Monday, February 21, 2011

"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.