price of $1.  While supplies last and for the next 10 minutes in our food department. That’s right, shoppers! Six for $1!”

I didn’t like the food red lights, especially in a college town. Offering a price decrease on ramen noodles to poor college students was like throwing raw meat to a pack of mongrels.

Salsa, Little Debbie cakes, crackers, Cheez-Wiz. There were several food red lights I remember.

One of my favorite nights was when we had what was called a “Moonlight Shopper” night. We opened the store after hours on a Sunday night and shoppers came out of the woodwork. It was my favorite night because I did red light specials for three hours straight. I had helpers to assist with the markdowns and we had an absolute blast.

We had red lights all over the store. Fishing poles, car batteries, pet rabbits (no kidding), rakes, patio equipment, toolboxes, baby clothes and toothpaste.

Then we moved to housewares. Cushioned toilet seats with pictures of various birds on them were a hot seller. We did a red light on those talking fish wall displays when they first came out. Potting soil sold like hot cakes.

In the electronics department, we almost had to call the police when two customers got all hot and bothered over a red light special on Elvis Presley videos.  There was also a heated exchange between a couple of women over some video game systems. 

One lady cried when she couldn’t get her copy of “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” for her kids for Christmas. It had just been made available on VHS and each store only had a limited supply. The red light special was really just a way to dole them out in an orderly fashion.

We once sold hot dogs to get people to buy catsup, relish and mustard during a triple red light special.  I think we also sold cans of pork-n-beans and potato chips.  

It worked! I ate about 12 hotdogs that day.

A very jolly and rather corpulent associate dressed as Santa Claus one year, and we sold a truckload of sugar cookies in Christmas tins, Christmas decor and even Christmas sweaters for dogs and cats.  

Santa kept me entertained with his colorful language between shoppers and constant complaining about having a hangover or needing a smoke break.

I would do just about anything to get the attention of the shoppers. Once, I wore a ladies turtleneck and stood on top of the service desk. We sold a bunch. I looked especially good in the mint-colored model.

Even with pleading and prodding from some of my female colleagues, I drew the line when we ran a red light for lingerie. I didn’t think any woman would trust I knew what I was doing in that department.

After all, I’d even had trouble selling ladies garden boots. Surely they would be suspicious when I ran a red light on the cross-your-heart bras.

There’s only so much a good salesperson can do.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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