Words by: Clara Yew Art by: Jessica La
We were both young when I first met Karen. People tend to think I’m being sarcastic when I tell them my favourite co-worker was named Karen. Like this is some poorly constructed joke about the people who scream at 19-year-olds at the register when they tell them that a discount on one shelf does not in fact apply to the entire store. No, Kaz (as it was sometimes quicker to call her in the Christmas retail rush) was a delight to work with.
Technically, we’d actually met before. But we got the chance to begin again in a booth for That Women’s Shoe Brand in Myer Jones at Eaststone Shopping Complex. When I saw her name on the roster I thought to myself, surely this is not the same Karen McCommonlastname from the Taylor Swift group chat I joined by liking a post on Monash Love Letters?
If Christmas Tree Farm by Taylor Swift were to play while one of us was on a shift without the other we had to text each other. That was the law.
Karen has a big brain. She is currently studying Biomed at a certain uni in the city, but let’s forgive her for that — every one of us has messed up, too. She taught me everything I know about putting through sales, looking up items, online orders, store order directs (SODs), and customer order directs (CODs) — which are all very different things. Kaz is currently saved on my phone as ‘The Wizard’ because only a wizard could fix our WiFi by adding more tape to something under the register. It’s also a subtle Taylor Swift reference.
However, the only thing bigger than her brain is her heart. I don’t know about you, but it’s nice to have a friend in the workplace. Someone you can skip ‘I’m good, thanks’ with and really delve into how it’s actually going. Because it’s not always good, and the rain is always going to pour if you’re standing with me. The first of many examples of Karen’s kindness that comes to mind is when, as the newest member of the team, I was stuck with all the late-night shifts. The Wizard would stop studying for her rigorous economics summer unit to video call me and explain how to use the computer system. I’m a boomer trapped in a twenty-something, and she never once lost her patience.
I’m pretty sure Kaz created the Swifties Melbourne group chat. That wouldn’t surprise me — she’s a community builder. Karen’s one of those people who’s got a smile that could light up this whole town. She naturally brings people together. She’s the one who introduced me to all the other girls who worked for That Woman’s Shoe Brand. I’d say over half the sales associates at our booth that summer weren’t authorised to put through sales at Myer Jones. Karen introduced me to enough people that half the floor had put through my sales by Australia Day.
There was the Myer Jones employee who became the third musketeer in our Chaos Gang group chat (yes, Kaz made that one too). There was another Myer Jones girl who would sing along to BTS in the back room with me. Another who got yelled at by a Karen (of the traditional sense of the name) with me. Pro tip: when they go high, you go lower. If someone is screaming at you, drop your voice down low and very slowly explain to them that this is why we can’t have nice things.
There were also the other booth holders. The lady at the booth next to us once successfully pretended to be my manager when a lady tried to convince me to give her a discount on a faded shoe (despite wearing a badge that stated she worked for a different company). A girl from the menswear department would always come over to give us the latest gossip and some pretty solid life advice. Another lady with a radiant smile put through my sales while telling stories about her adored stepsons. Every time a transaction crashed, we would roast this one guy who majored in maths for his undergrad. He’s over on the Clayton campus now studying his MTeach and swearing he will “make maths cool again”.
Last summer, Karen gave me a Myer Jones I could look forward to working at. She made sure that even when she wasn’t there, I had people who I could give The Look to when customers decided that the ‘five minutes until closing’ announcement was a challenge rather than a warning. The entire women’s shoes department had witnessed us dancing like we were made of starlight after making a sale — which is a completely different dance from the one we do when we make the daily sales budget. We raise our hands above our heads for that one.
So, here’s to Karen and everyone on our floor at Myer Jones. There’s so much I could thank you for, so many shenanigans that I shouldn’t repeat here. Please
let me use your staff discount don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognise anywhere. And long live all the shoe boxes we moved. I had a marvellous time dancing through the summer with you.