My Dearest Creepers,
As you know, I’ve been trying to shop around my books without any success. Most of the feedback is the generic thank-you-we’re-not-interested stuff, but one insightful bit of feedback on “The Voyage of the Pink Snapper” ( http://bit.ly/1RM3td4 ) was that my portrayal of scenes that happen at work is a bit flat. This rang true, since the only traditional work I’ve ever done is paperboy, back in 1971-73. And a few stints as a bartender, but in the Mahoning Valley, pouring drinks is just the tip of the iceberg in that career field. So it’s been a bit of arrangiarsi ever since, and my knowledge of work is limited to whatever I’ve gleaned from re-runs of “The Office” or listening to the ex-wives b1tch about their day-to-day.
So I decided to do a bit of hands-on research. The original plan was put on hold when I got distracted on a treasure hunt (which I do plan on getting back to). Then I dislocated my shoulder in a mildly-provoked machete attack perpetrated by me on a stubborn crepe myrtle that had already taken down my pruning hook and gummed up my chainsaw. Followed by me busting my wrists in a very unfortunate skateboarding accident. Thankfully I had a good stock of pre-written Six Word Stories to keep this site moving.
Once I was all healed up, re-stocked up on SWS, and got a few posts posted or in draft, I set about to get a job. I idly considered an office job, but after spending some time trolling out on LinkedIn and Monster, it became obvious that my lack of experience was going to be an issue. Not to mention the propensity for office jobs worth my while are in the city, and require a start time of no later than 8 o’clock. With a long-standing wake-up time of 10 am to noon, I wasn’t realistically going to be able to change to 5 am. So the only option was just to sleep 6 pm to midnight, go about my life, and then push straight through the night without going to bed.
I figured what the h3ll, just get a job at a regular place like a lumber yard or grocery store and work the afternoon shift. Chances are I was going to end up in the office a lot anyhow, either getting my a$$ chewed by the boss, or hitting on one of the clerks. It wasn’t like I was planning on making a career out of it, just trying to get a glimpse into how the other half lives.
It was harder to get hired than I thought. Everyone wanted work history and references, and were willing to spend a few bucks to do a background check. I quickly eliminated all the fast food places, most of the gas stations, and any kind of chain store. Plus, I really didn’t want to be seen by anybody who knew me. It would be too much to explain, and I wasn’t looking forward to the well-deserved ribbing.
Finally, I got in at a mom-and-pop country store a few counties over. It was run by a nice old couple in their seventies, and it spoke volumes about what the h3ll is going on in America these days. It had all the convenience foods, smokes, a decent selection of canned goods, a section of staples, country snacks liked hot pickled eggs, essentials like pain killers/tampons/toilet paper/diapers/condoms, and a massive selection of low-cost alcohol. In fact, that took up about half the store. The big money maker was the lottery. Everyone was lined up at a counter, buying scratch-offs or looking at TV screens to see if they had won a drawing. After throwing away fifty bucks, they would grab the marked-up sh1t they had told their significant other they were stepping out to get, throw in a tall boy of malt liquor, and lie in the bed they had made.
In fact, the whole thing made me itch to open up my own place like they have back home; a two-level storefront with a nice family restaurant downstairs, and upstairs a mini-Vegas gambling hall with rigged machines, stolen liquor, a titty bar, and private rooms. I think competition would be minimal, and a nice contribution to the local sheriff’s re-election campaign would be enough to keep the court hassles to a minimum. Especially if you kept the hours to 6 pm-4 am, so the guys from the various state enforcement agencies would have to work overtime to even check you out. After their two-hour drive from the city. Have some kid working the parking lot, looking for out-of-place faces, and you could lock up tight as a drum before they so much as tried to get past the bouncers. But all that is behind me now, and you don’t need this walk down memory lane.
Funny thing how I got the job in the first place. I had just returned from getting chucked out of the manager’s office at a chain grocery store, when my third ex-wife called, asking me to pick up a bag of frozen smelts. Normally I never would have pulled into a rinky-dink place like this, but it was kind of instinct to at least look, because I was passing it when she called. As I walked in, I noticed a hastily-scrawled sign. Sharpie on a piece of lined writing paper; “Help Wanted-Stocker-RIGHT AWAY”.
