The middle knuckle on my right hand is bruised. I was punching a box that came in with the latest order. At worst my knuckle is slightly cracked. My co-worker Steve swears his own knuckle is truly broken. We were determining who could do the most damage to an unopened box from HQ or the warehouse or wherever we get our shit. Our manager Ed was in the middle of his vacation. We weren’t allowed to touch The Order while he was out.
We’d been negotiating around this obstacle, The Order, which was a huge stack of boxes full of new retail mugs and shit. Most of this order was the new Spring Line, the highlight of which was our supposedly higher quality teas. The Order had been there since Ed’s first day of vacation. Ed can’t have anyone else fucking with The Order. He’s been dealing with severe stress issues since he was ten years old.
The back room is a triangular-shaped prison-cell-sized office/break room/storage facility. During Ed’s absence the staff had to negotiate around the cartoonishly constructed, Dr. Seussian mass of boxes. The Order took up most of the space- which again, was only the size of a big bathroom. We walked sideways and ducked as we went to and from our breaks and clock-ins. If a girl was tying her apron while another worker entered the room, she had to hold a pilates position, pressing herself against the desk and cabinets while the other worker passed through. Boxes fell as workers went around the East face of the Seussian structure to fill the mop bucket. On the desk side of The Order, unopened boxes prevented us from pulling the chair out as far as we normally could. This shortage of space prompted us to angrily elbow the mass of boxes as we began our breaks. My ten-minute breaks were typically 11.5 minutes long.
Steve and I are shift supervisors. We make roughly 12$/hour after tips.
The store was pretty quiet when we decided to punch the box. The temperature was only 20 degrees outside and the downtown wind tunnels were biting faces hard enough to keep customers away. During this lull, Steve and I took the opportunity to determine who had the fiercest punch. He claimed that he had formal Kung Fu training, I have 40 pounds on him. I think he won. With his punch he basically tore the cardboard open so that there was almost a complete outline of tearing where his fist hit the box of ceramic mugs.
Ed watches Golden Girls. He’s rail-thin, I’ve never seen him eat. They say he’s a pothead. He must eat large meals at night.
Back from his vacation (he apparently did nothing, went nowhere), Ed finally went through The Order. I was one foot away from him at the beginning of a shift when I noticed him going through the box that Steve and I had been punching the week prior. He pulled out a mug and examined it for a bit. Standing straight, and not turning his head up from the particularly battered box, he thrust his arm straight up and yelled:
“Anybody want a mug with a broken handle?” His head still fixed down, he seemed unconcerned with how the mug had broken.
I frowned a little bit and casually shook my head.
“Anybody? …Anybody?” His arm still raised, he simply loosened his fingers and the broken mug fell directly below him, into the bullet-shaped trash can.
* * * * *
A milk pitcher falls and crashes to the ground with hideously loud clanging. I’m walking off the floor. The store’s din consists of chatty customers, anxious workers, and the whirring & screaming of the machines. I slip into the hand-washing sink area. It’s a recess between the back room and the enormous milk fridge. It’s two and a half feet between the steel of the fridge and the partition that divides the back room from the floor.
Sausage breakfast sandwich!
I lean my back against the rear wall. My left shoulder is adjacent the wall of the fridge.
Did anyone order a sausage breakfast sandwich?
I slide down the wall, ducking my right shoulder underneath the sink that nobody uses. The din is about cut in half.
I have a sausage breakfast sandwich!
I’m sitting on the ground now. The pipes underneath the sink are inches from my face, directly on my right. My elbows are on my knees. Frantic legs pass in front of me.
My apron, weighed down by my Shift Keys and a Sharpie, is bunched up in my lap.
No, you can’t just leave the sandwich up there, FIND the person
In third grade my class had a Bring Your Parent To School Week. The father of one of my classmate’s was a retired-fighter-pilot-turned-attorney. At that point the 1986 fighter jet plane film, Top Gun, was my favorite. So this Dad flew jets like Tom Cruise did in the movies, then he became a lawyer like Tom Cruise did in the movies. I was going to be this Dad.
You need a key. It’s at the end of the counter
At the end of each presentation, there was always a question and answer session. Unremarkable questions were asked while tension built. The Q & A was about one question and one question only: The Money Question.
Allllll the way down
Every session went the same. After a few minutes of boring, filler questions, eyes began to wander, and whispers swirled about. This would morph into heads furiously shaking No. This was the Money Question ritual. Earlier in the week a secretary paused, sighed, and looked out the window as she told us she made 12$/hour.
It’s in the metal basket.
Michael, a Jehovah’s witness, reluctantly agreed to ask the fighter pilot The Money Question. After the Dad was asked his old Jet’s top speed for the third time, the Jehovah’s Witness finally gave into pressure from his peers. Mike, you haven’t asked yet! All eyes were on the kid who faithfully never covered his chest during the Pledge of Allegiance. Yeah Michael, I’ve asked THREE TIMES!
“…Sir, what’s your cabbage?”
The METAL BASKET!
Cabbage? Cabbage Michael!? Craned necks below puzzled faces were glued to the Jehovah’s witness. Yeah Mike, CABBAGE? Top Gun’s eyes suddenly shot wide and he smiled. He humbly corrected the Witness and suggested that he meant salary. Perhaps Michael wanted to know the Pilot’s salary?
IT SAYS BATHROOM KEY ON IT.
The whole class burst into laughter. Hey Mike, how much is your salad! The Jehovah’s Witness ran out of the room crying. Mike, don’t go, you owe me fifty carrots!
Yeah, that’s it. The pitcher
In high school I wanted to be a stock broker. I thought it would be an easy way to be rich.
