I woke up in my heaven-feel of a bed, feeling like it was heaven. But then inevitably I gotta pee, and that’s when I pry myself into the harsh morning air. Harsh as the sky is blue; harsh as water is wet. I love sleeping so much that for me all morning air is inhospitable.
Anyway I’m not a morning person, but there I am up at the crack of dawn, daily, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Even on my days off, the instant sunlight hits my eyelids I’m up. As soon as I’m up, the TV goes on
I love TV, and whenever anyone says there’s nothing on or that TV sucks now anyway, I just can’t relate. In recent years the internet and Netflix have made it so that a lot of people just don’t have a TV anymore, but the TV has always been my light in the storm. I don’t wanna say it’s always been my best friend because that’s weird and it hasn’t, but whenever the problems keep piling up faster than I know how to handle them, television’s there. I guess that probably sounds weird too, but I don’t care.
With the TV muted I stick to watching Top Plays on SportCenter or seeing what they’re talking about on CNN, whatever I can stare at and lose myself for a couple of hours before I go to work. On the morning in question SportCenter was just talking about the NBA finals which were going on at the time and CNN was showing President Obama talking into a microphone about the “significant progress” made against ISIS. I rolled my eyes and went hunting for something more interesting to watch.
How It’s Made was on, showing an umbrella being fashioned by hand, so I stopped my flipping to watch it happen. It turned out that making an umbrella by hand, one uses a sewing machine an awful lot, and I began to wonder if sewing machine use and maintenance would be a good skill to add to my set. I thought to myself about everything I could do; I could repair ripped clothes, stitch disparate items together like parachutes and floatation devices, the possibilities were literally endless. I often have thoughts like these, none of which have ever come to anything, but I don’t really expect them to. I just like considering options.
Anyway eventually my eyes wandered onto a clock as it said 8:47 AM, so I had to leave for Harvest Time, my place of employment. As much as I enjoy relaxing in the morning, when I finally rouse myself it’s also it’s own kind of joy. I went with a smile to open the grocery store.
When I got there a few people are normally already there getting things ready, and everyday roughly a block from the entrance I find Guadeloupe chain smoking. I like Guadeloupe, or anyway I like to maintain a cordial relationship with my senior register attendant, so I normally open with a joke.
“Shit’ll kill ya, ya know, I saw it on the news.” She didn’t laugh, as she’d heard exactly the same quip from me countless times before, and she didn’t seem to be in the mood.
As I approached her, Guadeloupe flicked her cigarette onto the ground and stamped it with the heel of her boot. “Fuck you Sil,” she said with a disdain in her voice that I preferred to assume was meant mockingly. “We’re still waiting on the first truck, I called ‘em and they don’t know what’s goin’ on.”
My brow was furrowed, as this wasn’t the first time our produce shipment had been delayed, and it would mean that they would probably need my help setting it out as soon as it got there. “Shit, we’re good for the morning though right?”
“Yeah, but not if people want fresh fruit.”
Just as Guadeloupe answered my question I saw the produce truck turn off Western on to Lawrence a couple blocks from the store. I motioned toward it with my left hand saying “there it is, we just gotta tell ‘em again not to take Western.”
She took out another cigarette, lit it and began to puff away. “They won’t listen. They never listen.” As she discarded her cigarette and stomped it into the ground, I could almost see the hate pour out of her nose as she exhaled, Guadeloupe hated truck drivers. As she turned around and headed to the store’s back entrance, she spit on the ground.
“Just go to the loading bay, I’ll open up the store.” I went to turn on the lights and unlock the door rather than load the produce because, in the off chance that it was her husband driving the produce truck, I didn’t want to bear witness to the verbal and physical beating that was sure to take place.
She hated truck drivers primarily, I figured, because she was married to one, and she claimed to have a full understanding of just how lazy they were. As she was my oldest and most trusted employee, the forty-five year-old housewife-turned general manager Guadeloupe Izquierda and I had something of a friendship, which meant that I was her main sounding board for complaints about her husband Saul (pronounced Sa-ool). She said that truck drivers never really kept to a schedule because they didn’t care to, and since most people can’t drive a big rig truck, “They got us by the balls.”
When I was first getting to know Guadeloupe 15 years earlier, I’d found it ironic that she harbored a resentment towards the trucking industry, as she was married to a trucker, but the more I got to know her the more it made sense. Saul was never home, she said, always claiming to be stuck running long hauls at all hours of the day and night. Her tangled, greasy hair fell over her face and stuck to her back, led by the mean scowl on her lips and the dark tension in her eyes.
