Friday, March 4, 2011

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 9: "The Basement" or "Chuckin' Forties"

The Basement
Chuckin' Forties

I'll admit--the last two installments of this memoir kinda sucked.  They lacked bite...something with any sort of verve.

But not this one.

One day during that fateful summer--a Saturday, if it matters--I had to assist good ol' Lumiere with sorting some of the empties.  Since this was a supermarket, the can and bottle returns weren't nearly as big of a business as they were at the smaller local deli that I would come to work at after leaving this job.  I don't recall if I had ever even been beneath the store prior to that hot summer's day.

Apparently, the recyclers or whoever picked up the cans and bottles were going to be coming and thus we needed to sort out the indescribable mess that existed in the basement.  Though I feared the prodigious stink that I imagined would be down there (it was), I relished the idea of being out of the boss' sight for at least a few hours.  No getting yelled at for stupid shit, no slave-driver requests...just peace and quiet.

Sort of.

Apparently, Lumiere had been down here a number of times, both alone and with others.  He didn't clue me in as to what was in store for me.

First--walking down the steps into the basement was like Dante's descent into the first ring of Hell; they should have had a sign above the entryway that said "ABANDON HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE."  The sunlight penetrated only a few feet in and after the room (which was as long and wide as the store itself, naturally) was lit only by a few shitty crusty light bulbs.  The impotent yellow glow that those little glass orbs barely reached the floor.

My feeling going down into that musty stink-hole was probably not unlike what most small children feel the first time they enter the cement cellar or basement at their grandparents' home: a sickly mixture of dread, fear, excitement, and anticipation.

It didn't help that the ceiling wasn't particularly high and I felt like I had to duck.  I might not have actually had to but I didn't want to brain myself on a low lying beam.  As I walked into the room and surveyed my surroundings I saw an adjacent room that was completely dark.  I figured that was where my boss kept the bodies of his fallen shimanoots--the poor mangled corpses of stockboys past.

Eventually, when I had taken in as much as I cared to of the dungeon I would be in for the next few hours, I gave Lumiere my undivided attention.  He explained that we had to separate the bottles by size, type, and brand and then, once the bags were filled, we would tie them up and bring them to the front for the recycler to take.

Simple enough--except for the fact that my attention was suddenly diverted by something skulking near the wall.

I turned whiter than a frightened albino ghost wearing a freshly bleached white linen's that for hyperbole?

Lumiere said casually, "Oh yeah.  Watch out for the rats.  And whatever else is down here."

"What else IS down here, man?!" I queried.

He chuckled and shrugged in response.

So now I was pivoting my eyes from the bottles to the floor to the bottles to the wall to the bottles to my feet.  It was tiring...but well worth the effort.

I saw cockroaches the size of rats, rats the size small dogs, and something with waaaaaaaaaaaaay more eyes than anything should have had.

Human beings are incredibly adaptable though and, after an hour or so, I was focused in on the task at hand... much so, that I didn't see Lumiere sneaking up behind me until it was too late.

And by too late, I mean I didn't see him before he dumped the warm, scuzzy, foul, malodorous contents of a forty ounce bottle of beer down the back of my shirt.

I yelped in surprise and he took off, the lithe little bastard.

I picked up whatever was near me that had some weight to it and I hurled it across the room at him.  I don't know if I made contact with the first two liter bottle of soda but I know that I got him eventually.

I was pissed--I couldn't believe that he doused me with that shitty spoiled beer.

I tried to get back to work but I was fuming.  I was making headway until Lumiere decided to shout, "HEY!"

Thank God my ninja skills and cat-like reflexes were going strong, even then.

I looked up and moved out of the way just in time to dodge a (you guessed it) Budweiser forty ounce bottle that Lumiere had flung at my head.

I'd like to think he shouted "CHUCKIN' FORTIES!" because that would've been awesome but even if he didn't, let's pretend, shall we?

Anyway, the bottle smashed against a foundation support beam and broke into thousands of tiny pieces.

"WHAT THE FUCK, MAN!?" I asked with a mixture of surprise, confusion, and anger.

He laughed and I saw he had another bottle loaded.


I ducked; the bottle smashed.


Ducked again.


"We'd have to clean up anyway and at least now it'll give us something else to do to keep us from going back into the store."

I stopped.

He made sense...the kind of sense that comes about only from being in a 100 degree dank armpit-smelling basement for hours on end.

And so we randomly hurled heavy, half-empty bottles of beer (or half-full, if you like) across the basement at each other until it was too dangerous to throw any more...

...because the floor was covered in rotten suds and broken glass.

He was right though--we were able to kill at least an extra hour just sweeping up.  Evidently, the boss thought that people had returned a bunch of broken bottles when he came down to check on us and he went off muttering something about hating having to give them money back, they were ripping him off, etc.

Needless to say, that was the only time I ever helped Lumiere again.

I couldn't wait to get home and shower; I smelled like the bad decisions of an overprotected kid going away to college and attending his first keg party.

God I hate Budweiser.