Payphone

“Hey, how long you work here?” said the hurried man.

“Why?” I shot back.

“Because I wanna ask you a fucking question, that’s why.”

“Okay.”

“Is there a payphone around here, where’s a payphone?”

What I wanted to say was, piss off, I haven’t seen a payphone since the last time I saw your mom, a decade ago. “I think there’s a payphone on the other side of the store,” I said.

“In the store? Jesus Christ, payphones are outside, they’re not inside the goddamn store.” Then he looked at me like I was the idiot and walked away.

If I could go back in time to that exact moment, I have a feeling it would have gone much differently.

0 0 0

“Hey, how long you work here?” said the flushed, rushed man.

“Why?”

“Because I wanna ask you a fucking question, that’s why.”

“Look, asshole, do I come to your place of work, pull out my dick and piss in your face? No, I don’t.”

“Fuck you. You stack fruit for a living! What’s your name? Where’s customer service?”

“Name’s suck my cock,” I pointed to the outline of my mine through my pants. “Go, complain, they’ll promptly file it under ‘Garbage’.”

“I’m going to find a fucking payphone and call your corporate office. Hopefully, they’ll fire your ass. Hahaha, I have you now you, you little fuckwad, he was probably thinking.

“Okay, wait…no,” I fell to my knees and cried out to the produce, “Noooo!” I screamed to a doomed existence illuminated by blinding LED lights overhead, “Don’t call my corporate lords!”

“What the fuck,” the man asked, squaring off with me, poised like a crazed badger.

“Fool. You really believe anyone of any minuscule importance to the company is going to speak to some asshole asking around for a payphone? Normally, they’d buy you off with a $20 gift card, but you’d need an address for that.”

“You. Fucking…” he huffed. A faint glow enveloped him and his shoes began to simmer and burst which sent blood, steel, and wire deep into the green tinged concrete floor. His torso transformed from sweat and fat into a payphone wearing skin with keypad button eyes and his mouth narrowed into a vertical slot for quarters which squealed out a metallic, “How about I just bury you here, produce guy. Ha ha, hahahaha! Ahh, ha ha ha!”

He swung his arms, now thin cords with enormous phones connected to the ends, into our fruit bins. Galas, Fuji, and Cara Caras collided in a kaleidoscope of grapes and yams flying in all directions. The customers, who’d been mindlessly walking in circles until that very moment, panicked and screamed as they trampled one another for the doors. There was a flash in my peripheral, he caught me off guard in the panic, bringing his right phone down hard. I dodged, but the sharp blast mutilated my left side.

I rolled right, just behind the berry case and stood hard on my feet as the monster raised both phones high. Its intent to kill me was clear. I had just one chance, “Green banana, soft apples’ power, rotting onion’s will entangle—spell of binding number 58.” I looked like a starfish in midair with blue bio-plasma raging from my limbs. Concentrated grocery magic from the secret books of Moses swelled up and burst out of me, snapping my limbs together like a binder clip. A soft hum crept from under the ceiling cameras with a rising beat, and then the crescendo of lightning swirled down the pillars around us. The hellish payphone screamed and collapsed backward as the second floor came down on him, pinning his arms to the ground.

The giant began choking up rubble as I neared it and stood over it and said, “If you would have just asked nicely I would have let you use my phone.” I brought my produce knife above my head and drove it into the keyhole that secured its quarters.

It coughed and gurgled, “God…goddamn you, produce boy. You think you’ve won?” Blood oozed from its mouth and buttons, “This, ‘his is just the start. You beat me, but more are on their way—they, they’re already here…” I twisted my blade and broke the lock, and the demon let out a piercing cry as change and acid charged up from its bowls, melting it into the foundation.

 

 

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Meat Department

If anyone needs more reasons to avoid eating meat, other than how it’s contributing to water scarcity and climate change—I offer a glance through a distant window, a fading illumination on why you might consider avoiding the average grocery store meat department altogether.

*

Dates are a big problem in the grocery realm. People who don’t work at grocery stores think they need to trash their food if they don’t eat it by the date stamped on it. Those of us who share the misery of this special cog in the food machine know that the dates aren’t very honest. One meat cutter referred to this constantly as the “gray zone”. Just because a steak turns brown, or green, or needs a tumor cut out of it doesn’t mean it’s inedible, which is why any meat-cutter who can manage a budget is going to cut the nastiest bits off a green rubber steak, soak it in a marinade, and put it back in the case.