No, it’s attached to the pitcher
I wanted a Ferrari.
No, the key is not the actual pitcher
My brother and I visited my grandparents in Rhode Island when I was fifteen. They took us to Newport.
You take the whole thing. Yup
We saw a mid-fifties couple tying their sailboat to a dock. It was late afternoon and the bay was shimmering gold. That was going to be me. I was going to move to the East Coast when I grew up.
Where’s Aaron? Is he on a ten?
I failed math three times in Jr. College. Hours meant for studying became a triage where I’d try to determine how much time I could sacrifice from other courses to make an attempt to pass math. Ultimately, though, I never really studied anything. Homework became T.V. or reading movie reviews on the internet. Maybe I should just take an F and focus on my other classes. I’d tell myself that it’d be the next semester that I’d get it right and really put in the time. Next semester. Twice, I dropped out of all my classes, once during finals week.
He didn’t just walk out, did he?
I swore I’d never go back. I went to a shrink a couple of years after my final failed semester. Immediately I burst into a monologue about family stuff and my religious background. He asked about college and I quickly told him that I dropped out a few times. I tried to dismiss my academic record and stay on the “sad” stuff.
He better NOT have
At the end of the first hour, he asked if I’d ever been diagnosed with ADD. He said I was showing red flags.
Would somebody get me a new thing of whip?
So I went back to school equipped with Ritalin and Diet Coke (sugar is bad for ADD.) That time around I took an independent study math course. The school required that independent study students actually study in the math lab. There, female Asian exchange students and curly-haired, pimpled white men were available to help. We had to check-in upon entering. We had to be there a certain amount of hours.
I’ll just get it myself.
I pulled all-nighters. I declined hanging out with friends for math homework. My amphetamic handwriting was neat and clean for the first time in my life.
I don’t hear any music!
The pages full of equations were beautiful and terrifying. My girlfriend, an A-student and future accountant, welcomed me to college.
I made the same mistakes as before (sometimes order-of-operations bullshit, but mostly not honoring negatives), but this time I would calmly do it again.
I’d check the back of the book and be baffled that I came up with the wrong answer. But I’d do it again.
Would Somebody please stop the beeping?
Instead of throwing the notebook across the room, I’d do the equation again. And again. And again. And again.
The correct answer in the back blithely mocked me, daring me to blow up.
Is the music on? Somebody turn the music on!
But I would take another swig of god-awful Diet Coke and do it again. And again. And again. And again.
Who has the timer? Is it one of the coffee urns?
Finally, #57- correct. Eleven tries.
#59.) After the seventh try I came up with 5/2. The Back of the Book spit in my face with a simple 7. A whole number. SEVEN. It thought is was sooooo cool.
It’s not the urns, I just checked them!
Jr. College counselors spoke only in absolutes: Cannot transfer without completing a college-level math class. You need this class. There is no way around it. I finally came up with SEVEN on my eighth attempt.
I did #58 despite it not being odd-numbered and unrequired. Counselors told me I had to take two remedial, not-credit math classes before taking a one-hundred level course.
Put the music on! I would, but I’m on bar!
I CANNOT take the assessment again. ZERO California schools will accept me without me completing the math requirements. No college in the world has ever given a waiver, or made an exception, ever.
The music is not a priority right now people!
I passed both remedial, independent-study classes in succession.
I wanna hear New Order!
Next for me was College Algebra. A real math class worth real credit. No shame. No more hiding my math textbook from cute girls in other classes.
I covered a shift at another store in San Diego. Covering shifts is pretty typical; you’re based out of one store, but you can cover shifts at a store down the street, no problem.
Fuck the music, WHERE IS AARON? WHERE IS THAT GODDAMN TIMER?
So I was in the back room of a different store, with different people, on a break, when I saw a postcard of New York City.
I’m not making another drink until I hear Temptation.
A young girl wrote that she’s doing great and that she misses everyone but that she looooves her new life and her new store.
When I returned to the floor from my break, I asked the worker if the sender of the postcard had transferred from that San Diego store to a store in New York.
I went home and printed out a dozen pages listing the contact information of sixty stores in the Boston area.
It’s that stupid 80’s compilation. Number seven.
The second store on the list was State Street, where I now work. I’ve been at this store about nine months, in Boston about a year and a half. I still have the first page of that print-out at my apartment with a hand-written note on it. Ask for Ed, it said.
The third store on that list is Devonshire, my first Boston store. Next to that listing is a handwritten quote from my eventual manager, Liz: You should totally come work at this store. Liz was from LA. Through a series of calls in the months before I moved out, we bonded over the glory of New England. She assured me it would be worth it.
Did Somebody hide a timer again?
A co-worker at this store goes to Emerson College, on the other side of the Common. She scored above 500 on the math section of the SAT in high school, so Emerson doesn’t require her to take math in college, ever. I scored above 500 on the math section.
Back in the shrink’s office, I asked him if the red flags he mentioned were my meandering speech or the actual subject matter of my meandering speech.
I have the timer. It’s been in the pocket of my apron. He said “a little bit of both.”
Where was it?
Who had it?
Turn it up!!!
Sir, what can I get you?
Oh Aaron! You’ve re-engaged! I love it!
Sir, WITH THE BLACKBERRY, What drink may I start for you?
Ohhhhhh, you’ve got green eyes, ohhhhhh you’ve got blue eyes, ohhhhhh you’ve got grey eyes-
* * * & % $ % & * * *
Ok, so that’s the end of that. I wrote it three years ago. If you have any questions or just haven’t checked the blog in a while, look at the reader guide. Thanks.