I walk into my grocery store job. The setting—morbidly depressing as always. The employees are all slumped over their counter tops as the poorly mastered instrumental versions of 1970’s cover songs cascade against the sound of privileged 4-year-olds having temper tantrums over wanting chocolate covered pretzels. I punched in and put on my chef coat and apron almost as if I’m getting ready to prepare a gourmet meal. But I’m not. I’d get paid to chop up fruits and veggies in a cold prep room next door to the produce cooler. I’d maintain a salad bar and a sticky packaged produce wall that consisted of fresh-squeezed juice and over-priced platters.
I walked into see one of my naturally irate coworkers, who we’ll call Linda. She’s a pretty cool lady outside of work, but usually loses herself while at work. Linda’s a single mom in her 50’s who I’d occasionally smoke weed with and make really mean jokes with about our other coworkers. She’d liked to talk about the good o’l days. She’d school me on classic rock bands and how things used to be. I thought of her as a retired hippie who lost herself to corporate sexism and the over-paid millennials that bombarded the store. After the “hi’s” and “hellos,” she begins, “T, in all my years in the industry, I’ve never met someone who creeps me out as much as this guy does. He started talking about his nine marriages and how he was married to Madonna. He also told me he worked with…what’s that redneck band? Oh, yeah. ZZ Top! He also said he dated Selena Gomez. This guy has some screws loose!”
Disturbed, yet not surprised, I kept asking if he was joking. Without the slightest grin, she said no. She told me she hid the knives from him and complained to our 20-year-old department manager at the time. He told her that they had sent him to work in the back in our prep room because he “couldn’t be around people.” Squinting my eyes, I proclaimed, “How the fuck did he get passed the first interview?”
She left and I proceeded to take on what was my daily routine of playing my muffled rock music on my phone and packaging and cutting under a loud fan. The next day started off like the day before and the day before that—melancholic and repetitious. I walked into the slippery, cool room awaken by the stench of citrus and a nauseating smell of onions. To the far left side of the room was a tall lanky older man who looked like a cross between Woody Allen and a kooky character from an early Twilight Zone episode.
He glared at me, but remained quiet. I had been working there for so long, I didn’t care for introductions. I went over to my cutting boards and proceeded to do my job. He steps over to the label printing machine, not really making any progress though. He turns over to me and utters to me like some Bill and Ted character, “Hey, do you like rock and roll?” “Uh…sure,” I replied. “Do you like Nirvana?” “Uh…yeah…” “How much do you know about Kurt Cobain?” “Enough.” “Where was he born?” “Seattle.” “Nope, San Francisco.” “Uh…ok,” I said while raising an eyebrow in discomfort. “Who was he married to?” “Uh, Courtney Love.” “Wrong! That was his sister!” “Whoa,” I replied back with a look of over-bearing awkwardness and disbelief over the fact that I kept answering his odd questions, instead of jolting for the door.
It didn’t take a genius to discover that this was the nut-job Linda was talking about. I vented to my other coworkers about my awkward exchange and they all replied with, “Oh, I see you met ‘Crazy Mike.’” You can imagine how comforting it was to hear that people have already been accustomed to working with this strange man. (Insert sarcasm here) I saw that other people were back in the prep room, so I thought to myself, “Fuck it. Let’s go back and get this shit over with.” The regular closing juicer had finally arrived, which was a relief.
Crazy Mike just stood there asking the juicer really fucking odd questions and feeding him fables about being in different bands. Annoyed, he left the room and I was left with god damn Norman Bates. I was putting the pans that were in the sink away and I can see from the corner of my eye some sort of waving or jerking motion. I just assumed he was being weird by himself. When I finished, I still kept seeing it. I finally turned in his direction to see him staring at me while waving like some sort of escaped mental patient. I gave him a look of disgust, rolled my eyes, and walked away. The original juicer came back…thank gawwd. I think Crazy Mike thought that was space for him to come in my direction.