*

The first meat manager I worked for would rub the dates off the plastic coating around expired meat with rubbing alcohol. If a manager cared enough to inquire, the excuse was easy: manufacturer forgot to stamp a date, happens all the time.

*

My last manager, we’ll call him Asshole, had a favorite saying, “Blood on my knife or shit on my dick.” The last time we spoke he had a wife who felt the need the enlarge her breasts, two daughters, and openly joked about raping the women who worked in the department. To Asshole, people were no different than meat and all meat meant to him was money.

*

On a few occasions, we received live crawdads, but never with any means of containing them, so we just let them crawl around the sectional seafood case with the cooked and raw food.

*

Aging meat is an art enjoyed by many connoisseurs across the world. We charged a modest $21 per pound for an “aged” rib eye steak. Asshole decided that walking another ten feet to store product in the proper cooler wasn’t worth his time and began keeping everything from marinated chicken to veggie kababs behind what was easily $4000 worth of rib eye for “quick access”. Every time Asshole opened the door a thousand microbes, bacteria, viruses, and mold, metals, cleaners, whatever happened to be in the air, rushed in to contaminate your overpriced steak.

*

One morning casual conversation with the seafood manager got him on a tangent about sockeye salmon eyes being considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. And in the moment, he reached down and took hold of the salmon I was about to fillet, jabbed his thumb into its eye socket, and plopped the exploded bits of slimy darkness in his mouth and happily exclaimed, “Mmmm, salty!”

*

Asshole ordered too many boxes of ground beef a few weeks before he transferred to a different level of Hell. Fresh ground beef is typically pre-ground at a different facility and stuffed in a plastic casing like a sausage. They’re boxed up and shipped to us to regrind at the store. The “gray zone” is a little less cloudy with ground beef because it’s terrible. It’s the only thing in the store that gets logged every time its ground, and if someone forgets to log it more than three times they’re typically fired. So what does one do when they order too much? Grind it anyway and enter a false date into the record. Could it hurt people? Hopefully, not. Is it legal? I really don’t think so. But, when you rip the labels off the boxes nobody can really prove you did anything wrong. Asshole’s assistant took over after he left and was fired a year later for trying to do the same thing.

*

A clerk was laughing and chatting with a customer across the seafood counter. He concluded her order and said goodbye, and as she walked away he turned to all of us and said, “check this out” pointing down at his sizable erection.

*

The secret ingredient in our holiday ham is corn syrup solids.

*

I was rubbing my arms in the chill of the cooler one morning when the meat grinder screamed and gurgled to a halt. I unplugged the machine, opened the hopper lid and dug through all the portions of beef that can’t be fashioned into some over-simplified, streamlined, consumerist driven steak and found a nylon cutting glove.

*

I’m not calling anyone a cannibal, but it’s not uncommon for someone to cut themselves and not realize it until they’ve bled all over a good deal of equipment—or cut through—and lose a small chunk of a finger. Very rare. But they’re not going to throw away 20 pork chops because a sliver of someone’s finger might have fallen into the batch.

Meat

I complain a lot about work. It’s high volume grocery–it’s soul sucking. But today we have a very special reason to celebrate together (kind-of). A coworker came up to me while I was lining up Gala apples, and told me the current meat manager is either being transferred or fired for hiding raw expired chicken by marinating them, and making pre-seasoned meatloaf out of expired ground beef.

This asshole was the assistant manager while I was working in the meat department a couple of years ago. I was a journeyman butcher working as the apprentice of an utter psychopath department manager (it’s complicated), who will remain nameless for legality’s sake. At first it only seemed like they bent the rules a little, but by the time I was done negotiating my transfer to Produce almost two years ago, he was trying to push expired ground beef (I threatened to call OSHA). A few weeks later he transferred to a store downtown. So, it’s no surprise his little, equally as manipulative, lackey got caught doing the same thing.

Those assholes made my life a living hell while I worked in that pit, and I could write a fucking book on all the stupid shit they tried to pull. If people knew the truth about what they paid for they’d likely be outraged. Most of time you’re not even buying what you think you are. The “old times butcher” look just doesn’t work in a grocery store because it’s too corporate.