We got to talking, one thing led to another, and I stocked the shelves for an hour, got smelts in exchange, and arranged to come back the next day. They wanted me to come at noon, but I had some things to do, and told them it wouldn’t be until about 2. I also made it clear I couldn’t guarantee my hours, or that I wouldn’t walk out once the shelves were stocked for the day. They were cool enough with it.
This went on a few weeks. It kinda felt good to be a working stiff. I rotated all the cans, brushing dust off the older ones, and changed up the displays a bit. That didn’t help sales or anything, it just looked better. They liked my bustle, and also liked that I didn’t hang around drawing pay until they closed.
Things were winding down, and I had enough experience under the old belt to talk about work, when Stu and Lydia (the owners) approached me about taking over the store while they went on a cruise. Turns out it was their 50th wedding anniversary, and their out-of-state kids had bought them a three-week Mediterranean cruise. The problem was the gift was unexpected and poorly thought out, and they weren’t going to be able to get anyone else to watch the place while they were gone. I was hesitant, as this was going to mean a lot of hours at a place I had mentally checked out of. But I finally caved, as I had grown to like them, and didn’t want to leave them with no income if they had to shutter the store the whole three weeks.
They spent the next day showing me how the cash register worked, the routine for making deposits, the numbers for suppliers, and so on, then they left to pack. It felt really weird to be in charge of anything, but it didn’t take long to adjust. Most of the regulars asked about Stu and Lydia, but didn’t worry themselves too much about it. That incuriosity was remarkable, given the fact that these days I could be an axe-murderer who had chopped them up and left them in the crawlspace of their house next door.
It was a real pain in the ass to have to get up early, and then stay on my feet the whole day. No naps, keeping the beers to a minimum throughout the work day, and no time to edit “The Voyage of the Pink Snapper” or post on the blog. And no idea how those two kept it up, day after day, year after year, pretty much ever since Stu got back from Nam. It gave me a newfound respect for the merchant class.
The first week, I got to talking to one of the guys buying lottery tickets. He was short on cash, so I advanced him his paycheck for a week, charging a $10 fee. Probably not totally kosher, but it was a service, and the $10 was going to Stu and Lydia. Once word got out, I made a few more loans to regulars. All due before their return.
Then this guy comes by, New York plates, and wants to buy a bunch of cartons of cigarettes. Much cheaper here than back home. I sold him about 80 cartons, leaving a few of each for the regulars. He paid cash. We fell to talking. Turns out he drove through here every week, and he wanted to know if it would be okay to grab some more, for friends. Sure, I can see right through his story, but it makes no difference to me if he’s cutting a bit into the tax receipts of the Empire State. Frankly, I admire that kind of business plan, and also enjoy watching anyone stick it to The Man. So we agreed on a good selection of cigarettes and chew, the applicable price, and date of delivery. I placed the order with the distributor as soon as he left.
Well, let me tell you, the hours and drudgery were wearing me out. The store was open 7 am to 8 pm, and there was never much downtime. There were customer rushes morning, lunchtime, and evening. Deliveries mid-day, stocking shelves, and people randomly popping in and out. Never have I less regretted my decision to abjure the 9 to 5 and live as life took me.
The final week was upon me, and I couldn’t wait for Stu and Lydia to come back. I had to lean on a couple of the people who owed payday loans to squeeze it out of them. The big cigarette shipment came in, the day before my new friend from New York was going to breeze through. I rang out the registers late, and didn’t even start driving home until 8:45. I was drinking a cup of sludge coffee to stay awake, maybe 2 or 3 miles from the store, when suddenly a deer stepped out in front of me. There was no time to steer, and too many trees right next to the road to even make it advisable. The deer smashed up the grill of my Supra, skidded up the hood, caved in the windshield, and then bounced away behind on the road.
By time I was done with the paperwork and the tow truck was there, it was after 11 pm. I grabbed my bug-out bag from the trunk, and asked the driver to take me back to the store. Within ten minutes I was sound asleep in the office, lying on the inflatable roll-out hiking mattress.
Right at 2 am, something woke me up, and in a bad way. My foggy brain seemed to register that it heard the crunch of gravel and some quiet voices. Suddenly an engine revved, and with a loud screeching noise and the crashing of glass, the bars were torn from the main window. The alarm went off, making a deafening noise. I quickly rolled over to the bug-out bag, staying low, and pulled out the case for the Desert Eagle. My fingers, made quick by years of practice, took off the trigger lock and slammed the clip home. Then I fumbled around for the night vision goggles, slipped on my shoes, and quietly peered out the office door, which was ajar.
