Price Breaks and Heartaches
a journal of retail and failed romance
Welcome To Hell, Here's Your Smock
This is more than the story of my first job, this is also a story of leaving a part of your childhood behind as you lean to accept grown up responsibilities and begin to learn that the same kind of jerks that made school a nightmare are now writing your performance reviews.
It was a snowy, muddy, rainy New York February and I was mopping the vestibule trying to stem the tide of dirty footprints the customers tracked in. I mopped and re-mopped and made sure the WET FLOOR signs were visible and also made sure that no one took those WET FLOOR signs literally. It took very little time for my mop water to become filthy and unusable. My being in the vestibule meant that I was pretty much the first Nice Shopper employee that a customer entering the store would see. That wasn’t always a good thing.
Fancy mop work and luck had helped me to get the floor absolutely spotless, for about three heartbeats, then a kindergarten aged boy dressed in adorable GI JOE cammo fatigues and carrying a adorable plastic gun tracked adorable muddy bootprints from one end of the vestibule to the other. His father trailed behind him with a shopping cart. I nodded a greeting to them.
GI Joe Jr just kind of stared at me, so I smiled and said “Hello.”
The kid just kept staring so I added a “Welcome to Nice Shopper. How old are you?”
Finally GI Joe Jr. turned to his father and asked, “Daddy is he a wimp?”
“What?” It was a good thing the mop was there to hold me up.
“He’s a wimp isn’t he Daddy?”
GI Joe Jr’s Dad father just laughed and led his son into the store. I watched after them wondering what I should have done or said. Who was that kid to say I was a wimp? He was like six years old!
I was sure I could probably take him in a fight but before I could fully consider the ramifications of my obvious height and weight advantages versus his lower center of gravity I got paged to go and get carts.
By the time I returned to the vestibule it was a ruin again. I got back to work with renewed fervor- with too much fervor really because I wasn’t watching where I was mopping and I splashed the shoes of an older couple coming in the door.
“Vatch vat you are doing!” The older woman shouted.
“I’m very sorry,” I tried to explain. “I was mopping with such fervor you see…”
The older man sneered at me, “You should not be doing zuch zings ven ze store is open, you should vait until you are closed.”
“Uh, Nice Shopper stores are open twenty four hours a day.”
The woman tisked under her breath, “Zuch a mess, does no one vipe zeir feet before entering a store? Iz zis your American way?”
“I am sure no one’s doing it on purpose, its just raining and sleeting out there.” I smiled, “I’m sure winters are pretty much the same for you in Germany.”
“Germany?” The man rounded on me, “Vat iz zis Germany? Ve are from Luxembourg! You svine!”
“Oh. Oh my gosh,” I said. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize that you were from a German speaking landlocked constitutional monarchy!”
The woman rolled her eyes, “Ignorant American vit your feeble high zchool educationz. Do you zpend all your time doing drugs, listening to your rock und roll and collecting cabbage patch dolls?”
“You leave Jasper Reuben out of this!”
“Come,” the older man took his wife by the arm. “Ve must get zee laxatives und zoon. Vat aisle are zey in?”
I sighed, “Aisle six, right near the rabbit food.”
As they turned to go the older woman leaned in to her husband, “Vat a vimp.”
One of my worst days working at Nice Shopper started out normally enough. As you can probably guess I was back on the bottle return register, but it had been a pretty good day. No grouchy customers and no dead rats in the bottles, it was the kind of day that made you almost glad to be working there.
The counter of the bottle returns register had three crushing devices planted installed in it; one for crushing glass, one for crushing cans and one for plastic bottles. Each of these devices spilled their contents down into a corresponding series of buckets under the counter. On a busy night those buckets filled up fast and you would have to excuse yourself from the general chaos at the front of the store to carry these heavy and overflowing buckets back through the produce aisle, out the back door and to a special dumpster that had been set up at the other side of the store’s loading dock. The recycling dumpster had three doors in it, one for each type of material being recycled and the dumpster was always kept locked.
During an eight hour shift I usually made three or four trips back there but one Saturday I didn’t make the trip alone.
In the winter the dumpster locks tended to freeze up, which meant fooling around with de-icer, in the summer the smell of old soda and beer drew bees in droves. Since it was springtime the only thing I had to worry about was not throwing my back out as I upended the bucket of empty glass into the dumpster; the crushed aluminum cans and plastic bottles weren’t much of a problem at all in that respect.
Still though, imagine my surprise when, as I bent to lift one of the buckets, someone grabbed my ass.
First off all I thought I was alone, I was always alone, no one ever wanted to help me with this stuff. Second this was not some accidental brushing of a hand against my upper leg- this was a GRAB- a desperate needy, clawing.
I yelped with surprise and with the realization that the only thing separating another person’s thumb from my ass-crack was an all-too fragile sheath of polyester. I dropped the bucket and ran, thinking perhaps I was being attached by some kind of animal. It was a crazy thought but it made more sense then someone grabbing at me because if my five years of high school had taught me anything, it was that no one was all that interested in Al Bruno III’s buttocks.
Until today anyway. I looked up to see that I had been grabbed by one of my coworkers- Orville.
Orville was my age we went to high school together but if not for this job I doubt we would never have noticed each other. I began to suspect he might have been noticing me a lot more than I suspected.
“What the Hell are you doing?” I backed away but then realized I was backing away from the relative safety of the store.
Orville advanced on me, made another grab and got another handful of buttock, “Don't you like it?”
“Take your hands off me! This isn't funny!
“Don't you want it?”
“I'm not even sure what 'it' is!” I ducked around him, ran into the store and hid in the meat freezer.
The incident was never reported or mentioned. Partly because I found the whole damn thing humiliating, partly because I didn't think anyone in management would believe me. Orville was the employee of the month while I was lucky if I got a scraper when they sent me out to get gum off the sidewalks. From then on though, I made it a point to never be alone with Orville and to stay out of grabbing range.
I couldn’t help but wonder if any of my other co-workers had been accosted the way I had. It sure didn’t seem like anyone else was trying to move from one end of the store to the other with ninja-like stealth or diving for cover behind the pasta endcap if they heard the sound of footsteps approaching.
Now I had to watch my ass, literally.