I had my music playing, while I was carelessly tipping the leaves off of the strawberries. “How do you do that,” he asked randomly. “Um…you take the knife and cut the leaves ooooff.” “Oh ok. I just want to watch so I can learn.” Then he went on a tangent on how he went to “flying” school at the age of nine, grew up on military base, and saved Sugar Ray from drowning when he was a kid. Not Mark McGrath, Sugar Ray. So I’m guessing he saved the whole fucking band. Anywho, I told him that there’s work that needs to be done and that he needs to get on that juice. He listened, thankfully, and just stared at the machine for the most part.
Some hours later, our 20-year-old manager, who we’ll call Mano, makes an appearance at our back room and asks how we’re doing as if his job was finally fulfilled. “Alright, guys let’s get some back up going,” he said ever so masculine with his hands on his hips. He had the face of a 27-year-old and the body of prepubescent boy. It was pretty fucking odd. It was like taking orders from a child who had Benjamin Button’s disease. Mano gets closer to me and mumbles, “Yeah, that guy’s kind of weird right?” “Kind of? How the fuck did this guy get hired?” “I don’t know.” And then in the saddest attempt at trying to sound reassuring, he advises me to hide the knives from him as if it were a normal task.
I couldn’t believe what I just heard. I felt as if I was stuck in the Twilight Zone or a less colorful Wonderland where Mad Hatter is dressed like a Mormon with an apron. I felt as if I shouldn’t have put any effort into my interview when I was first hired. I felt inadequate working there, like I was thrown into a mass group of special ed students. As insulting as that last sentence may seem, is how insulted I felt. I told one of my coworkers about the incident and that I could no longer work there for the sake of my sanity. I also went on a tangent on how working there prohibited my motivation and tampered with my spirit.
“You guys, we’re better than this,” I began on my stagnant preamble. “I can’t keep doing this to myself. I have to follow my dreams even if it means I have to starve a little. You have to start somewhere, right?” “You’re right. I think you should go for it. Fuck this place, man,” the juicer told me. With an extra voice echoing how I felt, I was empowered to storm up to Mr. Benjamin Button and declared my resignation.
“Sup, Mano. I’m putting in my two weeks. I can’t take it anymore.” “Wait, what? Why?” “I’m not happy here. I’m tired of being taken advantage of and I’m tired of picking up other peoples’ slack.” “Well, what if we give a level 2 position?” “I am a level 2,” I raised my voice in exasperation. “Oh, well how about a level 3?” “There’s no level 3 available. Linda’s a level 3. What are you gonna do? Rip it from her and give it to me?” “Well, nobody likes their job. I was working at Dominick’s for four years.” “Aaand how did you not blow your fucking head off? Period point blank I’m quitting and there’s nothing that you can say that’s going convince me otherwise, ok?” “Alright, just put it in writing and give it to me. I’ll give it someone up front.” “Sweeeet. K byeeee!”
I was on cloud 9. Yeah, I had a couple of jobs in line, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure if any of them were going to work out. I couldn’t believe I stuck it to the Man…or lack thereof. I was working at this place for over two years. I had gone to shifts while having fevers, gut-wrenching hangovers, and two hours of sleep after finishing 10-page papers for class. I was the one who would take lead, while the rest of my coworkers wandered and took their hour breaks. And the cherry on top of this turd sundae was that my hours were getting cut. I was the only part-timer of my department who had any seniority and I was the only one to get my hours cut. Coincidently, it was after I confronted a level 4 for throwing me under the bus, while I was picking up his slack. Aaaand coincidently, he wrote our schedules. I felt like Thomas Jefferson, while writing the Declaration of Independence while writing my resignation note. Well, I didn’t know how he felt because I never met the dude and we’re about five centuries apart. Anyways, I gave Mano 2.0 my note and it was a rap. Two-weeks later I gave my goodbyes and I was out the door. Free at last.