Sunday, February 27, 2011

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 6: "The Mansion Delivery" or "Beauty & The Beast"

The Mansion Delivery
Beauty & The Beast

I must preface this entry with a disclaimer/apology: I have only one more delivery-oriented episode to cover and, believe me when I tell you, it's the granddaddy of them all (and single-handedly inspired the writing of this entire memoir) so just bear with me through this one and I promise to make it worth your while!

Beauty and the Beast. 

One of Disney's classic films and arguably my second favorite behind Wall.E.  Sure there are other films that I might enjoy watching more than Beauty and the Beast...but you can never underestimate the power of sentimental value.

But I'm getting ahead of myself by jumping too far into the past.

The delivery.

So I was aware of the fact that we had one very special customer at the supermarket...but I use the word at very loosely.  You see--no one had actually seen this customer, and with good reason: she never came into the store.  Ever.  She would only place an order over the phone for delivery.

So what's so special about her?  Isn't she just another elderly woman?

Not in the least (to answer the latter) and a whole lot (to answer the former, and as I would come to find out).  For one, the owner would hand-pack the order--the entire thing!  Of course he would use his acolytes to round up the items but he would personally inspect each and every one to ensure that it was either a) precisely what this woman wanted or b) that it was the most expensive shit he could possibly sell her.  For another, he would deliver the groceries personally to her; anyone else he would be simply too busy to deal with...but not her.

So who was this mysterious caller, driving my boss into such a fervid tizzy?

We're getting there.

You see, one fateful day I was on hand when the call came in.  I was summoned to the front of the store and told that I had to help the owner put together "the order."  He explained that this was a very important customer--his very best, in fact--and that everything had to be perfect: absolutely perfect.  And thus he provided me with the (very specified) list and sent me off to gather the goods. 

I'm pretty sure that I spent at least fifteen minutes gathering all of the groceries and bringing them up to the front of the store.  Think about that.  Think about how much shopping you can do in fifteen minutes at a store you worked at--a place where you spent zero time looking for things because you knew where they all were.


We filled at least three GIGANTIC boxes with groceries.  It was easily a few hundred dollars' worth of goods.

At least I was clear on why she was his best customer.

After putting the order together, I went to return to my work but was stopped by the owner.

"Where do you think you're going?"


"You're coming with me, shimanoot."

I couldn't believe it.  He was asking me to accompany him on the big delivery.  (And obviously by "asking" I mean "telling and cursing at me in Yemeni.")

And so off we went.  After loading up the minivan, I hopped into the shotgun seat and prepared for what I was anticipating would be an epic journey.

I had no idea.

For starters, it was my first time alone with the boss.  I was surprised to find, through our bantering, that he could be not only a decent guy but a funny one as well.  I truly enjoyed the conversation that we had during the somewhat-long trip to and from the customer's home (unlike the other time I accompanied him on a driving delivery in which he went off on some rant about people stealing and how he'd fire me or anyone else in a heartbeat if he ever found out that we stole from him (despite the glaring irony that he was pilfering money from our paychecks, but I digress).  He also went off on a few other crazy tangents on THAT delivery and I knew I would be moving on from that job as soon as I possibly could).

So, perhaps as would be expected, along the way to the customer's house, the boss mentioned who she was and gave me a little bit of information about her.  I did not hear the latter, though, because my heart dropped when I heard the former.  I knew exactly who she was.  As soon as I heard her name a flood of memories washed over me--not of her but rather of her daughter and of my childhood.

Beauty and the Beast.

From a technical standpoint, the first girl I ever had a crush on was probably in pre-school but I can't count that in the recordbooks because a) I was four/five years old and b) I don't remember anything about the crush other than being told that I liked this girl.  For me, my first crush came in elementary school.

I'm not sure when it began, officially, but I would guess that it was in the first grade.  I attended my elementary school beginning with Kindergarten, whereas most of the people I would come to meet began in pre-school (I had attended the local Catholic school for pre-K and HATED it.)  There were two Kindergarten classes, likely broken up in this fashion: one was filled with the kids who had performed the best in Mrs. F's Pre-K class and the other was filled with kids who didn't do so well and new kids; I fell into the latter category as it was my first year. 

I still remember, vividly, many great moments from Kindergarten--a testament to how amazing a woman my teacher was (the teacher of the other class would wind up being my third grade teacher--my second favorite teacher of all time; I was blessed to have been taught by two immensely talented and caring women in those early years).  I did well in Kindergarten and was placed in the "Eagle" program (basically an elementary school honors program), beginning with the first grade.

That was when I met her.

I can't say that it was love at first sight...but it probably was, at least for a five or six year old boy.  Blondes might have more fun but I've always been a brunette guy, which, I suppose, started here.  I don't think it was any great surprise that I had a crush on this girl--more than a few other boys did as well.  Truthfully, I don't even remember what it was that I found so enthralling about her but, then again, I also can't re-experience the thought- and emotional-processes of my then-six-year-old self; our past states of mind and affairs of the heart are but ghosts in the face of the present and the gulf of the future.

Wow.  That was a pretty good line. 


Anyway, so by third grade I was still crushing hard on this girl.  I remember when we wound up sitting next to each other...I probably spent every night bowing in supplication to the seating gods, offering up chalices filled with little boy thankyouthankyouthankyous.  As embarrassing as this next tidbit is, I suppose it speaks to the fact that I've been a hopeless romantic since I was a little boy.  I remember going on a family trip with my parents down to Washington D.C. at some point, probably during the summer between third and fourth grade.  I know that we left around five o'clock in the morning because I can picture how dark it was on the Belt Parkway as we headed towards the Verrazano Bridge.  The romantic part of the recollection, though, is that I remember hearing Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting" on the radio and thinking of this girl with such a feeling of sadness--as if I was leaving for some year-long journey to a foreign land instead of a weekend trip down to our nation's capital.  I remember sighing while I was listening to the song. 

I'm shaking my head right now.  I still can't believe this is true.  She barely knew I was alive and there I am, all of nine years old, ruing the fact that I was going to be "away" from her.  I suppose it's all part of the nature of boyhood crushes...but seriously: shaking my head (not like a leaf!).

So fourth grade rolls around...and a new crush begins.  Seriously--I'm pretty sure that EVERY straight guy in that class had a crush on our teacher.  She was young and hot.  It was awesome.  One of the only years where I looked forward to going to school every day. 

The only thing that worried me about this year of school was that this particular teacher was known for having her students put on a large theatrical performance at the end of the year.  It was one of those things where EVERYONE had to be involved.  I had secretly hoped to be a stagehand and not have to be IN the performance...but it turned out that she awarded those positions to her students from the previous year. 

Then it came time for casting.  We were going to be doing the King and I...and I got the second leading male part.  She had wanted to cast me as the lead but I was PETRIFIED and managed to talk my way out of it.  Naturally, the girl I had the crush on got cast as the female lead...and my arch-intellectual nemesis took the role of the king.  I was devastated and hoped that, somehow, someway, I would be given a second chance...

...and I got it.

For whatever reason, (I think it might've been pretty much everyone complaining about the choice of source material for the play) Mrs. S decided to change the play to...

you guessed it:

Beauty & the Beast.

The entire thing needed to be recast, since there was no simple way of converting roles from something like the King and I to a Disney classic.

Guess who has two thumbs and was cast as the Beast?

That's right:






And then the girl I had a crush on was cast in one of the supporting roles.

It was all good though because the girl who played Belle was a PHENOMENAL singer--even at ten years old it was obvious that this girl had a set of golden pipes on her.  I was proud to be on stage with someone as talented, charismatic, and just overall awesome as our fourth grade Belle.

Despite being a nervous wreck, I managed to perform well on both nights.  The experience helped me, in a way, to get over my shyness and to be less afraid of speaking in public; being nominated the valedictorian the next year and having to give a speech in front of everyone and their parents really helped me.  I believe I have the video of the play...I'll have to transfer it to my computer.  Who knows--maybe I'll even post it on Youtube.

That summer, a lot of things changed.  For one, the girl moved away and I never spoke with her again (she transferred to a private school that was more on her family's financial in it costs like $80,000 a year or something.'s daughter.  Can you imagine?)  I wound up having my first real date at the fifth grade prom and I left the memories of my first real crush behind forever...

...or at least until the day I went on the delivery with my boss.

(Oh come on--you had to know that was where this was all going!)
So he mentions her mother's name and I think to myself: oh my God!  I hadn't seen this girl in at least five or six years and I never thought I would see her again...and now I'm going to be going to her house... deliver her groceries...

...and by house, I mean mansion.

As soon as my boss told me the address I groaned.  I knew the neighborhood well and, believe me, people, affluent is to indigent as mansion is to the types of houses in this particular area.  We're talking million dollar plus homes back in the late '90s--you know, before a shitty rundown bungalow was going for $600k in my old neighborhood.

