Clerks II (With a Donkey Show)

November 16, 2011 at 8:29 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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Well, I wasn’t ready to look for another job just yet.  I wanted to take some time off–maybe a week–and then start looking.  Besides, my cousin Greg was having a party at his house on Saturday, and I *was* going to miss it–
Until the liquor store was sold and I was out of a PTJ.  So we’re going.
I forgot how this went exactly, but I think Detroit called me because she was home.  She was home because right before Labor Day she had a dispute with her boss and was fired after the fact.  It was kind of shitty how that went down, and she is in the process of an appeal so she can at least collect unemployment.
So Detroit was home, and so was my phone, because I’m less than thrilled with the prospect of communication.  She called me at work, and told me that Bob from the liquor store had called me.
Well, that was interesting.  As part of the agreement in the sale, Bob or Marsha was going to work about two hours a day for two weeks with the new owner, showing him how things worked.  They were about two days into the new ownership running things when I got the call.
Bob said that the new owner, Henry, could probably use some help after all.  No coincidence, I imagine, that this was Friday, after the big A-B delivery.  “Why don’t you come in and talk to him?  I can’t understand him too well, but you can work something out with him.”
Okay, then.  After I left the bank, I went back to the liquor store.
Henry is the new owner.  I have no idea how short he is, but man, this fucker is small.  I would guess he is just under five feet tall.  Maybe that’s normal for a Vietnamese dude.  Bob was still there too, which helped.  After the odd introductions, Henry beckoned me to the back of the store, and we stepped outside the back door.  He was hard to understand at first–
Hell, after a month he was still hard to understand, but it did get somewhat easier.
He explained that he would like me to work for him, a few nights a week.  He asked how much I would like to work–about three or four nights, really.
I was facing the store, and Henry was facing me, with his back to the store, so I saw what Henry didn’t see:
Bob casually walked by toward the cooler, showing me a piece of paper.  He had written in large letter “8.50.”
Good thinking, Bob.  I was never much for negotiation.  They had paid me eight bucks an hour.  Not great, but considering I didn’t have to work very hard, I was down with it.
Henry said, “I go pay you nine dollar a hour, okay?  Cash.”
I nodded.  “Okay.  We can do that.”
Eight bucks an hour on a paycheck, you don’t get all of it.  Most, but not all.  It came out to about 6.75 an hour net.  So nine would have been a little more.  But nine in cash?  Unless my math is whacked out, to net 9 an hour my gross would have had to be close to 12 bucks an hour on a check, maybe more.  That ain’t bad at all for a PTJ.
I would work that very night–I was ready–have Saturday off because I already had plans, and work Sunday night.  The rest would come later.  Okay.

Well, the way it worked with Henry was not the way it worked with the Beckers.  I told myself it was because it was new to him and it was his store and he wanted to immerse himself in it, but there was never the thing where I came in and he would leave.  No, he stayed.  All the time he stayed.  God.  ALL THE TIME.
When he first hired me, he said, “I not your boss, okay?  I friend.  You, me, friend.  Okay.  You help me, okay, I help you.”
I helped him with the register, and with things on the computer.  I helped him communicate with customers, too.  Often I would be in the cooler, and he would come and get me.  “Y-an–you help dem, okay.”  That’s how he said my name.  No B, and definitely no r.  My name started with a Y.  Y-an.
The next week, I worked Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Off Sunday.  Thursday, I noticed that the cooler was not as cool as it should be.  “It okay.  Bob take care.”
Friday, the cooler was room temperature.  “Bob take care?”
“Aye-yi-yi,” Henry said.  As part of the sale, Bob was having some work done to the cooler.  I never got the straight scoop from Bob and I couldn’t understand Henry, but it sounded like while Bob’s guy was here fixing one thing, another thing broke.  The compressor up on the roof.
Well, when I was working there with the Beckers, we always did have a couple of buckets and trash cans collecting water in the cooler.  We had to move them around once in a while, depending on where it was dripping more.
When I came in on Friday, Henry said it was fix, but it no fix.  He said, “Man say it take while to cool.  It fix, though.”
It no fix.
Henry…didn’t believe me.  Here’s the thing about Henry.  He seems to be a pretty smart guy.  The language barrier is more than I would be able to get past, for one thing.  And despite that he picked up on things pretty well, and learned quickly.
But he didn’t believe that I was smart enough to know anything.  Never mind that I’ve been a restaurant manager for twenty years and have always had to deal with equipment like this, and never mind that I am actually a smart motherfucker.  I couldn’t convey my knowledge or experience to him because he was too stubborn to listen, and despite his pledge that “we friend, okay?” I was just a grunt to him.
I called Bob and explained it, in English.  “Dammit.  Okay, I’ll call my guy, and I’ll call you back.”