They’ll hire any idiot they can transfer out, to save the company was much money as possible. In the grand corporate scheme of things this guy will almost certainly be transferred to some scaled down store where the workload’s a joke, and people will forget about all his bullshit, and maybe after a few years he can try again at a grown-up store. It’s either that or fire him, and then hire him back six months later, which is our company’s policy. When it comes to meat and eating right, you want small business, people in touch with their practice and the community.

From a guy who only knows the worst end of retail, you’re doing yourself an extreme disservice mistreating those who of us paid to serve. Only the assholes pay top dollar for a steak that fell on the floor, might have been rinsed in the sink, and put in the cold-case as if it had just been freshly cut. The asshole pays top dollar for organic product that isn’t organic. Nice people get a level of service that is completely unknown to the douche-bag.

If all goes well, our store will good a meat manager with a good reputation since our current fellow is such an ass, but you never know, so just remember this: stay away from ground beef and marinades, they’re constant temptation for the idiots in management who can’t (or won’t) follow an order guide.

Spring Break in P-Town

Year after year of just working, paying bills, and doing the same old shit day-to-day has a way of taking the life out of things like Spring Break. A year ago this simple week was just another week, but after a year of school a quiet week is a fucking God-send. I got a case of the mid-winter fuck-its, and gave my bong more attention than my homework, but I kept my name on the President’s List.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has decided to run for president, and it’s been a nonstop riot for those of us who thoroughly enjoy watching out-of-touch sociopathic politicians make asses out of themselves. Unfortunately, and much closer to home, my store director is a Cruz level leader, so my store has gone to shit: He tried to get Peet’s to open and serve despite all the equipment and cups being covered in dust from construction work (he changed his mind after someone mentioned OSHA). Two people went to the hospital for formaldehyde poisoning under his leadership, and all our hours reduced to the minimum allowed. I have to have full-time availability to be guaranteed 20 hours of work per week–and that’s all I get.  

I’m a paying union member, and you’d think $40 a month in dues would make for a better workplace. But not when power and money have compromised the union president. You might be thinking, that’s a lofty allegation. But when the guy who’s in charge of everything “lays off” his best (and most outspoken) union representatives because of a supposed “bloated” union–three weeks before Christmas. Then replaces them a few weeks later with low-wage lackeys who can in no way help us with work related problems, but can collect our money to fund more bullshit political favors. All the while trying to shove contracts of “non-disclosure” with several weeks pay down the ex-union reps throat’s. And this is all after he’d lost years worth of bargaining by stripping our contracts of things like time-and-a-half pay on holidays (which is the only thing that makes them worth working). What would you think?

In light of all these complications, a new organization is taking root of which I have the good fortune to take part, and help with communications. We are Retail Workers for a Democratic Union. We have come together out of the growing need for balance against leadership which no longer shares its members’ core interests. Keep your fingers crossed for me. If this campaign is a success, it means a lot of good changes are coming for grocery workers in SW Washington and Oregon. And, I won’t lie, it’s going to look pretty good on my résumé too.

As always, thank you all so much for reading. Thank you for your feedback. Please, if you’re interested in what’s happening in Oregon’s local labor movement, check out our new blog. And have a great Spring Break.

Slaveway

I was at Safeway getting some food for breakfast, and when I got to the yogurt isle I saw two stereotypical upper-level management: tall, old, and ghost white, talking to a store-level management woman. The oldest says to her, “Facing is getting better, but it still needs a lot of work.”

For those of you who will never enjoy the sheer hell of working at a grocery store, facing is taking the product which is at the back of the shelf and pulling it forward so it looks like everything is well stocked. It’s really the only thing to do in a grocery store after everything’s been brought out from the back.

She tells him, “Sorry, it’s harder to get everything done on Friday.”

He then replies, “Well, why is that?”

I almost lost it. The guy running the store obviously hasn’t shopped in one in his entire life. It’s Friday–that’s enough reason–it’s the first of the three busiest grocery days. Combined with Safeway’s notorious business practices, it’s honestly surprising anything gets done–there’s a reason we call it Slaveway.

“Well, we’re down a food manager on Friday.” She pleas.

“What? Why is that?”

At that point I grabbed my food, shook my head, and walked away. Leave it to those in charge to not know a goddamn thing about what they’re in charge of.