Then we get to the mansion (at least it really was only a mansion and not an estate).  I do my best to find a way to disappear into the seat of the minivan but, with a shout of SHIMANOOT, I am summoned out to unload the gigantic boxes of groceries.

My boss heads inside to make small-talk with the girl's mother and leaves the door ajar.  I pass through the enormous gate and begin to walk up the stone path towards the house.  I look up at the eight-foot high glass window above the enormous double-door entrance and can see the sparkling light of a crystal chandelier.  I cross the threshhold and enter the house...and step onto the marble floor.  I don't remember for sure if it was marble or if that's even possible but I KNOW there was some marble shit in there for sure.

My boss told me to put the groceries down by the grand piano.  A Steinway would be my guess.

I'm standing amid this opulence and I look down at myself in disgust: I am filthy.  It was as if the Beast suddenly became Cinderella.  I was wearing basketball shorts and a dingy grey muscle shirt and I was covered with all sorts of unspeakable deli excreta. 

And I smelled.


Malodorous doesn't begin to describe it.

Repugnant is getting closer.

And then I realize that I'm in her house. 

I take a quick scan of the room and see that she's nowhere to be found.  I saw one of her brothers and, though I think he recognized me, the disdain in his eyes and in the way he averted them before I could make contact with my own said it all.

I went out and got the remaining boxes and waited by the door while my boss finished up his conversation.  We got back in the minivan and headed back to the store.

Years later, I did see her from afar and I felt...nothing.  Whatever remnant-childhood heart-swirls had ceased their centrifugal motion; she had become just another girl.

Now, almost a full eighteen years later, she has become just another errant memory of my childhood.  I can only hope that life has been as good to her as it's been to me...

...because, in many ways, I still am the Beast (not in a creepy Antichrist/Book of Revelation kind of way) that I was eighteen years ago and, though I spent the bulk of my life from those early romantic yearnings straight through to the beginning of college lonely and searching for my soulmate, ultimately, my curse was lifted; the last rose petal didn't touch the ground:

I found my Belle.

It's nice to know that sometimes life can be a fairytale, complete with a storybook happily ever after.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 5: "The Witch's Offering"

The Witch's Offering

After being on the job for a few months, I had gone on a number of deliveries, many of which were to repeat customers; it didn't take long for me to abandon my dreams of coming away with a twenty dollar tip.  You see, there seemed to be a recurring demographic to whom I found myself delivering goods--a demographic that, after only minimal analysis, would imply a high level of frugality (not to mention eccentricity).  Like any good forensic detective, we must get into the mind of our suspect (or, in this case, recipient of said delivered goods) and examine what type of person would request home delivery of items from a smallish supermarket.

Remember--we're not talking about a Key Food or Waldbaums where people spend hundreds of dollars on goods and would thus warrant a large delivery; most of our customers spent between twenty and fifty bucks on their goods (which, technically, should have been less if it weren't for my shyster of a boss).

Anyway, most of these people, as noted, were ordering a relatively low quantity of goods.  Many of said goods were things like toilet paper, paper towels, cans of cat food, cans of tuna fish, bottles of soda, and the like.  All of the deliveries were to relatively nearby locations (at most it would take me ten to fifteen minutes of walking to reach their residences). 

So here's our profile: people who live close to the store, buying a few things, one of which always seemed to be cat food.

Our suspect?

Mostly elderly women or female shut-ins.

I never knew to whom I would be delivering (unless I had already been there before) but I stopped being surprised by the quantity of older folks who would be purchasing their groceries and having them delivered.  Most probably couldn't make it over to the store in the first place let alone lugging a somewhat decent amount of goods back to their homes.  Most lived in apartment buildings and few, if any, lived on the first or second floors of said residences.

It became like a routine--the same old song and dance, just with different performers.  The old person would open the door and offer up a drooly smile or, on the odd occasion, a confused look ("Groceries?  mmmmdon't remember ordering no groceries?  Eh?  Say that again?  Eh?  Groceries?  Yes, of course I ordered them.  Why are you still standing outside?  Wait--what are those?  Groceries?  Eh?  I didn't order groceries.  Where did you say you were from again?  Eh?").  I would ask them where they would like me to place the groceries and they would direct me (mostly to their small kitchen tables).  I would enter the often dimly lit apartment only to be assaulted by that distinctly pungent aroma that seems to cling to the ancient folk: something sickly sweet like Ben-Gay mixed with lonely tears and possibly urine.

At this point I would begin holding my breath and speaking in a nasal voice, not unlike an English/Irish/Scottish/Welsh person mimicking the American accent (which, sadly, they all seem to get spot-on, not like our pathetic attempts at Irish or Scottish Brogues, Cockney British Accents, or whatever the hell those Welsh whackos speak).  They would shuffle into the apartment and stand idly by while I unloaded their goods.  Sometimes they would make attempts at small-talk and I would politely smile and nod.  My goal was to make them think I was either retarded or not a native-speaker of English.  I figured if I elicited a pity-response from them then they wouldn't get angry and, more importantly, they would stop their inane elderly attempts at conversation.

Eventually, when I would finish taking out their groceries, they would ask me how much they owed me and I would tell them and show them the receipt (my boss, to his credit, was remarkably savvy and knew not to take any shit from old people who would, given the opportunity, pull the old "that's not what he said on the phone" routine).  This approach also helped with my convincing them that I was, again, either retarded or not a native speaker of English because, when posed with a question or a statement to which they do not know how to respond, a retard person or non-native speaker of English will either repeat the last thing that they said or, if they have a piece of paper in their hand, they will extend their arm out and show it to the inquisitor/conversant. 

Fortunately, they would often have the money ready and would usually not require change.  Once the transaction was complete, they would often whip out their tiny change-purse and remove a few crinkly dollar bills reminiscent of the long, hard tales of their lives etched on their brows.  I was always gracious (even if the bill was $29.81 and they told me to keep the change as my tip) and I never stood waiting around for a tip if they didn't reach immediately for anything extra; I figured that, this way, I would never be disappointed.

Over time, I came to accept the fact that I wouldn't be getting a large bonus sum from these people (usually older women) and, when I would, I would actually feel bad.  To be honest, I usually felt bad in general when I would go to any of these places, what with the commingling scents of loneliness, impending death and sounds of Donahue or Maury and whatever bizarre clocks they would have on the walls.  Many times the hand that placed the sad sweaty bills in my palm was shaking like a leaf (what an utterly ridiculous idiom--shaking like a leaf?  How about shaking like a virgin reaching for that $10 vibrator or shaking like most people's heads after I open my mouth and speak?) and I just felt...well...bad.  I felt like I was stealing from them by accepting their tips--that they needed that dollar or two far more than I did.  I mean, I did try not to accept it but they would be insistent.

I probably reminded them of their grandkids who never visited them...except I wasn't their relation...but I did visit them.  Double score?

Anyway, as you would imagine, I dealt with quite a cast of characters.  Some would impart some arcane, creepy wisdom as I would head out the door.  Others were just strange in a much more general way.  You could usually identify the whack-a-doodles by the way they answered the door or from their choice in décor and/or whatever strange collections they had on display...

...but not always.

One scorching summer's day I had the pleasure of getting out of the store to take a decent walk a few blocks away to do a delivery to a house I had never visited before.  The woman didn't order much, which meant that I could carry the packages instead of taking that godforsaken shopping cart--an even bigger bonus.  As I'm preparing to head out the door I notice Lumiere and the register girl snickering, presumably at me.  I asked what was funny and they both said nothing, smiled, and laughed some more, which meant, in actuality that not only was there something but that something had to do with me.

Leaving in a huff, I headed out the door and began my journey towards the customer's home.  It was such a beautiful day that whatever anger I brought outside with me dissipated beneath the velvety summer breeze and strong golden love of the mid-year sun.  Still, though, my mind returned to the mocking laughter of Lumiere and the register girl. 

"What could they have been giggling about?" I wondered, examining my person but finding nothing out of the ordinary.  (I had suspected that someone had planted a sign on me or something, knowing that I would be heading out into public unaware of the snide epithet emblazoned upon my back.  In retrospect, this is something that I should have done to Lumiere.  I could have easily placed a "HONK IF YOU LOVE MY LITTLE PONY" sign on his back.  That would've been awesome...::sigh:: I suppose I will just have to add it to my list of lost opportunities that will haunt me until my dying day!)

I arrive at the woman's house and am greeted cheerfully at the door by, you guessed it, an older woman.  She invites me in and comments on how hot out it is.  I concur and she asks me if I would like a cool drink of water.  Not a glass of water.  Not some water.  A "cool drink of water," as if enticing me not simply with the offer of liquid refreshment but cool, sating liquid splendor.  I was sweating a bit and, without thinking, I accepted her offer.  I had enough sense to watch her grab a clean glass and pour some water for me from the tap.  I don't recall whether or not she put in any ice cubes but, for argument's sake, let's say she did.

