Monday, February 21, 2011

"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.