Bonus Check

“Hey, how are you?”

“I’ve had better months.”

“What’s wrong?”

“You dictate the schedule, so I think you know what’s wrong.”

“Your hours?”

“Yeah, it’s getting pretty difficult making $250 stretch through the week. It’s really nice to get the special treatment after five years of dedication to the company.”

“…”

“I know you make between $80,000 and $120,000 to manage this store. Guess how much I, a married, 30 year old man with half a decade of experience in grocery and 11 years in customer service, made this year.”

“What?”

“$20.000.”

“We’ll fix it, we can get you more hours.”

“Oh I get it, throw the dog a bone.”

“No.”

“It’s not just me, you’re squeezing money out of your most loyal, hardest working associates because our pay is capped, and giving all those hours to new hires who you only have to pay minimum wage saves the company money which will probably wind up in your annual bonus.”

“Well…”

“I know it’s easy to think of us as brainless worker drones, but we’re people with families, kids who are going to want a Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas presents. We have rent, medical bills, and hobbies. Personally, I’d like to pay off my credit card.”

“I understand. Believe it not I was right where you are when I was your age. I know what it’s like to work hard for very little.”

“Then why are you trying to fuck us over?”

“Well…”

“No I get it, your bonus check is priority over our well-being.”

Dear Portlanders

There are a thousand ways to introduce yourselves, endless opportunities for the creative conversationalist to make a great first impression. But day after day, hour after hour, so many of you just walk up to me and ask my back, side, or (rarest of all) face a question without so much as a “Hey, fuckhead,” before, “Where’s the whipped cream?” I’m not a corporate drone. I’m a goddamn person who scrapes by week to week so you can pick an apple, and peel a banana from the comfort of an air-conditioned building, so the least you can do is greet me.

I Didn’t Make the Fucking Rules

“Excuse me. Can I exchange this?” A guy says to me, holding out a rotting avocado he’d cut a wedge out of.

“Sure, sir,” I began, “Just go to customer service, show them your receipt, and they’ll refund you.”

“No, no, I don’t want my money back, I want to exchange it.” He persisted.

“OK, sure! Grab an avocado and take it to customer service, show them your receipt, they’ll set you up.”

He furrowed his brow, “Well I don’t have a receipt.”

“Do you have a club card?”

“NO.” Now raising his voice slightly.

“Look, I’m sorry, I don’t think there’s very much we can do for you.”

“Why the hell can’t I just exchange it?”

“Cause that’s not how it works…everywhere. For all I know you you dug that out of a garbage can off the street.”

“I’m going to talk to a manager.”

“About what? A manager’s not going to be able to help you. We can’t just give people stuff for walking in the store and making demands.”

He looks at my name-badge and asks, “What’s your name?” I tell him and he starts to walk away.

“You’re going to file a complaint because I told you how things are?”

He just walks off in silence.

All you crazy assholes who want to start shit because you think an avocado has an indefinite lifespan–you’re stupid. And all your bullshit “complaints” get filled in a special bin right under the counter labeled “Recycling”.

Formaldehyde

The day to day of grocery is a lot like the day to day in general: uneventful. Occasionally you’ll hear an over-sized metal pot echo across the store as it kisses the ground, coating it in gloppy layers of “Stampede Chilli” lipstick. Perhaps a poorly packed pallet will pour over, sending cheap imported shit scuttling in all directions like ants. But generally it’s a smooth day, and it should be; how much can go wrong when 95% of your job is moving stuff from the back of the building to its assigned shelf?

A lot, if you happen to be a wine steward bringing out bottles from a small cellar, you could get Formaldehyde poisoning. I never think about shit like that. If I smell something nasty, I don’t assume it’s slowly killing me, so I wanted to put the good word out. People think the only ones who should worry about Formaldehyde are morticians and necrophiliacs, but the chemical also leaks into the air via pallets, plywood, resins, and lots of other things.

If you work in the same areas all day with little or no airflow, and you start to get red itchy eyes, scratchy throat, cough, headaches, sores, you need to report this to your manager, union rep, or OSHA immediately. Formaldehyde is toxic, even at very low levels, and can cause cancer, respiratory, and general health issues. If you have if you think you’re suffering symptoms make sure the air gets tested, and that the incident is documented.