So I'm enjoying my cool drink of water as I hand her the groceries.  She's smiling an awful lot and I attribute this to the catching positive vibes offered up by the stupendously gorgeous day.  We banter a bit as I take in my surroundings.  Everything is mostly brown; nothing is out of the ordinary.  She has the money in hand and offers me a decent tip of a few dollars as I finish my glass of water.  I thank her for both and head out the door feeling even better than when I had first arrived. 

It was as if I was filled with a magical happiness, kinda like when you roll out of the right side of the bed and have one of those days where everything seems just to go right.

...or not.

I get back to the store and see that everyone is looking at me as I come through the door.

"How'd it go?" someone asks.

"...fine?"  I responded.

Snickering laughter.  Not just from Lumiere and the register girl but the owner and whoever else was present.

"What?" I asked, growing annoyed.

"You don't know?"

"Know WHAT?!" I bellow (because that's how I roll when I get angry).

"The woman you delivered to..."


"She's a witch."

A beat passes.

"She's a what?" I ask, dumbfounded.

"She's a witch!"

Everyone laughs.  Apparently that's what the joke was: this lady is a Satanic concubine and I had no idea and they knew that I had no idea so ha freakin' ha on me, right?

Then it hit me.

"Oh God," I say, feeling like I got kicked in the ribs.

"What?" Lumiere asks.

"She gave me a glass of water."


You know the kind of silence I'm talking about--the type where you can feel the wind get sucked out of the room and all you feel is a sort of low-pressure system before-the-storm arrives sensation all around you.

"You're joking, right?" someone asks.

"No.  Oh man...she offered it to me.  She was so excited about it too," I said, realizing the severity of my action.

No one said a word.  In fact, the small crowd that had gathered to mock me dispersed suddenly as if I contracted spontaneously leprosy...contagious spontaneous leprosy.

I resumed my daily work, wondering if that sick feeling in my stomach was just fear or if she had slipped some sort of devil-seed into my drink.  I replayed the entire scene from the moment she opened the door until the moment I left, over and over and over and over again.  I questioned myself as to how I could be so stupid.  I asked the other employees if they were just fucking with me but I could tell by their reactions that they weren't...

...and that they were scared.

No joke--everyone avoided me for the rest of the day.  It was a Saturday so a) there were a number of people working and b) I was working until closing and thus had a long day ahead of me.  If someone was coming down an aisle as I was traversing the same space, he or she would turn around and literally jog the other way.  If Lumiere or anyone else was in the walk-in refrigerator as I tried to enter, he or she would scoot out of there, hugging the doorframe in an attempt to bend spacetime so as to avoid me.

I ate lunch by myself, I did the shelving by myself, I cleaned up by myself. 

It was as if I was quarantined. 

As far as I can tell, nothing bad ever happened as a result of my thirst-driven error.  Eventually, everyone (including me) forgot about it, and things went back to normal.

But to this day, every time I pass by that house, I shudder, just a little, thinking about the day I accepted a witch's offering.

You might even say that, as I pass by, I shake like a leaf...

...but please don't. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 4: "The Budweiser Incident"

The Budweiser Incident

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to sample as many different types of beers as possible.  I'm currently at 515 different beers and hope to hit 800 before the year is through.  Exploring different beers, or even the same styles from different brewers, helps one to develop a more mature palette that really unlocks the flavors and aromas that the brewers intended for their beers to impart.

Wait, what?  This is starting to sound like a snobby beer connoisseur pamphlet.

What I'm getting at is this: I hate Budweiser.  And by hate, I mean absolutely ABHOR it.  For one, it offends my mature palette, what with its corn-piss flavor and inclusion of formaldehyde.


And we're back!

More than the offensive flavor, odor, and inexplicable popularity/ubiquity of the beer (if you're one of those douchebags who wiggle Bud Light bottles back and forth between your fingers at bars please purchase a thirty pack of Bud cans, empty them all into a large container, place your head inside of the container, and do not remove it know what?  Let the coroner remove it.  You might as well be holding a gigantic glass dildo.  In fact, you would look EXACTLY the same doing that as you do holding the Bud Light.  Asshole.) is a very sound reason for my hatred:

The Budweiser Incident.

Now, I would be less than truthful if I cited the Budweiser Incident as the sole source of my ire towards the beer (THAT happened, ironically, during my next deli job). 

You see...people in my neighborhood seemed to favor Budweiser over most other beers; we sold shit tons of it during the summer months.  The problem, though, wasn't the outflow of Budweiser but rather the returning inflow.  The deli, like most stores of its ilk, accepted bottle and can returns.  Engaging in such activity made sense for the men and women who would buy eighteen- and thirty-packs as if the world were going to end; they could easily earn enough (a nickel a can or bottle, mind you) to purchase yet more shitty beer.  The problem, though, was that I was the one who had to deal with those returns (well, me and the other stock boys...we were all equally scarred by this).

People would often bring back the cans or bottles in plastic bags.  As you would imagine, this would mean that there would be many bags of returned bottles and cans...sitting in the store...waiting for me to place them into their respective bins in the back of the store...where it was, at times, over 100 degrees.  It wouldn't have been a terrible task if people had the decency to take the time and to make the effort to at least rinse the cans or bottles out.  Naturally, they didn't.  So now you had a bag filled with literally dozens of cans and bottles half- or quarter-filled with hot, viscous, scuzzy Budweiser that had not only been sitting in the store the entire day but had likely been sitting out in a yard somewhere, cooking beneath the blazing summer sun.

But, still, that wasn't the worst part.

These derelicts would often put out their cigarettes in the cans and/or bottles.  So now, on TOP of the hot, scuzzy beer smell, you have mingling with it the reeking stench of half-smoked Marlboros, Newports, Parliaments, Merits, Camels, Misty 120s, and a handful of other types of cancer-sticks (but never any Benson & Hedges--theirs is a classy crowd, it would appear).  I'll bet you never thought about a cigarette going sour or turning rotten nor have you offered any cogitation to the smell that such a cigarette would then generate.  I'll admit that I never thought about it either...but that's because I was able to experience it on a seasonal basis between the months of May and September.

NOW we are at the worst part: you couldn't always tell which cans were going to have beer in them nor were you able to discern which would have the nicotine wünder-logs hidden inside.  This, in turn, meant that you could grab an innocuous-looking bag, think it's got maybe a bottle or two in it, rip open the bag, and find your arm (or worse) covered in the sticky, shitty-smelling commingled ejaculate of a can of Bud and a half-drained Marlboro.  You also have at least thirty more bags to go don't go running off to the bathroom to throw up and try to wash yourself up--you'll just wind up going through the same thing again

Invariably, you would come upon a smart-ass worldly motherfucker who would pack twenty or thirty different cans and bottles, ranging anywhere from Boylan's soda, to cans of Coca-Cola, to any sort of beer or wine cooler.  THIS low-life slobbering prick is the one that would really fuck your day up because now you're covered in more than a little bit of Budweiser seminal-emission, it's upwards of 110 degrees where you are, and you've been standing there for twenty minutes...and now you have to go through this eclectic blend of bullshit thus delaying your much-earned and much-needed wash-up.  (I suppose that you could've said, "Fuck it," and just tossed the cans and bottles willy-nilly...but I'm a stickler when it comes to work and thus I did the right thing AND had to pull out the incorrectly placed bottles and cans (to a degree--I wasn't dumpster-diving for one goddamn rebel can of Crystal Pepsi) that the ones who said "Fuck it" just tossed willy-nilly.  Chalk it up to my intermittent OCD.)

So we've established the reason behind my hatred of Budweiser...but we haven't yet discussed the planting of the initial seed.  This, naturally, occurred during my first job during the Associated Year.  Biological life is cyclical and life in a deli or supermarket is no different: there is a time and place for everything and everything has its time and place.

Why did that Elton John song from the Lion King just come to mind?  No, no--not the Circle of Life--the other one.

Ugh, fine--here, for your listening pleasure: every Thursday or Friday that I had to work (in the afternoon, again because of school--plus I'm not entirely sure of the day of the week.  Cut me slack people--we're talking about more than a decade ago!), one of the first things that I would have to do would be to put away the beer order, which would usually arrive an hour or two before I would show up.  If anyone was able to, they would put some of it away but the bulk of it was my responsibility.

So, on this one fateful day, the beer delivery bastard brought a ton of--you guessed it--cases of Budweiser.  It was quite a mix: bottles of regular Bud, Bud Light, Bud Ice, and who knows what else.  Now, by this point, I had been getting into pretty decent shape between taking care of my work-duties and logging upwards of forty-plus hours a week of basketball at the park.  I could usually put the beer away rapid-fire...and that was my mistake on this day.