Bob called me back and said that the guy would be out early tomorrow.  Make sure Henry understands that he has to be there early.  Before 8am.
I did, but but later, when I tried to convince Henry that he could go home, I would take care of things, he needed to be up early, he wouldn’t budge.  He wouldn’t say why he wouldn’t go home, but he definitely wouldn’t say that he didn’t trust this gringo with his money and his store.  Whatever.
We had to tell people there was no cold beer.  Sales, of course, skyrocketed, because there is nothing people in America like better than warm beer, except maybe flat-chested strippers.
I came in Saturday night, and it was all still warm.  Fuck.  What the fuck?  Henry at least had had the foresight (or hindsight, considering the fact that it had been two days already) to clear out the bottom of the wine cooler and put some beer in there.  Plus, he had two display ice coolers filled with ice and tallboys and single sodas in the middle of the aisle.
The deal was, the compressor on the roof was indeed out.  There is no getting one on a Saturday, apparently.  It was going to be like this through Monday.
To make things better, there was no internet service.  The name and ownership was switched over, and AT&T couldn’t (or wouldn’t) switch it over until Monday.  So it was cash only and warm beer.  Add a horse and wagon and we’re back in the dark ages.
Sales were really, really slow now.  First someone would come in for some beer.  Sorry, no cold beer.  That’s okay, they’ll take a warm 30 pack and chill it.  Great.  Then they get to the counter.  Sorry, no cledit card.
I spent most of my time putting away the stuff that people left out on the counter.
In between that, I re-arranged the wine cooler where he had beer.  I took out some of the crap he had in there, because he has no idea what sells and what doesn’t, and I put in the popular stuff, stacked it neater, and got more in there.  Every time somebody took some, I waited to see if they were actually going to buy it, then I would replace it, to always have some cold and some chilling down.
After that, I went in the cooler and worked up a sweat.  It was warm in there, and stuffy and stale smelling.  But damn me and my ADD medication, I needed something to do.  I pulled all the shelves away from the cooler doors, one by one, swept, deck scrubbed, and mopped. Some of that crusty shit had been there for 20 years.
At some point, some crusty old guy came in through the back door–he had been up on the roof.  Henry wasn’t willing to believe the verdict of the guy who serviced the equipment and called someone else in.  Old Crusty looked like a pirate in Mr Greenjean’s clothes.  He started to explain what was going on to Henry, but when it was obvious there was no receiving of understanding, he turned to me and continued to rattle on.
And on and on and on.  He told me about shit for which I had no frame of reference, and even more shit that I cared not one bit about.  At the very beginning I got all I needed from the conversation:  Yes, Virginia, the compressor is out.  It’s a cast-iron sonovabitch (literally), built in 1978.  Those old compressors last a long time, but this one is shot for sure.  Back in my day–
Blah, blah, blah.
I had to pretend that I had other stuff to take care of so that he would leave.
Maybe it’s not Vietnamese people or maybe it is, and maybe this is an admirable trait.  But I had to talk to Henry’s friend Tim on the phone.  He’s Henry’s mentor in the business world, more or less.  Henry had told him there’s no internet, so no credit card.  Unacceptible.  There has to be a way around it.
He tries to explain to me his idea and he wants me to try it.  Of course, I have a degree in computer networking, and when I finally understand his ridiculous premise, I know it won’t work.  “Try it.”
“It won’t work.”  Luckily, after several minutes, I guess he believed that I was actually trying it while I was talking to him.  But no, I wasn’t.  If there is no internet connection through the modem, he wanted me to take the cord straight from the phone and hook it into the computer’s built in modem.
I doubt it had it one, and I wasn’t going to pull it out to see.  Even if it did, there is STILL NO SERVICE.  There’s nothing to dial into.  Being a dumbass about technology is universal, I guess.
Finally the night was over.  I saw something that was a sobering thing for me, that brought it home that it really was Henry’s store, and not Becker’s anymore.
Whenever I would close, I would count the till, make a deposit, and put the deposit in an envelope and put it in the safe.  Henry counted the money–slowly–while I waited.  He calculated my pay, gave me cash–
And he put the rest of the money in his pocket.  It’s his.  He’s taking it with him.

Working with Henry was different, and I didn’t know where the line was between cultural differences and him just being an odd piece of Peking Duck.
One night I was hungry, I got some food from the Chinese place.  I stood at the little side table and ate, because Henry was not going to give up his throne–the swivel office chair that sat at the desk near the counter.
He waits until after I eat, then tells me that we should no eat up front where customer see.  Eat only in back, okay?  Because there’s nothing to sit on.  I figured that for a cultural thing–everyplace has different customs for eating.  I couldn’t tell him that this is how we do it in America, even though it is.  And when the Beckers owned it, we did it all the time–because we did.  His place, his rules.
