Sunday, August 23, 2015

Welcome to the Working Week

For a fundamentally lazy person, I've always gotten along fairly well in the working world. My first real job was bagging groceries, and I soon found that not only was it less work than I would be doing at home, but it was actually scheduled and I got paid for it. Granted, in those ancient times minimum wage was a couple of shiny nickles and a handful of hard candy, but that was enough to buy records and keep my car in gas.

For a relatively simple job, there seemed to be about a thousand different things to know. Was it OK to put dishwashing detergent in the same bag as sealed food? How full should I pack the bags? And I only took a few tests after the interview. Was I really qualified to start bagging so soon?

On my first day a woman had some candles that weren't priced. I had to find them and report the price to the cashier. This is called a "pricecheck" in the business. I speedwalked through the crowded store looking for the candle aisle. I never remembered seeing any candles when I went to the store with my parents. Jesus, how may aisles does this store have, anyway? You know, those candles looked like they should be about 3 bucks. Sure, let's say that. I made my way back to my cashier and confidently lied, "Three dollars," hoping she couldn't see that I was sweating.
"Three dollars? Did you find them on aisle three," she asked.
"Oh yeah. Isle three. Yep, that's where they are."
"They're 5 dollars. They're right over there in that bin," she pointed out with all the scorn a cashier can muster to a lowly bagger.
If she knew the answer, why would she let me lie to her like that? I made it a point to find another cashier to work with as soon as possible.

I also made a friend that day. Well, he made me, I guess. He was this little weaselly looking guy who kept talking to me while I was trying to concentrate on bagging and price checks and what the cashiers looked like naked.

Kids - here's a tip on the house. When you're a young adult, the first person you meet at a job, school, church group, or extracurricular activity is generally someone who has burned through everyone else and sees you as a way to start fresh. Try to stay away from them.

Not to say this guy didn't have his good qualities. Cleaning up one night he showed me his favorite trick. He took an apple from a display, took a hefty bite out of it, and returned it to the display, with the bite side on the inside.

"Check it out," he said. "Tomorrow some old lady will be reaching for an apple and she'll pull out this gross looking bit one."

I had to admit that was pretty funny.

Overall it was a pretty good job - old people slipped me tips, and whenever I needed time to myself, I could go out and gather carts, watching the bank clock turn over as I counted down the hours til quitting time. I'd daydream about how in a few short years I could promote to stockboy, then a manager, and then maybe run my own chain of stores. It would probably be a short hop from grocery store magnate to President, I'd imagine.

Every month we'd have a night where we had to stay late and clean. We'd take out all the eggs and milk and spray bleach water in the display cases to clean out the grossness, mop up, and prepare the shelves and floors for a crew to come in late at night to scour the place. It was kind of fun, mostly because we weren't dealing with customers, the managers would play classic rock over the PA system, and we could sneak cookies from the bakery. There were rumors that some managers allowed workers to make huge Scooby-Doo sandwiches from the deli, but that never happened while I was around.

Every once in a while, I'll get a whiff of bleach with an undertone of sour milk and be transported back to my high school grocery career. I can hear Bad Company, Foreigner, and the Guess Who and wonder why I gave up on my dreams of becoming a grocery store magnate.

Then I'll remember how bad that sour milk in the display cases actually smelled, and how getting off at 1 a.m. really kinda sucked, and I'm kind of glad I left the world of groceries behind.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

You Were My Dad, You Were So Rad...

Once again circumstances have forced me to break my "funny posts only" here on the old blog. My dad died suddenly about a month after my grandma died. Well, it was sudden to my sister and I; my mom said he had been dealing with more and more health issues.

Your family members are your first role models, for good or ill, and mine did a good job; they kept my sister off the stripper pole and me from being a performance artist.

Among other things, dad taught me what lures work for what fish, how to read a body of water, how to smell an approaching rain storm, and how to punch without breaking your thumb. He also took me to all the Star Wars, Star Trek, and Superman movies. Did he fall as crazy for Star Wars as I did? Probably not, but he still looked at and encouraged dozens, if not hundreds of my artistic renderings of Darth Vader and assorted battle scenes.

He made up stories every night for both me and my sister when we were little. I don't remember much about them now, of course, other than vague themes.  I seem to remember his studies of Native Americans played a big role.

As a teenager and a punk rocker, I had to rebel against what I saw as his narrow-minded, old-fashioned ways. No matter how bad family battles got, however, there was always a reprieve on the river.

And as much as I fought against him, I've found throughout the years that I share many of his traits, along with a lot of the anxieties and neuroses which I had no idea at all that he had until recently. My annoying habit of coming up with a project idea and having to start right now? That's totally inherited, as is my nightstand covered with a pile of books to read before falling asleep.

Some of these projects seemed like sheer torture at the time, but afterwards, they gave me a sense of pride - like how I can now replace a car's cooling system, thanks to an all-afternoon project that I swore was never going to end.

Along with having us, dad served and was wounded in Viet Nam, which led to him discussing all the ways to keep me out of the hypothetical Gulf War I draft. It also stopped him from both hunting and attending church. We always wanted to ask him about the war, but never really felt comfortable, and now it's too late.

He saw six continents, earned a PhD, led a teacher's strike, was married for 48 years, taught science and history, and taught his kids how to make an impressive marinara sauce. Did he know how much we loved, respected, and appreciated him before he died? I hope so. Unfortunately I also inherited his tendency to keep my emotions and feelings buried and so a lot of our conversations were kind of surface.

So as hard as it might be, make sure to tell your parents how much they meant to you, even if you have to lie a little bit, or write an anonymous note or something. Trust me, it'll make everyone feel a lot better.

I'm looking forward to getting back to the funny soon.