We were especially busy (and, fittingly, as I remember it, it was raining out) and I really had to haul ass.  It was one of those days where you're behind from the moment your feet hit the ground in the morning.  I took care of the cans and soda that were on top and all that I had left was a good six or seven boxes' worth of Budweiser.  I grab the first case of twenty-four twelve ounce bottles of regular Bud and swing it with ease into the walk-in refrigerator (Lumiere's almost-tomb, if you will).  Then I grab the next...and the next.  By this point, I'm not even looking; it's reach down, grab, lift, twist, and swing into the fridge.  I get down to the second-to-last case of twenty-four twelve ounce bottles and, without even glancing at it, I reach down, grab it, lift, twist...



...and nothing.  The box goes nowhere.  It's as if it's cemented to the floor.  I utter a stunned stunned "OOPH" as I collapse in a heap to the ground. 


I don't know how I didn't see it.  A box of Budweiser forty-ounce bottles is both taller and somewhat wider than a box of four six packs or twenty-four loose bottles.  Sadly, though, that's not the only difference.  A box of twelve-ounce bottles weighs approximately 20 pounds (18 fluid pounds plus whatever the empty bottles would weigh collectively).  A box of twelve forty-ounce bottles, however, weighs almost twice as much.  That might not seem like a big deal but it's the difference between picking up a glass filled with water and an empty glass.  If you're not paying attention and you expect it to be empty you're liable to knock it over if it's filled.  Obviously, the consequences increase somewhat proportionally with the weights involved.

Needless to say--for the first time in my life I threw my back out. 

And it was b-a-d.  Pride managed to get my onto one knee and it was sheer testicular fortitude that got me standing.  Believe me--had there been a ref, I'm pretty confident that he would've called the fight...but there wasn't.

And I still had an entire afternoon's worth of work to gut out...starting with those last two goddamn cases of Budweiser forties.

Truthfully, I don't even know how I managed to make it through the rest of the day.  I think it was the fact that it was a new experience so my body was on some kind of adrenaline rush (I'm sure it had no idea of what to do--what friggin' fifteen/sixteen year old throws his back out?) and that I probably didn't sit down at all.  I don't remember walking home either...but I know I did because I showered and went straight to bed.  I also remember waking up the next day--or, rather, I will never forget waking up the next morning.

No joke--I thought I was paralyzed.  My mind went to carry me forward out of bed and all I managed to do was huddle in a crumpled mess on the floor.  It literally took me over a full minute to get myself into a cat-like position on all-fours and probably as long or longer to reach a hunched over position.  I felt like Rip Van Winkle if instead of waking up as himself he discovered, to his horror, that he had become the accursed offspring of Job and Methuselah.

I'm pretty sure I cried at this point and, if you've ever thrown out your back, you're not laughing at me but rather wincing and shaking your head in sympathy.  I was fucked.  I couldn't stand up straight, I couldn't walk correctly, I couldn't get up and down from a seated position without it killing me.  I had to call out of work and figure out what I was going to do.  My Dad showed me some exercises that I could do to loosen up my back.  I also put on my weight-lifting belt as a sort of makeshift back-brace...but it was brutal  I was out of commission for days.

Fortunately, I was a teenager and thus had Wolverine-like healing abilities.  By the next Thursday or Friday I was ready to go...and MUCH more careful about what and how I was lifting.

The problem though is that I've had a finicky back ever since then.  I was able to strengthen it once I started going to the gym...but only to a certain degree.  There are still things that will cause it to dip on me almost instantaneously (::cough:: P90X KENPO ::cough::) and it all started that day during the Associated Year.

Fact: Pandora's Box was, in actuality, a case of Budweiser forties.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 3: "The Shopping Cart Delivery"

The Shopping Cart Delivery

One of my favorite activities during the Associated Year was going out on deliveries.  For one, it got me out of the store and away from the crazy Yemeni cursing of my boss.  For...two...(?  Is that even right?) shaved off at least a little time from my workday, sort of like an unexpected break, though I was still working.  Lastly, it opened up the opportunity to snag some tips.

That last line made me sound like a whore on the hunt for some leper-love.

Anyway, one of the first deliveries I remember having to go on was to a street maybe a half-mile away.  I was excited because it was a delivery I would be doing on my own because of its proximity to the store (I wouldn't need someone to drive me there) and I knew that I could take my sweet-ass time coming back (I didn't want the customer to wait for her groceries but I was also in no rush to get back to that hell-hole.  This might sound like a suspect-ass work ethic but believe me this place would have sapped the life out of Mother Theresa or the guy that builds all of those buildings out of toothpicks:  )

I was also looking forward to getting some additional exercise; I figured that carrying a bunch of groceries at least a half a mile would have been a decent workout.  Then I saw the enormous box that the boss had put together (his personal policy was, unless the customer requesting a delivery specified a size and/or brand, he would give them the largest, most expensive item he had.  Stay classy Gigantor Senior!) and I wondered how the hell I was going to manage to carry it all the way to the customer's house.

Then I saw it.

The shopping cart.

We're not talking one of those small, collapsible ones that many people take to the supermarket.  We're not even talking about one of those pygmy ones you'll find at some stores that really don't warrant having real shopping carts (clearly a basket would do in these fine establishments, but people are lazy and thus the ridiculous smaller carts.  Don't mix up the dopey yuppie ones they have at places like Wegmans that are meant to conserve plastic or protect the environment with the ones I'm talking about.  These bad boys are just shrunken, stunted, inbred relatives of the normal sized carts.).  Hell--we're not even talking about the normal sized ones, either!  This was a GIGUNDOUS mammoth cart, big enough to fit the huge box and a class of midget performers from the local clown college.

Okay I have to break off for a second.  Seriously--here are two links to two DIFFERENT yuppie conversations I found about the Wegmans carts by Googling "Wegmans carts."  I will quote from them both:

Here are some choice quotations from people who actually engaged in these conversations:

(From the first link)

""The only difference between "try" and "triumph" is that extra little 'umph.'" --queenmarsha

(This is the clever quotation signature used by queenmarsha.  Really queenmarsha?  Are you sure that the only difference between "try" and "'triumph" isn't the subtraction of the letter "y" and the addition of that little extra "i-umph" (sans the dash)?  Apparently the only difference between you and not being a complete failure in life is an illimitable gulf.)

"I haven't tried the new carts...well, I did, but I didn't have to buy much when I did.  I used the kiddie cart this weekend...I fail to see how the new carts will hold all of my groceries...the bottom part doesn't have tall enough "walls".  Also the new carts are a little wider and make them just as difficult to stear as the kiddie carts!" --sw2

(This is a mindfuck of a statement.  Let me attempt to get this fail to see how the new carts will hold all of your groceries, presumably because, "the bottom part doesn't have tall enough 'walls'"?  And yet, in your very next sentence, you say that the new carts are, "...a little wider and make them (sic) just as difficult to stear (sic) as the kiddie carts!")

Let's tackle the grocery storage issue first.  The bottom part of the cart doesn't have tall enough walls but the cart, overall, is a little wider (despite making it just as difficult to "stear" as the kiddie carts!), correct?  So isn't it possible that the reduction in height of the walls is somehow balanced out by the additional width of the cart?  I mean...wouldn't you know whether or not the cart would hold all of your groceries if you simply tried it out?

But you didn't try these carts out, correct?  I mean, it's the first thing you said: "I haven't tried the new carts."  That's as clear-cut a declarative statement as they come.  "I haven't tried the new carts."  The only way you could have been clearer would have been to cut out the bullshit apostrophe and to have gone with , "I have not tried the new carts."  Surely you could have improved upon the sentence by sprucing and tidying it up a bit.  Maybe by saying something like, "I have not yet used the new shopping carts."  That would have been fine...but your VERY NEXT SENTENCE renders this entire argument moot:

"...well, I did, but I didn't have much to buy when I did."

So you didn't, as noted in your first sentence...but you did, even though you didn't when you did...right?  Now, technically, this second attempt at English might be considered part of the first sentence since it is separated by an ellipsis but that would work from a grammatically correct standpoint only if you were attempting to imbue your statement with some degree of suspense (by including the ellipsis at the end and allowing the sentence to trail off) OR if you were quoting someone and were glossing over some words via the ellipsis.  The only quotation marks I see are around the word "walls," and they appear with a period outside of them for some strange reason (was the period not cool enough to hang out with the word walls?  Was it relegated to standing out on the line for hours on end simply because it wasn't on the list?).

Judging from your masterful use of proper punctuation, my guess is that you did intend to separate the sentences into two unique statements.  I conclude as such because of the fact that you use two periods (one of which is placed incorrectly, as noted previously) and three ellipses in your wonderful contribution to the world of messageboard sagacity. 

