Saturday, January 28, 2006

Lite Grog, Heavy Fog, and the Great Strike of '78

Amends. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Make a list of all the people you've harmed. Make direct amends.

I wake up cold and hungry. Shivering. I'm sitting behind the wheel of my '73 Pinto wagon. I look at my watch. It's five AM.

Where am I? I look around. The street is unfamiliar to me. I glance down at the passenger seat. There's a bag from Jack in the Box. I look inside. Jumbo Jack. Large taco. Onion rings. All uneaten. Untouched. And cold. So cold.

How did I get here? I turn the ignition. Nothing. Out of gas. That would explain part of my predicament. But only part.

It's November of 1978 and I'm a clerk. Retail clerk. Union local 1442. Santa Monica, Malibu, Venice Beach. I work in the Malibu Market Basket. A week ago, a new little gimmick hit the market. It's called "Miller Light." They say you can drink more and not get filled up. Sounds good to me. Me and my buddies pick up a couple cases. I polish off twelve or thirteen between 5:00PM and 2:00AM. Maybe sixteen. I don't remember. Tastes great? Not really. Less filling? Yeah, I suppose so, since 12 didn't fill me up.

But most importantly, just as tanked. And just as hung over.

Somehow I get to work at 9:00AM. I'm working back in the dairy cooler, and that's okay by me. The cold feels good.

But it gets busy up front, and I'm called to the checkstand. That's not what I want to hear. Not today. Not now. Not in my condition.

I stagger up, unhook the chain and give the lady one of my looks. You know, the disgusted kind. What are you doing here? Can't you see I've got work to do?

That was back in the days before scanners and all the high-tech digital stuff. They call us "semi-skilled labor." Yeah, right. You ever try memorizing the names and prices of 150 different kinds of produce? Nothing "semi" about that.

So I start ringing up the lady, and here comes the produce. Things I recognize. Green pippin apples? No problem. Naval oranges? Bueno. Russet potatoes? Swish.


I said celery.

I know, I'm thinking.

I'm holding a stalk of celery in my hand, right in front of my face, waiting for the penny to drop. Yeah, it's celery. But I can't think of the freaking name.

Tastes great. Less filling. Sounds like a win-win, doesn't it? Except they don't tell you what sixteen of 'em do to your memory after a night out with the boys and three hours of so-called sleep. No, they don't tell you that. You have to figure that one out on your own.

A lot of times you see stuff you don't know the name of. Kohlrabi cabbage. Belgian endive. Haas vs. Fuerte avocados. There are some things a straight guy's not supposed to know. But that's okay. I just ask Gladys in the checkstand next to me.

But not this time. I don't know the name. But I know that I should know. And that makes all the difference. The part of the brain that recognizes objects is not communicating with the part that knows their names. I'm in some kind of timewarp. I'm so hung over that I can't think of the name of celery.

How do I get out of this? I can't exactly hold up a bunch of celery to Gladys and ask, "Duh, what's this? Never seen this before."

So I fake it. Yeah, I just make up a price. 49 cents. Whatever. I slide it down and move on, hoping the lady doesn't notice.

She doesn't.

It's all forgotten.

Except by me. I remember. I don't want to remember it, but it remembers me.

Yeah, I remember the retail clerks strike of 1979 too. Lasted only nine days. But a lot of things can happen in nine days. A whole lot of things. Things maybe you're not so proud of. Things you'd rather forget.

As the day of the strike approaches--August 17--I get one of my brain waves. Yeah, they happen sometimes, even back then. Was it Petey? Knowing what I do now, it probably was. But that's another story.

When the store manager orders a shipment of groceries for the next week, he slides a little wand over the UPC code on the shelf under the item. You've seen 'em. Everybody has. One swipe = one case from the warehouse. Two swipes, two cases.

A hundred swipes, a hundred cases.

And that's what gives me the idea. Our biggest selling item is Best Foods Mayonnaise. It's what we in the Grocery biz call a "loss leader." Get folks in the door for the 89 cent mayonnaise and stick it to 'em with huge markups on aspirin and tooth paste. Hey, it's capitalism. It's legal.

I've only been in the biz for two years, but there's already one thing I know: we haven't sold a case of beet aspic the whole time. Fact, I don't think we sold a single can of the stuff. Whatever it is.

So I take my box cutter, and ever so carefully, surgically remove the UPC code from the beet aspic and switch it with the Best Foods. Cold-blooded? Sure. Brutal? Maybe. That's the idea. Bring management to its knees and get that cost-of-living raise that I've already spent, oh by the way.

