The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Blue Light Special pt. 4

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The store manager announces the Employee of the Month at the morning meeting the last Friday of each month. He produces brown plaques, each with a brass plate riveted to it. Each plate is engraved with the name of the winner, the date, and the titular cause for the recognition. I’m certain I qualify for both the part-time and full-time award since some weeks I work more than forty hours and some weeks less. The first time my name isn’t mentioned, I think I haven’t been around long enough. The second time I’m sure it’s an oversight. The third time I am stung by the lack of recognition for all the ways I bust my ass for the store: I come to work every day I’m scheduled, I do a good job, my coworkers like me, and I’m funny. I soothe my hurt by thinking that when I mow lawns, I am always the employee of the month.
*
K-Mart hires Janice the third week of July. Within two weeks, she has joined H&BA. I realize she is going to be my replacement. She’s a nice woman in her early fifties, but it seems she hasn’t taken much care of herself for a while. It becomes more obvious when I see the sweat stains in the armpits and on the chest of her polyester blouses when we stock shelves. She smokes on her breaks the same as she has smoked for decades, the result being a grayish hue to the ruddy skin on her face and hands. I don’t know how to explain her stringy gray hair, but think it, too, goes back to the cigarettes.
Janice starts her first week in H&BA on a cloud. When Frenchy and I ask why she’s so happy, she grins and explains, “I went out dancing last night. I even met someone!” We pass on our congratulations. The same thing happens the next week. When we inquire about her ubiquitous someone, Janice only says, “Yeah, we like to go out dancing. It’s so fun…” Her voice trails off and she grins.We don’t see her at all the week after that. Frenchy asks Priscilla about her, but can only tell me that Janice is not feeling well. The next time I see Janice, she’s limping down an aisle away from me. When I say hi, she slowly turns around. The left side of her face is dark purple. One eye is bloodshot. She’s wearing a brace on her wrist. There are dark welts on her neck that I think look like finger marks. Frenchy tells me not to ask about the man Janice met when she was out dancing.
For once, I keep my mouth shut.
*
The shoving match between Priscilla and me comes to a head one afternoon early in August. After I punch my timecard (I’m known in store parlance as “Clock 22”) and head toward H&BA, Frenchy heads me off. She checks to see who may be watching or listening, leans in, and whispers, “We’re in trouble. Priscilla and one of the store managers both ordered for us. We’re flooded with cases.”

When I stroll over to H&BA, boxes are strewn across the floor and are choking the aisles, which is a huge K-Mart no-no. The first thing I think is that this could have been a minor inconvenience if we had space for the surplus on the H&BA shelves it the stockroom, but we hadn’t had any space like that for as long as I had worked at the store.

The manager who participated in the over-ordering–whom I liken to Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest–is storming away in a huff as Priscilla gapes at a mess that rivals that which resulted from the sacking of Troy. Priscilla’s eyes dart back and forth. She shakes her head, and I can see her lips moving but can’t hear what she’s saying. It elates me to see Priscilla affected by Ratched for the same reasons we all are: Ratched is a humorless, gray-haired block of a woman who habitually uses her gravely voice to paralyze anyone upon whom she sets her sights; she has frozen me and every other 01 in our tracks on numerous occassions when she has caught us screwing around. A few weeks previous, I was laughing about a fellow employee smashing a bottle of mouthwash on the sales floor– Ratched was nearby, heard me, locked eyes with me and in the coldest tone possible instructed me to stop laughing and clean up the mess. I did both with extreme haste.

Priscilla turns to me and makes her demands: “Make sure every possible product is on the shelf. If I find things you didn’t fill, you’re in trouble.”

I’m uncertain what she means by “trouble,” but nonetheless counter her demands with a toothy, uber-polite, “Yes ma’am,” and continue with the same variety of “Yes ma’am’s” every chance I get for the next ten minutes with the sole intent of pissing her off. She double-checks my first five or six cases, and then disappears. During the next forty-five minutes, my shelf stocking efficiency reaches its all-time peak as I rip through a few dozen cases. When Priscilla returns, she reeks of smoke. She scrutinizes the pallet of over-ordered cases and hoists one for me to see. “Did you already stock this?”

I stare at her and shrug my shoulders, “Gosh, I’ve stocked so much that I plum forgot.” She storms down the aisle where we would normally fit the case, curses when she finds the space for the product full, and plops the case back on the pallet. I stand and stare at her blankly. Inside, I’m howling.