Back to the point: so you used/didn't use the new carts when you didn't/did have many groceries to purchase (you did remember to pay for them, I hope!) and thus you, " to see how the new carts will hold all of [your] groceries" right?  To state the obvious: when you did use the new cart (even though you didn't), despite the fact that you didn't have many groceries when you did, the cart was still sufficient for your needs--correct?  I mean, though you had fewer groceries, you didn't need to use two new carts to traverse them about the store, right?  So then I fail to see how you can fail to see how the new carts will hold all of your groceries when they clearly just did.

What makes me more nervous though is the fact that you used the kiddie cart when you went shopping despite making no indication that you have children (I pray to Vishnu that you have not procreated) AND that you make reference to previous experience with the same style of cart at the end of your statement, declaring them, "...just as difficult to stear (sic) as the kiddie carts!"

I really hope that you have someone who assists you when you go out grocery shopping.

"Are you taling the plastic carts? I've heard from employees that they break easily and are mainly for days when they are really packed and run out of carts.  If it's not this cart then our Wegmans doesn't have them.  I by the way hate the little carts. You can't even fit your purse in them." --za5ofus

(First of all--what the fuck does "taling" mean? And why, when I Google the word, does a bunch of Thai shit come up?  Second of all--you've "heard from employees that they break easily and are mainly for days when they are really packed and run out of carts"?  Have you really had conversations with employees about the goddamn shopping carts?  I can only imagine the conversations that THEY have had about YOU after such banter, dipshit.

Oh, and avoid the hyperbole next time.  Unless your purse is bigger than either of these little carts

then you're clearly lying...and there is a place held in especially high esteem in Hell for hyperbolic liars, lady.)

"I heard that the new carts are only in Pittsford for now.  They're not the plastic carts.  They're strange looking cart...the only plus I can see is that you can fit 2 kids to sit at the top, but they need to be small kids.  The carts are kind of like the smaller carts they have when you go to just pick up a few things, with a top and bottom tier but the bottom teir extends longer." --sw2

("They're strange looking cart...the only plus I can see is that you can fit 2 kids to sit at the top, but they need to be small kids.  The carts are kind of like the smaller carts they have when you go to just pick up a few things, with a top and bottom tier but the bottom teir extends longer." (Emphasis added)

Another Shakespeare-worthy gem from sw2.  This is what that very same quotation would look like properly sicced up:

"They're strange looking cart (sic)...(sic)...the only plus I can see is that you can fit 2 kids to sit (sic) at (sic) the top, but they need to be small kids.  The carts are kind of like the smaller carts they have when you go to just (sic) pick up a few things, with a top and bottom (sic) tier but the bottom teir (sic) extends longer (sic)."
Fact: I managed to use more sics than sw2 used ellipses just now.)

"Newly designed shopping carts??  I'm intrigued....." Susan...(full name truncated to protect poster's stupidity--whoops--identity)

(You're intrigued by newly designed shopping carts?  You might want to cash in that extra question mark and two extra periods for a life, girl!)

"I was just venting about these to my dh the other day!
First, I have a friend who lives in Virginia (outside of DC), and they got these same new carts a couple of weeks ago. So I think the chain may be rolling them out (no pun intended) to all their stores eventually. She HATES the new ones because she has 3 kids and she says the largest size isn't as big as the old largest carts, and doesn't hold everything she needs when she does a big shopping. You can't pile as much up and there just isn't as much room. She wound up filling one large cart & having to leave it with the manager while she continued her shopping.
I find the new large carts are really awkward to push around. I shop at the Pittsford W's and I keep seeing people bumping into one another with them. Today I was in the checkout line running my credit card through and the woman behind me kept bumping my legs with her cart. She had no idea she was doing it, it's just that the bottom "tier" now extends out farther than the top one and it's easy to not even notice that it's hitting something (or someone!)
The new small carts are about the same as the old smallest size--fine for quick trips, but not for a regular shopping, I miss the regular-sized, "standard" cart which is what I always used.
About the only positive thing I can say about the new carts is that they push smoothly. And they have a built-in cup holder if that's important to you! :-)
Boy, I can't believe I had so much to say about shopping carts! :-) I wonder what Wegmans is doing with all of the old ones? I hope they aren't winding up in landfills!"  --***824 (name protected again)

(I am going to comment inside of the quotation for sake of ease since this is a Tolstoy-esque length one.

I was just venting about these to my dh the other day!  (Seriously?  Who the fuck vents about shopping carts?)

First, I have a friend who lives in Virginia (outside of DC), (...because any part of Virginia could be INSIDE of DC?  The District of Columbia is a geographically sovereign realm, dope!)

and they got these same new carts a couple of weeks ago. So I think the chain may be rolling them out (no pun intended) (I'm pretty sure you intended it.  You probably even did one of those pathetic little self-satisfied chuckles when you re-read it.  You might've even contemplated the laughter that your little joke would create.  Your little gift to the world, ey cunto?)

to all their stores eventually. She HATES the new ones because she has 3 kids and she says the largest size isn't as big as the old largest carts, and doesn't hold everything she needs when she does a big shopping. (Does a "big shopping?"  I feel like my brain just did a "big crapping" reading this.)

You can't pile as much up and there just isn't as much room. She wound up filling one large cart & having to leave it with the manager while she continued her shopping.  (Jesus Christ, lady!  How many times a year does this woman go shopping?  Clearly she must do "little shoppings" at various points, no?)

I find the new large carts are really awkward to push around. I shop at the Pittsford W's and I keep seeing people bumping into one another with them. (I can only imagine what these people must do when they get back into their cars to drive the fruits of their "big shoppings" home.)

Today I was in the checkout line running my credit card through and the woman behind me kept bumping my legs with her cart. She had no idea she was doing it, it's just that the bottom "tier" now extends out farther than the top one and it's easy to not even notice that it's hitting something (or someone!)  (SERIOUSLY!?  AGAIN with the fucking tiers!?)

The new small carts are about the same as the old smallest size--fine for quick trips, but not for a regular shopping, (COME ON LADY!  STOP USING SHOPPING AS A NOUN!  IF YOU'RE GOING TO USE THE GERUND FORM OF THE VERB "SHOP" THEN SAY SOMETHING LIKE "but not when I go shopping" OR "but not for a regular shopping TRIP."  I am getting dumber by the minute reading this shit.)

I miss the regular-sized, "standard" cart which is what I always used.
About the only positive thing I can say about the new carts is that they push smoothly. And they have a built-in cup holder if that's important to you! :-)  (Seriously?  A full-faced emoticon?)

Boy, I can't believe I had so much to say about shopping carts! :-) I wonder what Wegmans is doing with all of the old ones? I hope they aren't winding up in landfills!"   (Seriously? ANOTHER full-faced emoticon?  I can't wait for the day YOU wind up filling a landfill.")

From the second site:

"Love the new small shopping carts. The previous carts were OK but the big ones were too big. The smaller carts were fOK but when the store is very busy almost any cart to too big to maneuver swiftly and easily. I know this will make no friends but the carts with the little cars in front are a pain and neither the child nor most parent could maneuver them effectively. Best part is that they will be clean for at least a little while. People seem to get in a zone when grocery shopping and pay little attention to where they are leaving their cart or who may be coming around a corner."  --TOC 

(Apparently this woman was too busy to write out the word "okay" and opted for a fully-capitalized least the first time.  I'm not sure of what she meant by "fOK" unless she was somehow referencing the function of OK, in which case she would have wanted to write it as f(OK).  I'm guessing she wasn't ascribing a mathematical function value, though, since in the previous sentence she said, and I quote,
"...but the big ones were too big," and she then continues to say in the same sentence as fOK (sic) "...but when the store is very busy almost any cart to too big to maneuver swiftly and easily." (emphasis & emboldening added)  Somehow the adjective "scholarly" and this woman's name would never be deemed connubial.)

"New carts FTW. The small ones rule. I fit a ton of $%# in it." --weaz

(Big dopey dick FTW!  Good thing for weaz he (and it's definitely a he--I can't envision a woman referring to shopping carts using FTW) believes that "the small ones rule."  At least he's not lacking in the confidence department the way he clearly is in both the intellectual and phallic length ones.  Notice how he was attempting either to be polite or a retarded rebel by replacing the word "shit" with a bunch of symbols.  Clearly this was his intention as he began the word with a dollar sign--the closest symbol to the letter 's'.  Unfortunately for him, though, there are only three symbols there, which means that he misspelled the word shit in symbol form.  God I hope his DNA decides to pack its bags and dip one day.)

"+ much easier to navigate through madhouse too." --zxz942#@saq
(Did that last motherfucker seriously use a plus symbol instead of the word??)