The strike goes down. The manager, Howard--he's a nonunion guy, so he's trying to keep things together in the store--does his usual order from the warehouse.

And what happens?

This is what, 2006?

It's 27 years later, and there are still 78 cases of beet aspic sitting in the back of that store.

But those are just numbers, and right now I'm just thinking of one number: number nine. I've got to make amends. I've got to buy all that beet aspic. All of it.

Not tomorrow.



To be continued.... if Oprah shows the slightest bit of interest....

ADDENDUM--what did Joyce say?

Ah, he's very thoughtful when he's not absintheminded, now that I come to drink of it.


Tamquam Leo Rugiens said...

Never heard of beet aspic, and having now heard of it I'm putting it out of my mind before my imagination gets to work on it.

But I am noticing another switcheroo going on here. I a delighted that you put up "recommended reading" lists on the right hand margin. Only they don't stay there. Me, I'm saving up a list for when I get my next commission check. But the list keeps getting blown out every time you remove something to make room for something new. Can we have an evergrowing list please, even if in simplified form? Petey Please?

Gagdad Bob said...

I still don't know what beet aspic is.

I'm looking up aspic right now in the dictionary.

It's "a savory jelly (as of fish or meat stock) used cold to garnish meat or fish or to make a mold of meat, fish, or vegetables."

No wonder no one bought it.

As for the books recommendations, I try to put up things that relate to the post of the day. I'll just leave them in the rotation longer and add things to the top.

Anonymous said...

That story brought back memories of my ex-wife that used to work grocery.
Beet Aspic, I have no idea, but I bet she does. Think I'm going to ask her? Nope.

gumshoe said...

Petey doesn't know
King Crimson's
"Larks Tounges in Aspic"??!!

surely you jest,Sir!

Gagdad Bob said...

Damn, you're right! But to be honest with you I didn't discover King Crimson until last year, when I took a chance on purchasing the 21st Century Guide. I had just assumed they were a pompous and bloated prog-rock band, like Kansas or ELP. So now I know all about Lark Tongue in Aspic. But I didn't in 1979.

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Ha Ha...the next thing we will find out is that Petey is a talented Throat Singer

gumshoe said...

Bill Bruford?
John Wetton?
Tony Levin?


but bloated?

i don't think so.


since i'm onna music kick,
and already hijacking...

go here and enjoy this clip.

it's awesome.

- Miles Davis & John Coltrane

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Yeah lets all share a clip or a video of something new maybe we have never seen before!

*off to listen to Miles*

Anonymous said...

Aspic. Vegetable flavored gelatin. A cruel joke on unwitting children. A couple of years ago my sister-in-law (the one who still has the Kerry Edwards campaign poster in her window) brought some to Thanksgiving.

"What's that stuff?" asked my very sharp 11 year old niece.
"Tomato aspic." I answered.
"Tomato what?"
"Aspic. Two syllables. As..."

At this point my niece cracked up so bad she almost wet herself.
She didn't eat it either.


gumshoe said...

good one,jwm.

Anonymous said...

I felt a small shiver as I read this.

It could have been me...except I'm thinking in the back of my mind...I held it together better...Hadn't been arrested in over 10 years, no DUI/DWIs, never fired from a job, always paid the bills on time. No regrets. Yet I was far from happy or serene and clueless about the difference between religion and spirituality. That was 1989.

Your story gave me pause to look back 17 years and where I've come from.

Thank you for sharing a piece of your story.

Anonymous said...

i can see that being a "professional" you have no clue how the real business world works and think that no inventory inspection has been made in the back of the store (or no expired merchandise tossed) in 26 years.

..or maybe you are the next frey - type memoirist bucking fo his ten minutes of fame based on his reports of the "essential truths" of what happened in his life.

hey truth, memory, fiction
in the blogosphere it's all the same

Gagdad Bob said...

Anonymous, you are sharp! Where were you when Oprah needed you?

Anonymous said...

no "little white lies" on insurance claims for patients in all your years of practice ?

sainthood awaits you

Gagdad Bob said...

Don't worry, we'll get to the insurance fraud. We still have to wade through my short and tumultuous marriage to the "fun girls" in Mount Raleigh, the 17 year old daughter I "adopted," the misunderstanding over the "herbal jazz cigarettes," the time I worked as a roustabout for the Bush family and ended up being W's designated driver.....

Theme Song

Theme Song