Price Breaks and Heartaches
a journal of retail and failed romance
Welcome To Hell, Here's Your Smock
In retrospect I think my stepfather was right to shove me kicking and screaming into the working world; still though I think it’s too bad he didn't follow through on this idea with his own son who dropped out of school in the ninth grade to watch television until he was about 18. While I was busy with Nice Shopper and High School my brother kept himself occupied with his mad quest to see every Krokus video MTV had to offer. Still though who am I to judge? Nowadays my brother Phil is a rich and powerful building contractor while here I am giving out free stories on the internet in a mad quest to someday earn enough to buy Krokus’ greatest hits CD out of the bargain bin.
And speaking of Krokus let us not forget that this story takes place in the 80‘s an era when metal ruled the airwaves and terrified parents everywhere. Sure all of us pasty white boys had heard of this ‘Rap Music’ but we were sure it was all just a fad. We knew that our metal gods would reign over a realm of sex, drugs and rock and roll forever. We’d never see the likes of Ozzy Osbourne becoming a henpecked husband. We all knew KISS would never sell out to the man; it was all about the music not merchandising. Sometimes we sat up at night trying to imagine how many hot babes Judas Priest’s Rob Halford bedded after every concert.
It was late spring and suddenly I found myself a holding a diploma that I had no idea what to do with. Spring became summer; I kept living at home and waiting for something to happen. I kept working part time, I told my mangers that since I had been given a bitcin’ Monte Carlo as a graduation present I would be available to work full time. They politely declined my offer, and my politely I mean they didn’t laugh directly in my face.
Then one bright Saturday morning that changed, an early morning call from Mr. Streicher woke me up. He told me that I had to come in early, that they needed me.
They needed me! How could I resist? I got dressed as quickly as I could and drove there in record time.
Mr. Streicher was waiting for me, he watched me punch in and get my smock on, then he led me to the back room. I noticed that several other bagboys and produce handlers were hanging around. I wondered what they might be smirking about.
“Don’t you need me to get carts or bag groceries?” I asked.
“No.” Mr. Streicher explained, “You see Bruno, an old woman had an accident on the floor of the men's room.”
A sinking feeling began to settle into the pit of my stomach, “The men's room?”
Mr. Streicher nodded, “I can only assume she was confused. She didn't stick around to explain herself,she just took a dump on the floor and left.”
“When was this?”
“About an hour ago.”
I looked to my snickering audience and then back to Mr. Streicher, “But there were about six other guys that could have done this, you didn't have to call me in.”
Mr. Streicher grinned, “They all refused. So buck up young man you've got a job to do.”
“What if I refuse?”
“They had seniority, however if you refuse you'll be fired instantly.”
There was a chorus of jeering laughter at my back as I entered the men's room. What I found in there was feces of Lovecraftian foulness. Reddish purple in color and roughly the size of a soup can it sat there in the middle of the floor. Rivulets of watery gruel had peppered the floor in the wake of its inappropriate splashdown. I tried to breathe through my mouth but the stench had been given an hour to permeate the bathroom, there was no escaping it.
I remember saying in a voice that no one but the turd could hear, “I’ll show them. I’ll show them all.” And when you say something like that it either means you are going to build an army of atomic supermen to rule the world or you’re going to do the best job you can do in a bad situation. Of course, in retrospect I chose poorly but there was no way I was going to afford an army of atomic supermen on my salary.
An hour later the bathroom was the cleanest it had been in years. I headed down to the front end of the store to let Mr. Streicher know.
“Well it took you long enough.” He said, “Look at all those carts out there! Get going.”
A nearby cashier commented, “Yeah Labert, if this was a race you would have come in turd.”
“Hey that’s not funny.” I said.
Orville looked up from bagging groceries, “Hey they told you to get groceries! Scat!”
“I- ohhhhh man…”
“What is the matter here Bruno? Do you need to go home early?” Mr. Streicher walked over to me, “Are you… feeling pooped?”
“That’s it, I quit.”
And quit I did. I found a better paying job at the local fast food restaurant. They were a lot more appreciative and they paid me a whole quarter above the minimum wage!
But before that, in that penniless twilight that sprawls between your training period and your first paycheck, I found that I still needed money so I headed in to Nice Shopper to get my final check. They kept me waiting around for about 15 minutes, and in that quarter of an hour not a one of my old coworkers paused to ask how I was doing or where I was working now. They didn’t even see me as a customer.
Mr. Streicher called me up to the office and has he handed me my check he asked me where I was working. When I told him he laughed.
“Empire Burger? You better watch out Bruno, they'll actually make you work there.”
I sighed, “I’m not afraid of a little work, I never was. I just can’t do the work of three people.”
“Funny how you’re the only one that seems to say that isn’t it?” Mr. Streicher chuckled, “You know what I think? I think you're too slow, I think you're kinda lazy and I don't think you're going to last too long in fast food. Why can't you be more like Orville? He’s got management written all over him, he really knows how to handle things.”
I turned to leave, “Perhaps more than you'll ever know sir.”
“What a wimp.”
Years later I still shopped at that store, I don’t know if it was because they were near my house or if I did it out of spite. OK yes occasionally I might have left some frozen foods hidden behind a paper towel display or some raw chicken by the canned goods but hey, it wasn’t like I worked there.
Funny thing though, a few months later they made bagging groceries, carts and bottle register separate jobs.
This was another thing I learned about retail, probably the one immutable fact; every job is a nightmare until I quit.
Now what happened to me at Empire Burger? That’s a story for another time.