"The new carts rock." --NumberSix

(Really?  Side-to-side, or front-to-back?  Dumbass.)

"i'll be sure to fill out a comment card requesting tethers for childrens arms on the front bar." --Bo-Peep

(At least we left "Retarded-ville" for a return trip to "Yuppie Town")

I love the deconstruction (and destruction!) of random quotations from yuppie messageboards.

Good Lord!  I was doing a post about the Shopping Cart Delivery! 

Okay...back to the thread.  So they pack a good forty or fifty pounds of groceries into this ENORMOUS shopping cart and send me on my way.  Now, at first, I wasn't that concerned.  In fact, it was quite the opposite: I was relieved not to have to lug all of that crap over to this woman's house. naive of me.

I get the cart out of the store and turn to the right to head up the block towards my next turning point...and I realize that I am pushing an ENORMOUS shopping cart filled with things a fifteen or sixteen year old boy would decidedly not need (one clue: they had wings.)  People (including both pedestrians and motorists alike) were staring...but I doubt that it was because of either my appearance or even because of the sheer girth of the shopping cart.  No, no...they were likely staring because of the one thing I didn't count on:

The noise.

Aside from the fact that this goddamn thing could have benefited from a thorough thermal soaking in WD-40 (the shrieking creaking sounded like the climactic theme from Hitchcock's original version of "Psycho), it was heavy and made almost entirely of metal.  It lacked any sort of shock absorption--or even an actual suspension, for that matter--and thus it was loud.  And by loud, I mean LOUD.  The combination of the the heaviness of the cart, its lack of suspension, its ricketiness, the goods bouncing around inside, AND the uneven pavement/sedimentary nature of the concrete made for an extremely obnoxious, metallic, shaking/ringing sort of noise as I walked up the street.

The sound was as pervasive as the stink of a dog fart: there was nothing I could do to mitigate it.

I couldn't walk in the street because there was a lot of traffic moving at somewhat high I had to suck it up and walk along the sidewalk until I reached the street that would lead me into my neighborhood and towards the woman's house.

Silently, I cursed her as I felt the dozens of pairs of eyes land upon me and the cart.  Conversations stopped, children cried, hell, I'm surprised motorists didn't stop to jeer at me along the way.  I was mortified.  Suddenly, I couldn't wait for this friggin' Odyssey to be over.

Finally, after what feels like eons I finally make it to the street where I can turn and begin to get away from the prying eyes of the general public.  Of course, now the issue is that the probability of me bumping into someone that I know is increasing exponentially with each step I take further into my neighborhood...

but I have no choice.  I must press ever-forward.

So onward I go, now gleefully walking along the somewhat-smooth asphalt and grinning maliciously at the sidewalk.  I'm pretty sure I gave it one of those, "Take THAT!" looks as I walked along the street.

But then I noticed something else.  With each block that I traveled away from the main thoroughfare that I had previously been on, the quieter it got around me...which meant that I was making only more cacophony as I walked.

Now, people were looking out of their houses.

Can you imagine what that was like?  Seeing people peering through their blinds, trying to get a glimpse of the source of the din disturbing their placid weekend rituals?  These poor fucks were trying to relax after a long, difficult week and now they have to listen to my shit-show of a shopping-cart carnival rolling through town.

I tried lifting up the cart but all that did was increase the squeaking on the front wheels.  I was petrified of snapping them and then REALLY having an issue.

Finally, I make it to this woman's block...and it's as quiet as a church the day after Christmas or Easter (ouch!  Sorry Catholics!  You know that I love you!  Respect.)  Now, since the street itself was smaller than the previous two I had walked along, the sound was not only amplifying but fucking echoing OFF OF THE HOUSES!  It was as if it traveled to one side of the street, hit a house, built up strength, and then careened off to the other side of the street, only to bounce back another time!

I finally make it to the house...and what do I see?  She lives on the top floor of a two or three family house.  It might as well have been Rapunzel's goddamn tower, her door was that high and that far away.  Though I might have been strong enough to carry the weight of the groceries, the box was far too cumbersome and flimsy to support their weight; the last thing I needed was to have all of her shit come tumbling out of the box and go rolling down the stairs when I was OSO close to putting this whole experience behind me.

And so I rang the bell to let her know I was there and then began to make the twelve or fifteen trips that it took for me to bring up some of the groceries, place them on the floor on the inside of her apartment near the door, return to the cart, grab more groceries, and rinse, wash, repeat. 

I could tell that she disapproved of some of the items I was bringing in (remember--my slick boss gave her the diamond-studded pussywipes instead of the plain vanilla ones.  Can you imagine that?  Flavored pussy-pads?  I hope you just did. Awesome.) because I could see and hear her mumbling to herself something about calling my boss and complaining.  The sad part was that I intuited somehow that this had happened before.  Clearly she knew that he would do this and evidently she forgot when she was ordering to be more specific.  I'm guessing this happened NUMEROUS times.

So I finally get all of the groceries in and she gives me the money and then, with a bit of a wink, she hands me, "a little something extra for you."  Three dollars.  Now, believe me, I was grateful for the money (it helped me to buy my know...from the store where I WORKED?) but that three dollars felt like a slap in the face.  To be fair, I think a hundred dollars would have still felt like a slap in the face...but I wouldn't have been so pissed off about it as I was.  I was annoyed ESPECIALLY by her confidential wink when she handed it to me, giving me that old, "Don't spend it all in one place!" type of look.

I head back down the stairs, grab my cart, and head back on my way.  Dejected, I traveled back up the block making my racket and drawing attention to myself...but I was swimming in a sea of self-loathing and an overall malaise that someone as young as me should not have been experiencing at so tender an age.

Lost in my ennui, I schlepped my world-weary ass back to the store where I found that I had another delivery to go on.

You can bet your ass that I carried those groceries in my arms with a gigantic smile on my face. 

It might've accounted for the two dollar tip I earned.

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 2: "Walk-In Freezer" or "Just Chillin'"

The Walk-In Freezer
"Just Chillin'"

Most of these episodes are likely to appear out of order simply because I cannot recall when they occurred with any real precision; I know only the general ordering.  This one I am pretty confident came next in the list.  I had been working at the store for at least a few weeks if not a month or two.  I was fortunate to have a few days of working with Lumiere (weekends were particularly busy and warranted having extra hands on deck) and to have met most of my coworkers over the course that time-period (I never worked weekday mornings because of school so I had no reason to meet anyone working then unless they happened to pop in to get paid on Saturday or if they would just drop by to say hello (God only knows why they would).

One of the coworkers that I had finally met was someone who Lumiere had spent a good deal of time warning me about.  There was at least one other stockboy (another friend of Lumiere who I knew from the neighborhood) who worked at the store and I knew that neither he nor Lumiere liked this particular employee.  I was able to tell pretty much right away why they disliked him on the first Saturday that I had worked with him.  For one, he was gigantic.  We were in high school and he was clearly a few years older than us (but not twenty-one, of that much I am sure as I shall elucidate during the course of this episode).  I would say that he was college-age but I do not know for sure whether or not he was in college; my money would be on no.

So Gigantor was not only considerably larger than me, Lumiere, and the other stockboy, but he was also, consequently, much stronger (as a result of his sheer massive, hulking figure) and much meaner than any of us (thus giving him the Gigantor quality instead of, say, the Jolly Green Giant).  He would routinely hip-check Lumiere into the shelves, knocking everything on to the floor and then demand that he clean it up immediately; he would pick him up and toss him onto the produce (only the freshest fruits AND vegetables here, folks!); and he would randomly bully him in whatever creative, sadistic ways he would come up with (including ambushing him and whacking him with a broomstick, lobbing heavy things at him when he wasn't looking, and just basically torturing him at every opportunity).

He seemed to do whatever he wanted...and by seemed to I mean he did do.  How could he get away with such destructive buffoonery?

(Surely you've guessed it by now!)

He was the owner's son.

He would be in on Saturdays "helping out" at the store and, believe me, I use that term as loosely as possible.  The most that he would do would be to do the cooking of the freshly roasted turkey, pork, and ham that would be sold as hot sandwiches.  (Interestingly enough, despite being a loser in many regards (not having a job, not going to school, not having any real prospects) he was extremely interested in cooking and wanted to attend culinary school.  I bumped into him years later at the Staten Island Mall where he was working as a security guard at a woman's clothing boutique.  I think that he was finally on his way to enrolling in cooking school if he hadn't done so already.)  Needless to say--I have never had a better sandwich than the ones he would make.  Ever.  Anywhere.  The Primanti Brothers sandwich at the Pittsburgh Pirates' stadium is a distant second, and that sandwich is orgasmic.  The only thing that sucked was that we were required to pay for everything when we were working and we received no discount whatsoever (this, on top of having money stolen from us every week by the owner who would, conveniently enough, keep his "personal record" of our hours worked, money earned, and the proper amount of "social security tax" that he would remove diligently for us from every check) and this sandwich was no exception...but God it was worth it.  I would have swam in that flood of shit from the first episode if it meant I would have lifetime access to those sandwiches.  I would even have worn the Borat swimsuit.  Seriously.


