Friday, March 13, 2009

LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET by Gregg Gethard

We were high.

That’s how the discussion came about. My friends Sean and I were living together that summer. We also decided to work together. And Sean had the perfect place in store for us.

There was a new A&P Supermarket opening in South Plainfield, just a few minutes from our place. Sean had worked at a supermarket as a teenager. One part of his job entailed breaking up fights between homeless people camped out near the can and bottle return. That sounded like an ideal resume builder.

The next morning, we drove to the store.

***

We arrived to the AP hiring center the next afternoon. I felt kind of like I stepped into the set of The Warriors. The employment line was long and borderline violent, as made evident by the guy next to me who had a knife tattooed on his shoulder. Who knew that it was proper to wear a homemade wife-beater T that said “BLOW ME THEN LEAVE” to a job interview?

Sean and I finally made it to the front of the line. Bev, a woman pushing 400 pounds, was one of the hiring managers. In between echoing slurps of her 64-ounce Diet Coke, she asked us for ID’s and asked us about our arrest record.

Her eyes widened in shock when we told her that neither of us had been arrested.

She told the two of us to stand off to the side. A minute later, she asked us what department we wanted to work in. Sean said produce.

We were told that we’d begin our training the next day, at the store in Bound Brook.

****

The produce manager was Bob. He was about 30 pounds overweight, balding and wore an unfortunate mustache. Imagine Andy Reid with the sad eyes of a chat room addict.

We started the day by stocking various fruits and vegetables along the racks of the produce department as Bob supervised. Mostly, he stood around playing with his fat, filthy hands.

“Check this out.” That’s how he’d begin every sentence.

“Check this out. You want to turn the apples this way. They shine better under the light.”

“Check this out. The Concord grapes should be stacked this way, not that way.”

“Check this out. You have to be careful of wet spots on the floor.”

A few hours after checking things out, Sean approached me with a bet. He knew my financial status was dire. He told me that he would purchase my dinner that evening if I called Bob “master.”

I started arrange bags of iceberg lettuce. Bob walked towards me.

“Check this out,” he said. “Make sure you even out the bags of lettuce so they look fresh.”

“Yes,” I mumbled. “Master.”

Bob started to walk away. But then he stopped and turned back to me.

“What… what did you just say?”

“I said yes.”

“No… you said something else. What did you call me?”

“Oh… I called you ‘master.’”

Bob then put his arm around me.

“Son, you’ve got to believe in yourself. I’m not better than you. We’re all equals here in the supermarket,” he said. “Don’t ever...ever...call another man master.”

***

Annette worked in the produce department. She was a nationally ranked female bodybuilder. If that wasn’t creepy enough, she was also about 4’9” tall.

“I used to use creatine and all that stuff,” she said to me when detailing her diet and supplemental routine. “But I had to stop because my husband said I kept on coppin’ him a real nasty ‘tude.”

***

Bob was out sick the second day. In his place was his assistant manager, known to the world as Dirty Harry. Dirty Harry looked like his face was repeatedly burned with cigarettes. His eyes were squinty, his teeth were browned and he mysteriously smelled like sea water.

Dirty Harry gave us our marching orders. Sean was going to sweep up front. I was to cut watermelon hedges in the back.

I grabbed the watermelon knife. It was a giant blade that looked like it could have been a prop in Apocalypse Now. Earlier in the week, I watched a documentary about ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, where many people had their thumbs cut off. I immediately assumed this would happen to me.

I gingerly cut into the watermelon. My efforts did not result in the perfectly quartered watermelons that I had planned on making. Instead, they were something else. Perhaps an avant-garde sculpture?

I decided to serve these watermelons to the Bound Brook community nonetheless. I shrink-wrapped them and placed them out on the refrigerated shelves. I then went back to cut some more slices.

About two minutes later, Dirty Harry was on the intercom.

“WILL THE NEW KID IN THE BACK WHO IS COMPLETELY RETARDED COME OUT TO THE PRODUCE AISLE NOW!”

I assumed that meant me.

