June ?, 2015

by George Thomas

Two white men working in a grocery store, each earning seventeen plus an hour. They complain that no one else works hard enough, bitch and moan that their departments are left in shambles, messes left for them to clean, yet they never actually use their hands because their mouths are busy making the managers’ ears ring. They piss off Rigo, with all their spoiled, ill begotten grievances. Rigo’s dad is pushing seventy and makes 9.25 an hour cutting grass in the height of summer. And doing whatever else landscapers and their laborers do. And here, a pair of gringoes stock shelves, boxes of Greek yogurt and pints of ice cream, yet they can’t shake the feeling that they’re underpaid for their retail prowess. By the time their shifts end, a few part-timers come in and finish the work they left because they spent their eight hours bitching so much. I get it, Rigo, even if I’m as white as they are. However, now you are tasked with inheriting a gringo’s job, supervising one of their departments, and though you don’t earn as much as either one of them, you’re still raking in more dough than your padre. Misery is a relative thing, albeit contagious and quick to infect anyone who isn’t toiling away at something they absolutely love doing. Anyone doing the same job as the asshole gringo next to them will get salty if they’re working for less than said asshole gringo. Even if you’re both millionaires, you’re both miserable, because you’re nothing but narrow rungs in a long, long ladder.

As for me, I don’t give a shit anymore. I’m bankrupt of shits; I have none to spare you, Rigo, or anybody in that pit, that sanctuary that affords people bill money when their options and aspirations and desires fizzled out, spoiled like stone fruit that was dropped from a shopping cart and rolled beneath aisle nine, where the Mexican canned foods are. I can smell it there, but have no intention of bending over or getting on my knees to retrieve it.

Go ahead, coworkers, I dare you to out me to the corporate behemoth. Somewhere in the policy guidelines this rant is regarded as blasphemous, a violation of employee social conduct, punishable by, “disciplinary action leading up to but not excluding termination of employment.” But I need to write. How long has it been? I shed a few tears this morning. I made the mistake of being practical, trying to climb that rickety ladder. I didn’t complain. Estefania was taking bets on the day I would finally snap. “Everyone who runs dairy snaps,” she told me. How, Estefania, how? Sure, I had the unsavory task of lifting and shifting boxes of eggs, and those can be pretty heavy. But it’s a grocery store. That’s why they snap. That’s why you’ll inevitably snap, too. You’re working in a grocery store and there are these moments when you’ll be forced to take it seriously, to treat it as more than it should be to you. No one wants to give this sorta job the significance it coerces them to give. Money is money is money.

One day, I was really tired after work, and I told my girlfriend that my legs were sore. She asked, “Why? How are you even exhausted? You work in a grocery store.”

That’s it! Me, you, Rigo, and the two gringoes. We’re all our own Sisyphus, rolling big stones up a hill only to watch those stones roll down the other side, and tomorrow we clock in to do it again. Don’t pray for the morning that I lose my cool, for you are not far behind me. A job is a job is a job.

Frankly, I have it in me to work fourteen, sixteen, fuck it, twenty hour days. Problem is, those shifts are best left towards a labor of love. Grocery store = necessity + desperation, but don’t tell anyone I said that. We’re all there out of necessity. Except me, of course. You’re all a bunch of character studies inhabiting a new setting in my debut novel.

You don’t exist outside of the store, Estefania, or so I think. I coulda swore I spotted you at a nearby Target a year or so ago. Must’ve been an illusion. Perhaps I had hoped to see you, to prove to me that you’re human. But you’re a caricature representing a flawed notion about contemporary humanity, of America and all it’s absurdities. I bought nothing, instead choosing to speed home and write about it.

Estimated number of pages to date: 4,486*. You’re somewhere in the early four thousands, but I never bookmarked the page. Although I tend to do that for especially portentous notes and clever one-liners.

Anywho, these ten, eleven, twelve hour shifts are a real drag. I think that I do relatively good work.

By the way, everything is relative because nothing is objectively flawless in the workplace. I’ve always been a firm believer that if a boss gives you ten things to complete, and you do nine of them perfectly, he/she should focus on the one thing you did wrong. Quit begging for accolades, for none of us deserve them. Sneak onto LinkedIn and peruse the profiles of your bosses. Managers are all about, “finding integrated solutions to all manners of logistical and labor issues.” I don’t know what that means. I’m not fluent in sterile corporate jargon.

Minimum wage went up in Chicago. As a manager, I needed to send people home at their scheduled times. For this, I ask for forgiveness. I never say sorry for anything. Apologizing is akin to regret: it’s purely negative and nothing fruitful comes from it. Damage is done, don’t stew about it is what I have to say. However, I never thought the day would come that I’d have to refuse someone an extra ten dollars (sans taxes) because it would risk compromising the bottomline. Is bottomline the proper term? I don’t know. I don’t speak English that is stripped of its emotion.

I still have that bottle of fluoxitine that was prescribed to me nine years ago. I never took em, those pills. Didn’t wanna kill the mind that has led me to fuck shit up in the name of good material, which, in turn, led to me inching up a salaried ladder by way of seeking integrated solutions to all manners of stocking orange juice and culling over ripened produce. I’m my own character, too, Estefania. Everyday I manifest a different version of myself. My evolutionary process is as follows:

Diligent Employee->Socially interactive->Absent-minded yet Well-intentioned->Sad->Starved->Depressed->Loner->Silent->Quits His Job and Sulks at His Desk All Day and Night->Gradually Content yet Broke->Writer->True

I left work without permission this morning. I did so because I felt wonderful. No one could shake me. I felt awake and knew I had it in me to jot something down. Oh to think how long it has been! I am saddened but feel hopeful for some inexplicable reason. These words are without purpose or with intent to accomplish anything in particular, but maybe a simple catharsis. Tomorrow I might be forced to endure twelve hours of menial tasks. Or perhaps I’ll be fired for insubordination, or violating a clause within a policy within an integrated solution for not removing spoiled fruit from under the Hispanic foods aisle.


*As of 03-13-2016, estimated number of pages is approx. 4,603.