Anyway, so when Gigantor wasn't forcing himself on one of the register girls, wrestling his father (engaging in a form of attempted patricide/domestic battery of sorts), or drinking Bud Ice in the walk-in freezer, he was torturing whichever stockboys were available.  He never messed with me physically but he still engaged in dickery whenever possible; anything to ruin our respective days.  Eventually, Lumiere started fighting back, performing some epic defensive maneuvers that included sneaking up on Gigantor as he waited in ambush and leaping from the shelves onto his back, David & Goliath style (I know that didn't happen with those two Biblical heroes but you get my drift).

Unfortunately for Lumiere, Gigantor had a few tricks up his sleeve.  I came in one Saturday morning and was surprised to see that I was the only stockboy working.  Lumiere was supposed to be working as well but no one seemed to know where he was.  He was always reliable and would call out in advance with good reason; it was highly unlike him not to show up.  The owner was preoccupied and didn't care where he was--just that the work got done, which meant giving me a double-dose of Shimanoot bullshit.  I noticed that Gigantor was extra-gleeful and assumed he had either masturbated into the produce or had some cruel sort of ambush lined up for me.

I set about my day's work and didn't give too much thought to Lumiere's strange disappearance until lunchtime when I was getting ready to have my sandwich and bottle of soda.  As noted earlier, I had to pay for everything...but fortunately, Lumiere was a resourceful chap and he realized that, since Sprite and Coke were having their 1 in 4 bottles wins a free 20 oz bottle promotion, all we needed to do was buy one bottle and then scope out the soda delivery when it came in to find the winning bottles.  He had the proper angle figured out to see up through the soda so that we could read the message on the cap.  We had a stash of probably twenty bottle caps hidden in the walk-in refrigerator so whenever we wanted a soda we would just cash one in with the register girl.  I tried not to do it too often because I didn't want the owner getting wise (I figured he would start deducting a "soda tax" or something from my paycheck) but he never said anything.  I'm sure, to some degree, he was obligated to take the caps since the store was a participant in the promotion but I'm surprised that he never set up a store rule about it.  He was probably getting reimbursed for the caps somehow.  Who knows.

Anyway, I opened the door to the refrigerator and nearly shit my pants as Lumiere came tumbling out.  His lips had a bluish tint to them and he was shivering like a crashing heroin addict fiending for a speedball.  He had wild eyes and snarled like a caged beast.  Before I could even ask what the fuck had happened, he muttered Gigantor's name and stormed off.  When I went into the walk-in to get my bottle cap I realized that the emergency door release (really just a modified, elongated hook) wasn't hanging in its place.  I managed to dive across the room and prevent the door from shutting entirely.  Evidently, Gigantor had thrown Lumiere into the freezer, removed the hook, and shut off the light when the latter had come in for work in the morning but before anyone had seen him.  The door was a good three or four inches thick with a reinforced steel frame; the walls of the refrigerator were even thicker.

Basically--there was no way in hell that anyone was going to hear Lumiere's screams for help or his pounding against the door/walls.  He had been in there for a good five or six hours by the time I went in to get my Sprite bottle cap.

Lumiere: saved by the irresistible lemony-lime goodness of a mass-produced carbonated beverage.

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 1: "The First Day" or "The Fecal Flood."

My life, at times, has been a seemingly jumbled collection of random events.  It's no surprise that Seinfeld is my favorite television show of all time because much of my life could be broken up into individual episodes with clever names.

Kinda like "The Associated Year."

After seeing a friend's status on Facebook about a nightmare of a day involving dead bodies and tetanus shots, I was suddenly reminded of a similar day I once had at my first job (minus the tetanus shot), which, in turn, opened the flood gates of recollection (no joke--I engaged in some seriously Herculean pseudofreudian self-examination to wrest these juicy Titbits (Poor Dignam!) from the annals of my mind; they've been locked away for quite some time (and for good reason!)).

I can't believe I just used an exclamation point, two closing parentheses, and a period in succession.

Anyway, I should start by giving some background information about "The Associated Year," which will serve as the unifying title of the collective entries that will comprise this memoir.  Each individual episode (both literally and figuratively) will have its own "The _____" title.  Hopefully, by the end, you will have a greater understanding of why I am the way that I am as well as a clearer picture of the craziness that is my life.



My first job was at a small supermarket located a little more than a half mile from the house I grew up in.  I believe I was in the second half of freshman year of high school but it might have been sophomore year that I began working.  A friend of mine that I had gone to school with since elementary school had been working there for at least a year or two, himself, and he offered to get me a position as a stock boy.  I had seen how this friend was able to save up his money and go on cruises with his mother (and pay for the movies and whatever else we used to do) and I realized it was a perfect opportunity for me to start bankrolling myself.  I stayed at the job for no more than a year, if that, ultimately leaving because of the atrocious treatment that the owner gave all of his employees, including me.  It was an agonizing decision for me--not because of any uncertainty about wanting to leave but rather that I felt like quitting and I was afraid I'd let my Dad down if I did.  He was (and is) the hardest working man I know and I felt like I should "tough it out."  Fortunately, after speaking with him about the issue, I realized that the best thing for me was to leave.  Shortly thereafter, I wound up getting my second favorite employment opportunity of all time. 

Hooray for non-massage oriented happy endings!

The First Day
The Fecal Flood

I was nervous as all hell when I went in for my training during my first day of work.  I had never done anything like this before and, though I knew it wasn't rocket science, I wanted to prove my worth by demonstrating my work ethic and my willingness to go above and beyond, running with any task presented to me and completing it as best I could.  Needless to say, there was a lot to absorb during that first day.  I think I might have had a training session earlier, more or less shadowing my buddy while he worked, but, on my first official day of work, the responsibility was all on me. 

I came in in the afternoon after school and worked until closing.  I was told that certain aisles and merchandise I didn't have to worry about (like the fresh fruit and vegetables) and that I should focus on stocking the unshelved shipments first.  I set about the task methodically, using the pricing gun and arranging the items in as orderly a fashion as I could.  I found that I was quick with the gun and adept at fixing the shelves in an aesthetically pleasing way (color coding the cat food cans, for example).  I was happy with my progression through the aisles, making great time as I went.

Then...the end of the evening came.  As is the case with most businesses (and all delis/supermarkets), there is a closing ritual that must be undertaken before everyone can go home for the evening: some things need to be set up for the morning, like the coffee and any sort of returns; others need to be restored to their original homeostases having been disrupted throughout the course of the day; and, finally, some things need to be performed to complete the day's cycle, such as mopping the floors, counting the day's revenue, and shutting off the lights.  Consequently, certain of these tasks are divvied up among the employees who work the final shift.  Naturally, the owner or manager handles the fiscal ends and the more important aspects like a final run-through to make sure that all is well.  The person operating the register (a girl, as was often the case) handles the restocking of cigarettes, the cleaning of the countertop, and the preparation of the coffee.  Pretty much everything else falls onto the stockboy's shoulders (a boy, magically enough, in most cases).

And, unfortunately, on my first night of work, that meant everything else fell onto my underprepared shoulders.  You see--there was a lot to absorb and, though my friend...let's call him Lumiere...had done his best to train me, he neglected, in some regards, to ascribe the proper importance to certain elements or tasks relating to the job and to the closing process in particular.  For him, it had become second nature...but for me, it was the final hurdle of the first day. 

As noted earlier, the process began with stocking out whatever had come in during the day and making sure that the elderly folks (one or two women in particular) didn't try to swipe any cat food in their oversized purses (if you're wondering: no, they didn't own cats; cat food was just cheaper...and perhaps tastier?)  After the shelves were tended to there were a few minor cleaning tasks such as cleaning off the milk trays (which would be DISGUSTING by the end of the day...nothing quite like the smell of spilled spoiled milk that had been sitting out all day (or, if the stock boy didn't clean it the night or two before, days)).  That was probably the worst part of it...having to scrub the shit out of those big metal catch-pans that collected the milk drippings and other dairy excreta, coagulating them and yet somehow amplifying their respective stanks.

Once all of that was done, it was on to the most important piece of the closing process puzzle: swabbing the deck.  This entailed going back into the far reaches of the store, way into the back near the butcher's refrigerator (which, when left open, terrified the hell out of me.  No shit--there was blood, carcasses, knives, and chunks of chilled fat EVERYWHERE.  The thought of somehow getting locked in there gave me chills, not to mention the creepy ass butchers that we had working there.  One of them used to talk to the meat as he butchered it.  This is my life people.) and filling up a disgusting yellow mop bucket with water from one of two sinks.  You see, both sinks dispensed water but one sink had a rubber stopped shoved into its drain, presumably to prevent anything from getting sucked down into the pipes.