As I watched the produce truck near and unlocked the front entrance of Harvest Time Grocery & Produce, I silently prayed to myself that Saul wasn’t driving it. If Guadeloupe saw her husband at the wheel of the truck that was then a full half hour late, she would certainly end up beating him about the head and back with her meaty hands. I’ve often felt compassion for Saul as I’ve watched Guadeloupe stock 25 pound bags of potatoes like they were nothing, and knowing that she was a terrifying and aggressive presence. The few times I’ve actually seen and communed with Saul, the stick-thin six foot spectacled victim of his wife’s frequent and unexpected rages, he’s seemed like a fearful puppy.
As the truck neared Harvest Time thirty minutes after its expected arrival time, I turned the lights on and started the low rumble of Spanish-Language elevator music that was the store’s regular soundtrack. Harvest Time was not an independent operation, but rather the largest part of a network of laundromat’s, corner stores, and bodegas owned by Jorge Garcia, wealthy Mexican immigrant and owner of what I considered the world’s worst haircut.
Garcia’s portrait, which held a wall space of prominence in each of his 8 businesses located in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago, made me at least chuckle silently to myself every time I saw it. His hair was black and so greasy-smooth on top that it appeared like a helmet, which combined with the thick curls at either side of his head to frame his face perfectly. It was like he was a robot with wires coming out of the screen that displayed his face.
I’d had a monthly meeting with boss Jorge (as he preferred to be called), and in the countless number of these meetings we’d had he always seemed like a paragon of management expertise. I can only say that, I guess, because he owns so many businesses and they all seem to make money.
Anyway as I booted up the computer in my office, a cubicle-sized room in the back of the store I don’t really spend that much time working in, it occurred to me that I might need to intervene on Saul’s behalf once he got to the store, as a bloodbath would be bad for business. Guadeloupe had anger problems, and if she took the opportunity to beat her husband in full view of any curious would-be customers, it might make things awkward, which could potentially lose us business.
I went out behind the store to rescue Guadeloupe’s husband from her clutches if need be, but she was just yelling at some new young truck driver I’d never seen before. I sighed, relieved as I was not just on behalf of Saul, but also on my own behalf, as it was an unpleasant thing to see a grown man dressed down and humiliated. I guess that might seem kind of selfish, at least to me, but I just don’t wanna be there for the uncomfortable sound of another man’s ego being pounded into dust.
Anyway me and Guadeloupe were the only people at the store upon opening at 9:07, ready to greet the flood of customer that poured through the front door. I say flood of customer and not customers because just like normal, my first customer is a single man, and I call him a flood because he’s roughly six feet tall weighing three hundred and fifty pounds. Those measurements are just my best guess, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he, Douglas Krandall, actually weighs more than four hundred pounds. Every time I see him I remember the beginning Raiders of the Lost Arc and imagine him chasing me out of a cave, but he’s a really nice guy, and whip smart too.
“Hey Doug, the produce was a little late today, so it’ll be a few minutes before Guadeloupe sets it all out.”
Mr. Krandall nodded slightly looking me in the eyes and apprehended a shopping cart from the row of them adjacent to the store’s entrance. Immediately after I told him that the produce was late, I wondered why I’d done so, as I knew well that the greens would not be his first stop. His first stop that day, as it was roughly every other day, was the cereal aisle. In the cereal aisle he normally retrieved at least four boxes of sugary cereal.
Though exactly which boxes he attained differed from day to day, they always included at least two, and as many as nine of the following cereals: Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Cheerios, Reece’s Puffs, Cocoa Puffs, Sugar Smacks, Raisin Bran Crunch, Frosted Flakes, Life Cereal, and Froot Loops. Whenever he went through checkout with his collection, I found myself fantasizing about what he would have for breakfast that day. Would he eat a normal-sized bowl of just one cereal? No, I was sure he’d have a heaping bowl of a combination of at least two of them, but which ones and how much of each? The most obvious combinations seemed to be both types of Cheerios and both Types of Puffs, but what were his final choices?
I didn’t dare ask, of course, as it seemed likely this man had likely fought a losing battle with his weight for his entire life, and he didn’t need me reminding him that he was essentially buying a lot of boxes of candy. I’ve long figured that the fat guy who buys too much cereal probably has a sad life, and that he seems to be filling his mornings with a variety of cereal to quell a sickening loneliness. Or, come to think of it, he could have children, and the cereal could be for his large family that loves him very much.
I don’t think he has a family though. I think that these boxes of cereal are not purchased for anything but his own addiction, as he seems to have a real problem with self control. I’m overweight, and I’m very sensitive to the stigma this brings, so I watch what I eat, or try to. Mr. Krandall seems to have given up. He must purchase boxes of powdered donuts, set them on their kitchen table and stare at them, overcome by the inevitability of it. He must look at those donuts thinking to himself that he cannot resist them, and any effort spent combatting the desire to taste the donuts will surely be wasted.