I go on my lunch break. Frenchy joins me a few minutes after I sit down. Again in hushed tones, she tells me, “Priscilla just got yelled at for about the third time.” She explains that Priscilla’s morning dawned with a bawling-out from Ratched. We both realize that Ratched is most at fault because she poked her pointed nose into Priscilla’s job, but Ratched covered up for herself by playing the aggressor and putting Priscilla on her heels right away.

“I don’t care how many times she gets yelled at,” I whisper to Frenchy. “We’ve known about the stock problem for weeks. Priscilla’s not getting any sympathy from me.” I want to rush to Ratched right away and tell her about the chronic overstocking problem to really score a slam-dunk on Prisicilla, but I’m too scared of her.

A minute later, Priscilla cuts through the grey clouds of the break room. She asks Frenchy about some products and gets the answers she wants, and then turns to me. She mutters something I don’t fully hear it, but I know it’s a question. I realize my chance, look her in the eye, and let loose with the one thing I’ve been dying to say for weeks: “I’m sorry, I don’t work on my lunch break.”

She clenches her teeth. A red wash rises in her face like the mercury from the heat we have had all summer. She starts to say something, changes her mind, and leaves. I try to scorch her backside with my beaming smile.

*

Patricia spends the time I have left before I go to college finding things for me to do outside of H&BA. She tells management she needs me away from her and willingly leases me out to do the crappiest jobs in the store (the ones usually reserved for 01s), like working in the store’s attic in the stifling heat to bring down shelving units, or unloading boxes from trailers that bake in the sun all day long behind the store. Everything I touch in every job I do radiates heat.

I go home for lunch every day to show my contempt for that I’m assigned. It’s a practice disliked by the managers since they like to have as many people around as possible, “just in case,” but I don’t care. They never really say what the “just in case” is, so I take that as my excuse for ignoring their concerns.

Not only do I go home each day at lunch, but I flaunt it. I bolt out the front door as fast as I can, and take my shirt and tie off as soon as my feet hit pavement. I leave them off until I return, usually pushing my arms through the sleeves of my shirt as I promenade through the front door. I button up as I waltz to the time clock, and tuck my shirttails in as I plod back to the sales floor. I try to dodge the managers who can deliver consequences for disrespecting the K-Mart dress code, but I’m not always successful. I get two verbal warnings and am told that the next infraction will result with a letter in my personnel file.

*

I depart for Ball State late in August. K-Mart and I don’t miss each other. I don’t have any dealings with the place until I stop there while home for Thanksgiving. I go over to H&BA to see if Frenchy is there, but can’t find her. I see Janice, who appears to be stripping the shelves, and ask her about Frenchy. She grows quiet and looks away. “She lost her foot in a car accident a few weeks ago.”

“Is she okay?” I ask, eyes wide.

“She should be once she recovers. She lost her baby, too.”

I can only mutter Oh my God, then, “Her daughter?”

“No. She was pregnant and didn’t know it. The trauma caused as miscarriage.”

I leave the store stunned and don’t return until Christmas. I ask Phyllis, the Personnel Manager, if I can work for a few weeks while I’m home. I need the money, but she doesn’t care. I’m mad at K-mart for not understanding me better.

By the next summer, the only contact I have with the store is when I buy string for my weed eater, or any Health and Beauty Aides I need. I see Priscilla on occasion and suppress the urge to antagonize her in some way for fear that I’ll be thrown out.

*

By the mid 1990s, the Angola K-Mart is converted to a Super K-Mart. Unfortunately, the invincibility implied by the new title proves false. By 2002, Angola decides it can do without the store all together and can instead shop at Wal-Mart, Meijer, or even Super Wal-Mart, all of which opened within a mile of K-Mart. Pretty soon, the K-Mart Corporation forfeits the lease and empties the building. Eventually the floorspace is divided amongst two stores. The bigger of the two is a clothing store called Peebles. I wander in one day when I’m back in Angola visiting my parents, and decide to ask a few qeustions to a woman behind the customer service desk. I explain that I have been working on some writing about the jobs I used to have before I became a teacher, and that I worked at the K-Mart when it first opened. She tells me that if that’s the case then we worked together, because she was a K-Mart employee from the day the Angola store opened until the day it closed.

“You’re face looked kind of familiar,” she says after I explain myself. “All I can tell you is that it was a sad day when K-Mart closed. A lot of people loved working there and were left without jobs.”

I ask her if she could be a little more specific, but her only reply is, “I’d rather not.” She excuses herself to return to a stack of papers she is sorting. I look around the store from the customer service desk and see a man in a shirt and tie staring at me from the cash registers. His arms are crossed.

I decide to leave well enough alone and leave.
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Written by seeker70

October 1, 2009 at 2:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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