The operative word in the previous sentence was: presumably.

On this first night that I was closing, I was instructed to go and fill up the mop bucket with water but not to use the second sink.  I know that I definitely used the correct sink but what I don't recall is whether or not the rubber stopper was securely in place in the second sink.  Regardless, I filled up the bucket with fresh, cool, crisp, clean water that, by the time I had turned off the faucet, had turned an unattractive charcoal gray.  I know what you're thinking: "Charcoal gray is ALWAYS attractive."  Maybe when it comes to suits and...charcoal...but not water that you're supposed to be using to clean the floors of a small supermarket.  By this point, I knew better than to ask questions (let's just say the owner was not a patient man) and I just poured in the soap.  The rainbow sheen of the pulchritudinous bubbles dazzled the eye, distracting the viewer's gaze momentarily from the putrid, Louis-Anderson's-bath-water mess hidden beneath. 

Anywho, so now I have to start in the vegetable aisle at the other end of the store and work my way up and down the aisles (there were more than ten, as per my recollection) until I reached the final aisle near the secret entrance to the sink and butcher area.  Now, if you think that the mop bucket was the most disgusting thing in this store, you are sorely mistaken.  The mop itself trumped it by a thousand degrees.  Before I even placed it into the bucket it weighed a good five pounds.  Think about that for a second.  The mop was dry and it weighed as much as a bag of potatoes (Random aside: Heather and I once went to visit my boy Chapstick and his parents with Timmy and while we were there his mother told us that he weighed ten pounds when he was born.  I looked at him and said, "Jesus, Dude!  You weighed as much as two fucking bags of potatoes!"  Everyone laughed but I was still awed by the visual, so I continued.  "No--seriously!  Think about what two bags of potatoes would look like inside of your mother.  Good Lord, man!  She was walking around with that shit inside of her for months!  Two bags of potatoes!  You're a freak!"  Chapstick stopped laughing but everyone else enjoyed the visual analogy.  I think he was upset because he pictured it.

Okay--so we're dealing with a five-pound dry mop.  Why the emphasis on the weight? And what relation could this have to its level of disgustancy?  Did I just make up a word? 

I'm glad you asked.  Most mops probably weigh a pound or two at most when they are dry.  This fucking thing looked like Medusa if the snakes all died, rotted, and turned into nappy dreadlocks with pieces of dried cereal, knots of human hair, rocks, and dirt strewn about.

Seriously--it was gross.

So into the dirty bucket went the dirty mop, and on my way went I.  I plopped the mop onto the floor of the first aisle and watched the rainbow soap bubbles die a terrible unsanitary death as they popped.  You could almost hear their little cries...though this was likely just a side-effect of breathing in the fumes of the "soap" that went into the slop--sorry--mop bucket.  The owner came by and demonstrated the proper technique for mopping the floor.  I know.  I was thinking the same thing.  "It's a fucking mop.  You put it on the floor.  You push it side to side.  Then you pick it up, dunk it, and repeat.  How hard can it be?

Then I tried pushing the mop and found that, wet, it now weighed closer to ten pounds.  Apparently, the water activated some other filth that had theretofore lain dormant, awaiting its pluvial rebirth.  I tried to push it...and it didn't budge.  Now this is saying nothing about the friction caused by the thick film of grime on the floor or the fact that the floor, itself, was this atrocious rubber type of thing, which made mopping an even more sisyphean task than it already was.  After only a few minutes (and probably five feet of mopping), I caved and tried doing it the way the owner had suggested (he had already wandered off, shaking his head, calling me a "Shymanoot"--some sort of Yemeni term of endearment as best I can tell. 

Success!  By gripping the mop and twisting it in my hands whilst pushing it side to side, I was able to traverse the now muddy aisle with the greatest of ease.  Merrily, I went on my way, going up and down the aisles...until it happened.  I reached the end of an aisle and was mopping the little stretch between the aisles when I saw footprints leading towards aisle number two.  Gingerly, I tiptoed over and was horrified.  It looked like a spectral tap-dancing squad had held practice on my almost-clean floor; there were dirty footprints EVERYWHERE!

After attempting to go over the aisle a second time only to have people walk right past me, smearing the filth all over the floor again, I gave up, realizing that I was running out of time and that the owner was glaring at me since I was keeping everyone from going home.  I rushed to finish mopping, doing a piss-poor job towards the end as much because of the fact that the water I was using (after dumping the original crap out and refilling the bucket) had gone slate grey...not unlike the color of the water used to clean paintbrushes at the end of a long artistic session.  All I had to do was empty the bucket, replace it with the mop near the butcher's area, shut the lights, pull the gates...and I would be home free.

Unfortunately, here's where my recollection gets a bit hazy.  From what I think I remember, I dumped the water into the sewer drain at the corner.  Now, I know that at my other, future stockboy job, that was what I did, so it's possible that I'm merging memories here...but I just can't envision myself lifting that bucket of goop and emptying it into the sink.  I have a vague feeling that the owner might have said that we weren't allowed to dump it in the sewer and thus would have had to use the sink...but I'm not sure.

What I AM sure of, though, is that, in my haste, I did not check to see whether or not the stopper was secured in the second sink.  It is possible that I had dumped the water down that sink, though I don't know why I would have removed the stopper since the two sinks were connected; I could have emptied the bucket into either basin and it would have flowed into the open drain in the left-hand sink.  Truthfully, I don't ever remember touching the stopper that entire day.  I believe that it was my task only to check to make sure that it was secure at the end of the night and, as far as I could tell, it was, and thus I went about killing the lights, pulling the gates, securing the locks, and bidding everyone a good eve' as I began my bipedal trek home.

But I was wrong.

Good Lord...was I wrong.

You see, there was a very sound reason for having the stopper in that sink--a reason that, if it had been told to me, I believe that I would have remembered quite clearly.  So clearly, in fact, that I could not envision myself not double- or even TRIPLE-checking to ensure that it was secure.  The second sink is not unlike The Source from Lost: without that stopper thing in place in the hieroglyphics cave, all kinds of bad shit would be released upon the world.  Unleashing darkness upon the world would be bad enough...but what happened as a result of someone's carelessness (I am not claiming mea culpa here: I am still convinced, twelve or thirteen years later that whoever used that sink forgot to put the stopper in, that I was not properly informed of the consequences of not putting the stopper in, or that it just somehow loosened itself on its own) is far, far worse than the Man-In-Black Smoke Monster wreaking havoc on civilization.

You see (again with the "You see"--wtf??), the left-hand sink had a pipe leading down from the drain into other pipes that ultimately carried the drained liquid to wherever it was going.  The right-hand sink also had a pipe that led to a very, very different place.  You see, not too far from this supermarket is a "Waste Recycling Plant" or "Shit Plant," if you will, (or "Wave Fence Place" if you are cool enough to warrant a package from the Special Olympics) and, apparently, the second sink was somehow connected to this plant.  Because of this fact, a certain rubber stopper had to be in place when the sink was not in use because it was possible for...something to bubble up out of the drain.  Something brown and malodorous...bubbling up...out of the drain.

I'll spare you the suspense.  Two days later, while in school, I was asked by Lumiere whether or not I had remembered to replace the stopper.  I told him that it was secure when I left.  He told me that the boss thought I was retarded and that I had forgotten to replace it.  When I got into work later that day, I explained to the owner that I was diligent in doing what was required of me.  Shaking his head, he asked me if I understood why I had to plug the sink.  I said no and he told me what I just told you about the bubbling up. 

It clicked immediately but still he decided to tell me what happened.

The plug was not secure and shit from the recycle plant--shit literally, not as a catch-all term to describe a menagerie of things--did indeed bubble up into the sink.  It probably started shortly after we left for the evening...and it continued well through the night until the next morning when the first employees arrived.  It continued to bubble up into the sink until there was no more sink left to bubble up into...and thus it bubbled over.  Picture it: liquid shit bubbling like lava or mud at a hot spring, spreading like some horror movie ooze, consuming everything in its path.

It filled the sink, bubbled over, and covered the floor.  It probably looked like a slow-motion fecal flood coming to wipe the land clean of non-believers.  I'll bet that, as the mop bucket was carried off by the floe in its tidal pull, it probably looked not unlike a certain ark 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high.

It took them all day to clean it up, them including my the buddy who got me hired.

In retrospect, it was a sort of anachronistic, premature karmic episode--sort of like a parting "Fuck you" to the owner for everything that would ultimately come to pass but well before it did.

What can I say?

Shit happens.