Dirty Harry’s arms were crossed, tapping his toes, just like a school principal in BDSM porn. He pointed to my watermelon hedges.

“Are you one of those retarded kids who lives in that home down the street,” he asked. I started to explain to him that I had just graduated from college.

“Oh, well, then you’se a whole new level of asshole,” he said. “In fact, you ain’t even an asshole. You know what you is?”

An elderly lady walked right past us.

“You’re a faggot cocklicker. Because you don’t even suck cocks. You just lick them.”

All day long, this continued. No matter what I did, Dirty Harry reminded me of how much I liked to lick cocks, no matter who was within earshot of me.

***

Our day with Dirty Harry was coming to an end. He called Sean and I into the back room.

“Look, I’m sorry if I was real hard on yas today. But you have no idea... YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA.. what these people will do to you,” he said as he nervously looked around the back room.

He then patted both of us on the back.

“Hey, did you guys ever crack the black boat?”

Sean asked him what that meant.

“You know, have you ever eaten out a black hooker?”

He was surprised when I told him that I hadn’t.

“Oh, man, you ain’t lived until you done that,” he said. “The whores love it when they see me. When they see Dirty Harry. They call me the man with the golden tongue in his mouth. You know why they call me that?”

No. Why.

“Because I catch every last drop.”

***

Sean and I finally graduated to the new store. We had orientation the day before it opened.

As part of orientation, we were told how to operate pricing scales. Leading us through this operation was Clara, a representative from the New Jersey Department of Weights and Measures. She was really hot.

That night, both Sean and I whacked off to her.

***

The store finally opened. Thousands of people were expected to come in that day, getting to get their first taste of what to expect at this new A&P.

Sean and I had to prepare boxes of salads. These were priced per pound. We were supposed to place them on the scale and then put the price tag on the top of the box. Instead, we pushed down with all our weight on the scales. This threw the price of miniature boxed salads a little off.

“Wow, this store is expensive,” said one older customer. “This box of salad costs $64!”

They didn’t really sell too well.

***

A special code was needed to use the intercom. Sean and I circled the intercoms like hawks whenever a manager made a storewide announcement. Finally, we figured out the code in order to make our own storewide announcements. I figured “abstract” was the way to go.

“Can I get a price check on a child’s smile,” I said. “Can I get a price check on a child’s smile? Oh wait, I forgot. A child’s smile is priceless.”

“Can I get a price check on a beautiful sunrise? Can I get a price check on a beautiful sunrise? Oh wait, I forgot. A beautiful sunrise is priceless.”

“Can I get a price check on memories of my dead grandmother? Can I get a price check on memories of my dead grandmother? Oh wait, I forgot. Memories of my dead grandmother are priceless.”

After about four straight hours, one of the store managers angrily kicked open the door to our department.

“Enough with the pages,” he screamed. “If there are anymore unsanctioned pages coming from produce, you’re all fired.”

This made Sean and I laugh. Everyone else we worked with were born in foreign countries. That meant if they were fired they’d be deported.

***

Sean didn’t even bother to go to work the next day. He decided he wanted to play Super Tecmo Bowl all day instead.

I was supposed to start my shift at 10. I clocked in at 10:45. I was supposed to unload boxes of apples onto the display table. I did that for a few minutes but got really tired. So I crawled under the display table and took a nap. I looked at the clock. It was almost noon.

I woke up. And then I decided I wanted to play Super Tecmo Bowl, too. So I just left about six hours before I was scheduled to leave.

Neither of us returned to the store. But I still have the uniform.

Gregg Gethard's next installment of his monthly show BEDTIME STORIES will be Wednesday, March 18th at Connie's Ric Rac (1132 S. 9). The theme is The Workplace.

4 comments:

Pruneface said...

I like how he assumed you would know what "cracking the black boat" means.

Rob said...

"Just like a school principal in BDSM porn" -- pretty awesome.

Kent said...

My favorite part of Gregg's stories is that there is often no protagonist.

Pruneface said...

Isn't Gregg the protagonist?