I suppose we all have our addictions, though. After I’d made sure all the produce was laid out and Guadeloupe had given the trucker whatever tongue lashing he’d had coming, she fumed to her spot behind the cash register nearest the door.
As I’d known for a long time, Guadeloupe had a big problem with rage, and it often expressed itself in her interactions with customers. Saturday, June 13, 2015, was a day when Guadeloupe’s rage problem showed itself.
Around 4:15, which is normally the time when I have the largest solid force of customers coming through the door, Guadaloupe’s rage made itself known. I like to say that when a large enough group of customers is attempting to enter the store at the same time, they’re a lot like water, in that they will press the door with the entirety of their being, and nothing can possibly get through them. And then, if in front of such a crush of people, there is a single customer having an argument with a cashier, all hell’s liable to break loose.
This day, a customer was unsatisfied with the quality of our produce and went to the cashiers to lodge a complaint, and it was his bad luck that his cashier was Guadeloupe. “Excuse me!?” she asked, with fire in her eyes and acid on her breath. “You don’t want the fruit than don’t buy it, that’s it!”
She slammed her palms on the flat surface before the cash register, creating a sound not unlike a gunshot. As the customer wavered backwards Guadeloupe pushed her face towards him, and his brusque manner withered into a warbling apology. “Sorry it’s, just, I have a—“
“I know! Go!” Guadeloupe yelped as she gestured wildly and aggressively. At that point the customer turned tail and scampered back into the produce section, concluding the most memorable event of the day. I should say now that as you can see that though I enjoy my job very much, and it pays well enough, it is mostly all the time unbelievably boring.
When I was running a cash register, that was boring, but not as emotionally draining. Being the manager of a grocery store is just like being a cashier, but oftentimes you have to fire people. I mean it’s like being a cashier in that one day kind of melds into the next. It’s incredibly boring because you’re doing the same kinds of things every day, and you don’t even get to deal with customers. Don’t get me wrong, dealing with customers isn’t always peachy, but I prefer it to solitary confinement.
Customers at least have some variety to them, as a group. They can at least give your days some color, like “remember when that lady with the crazy orange afro started screaming?” “Yeah, I remember that, there was sugar everywhere.” I actually used to have stories like that, but now I just deal with suppliers and logistics all day. Since I became manager I just deal with a bunch a’ starched white shirts passing each other folders in a warehouse. I don’t wanna say that the people I deal with on a daily basis can kinda seem to coalesce into a stream of reasoned decision making and managed expectations, and sometimes it kinda gets to me.
So as the clock ticked to 9, closing time, I started to pack the store up for the night. I like working opening-to-close, for mostly reasons that aren’t “I can get more work done.” For one, I’m the manager, I have an office, and it allows me to get a1-4 hour nap in the middle of most days. I pretty much set my own schedule, which gets more filled than I expect most days, but on some days, I’d say at least once a week, I get to pretty much watch everything take care of itself.
At 9:13, another of my coworkers Halley Oldman and I locked up the store, said our goodbyes, and said we’d see each other again after the weekend. At the end of every work week, I stand out by the backdoor for a while looking up at the night sky. I don’t know why, I can’t see any stars ‘cause it’s the city and I can’t say for sure what really I’ve been thinking about any of the times I’ve performed this ritual, but I’m out there every Saturday it’s not raining.
I’m a casual drinker, I might even call myself a “social drinker,” but the society of fellow drinkers is not really what keeps me coming back to the bar. I enjoy having my composure slightly impaired in the evening from time to time, and that’s the long and short of it. For instance, Saturday night, at the bowling alley above the hardware store, there’s always a party going on. By “party,” I mean mostly regulars sitting around drinking, and sometimes someone plays Prince on the Jukebox (it’s often me). But they know me by name, so it’s a little like Cheers I guess.
At the corner of Lincoln and Argyle, roughly a block away from Harvest Time, is Lincoln Square Lanes, my bar of preference. I like it because it’s a bowling alley, and I enjoy the sound of pins tumbling down. After work I moseyed over to the alley (as I refer to it) and parked myself at the usual station. I signaled by raising my hand to eye level for an instant. Raymond, the bartender who’s last name I don’t know, pulled a cold can of Coors and planted it in front of me.