Two guys were stepping in with flashlights roving around. I shrank back, weighing my options, but they passed right by the office, heading to the back store room.
Now here was the moment of truth. Here I was, armed with a gun that could basically cut a man in half, with two intruders to deal with. So I wasn’t worried about my health. But I was worried about what would happen if there was some gun play. First of all, I wasn’t even sure these guys were armed. Second, while I probably had a right to defend myself in my workplace under state law, it’s not like Stu and Lydia had given me permission to be there after hours, even though anyone could understand it under the circumstances. And then there was the question of what would happen if these guys claimed I was in on their little cigarette trafficking scheme, and might point the finger of doom at me. They were breaking in, but in a court of law, the word of two against one could be problematic if they completely and totally invented some story and stuck to it.
I poked my head back out of the office door, and saw that they were still in the store room. I quickly strode to the front of the store, feeling the glass crunch beneath the soles of my Wellingtons, stepped over the lintel, and into the parking lot. Passing the van, I saw that it was empty, and that the driver’s side window was open. Instinctively I reached in, turning off the ignition and taking the keys. With the screaming of the alarm, you really couldn’t even tell the engine had just been switched off. Grinning, I jogged over to the woods and backed into a bush to watch the excitement.
Tweedledum and Tweedledumber were busy running back and forth from the storeroom to the van, throwing the boxes haphazardly in. They topped it off with a few crates of beer, and one of them unhooked the chain from the bars they had ripped from the window. They jumped into the van, and then all h3ll broke loose. First they jumped out, patting their pockets and looking around the seats. Then they took the flashlights and went back in, spending a full two minutes looking around the place. I bet it felt like two hours to them. Soon they were back out by the van, alternately looking under it, looking at the seats, looking on the dashboard, even slapping and hitting one another in frustration.
Soon you could hear sirens in the distance. The one guy started running around in pointless circles, much like a chicken in a small coop who’s suddenly realized that his dinner invitation doesn’t mean what he had thought. He finally made a break across the road, running off into the woods over there. The other guy calmly went to the back of the van and grabbed two beers. He chugged one, and then lit up a cigarette and sipped the other until the cops pulled up. When they arrived, he raised his hands over his head and knelt on the ground, taking his arrest like a pro.
Once he was in cuffs, I stashed the Desert Eagle and goggles in a hollow tree, and came out of the woods, “Oh my gawd, Officers, I’m so glad to see you!!”
It was easy enough to sort out my identity, especially since these exact two officers had been the ones to help me with the paperwork from hitting the deer. Not surprising, given the size of the town. I told them about the break-in, and me slipping out and pulling the keys to the truck. They were impressed with my quick thinking. I also let them know there had been another guy, who had run off.
Since they had a guy in custody, and one on the run, they took rather perfunctory notes and asked me to stay and watch the place. Like I had a choice. Breaking down, I called Fat Danny and asked him to drive out with whatever lumber he could lay his hands on, plus hammers and nails. He’s a trooper, and was there within two hours. By six, we had boarded up the window, and spray-painted “TEMPORARILY CLOSED” in big black letters across the wood.
The next day and a half were a blur. Getting my car fixed, calling the insurance company, talking to the cops, and snatching sleep wherever and whenever I could. And then finally having to explain everything to Stu and Lydia when they got back. It helped that the cops stopped by not long after they arrived. They were probably there to check on my story with the two of them, but once that was done to their satisfaction, they smoothed it over by praising my quick thinking again. They also put everyone’s mind at ease by letting us know they had picked up the other guy at a truck stop on the highway, badgering truckers for rides to New York. Dumb@$$.
Well, it all kind of worked out. Stu and Lydia were pleased with how well things had gone in their absence, as well as me saving their store from being looted. They paid me generously for my time, and were a little upset when I said I was moving on, but I was scared about where this thing was heading. I could see it ending with me buying them out. It would work well for a while, but then me being me, would end up with more undocumented payday loans, cigarette trafficking, and perhaps even worse vice. It seemed best to cash in my chips while I was ahead, both financially and in experience, now being able to write with some authority about work.
This story is a bit tardy, as it took place well before going to RavenCon. But I did want to bring you up to speed on what’s been going on while this site has been quiet. Thanks for sticking with me!