Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
I buried my depression beneath a pile of CDs. Rock and roll, rap, folk; it didn't matter. Music. Pearl Jam. U2. The Fugees. REM. Radiohead. A Tribe Called Quest. Smashing Pumpkins. LL Cool J. Ani Difranco. Whosoever played a song that didn't mention Jennifer. All the money I didn't have to spend on books or school supplies went directly to my music addiction. Florida wasn't far enough away from Cranberry Lake to keep the sound of Jennifer's voice saying I'm sorry, I just never felt that way about you out of my head, so I had to keep newer, louder music pulsing in my ears. My studies weren't interesting enough to keep my eyes floating out of my books and catching a glimpse of the boy I'd helped Jennifer not have. It would have been a son.
The music wasn't loud enough. The sun wasn't bright enough to blind me. So I abandoned college and Sulfur City, and headed back home. I enrolled in UMass Cranberry Lake, and maxxed out three credit cards buying music from local record stores. My mother, whose condo I was living in, politely suggested that I might want to take a job. Maybe one in a music store with an employee discount. That, or find a new place to live. For once, I took her advice, and set up an interview at Raspberry Records. One of those corporate music stores that adopted a hip, alternative image in the early nineties. Their logo was a face not unlike the old poison sticker faces, with a rolling tongue sticking out of its mouth. Their way of saying Stick it to The Man by buying music from an alternative music store owned and operated by The Man. My interview went okay, but not having any previous retail experience, I was doomed not to get the job, despite the fact that the manager was Fitz, a former coworker of mine from Camp Davis. Still, I filled out the application, and at eight-thirty that night, I drove to the store to turn it in. The store was scheduled to close at nine, so imagine my surprise when I pulled on the door and found it locked. All the lights were on inside, and two women were walking around tossing CDs into shopping bags. I walked over to a payphone and called Fitz's cell. "Did you guys close early tonight to do inventory?"
"No. We do inventory on the last night of the month. Why?"
I explained why. Ten minutes later he pulled up, and walked into the store. It turned out, his assistant manager and some rogue employees had been stealing a few thousand dollars worth of CDs every couple of weeks, and selling them to one of the used music stores in Boston. Every employee involved was fired the next morning, leaving Fitz, and one employee. The employee was Kevin Harris, who'd been working there since he dropped out of Cranberry Lake High. Since the store was now completely devoid of staff, Fitz was authorized to do some emergency hiring, and, despite being only eighteen and having no experience, I was brought on as an assistant manager.
"What the fuck." Kevin said, rather than asked. "I mean, I'm glad it's you and not some asshole stranger, but...I've been here a year, why didn't I get the cushy fucken assistant manager job."
The cushy job which required me to work no more and no less than sixty hours a week. The cushy job where I was not allowed to leave the store for my required, punched out, thirty minute break every six hours. The cushy job where I usually found myself alone, my coworkers routinely coming down with the killer-concert-in-town-flu, or the 24 hour Hangover Virus. The cushy job where the asshole drop out closet case who I'd been buddy buddy with when I was a kid, routinely showed up one or two hours late, and clocked out precisely when his shift was scheduled to end, no matter how much work needed to be done. Kevin fucken Harris.
I was hired in February. By November, we'd gone through four other assistant managers, and roughly three dozen retail associates, most of them named Sarah. The various Sarahs (which included both of the Queen Popular Sarahs from my elementary school days), rarely lasted more than two weeks. Queen Sarah Popular The Second being the shortest term employee in the history of Raspberry Records, when she aced the interview, then showed up positively wrecked on muscle relaxants the next morning, and screaming "This fucken job is corporate fucken bullshit" at the top of her lungs, when I asked her to check and see if we had a copy of the Pocahontas soundtrack in stock. My patience was quickly fagged, and she was quickly fired.
Unfortunately, having gone through three Sarahs in two weeks, the staff currently consisted of one manager, Fitz; two assistant managers, myself and a thirtiesh veterinary student named Madison; and one non-manager, Kevin. We had three days before Black Friday. Fitz was taking a two week vacation in Fuji, and Madison had to take a week of sick time because she'd nearly had her arm ripped off by some sort of rabid beagle. A couple of local managers had sent us some of their precious employees for a shift or two, but I was scheduled to work double shifts on Black Friday, No Relief Saturday, and Dear Fucken Jesus What Am I Doing Working In Retail Sunday. One of the more saintly managers had volunteered to help me close the store on Black Friday, but the morning shift was just me and Kevin. Kevin who had never been less than two hours late when he wasn't working with Fitz.