But he no want me to smoke in front, okay?  It look bad, okay?  You go out back doo and smoke.  He patted me on the back in a dismissive way.
Of course we shouldn’t smoke out front.  It’s not like this is a liquor store where people come in primarily for alcohol and cigarettes.  I seldom smoked at work anyway.  Now when I did, I would go out the van so I could sit down for a few minutes.  Because, yeah, if I went out the back door, there is no sitting down.
Eventually, Henry got to where he would trust me jus a riddle bit, and he go to store to buy some tings.  He would tell me like it was a big deal.  “I go now store.  You take care here.  You run ting, okay?  You be okay here, okay?”
Just fucking leave already.
The chance to work with the freedom of not being constantly watched was soothing to my jagged, ate-up soul.  Then he would come back.  We worked together putting the tings away, on shelf, and also entering the inventory into the computer–which I had to figure out how to do and then explain and show to him.
After I showed him, he no trust me to do no mo.
About three weeks in, he finally decides that I can close by myself.  Either that or he is drunk or tired.  He would disappear for a few hours and I would have no idea where he was, but I learned later he was spending time at the bar.  God, I hope he wasn’t singing karaoke.
I closed by myself on Thursday and Friday no problem, and then he stay all night Saturday.  Whatever, it was the night I get paid.
The following week I closed by myself on Thursday, and the money was short about 40 bucks.  He didn’t come right out and accuse me, but he did say that I no have to do that.  If I need hep, he hep me, no ploblem.  He hep lif me up.  Jus ask, okay?  Don’t take.
I didn’t take your fucking money, dude.  But I figured that would be the end of me closing by  myself.
Because here’s the thing:  We never did a drawer change-out.  We operated from one drawer all day.  I never knew what he did all day, but it was perfectly legitimate for him to accuse me of stealing from him.
But that night I did close.  Because he disappeared again, for several hours.  About 1030 I get a call from Henry.  He say I close for him, okay?  I take care tings.  Awright?
That night the money was within a quarter.
Saturday night he’s feeling better about it and so am I.  The money had never been off like that with Becker’s (without a reason).  Saturday night he leaves about 9pm.
He calls right before midnight, wanting to know what the sales were.  I tell him.  Okay, tank you, okay?
Fifteen minutes later I have counted the money three times.  I’m 286 fucking dollars short.  I call Henry.
No one wants to be screamed at my a Vietnamese dude with a less that adequate command of the English language.  Some of the phrases I picked up from the conversation were:
“Y-an, you kirring me.”
“No!  Where my mon-AYE!”
I had a reasonable guess as to what happened.  He said, “You stay.  You wait fo me.  I come up dere, I come now.”
“Henry, I’m going home.”
“No!  My MOn-AY!  You wait.”
“Henry, it’s late, I’m tired, I’m going home.”
“Why you leave!  You wait for me dere!”
Yeah.  It’s after midnight.  It’ll take him over half an hour to get there.  And then we’ll spend a few hours of neither one of us being sharp, with him accusing me and me not being able to back up my defense.
“No, Henry.  You can come up here if you want.  I’m going home.  I am tired.  I will come up here tomorrow morning and we will work it out.”
“Oh, you kirring me, Y-an.”
“Good night, Henry.”

I came up Sunday, but not in the morning.  We open at 11, I got there about 1230.  Why am I in a hurry?  Is my insolence showing?
Henry did his due diligence, and had dug all of the register receipts out of the trash and sorted them.  And one pile he made was everything with a lottery payout.
Bingo!  It’s exactly what I thought.  Being born and raised in this country I could easily see what was perhaps a little to subtle for his suspicious eyes to see:  When you do a cash payout properly, the number has parentheses around it, to indicate a negative number–a payout.
He said, “No, see, it say payout right here.  It payout!”
“It only says payout because it is programmed to say payout.  YOU–” I pointed at him  “Still have to make it a negative number.”
The receipts that had a payout that did not have a negative number added up to 285 dollars.  Now, if you were good at math, you would know that that is twice the amount we need, and the money is still probably off for some other reason.  But it was enough to clear my name, if I could get him to listen.
I had a bright idea.  “Where you go?”
I went next door and got the young Vietnamese dude that ran the nail salon.  He spoke better English.  “Hey, can you help me out here a minute?”
“What’s up?”
“You do your own accounting, right?  You get numbers?”  He nodded.  “You see here–”
I explained it briefly, and he got it.  “Can you explain it to Henry for me?  He doesn’t get.  He just made a mistake, but he’s blaming me for cash missing.”