I looked around the bar, trying to see if there was some cleavage to lear at, and saw no faces I recognized. The moss colored carpet had some new stains by the door indicating that someone had likely vomited while leaving or arriving at the establishment, and staff had lacked what it took to clean it up. I looked at the stain and thought to myself: “charming.” I’m still a sarcastic little asshole just like I used to be, only now I do it silently.
Just then, or several minutes later, Simon Despereau, one of my good buddies, busted through the door caterwauling like usual. “Sil! I knew I could count on you.”
“Count on me?”
“No one else is here tonight, man.” Simon slapped my back between the shoulder blades, hard enough to make a sound. “Look around man, no one’s here, where’s Heath? Where’s Marge? Where’s Jojo? I feel like I’m losing friends every day.”
I suspected from Simon’s aspect while speaking that he was kidding, but I also sensed an edge of regret. I know that Heath was one of the regular drinkers at Lincoln Square Lanes once upon a time, and I may have at some point known a Marge to come around on occasion, but Jojo was a name Simon definitely made up. Being the funny guy I am, I felt like continuing the game. “Yeah man, and where’s Lavondrias? Crystal Cypher? Alexander Hamilton?”
Simon collapsed into guffaws while remaining upright as he leaned against the bar. Simon was a tall, thin man with a handsome face and darting eyes, a little like Peter Lorre in Casablanca. He might’ve been a ladies man if he’d ever learnt how to speak to them, but he never bothered. “Crystal Cypher murdered his family and ate them, then shot himself in the head.”
This man was a friend of mine, so though I felt Edgar might have just gone a smidgeon too far, I laughed as I shook my head and clapped Simon on the shoulder. “I miss you during the week, want a beer?” Though I did eventually buy Simon a drink, laughing and carrying on like I was having a wonderful time. I guess I was having a nice time, come to think of it, as I enjoy moderate drinking and cracking jokes with people.
“I miss you too man, bring it in,” Simon declared as he pulled me in for an aggressive hug. These type of gruff hugs were not uncommon for me and Simon. I wondered sometimes how much this contact meant to each of us. I don’t know how much it meant to Simon, as he seemed quite drunk, but for me they comprised the entirety of my physical human contact for the week. I know there are people who just don’t like to touch other people at all, be it germaphobia or whatever, but I think I need some sort of physical contact.
Though I would never admit it out loud, and I would caution you, dear reader, from attributing any homosexual meaning to it, I felt a rush from Simon’s hug. As he grabbed me and pulled me close, I clutched Simon in return, shaking slowly from side to side. “So what’s up tonight man? Seen any movies lately?”
This was a standard question shared between us, to be met with a standard response. “Yeah man, tons of ‘em, they all sucked though.”
“Too bad man, maybe next week.” Both I and Simon are movie lovers and each quite hard to please, so one of our main traditions is declaring our dissatisfaction with the current cinematic landscape. I suppose I would prefer, given the choice, to have a friend with whom I could speak seriously, but to get one I’d have to open myself up, and I can’t do that first. I guess this is a problem with being a funny guy, which I am, it sometimes seems like that’s all people want from me. Maybe humor is all people want from me, or maybe it’s just all I give them. This, like so many concepts in my life, presents itself as a type of chicken/egg scenario.
That’s not to say that my relationship with Simon is completely superficial and based on taste in films, but as soon as we’re drinking it starts to seem that way. And anyway Saturdays at the bar all start to run together after a while, until I can’t tell one from the other. There was one exception, the first time I met Sonia.
It was quite late, say around 12:30, right around the time I normally leave for home, and she came through the door looking thirsty and inquisitive. She was short, five foot even, and displayed her pot belly proudly in a tight pink dress. I thought it was fearless and sexy. She wasn’t blind, and mirrors are plentiful, but she just knew that a belly suited her well. Sonia’s comfort with herself was so sexy, in fact, that I was drawn into actually introducing myself to her.
“Hi, my name’s Sil, what’s yours?”
“Sonia, but I’m gay.”
Saying just these four words and than turning her back to me, Sonia seemed to me a fine example of pitiless directness. I laughed aloud, and treated the dialog as if it were a game. “That’s cool, I’m gay too, that’s my man by the pool table.”
I signaled over to Simon, hunched over the pool table lining up a shot. Sonia laughed aloud, looking Simon up and down. She responded, waving her hand as if she was slowly shooing my words away. “Whatever man, I’ll see ya later.”
From there, Sonia stood, walked over to Simon, and draped her arm over his shoulders. Simon, though initially startled, returned the favor by winding his own elbow around Sonia’s neck. Having been suitably humiliated, I went home, concluding another night at Lincoln Square Lanes. I don’t remember if I cried on the way home, but since I was a little drunk and very lonely, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that I had.