"You know we're opening an hour early on Friday, right?" I asked him on the Wednesday before The Apocalypse.
"Yea." He said, as though I had asked him if he knew how to spell his name. "You want me here at seven, right?"
"Yea, we open at seven-thirty. And it's going to be sick with shoplifters and people who absolutely must have that album by that singer who sings the song with love in the title. So, early. Please."
At eight-fifteen on Black Friday, I had a line thirty-seven people long. The credit card machine was on the fritz. I was out of ones, fives, and quarters. The phone was ringing. "Thank you for calling Raspberry Records, this is Adam, how may I help you?"
"Adam, it's Kevin."
"Thank fuc...calling. Are you on your way?"
"No. My grandmother had a heart attack, yesterday. My mom wants me to stay at the hospital with her, so I'm not going to make it in."
The line was now forty-one people long. The fax was beeping. "That sucks. Hope she recovers. I can't stay on the phone, though. Bye." And I hung up.
At three-thirty, I couldn't speak, smile, or leave the space behind the register. The line wound around the entire store, out the doors, and on to the sidewalk. "Criminy jickets!" Madison shouted, as she walked into the store. "Are you by yourself?"
Once she made eye contact, she had my answer.
"For how long? All day? Oh my goodness." She ran into the back, and came out with the cashbox for the other register. "Go. Take a minute in the back."
I expected several of the customers to jump me as I made my way to the back, but they all made space between me and the back door when I stumbled from behind the register. I peed for seven weeks, then refilled my water bottle, and made my way back behind the register. "I thought you were out on sick leave." I said, as I scanned through a pile of Whitney Houston and Jackson Five CDs.
"I was. I just came in to pick up my check, but this store is just sick busy, I can't leave you alone like this. You should have called."
I explained that I had called every store in the region, pleading for someone to send any associate they could spare. But no associate can be spared on the busiest shopping day of the year.
At five o'clock, the saintly manager from one of the Boston stores, showed up, and instead of relieving Madison, ordered me to take an hour long break. "And don't even think about clocking out. You deserve at least triple overtime for working by yourself."
I drove five minutes home, opened the refrigerator, and began devouring one of the tupperware containers filled with Thanksgiving's turkey and cranberry sauce that my mother had left. I drank an entire two liter bottle of Cherry Coke in ten minutes, belched loud enough to rattle the kitchen window, and went upstairs to take a quick shower. Full, clean, and wearing an identical (but different) raspberry red turtleneck, I had twenty minutes to make my five minute drive back to work. I decided to stop at the video store to pick up a movie to put me to sleep after work. I grabbed The Basketball Diaries and Until the End of the World, and made my way to the checkout. And there...there....there, behind the counter, wearing the blue and gold uniform of every Blockbuster video in the known world, was Kevin Harris.
"How's your grandma, motherfucker?" I asked. My smile was so wide, it knocked over a box of Twizzlers on my left, and the hat of the gentleman standing on my right.
"Hey, Adam. Look, I'm sorry I―"
"Does your boss know that you called in sick to your other job, claiming that your grandmother was dying of a heart attack?"
The other blue and gold golems lurched to the scene of the impending homocide. "Is there some sort of prob― Adam?"
The leader of the blue and golders was familiar. "Saint?"
Michael Christopher shook his head and laughed. "Why are you causing a scene in my store?"
"Well, I'm the assistant manager over at Raspberry Records, and I had to work by myself for eight hours this morning because Kevin's very ill grandmother had a heart attack, and he had to stay at the hospital with her."
"Really?" Michael asked. "The same grandmother whose funeral he had to go to last Tuesday?"
"Couldn't be." I said, pleased that Michael and I fell so easily in stride with each other. "Kevin was working with me last Tuesday. His car ran out of gas on the way over, and he was about two hours late, but he wasn't wearing funeral clothes."
Kevin was the color of my turtleneck. "Guys."
"You are so fired." I said.
"From your place, too?" Michael asked. "Damn. Fired from two jobs in two seconds. That's rough."
The person in line behind me cleared her throat. "Well, I've got to go back to my sixteen hour shift. It was fun talking with you, Michael. I'll stop in the next time I have a day off, which I think is March, and we can catch up."
"Have a good one."
And I drove back to Raspberry Records, so happy, my smile could barely fit through the door.