He talks to Henry in their native tongue for several minutes, looking at papers and receipts and things like that.  In the end, I think Henry was willing to concede that I didn’t steal from him, but he was sore about the missing money because to him the money should be there, even though it never existed except as an accounting error.
He never did apologize.

It was another week before I would close without being babysat again, and only once.  Even though we worked things out, there was a strain, and he was different after this.  He did buy be some Chinese food; perhaps that was his way of apologizing.  We sat in the back of the store, which is a very small room, and managed to not look at each other while we ate.
After two weeks of this crap, I was getting a little tired of it.  I made the mistake of showing him how the video camera system worked, so he could rewind and see what happened when he wasn’t there.
Well, when he’s not there, after everything is done, I sit the fuck down.  I don’t have to run around looking for things to do constantly.  It’s a tiny hole in the wall fucking liquor store, not a nuclear submarine.  Henry see that we no work all time.  I found out he had a girl that worked with him during the day, when I showed him the camera set up.  When it was slow, she would sit down as well.
So what is the point of this?  He has us working even when it is slow and he stays and watches us to make sure we work all the time.  It soon becomes obvious that is what he is doing, especially when he sits in the chair and closes his eyes because he is tired, because he is there all the time, but he won’t leave because he thinks we might not work our asses off if he isn’t there.  And that part is true, but my feeling is that we don’t have to work our asses off, we just have to work.  Am I wrong?
Am I wrong?
Well, maybe I am.  On a very slow Thursday, it was obvious he wasn’t going to leave.  If he isn’t, I am.  But I asked him, when he was sitting down in the back on some boxes, obviously trying to get some rest.  “Henry, it’s pretty slow tonight.  You don’t have to stay.  You can go home.”
“Are you fire me?  You send me home?  You boss now?”  He think he funny.
“There’s no reason to be here when it’s slow.”
He was paranoid and suspicious in his response.  “Why do you want me to leave?”
“Fuck it.”  I turned and walked back to the front of the store.  It is his store and he is the boss and the owner.  But he is also a suspicious little turd.  I’m not going to keep working like this.  I had already decided that I was not going to come in the next night.  Friday, a busy night and we also get our delivery.  Let him deal with it.  Let him call me.  I was already struggling with the whole thing–dammit, I need this job, but a shitty little job like this shouldn’t be so stressful.
Later, Henry put up some little signs around the cash register, because passive aggressive communication is standard in retail.
One said, “Hello, customer.  how ma I help yuo?”  That’s his spelling.  Below the monitor it said, “Thank you, customer sir.”
Along the edge of the counter on our side were three or four little ones.  “No facebook.”  “No texting.”  “Always be work.”  “Pay attention.”
Henry showed them to me.  I said, “what the hell is this?”
He said, “Not jus you, the girl in daytime too.”  He doesn’t really understand the internet, but he knows there is something called Facebook that all the cool kids are doing.
“This is stupid.”
I’ve argued with him before about other things, so this was no different.  Whatever.  I went out to have a smoke, but I didn’t have a car here, so I went out front.  But I didn’t sit in front of the liquor store, I went down by the bar and sat in front of the Subway, which was closed for the night.  I think he saw it as an outright violation, if not at least a spiritual one.  But he didn’t say anything about it.  Still, I need to leave.  I really need to leave.  I didn’t have my phone, so I picked up the store phone to call Detroit.  If she can get here early, I’m out.
No answer.  I tried several times.  Fuck.
Sarah, the girl that used to work there, came in about 11 and got some wine, and we chatted in American.  I explained my problem with Henry.  She totally got it, especially about someone being around all the time.  To what purpose?  In fact, shortly after I took the job with him, we had talked.  Of course Bob had offered her the job first–they had known her longer.  She declined, seeing that it would be a fucked up work day in the rice patties for her.  So they called an offered it to me.  Yay, me.
I finished cleaning everything up.  I took the rugs out, swept and mopped, took out the trash, put the rugs back in, cleaned the glass.  That’s it, that’s all there is to do.  Then I just stand there, behind the counter.  Just stand.
Around 1130, I called Detroit again.  “I hope you are on your way.”  She was.  “I tried to call you earlier, to come right after class.”
She said she got out early, like 9, instead of ten.
“That would have been fine, too.  I’ll explain when you get here.”
About a quarter till, Henry says to me, “Y-an, you give me you key, okay?  Doo key.”  He motioned with his finger.  I guess I’m not closing any more.  Fine.  Bitch.  I gave it back to him.
He starts doing the money, and I’m just waiting for Detroit to arrive.  When she pulls up, he sees it.  He pulls some money out of his pocket and hands it to me.
He usually pays me at the end of the week.  Saturday.  Well, this must be the end of the week for me.  I displayed no emotion.  He didn’t say anything, and I didn’t either.  I just walked out.


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