Sign Here: _________________________

Everyone remembers their low-paying high school job. Some kids worked at McDonald’s (I always thought that would be awesome because of all the free Big Macs – someday I will blog about my immense weakness for McDonald’s, but I digress). Others worked at Baskin Robbins (more good freebies). Still others were self-employed as babysitters, lawn mowers, snow shovelers, etc.  Personally, I did a lot of the self-employment stuff (including Bruce’s Shoe Shine Shop), but my steady job was in the Boy’s and Men’s Clothing Department at Montgomery Ward.

Now, for any of you who grew up without Monkey Ward, think about a discount version of Sears or K-Mart and you’re getting close. I made $2.65/hour when I retired from Wards. It may not sound like a lot, but, at the time, the weekly “sale beer” (usually something high-end like Schlitz or Old Milwaukee) at Dart Drug went for $3.99/case. So, the math worked.

I learned a lot as a sales clerk at Montgomery Ward, many of the most salient lessons coming from a red-headed coworker, appropriately named Rusty. Rusty was a senior in high school when I started working there as a sophomore. So, he knew his way around. He taught me always to use the word “inadvertently” when I had to explain a screw-up to our department manager, Dave Hankins. As an aside, I once caught (married) Dave Hankins making out in the stock room with one of the female employees so, in retrospect, he should have been ‘splaining things to me, but I digress again. Rusty also taught me that the evening shifts went a little bit faster if you took your dinner break at Castle Pizza with a few pitchers of beer.

Most important, Rusty taught me that work should be fun. And, by “fun” I mean that we paged one of our colleagues over the storewide PA system at least 10 times per shift. The colleague’s name was Rafaqat and he insisted that, in his country, it was pronounced “Ra-Fuck-It.” Every time I tried to dodge the issue by calling him “Rah-fah-quat” or some such, he would correct me and say, “my name is Ra-Fuck-It.” So, about every 15 minutes, we would have the overhead paging system blast out “RA-FUCK-IT, PLEASE REPORT TO MEN’S SUITS. RA-FUCK-IT, TO MEN’S SUITS.” And, we would howl with laughter.

Alas, Rafaqat got fired when he snapped at a customer on a particularly busy and stressful day during the Christmas season. A woman was complaining about the prices and asked him, “Do you have a bargain basement?” Rafaqat replied, “Ma’am, the whole fucking store is a bargain basement.” That was his last day.

Rusty also taught me a more mundane and practical part of the business and that is really the topic of today’s screed. He taught me how to process credit card purchases. Back in 1978, when I was working the floor at Montgomery Ward, we had a very sophisticated system for preventing credit card fraud. Once a month or so, we got a booklet of bad credit card numbers. It was about the size of a small phone directory with a few hundred thousand credit card numbers published in 0.001 point font. My 49 year old eyes would never be able to cope with this system today. When a customer presented a credit card, you had to look up the number in this little booklet and make sure it wasn’t there. Then you had to take the signed receipt and very carefully make sure the signature matched the signature on the back of the card. If all this checked out OK, the customer was free to proceed with their purchase of a pair of polyester bell bottom pants for $4.99. Primitive, but functional.

Consistent with the technology advances since my Wards days, credit card fraud prevention is logs more sophisticated today. For example, we invested in a company that ties your credit card number to your cell phone location. If someone tries to use your credit card and the system detects that the card is not physically co-located with the phone, the charge is denied. If I had this system on my cards, it would prevent thousands of dollars of Dominoes Pizza charges per month by my son. Likewise, if you use your card in Maryland in the morning, then fly to California and try to charge dinner in San Fran, you may get rejected as the system wonders whether perhaps your card has been stolen.

The point is, this stuff has gotten really sophisticated, to the point where we can give our credit card numbers to random vendors on the Internet and be reasonably confident the card won’t be stolen or abused.  But, despite all these sophisticated controls and despite the fact that I can spend thousands of dollars with my credit card on the Internet with just a click, certain vendors still make me sign the damn receipt. And, THIS is where I start to get annoyed. Can someone please explain to me why Quiznos just runs my card and hands me my sandwich, but the pizza joint makes me sign the receipt. When I buy gas with my credit card, there’s nothing to sign. But, when I go to a restaurant, I still have to sign. It’s random and, worse, it’s a waste of my time. And nobody EVER looks at the signature on the receipt to see if it matches the signature on the card.

So, I’m fighting back. I know I can’t fight back by refusing to sign because the dopey vendors that still require a signature will just deny my card. No, I’m fighting back with my signature. Let’s set the baseline. When I was in my 20s and first started signing stuff, my signature looked like this.

This is what my signature looked like back in the 80s.

I admit that, as I got older, it devolved a bit into something more like this.

Early 90s signature. Note that "Bruce" and "Robertson" are both discernable

But, as I started to get more irritated with people asking me to sign credit card receipts unnecessarily, I moved it to this version, of which my daughter once asked me, “Dad, in what universe does that say ‘Bruce C. Robertson?’” She has a point.

My current signature. Bears little resemblance to my actual name.

But, I’m not stopping there. To avoid the increasing ire with which I found myself greeting these spurious requests for signatures, I decided to make it fun. First, I started signing left-handed, which ends up looking like this.

My lefty signature. Not bad for a guy whose left side is there mainly for purposes of symmetry.

One a recent visit to the grocery store, the clerk slid the receipt to me upside down, that is, with the words facing her, not me. In that instant was born the “upside down signature” like the one below. Really, if you stand on your head or turn your computer upside down, you’ll see it’s identical to the one above, just upside down. The clerk watched me sign upside down, took the receipt and filed it away.

Turn this one upside down and see what it looks like

Finally, I have my “really annoyed” signature, where I literally just scribble a few wavy lines. Again, the clerk just smiles and files the receipt away.

Not sure how you call this a signature, but I use it all the time!

OK, I know we have multiple wars going on, high unemployment, and a crappy economy. So, maybe there are more important things to be annoyed with. But, I just needed to get this one off my chest! I’m signing off now…..

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About Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is an amateur writer and professional provocateur
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3 Responses to Sign Here: _________________________

  1. That is one solid rant. Good job! Happy, Prosperous and Healthy New Year Bruce.

  2. Martin Christian says:

    Oh yes, I’ve unfortunately progressed to your illegible “really annoyed” signature, which I must admit often leaves me with a distinct sense of identity loss. Back in the day, I worked hard for that signature, individuality and flair were finally mine! Sadly however, time and repetition have stolen it from me. Could it be, perhaps when your no-signature transaction suggestion becomes part of mainstream culture, and a signature becomes almost an event, maybe our once-beautiful signatures will finally be returned to us? Maybe. I can see it.

  3. Jules says:

    As one who has had her credit cards stolen from her LOCKED office TWICE it irritates me that no one ever looks at the back of my card. When someone does, probably b/c their boss is watching, I thank them.
    Your signature progression prompts me to think of how I sign the “log” at the drug store when picking up a script. Do you really want the folks behind you who sign this pick up log to know you have been to CVS and have picked up your antibiotic for insert disgusting bacterial problem here?

    I so clearly remember those damn VISA/MC booklets that we had to look up the card number. Some of us were so diligent about this and some of us may have missed a stolen card (man my manager was pissed) but who cares when you are 16 and working in a record store! I also remember having “register races” on the manual cash register. Punch, punch, punch subtotal, look up tax, punch, punch, punch grand total and the cash drawer opens where we miraculously gave change with no machine telling us how much to give back.

    I did though dodge several quick change artists. They just pissed me off.

    Great rant with much effort. Superb!

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