grocery · job

Just a Grocer

E-36 was hatched September 20th in 1986,” I say.

My friend Tad looks at me dumbfounded.

“How do you know that?!” (This is a breeding season meeting at the Penguin Encounter, about Emps).

“I study my keep,” I say simply. Let’s just say I do crosswords in pen. I demand knowledge. It’s my fault.

This helps when dealing with Cayden. He’s, as Delaney would say, “fooking smart.”

So, at the PE, I did genetic research, pharmacology, ontology; I raised Emperors. I helped engineer methodology for ameliorating geriatric penguins. I ran the breeding season for three years.

Now, after being laid off, I’m a grocer. This could seem a step down BUT I’ve had a 25 year career, now I have a job. And, actually, I’m happier, which is more than important in the end.

Lemme explain. 4889 is the PLU for cilantro; 4225 for avocados. I punch these on the daily. It’s like knowing when E-36 was hatched. It’s like knowing four across.

“There’s the happy cashier!” a man notices. I am fooking happy. Thanks for noticing.

My friend Brad famously said, “Know two things about everything, then you’re really good at parties.” I wear a party hat at my till.

Escoffier, Ottolenghi, Keller, Chang, Bourdain, Waters, Kamman.

The other day I talked linguistics at the register; I later talked about how to make labne. 200 conversations a day at least. Found out my (young) co-worker is also a writing major, so we talked HG Wells, Verne, and Bradbury.

Remember Quadrophenia? When the protagonist finds out Sting’s character is JUST a bellboy? Well, I’m just a grocer but (as I will post), Eric Idle does this great scene in the Cannes Award winning ‘Meaning of Life’ about his aspiration to be a waiter. It’s funny and poignant.

I love my job. In this second half of my life, I apply the first half. Found out that I’m pretty good with people. Not just feeding beaks anymore. I like it. Penguins never exactly talked back.

4051 is mango. 4011 is banana. ‘Sari’ is in practically every crossword puzzle. Etc.

Loving every minute.

alcohol · mental health · sobriety

Survivor’s Guilt and the Trenches

“Hey, Thom—whassup?”

I am in line for birria and a quesadilla at Pepe’s pop-up, and I at first don’t recognize him. It’s George, who was a steadfast attendee of meetings up in Hillcrest and South Park. Last time I saw him, he was fresh-faced and leading a girl by the hand, visibly happy.

“You’re close to a year, aren’t you?” he asked then. I don’t talk about days, don’t count days. I put an existential foot down. But I said, “Yes”, which was true.

Let me describe: George was always the one to respond to my shares. He was a back-alley drinker and juicer, smoking meth and generally fucking up his life. I talked about, as DFW said, do you suffer the fire or jump to your death? Powerful statement. George was hopeful: he said, “I jump, but with a bungee cord.” I liked him instantly.

He was so healthy. For a while. When I saw him at Pepe’s he remarked my shirt: Baron’s Marketplace, where I know work and sup up the stories from multitudes of customers and employees.

“You doing good?” he asked. I responded the affirmative. 

“How are you, George?” and he paused before responding: “I’ve been worse, but am doing better.”

Truth is, he looked like shit. Stringy hair, gaunt cheekbones, a noticeable loss of weight. If it makes sense, I instantly felt survivor’s guilt. Trenches have been dug for us, which could either be mass graves or fighting trenches. He looked like he had died in the crossfire.

“Good to see you, George,” I said though it was tough for me to say.

Went to a funeral today. I was heavy-hearted. One, because it was a remembrance of my best friend’s father—Alzheimer’s and cancer—and two, because I couldn’t stop thinking about George. The Lyft appropriately lifted my spirits (as my boss sometimes rolls his eyes and says: you’re ‘Talker, talker Betty Crocker); I chatted with Robert for the half-hour drive about Jimi, strats vs. Stratocasters, and how hard it is to play ‘Landslide’ on the guitar. He was security for Hall and Oates, and once escorted a notable MTV VJ past the leering truckdrivers on tour. “The truckdrivers were gonna kick my ass on the way back cuz she was strutting her stuff while holding my arm, but it was worth it”)

I arrived at the church, and—wouldn’t you know it—the dress shoes I was wearing split. BOTH soles came off. Guess I hadn’t worn them in some time. So I Mr. BoJangled it into the sanctuary, sock toes sticking out. At least I had a neat tie, and a four button blazer, and hair done up, though windblown from the cab drive.

I deeply hugged my friend as it has been a few weeks and I haven’t seen her since her dad passed. We have been friends since elementary school, and she was wearing classy spectacles and a lovely dress, not black. H

Her son, T, was the first one to greet me, flying into my hip, with a “Hello, Thom!” (He asked his mom later if that was okay, becuz COVID and he’s so tender to everyone’s feelings)

Of course, Honey” his mom said, smiling. I met some of my friend’s friends, all from our alma mater. I met a veteran—Purple Hearted—and we talked stories about Vietnam, my dad having been there as an OR Tech. He proudly wore a veteran t-shirt, in which I thanked him for his service. He also wore a ball cap that said ‘Purple Heart.’

Every now and then we deserve a medal for just surviving, like George, but I greatly respect anyone that suffers a bullet in well-intended and furious service. I liked this guy. He had a Jerry Garcia beard and was proud proud of his daughter. As with the Lyft driver, I liked him instantly.

Also hugged Tammey’s other child, nigh eighteen who was happy to see me. I think of him as a third child, maybe a she maybe a he. But s/he and I talked before the service began. I wanted to sit next to my friend and hold her hand, but that would have been a usurpation of family, despite how difficult her fam can be. I hid in a corner, cried at the moments my friend and kids spoke their pieces, then took an Irish exit out. (I’m allowed; Im comlauhder)

On the Lyft back, I chatted with the driver (remember: ‘Talker, Talker Betty Crocker), and we shared stories of road rage peppered with a lot of language and a healthy dose of laughter. It was antidote. I thought about Tammey, about George, and in closing the door and waving goodbye to my Lyfter, I simply said: “I’m gonna get a goddamn taco.” Which I did. And all for now is well.