November 16, 2011 at 8:00 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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I used to be so good at writing in my journal and keeping up with it.  However, I looked back at the last several months’ worth of folders and they are empty.  Have I given up on writing?
Actually, no.  I’ve been writing more.  I’ve been writing with focus and with a purpose.  Just not journal-type things.  But that doesn’t mean that nothing as happened to me.  Actually, quite the contrary.
It looks like the last current thing I wrote was in April.  After that I wrote about some memories from Domino’s Pizza, and then I started writing some fiction.  I found a writer’s group online, and they have a weekly flash fiction challenge, which I have been getting into.
And I’ve also been getting a response to, as well.  A lot of readers, and a few fans.  I told them all that it tickles me pink to have actual published writers read my shit and like it, or at least say kind words about it.
Little do they realize, of course, is that the last thing anyone should do is encourage me.

In April, if you recall–and I do, just barely–I had quit Pizza Hut.  I had been there almost 10 months.  About February of this year, gas prices started going up and up and up.  I swear to God it was too expensive to drive to work, and then drive the van on the job delivering as well.
The system is rigged–we know that.  But I did the math and realized I would be out a grand total of 30 bucks if I didn’t go to work and have to put that money in the tank for all that driving.
So I quit.
I was out of work, and looking for a new PT job.  It seems a good PTJ has been my life’s pursuit as an adult.  If I could only get paid for doing some creative work, like writing or drawing a comic strip, or streaking with political statements painted on my ass.
Speaking of slogans painted on my ass, I finally did find a PTJ on Craigslist.  A little mom and pop liquor store needed some help.  It was in St Charles, near where the Pizza Hut was.  Like a pair of bruised testicles, I delicately weighed my options.  It was still far, but at least I wasn’t driving once I was there.  Plus, I had to concede, when I worked during the week I was already most of the way there at my day job.
I met the owners, Bob and Marsha, and they liked me.  It seemed like a really good fit.  Marsha was especially impressed with a few lines in my reply letter (because I’m an impressive bullshitter), like the fact that I was looking for a long-term part time job.
And that’s the truth.  I’m going to need to work two jobs for the foreseeable future, unless I win the lottery or civilization is destroyed.  You can take your pick as to which one is more likely at this point.
It’s a small store right off the highway in a little strip mall.  I worked with Marsha my first few nights.  She said it is two thousand square feet, to which I say bullshit.  I would put it at one thousand, straight up.
Marsha and Bob are an older couple–or at least older than me.  They seem to be a pretty spry 60-year-old husband and wife team.  They’ve owned it for about ten years.
The last time I did retail was about twenty-five years ago.  Other than the technology–touch screens and bar codes–things haven’t changed much.  They were happy and so was Sarah (the other employee) that I liked taking care of the cooler.  We would get our big delivery on Friday, and I would work Friday night, so I would put the stuff away that the driver just stacked in the middle of the cooler floor.
I learned all the things that are important in retail.  Let’s see…what did I learn?
Stock the shelves.
Front the shelves–meaning, pull shit up to the front so it looks even.
Yeah, that’s about it.  When I look at places that are hiring that want retail experience, I think about how much they can kiss my ass because it’s not that much to deal with.
In addition to those few things, I also learned the specifics about a liquor store and the more specific things about *their* liquor store.
It was a small, mom and pop shop, and it acted like it, too.  Lots of regulars came through the door.  I learned what they wanted, chatted them up, and tried to get them out the door quickly, if that’s what they wanted.
I also needed to learn about the wine, and the beer, and the hard liquor.  Their philosophy, which makes sense, is that you can go anywhere for liquor.  But getting help–suggestions, knowledge, recommendations–is a rarity.  We offered personal service.  If anyone spends too long in the wine aisle, we go over and talk to them, try to find what they want and help them.
If somebody wants something and we don’t have it, we write it down.  Bob and Marsha would look into ordering it.  Anything special somebody wanted, we would order, no problem.  Not just wine, but also other spirits, and beer.
For a small shop, we had a big selection of wines, and a wider selection of beers than I would have imagined.  People are into the craft beers–
And I have no idea what “craft” means technically, but we used the term generically to mean any beer that isn’t one of the big brewery labels.  Spoiler alert:  Some of the popular “craft” brews are actually made by A-B or Miller-Coors, like Shock Top and Blue Moon.
I wasn’t able to try all the beers–because who has that kind of time?–but I did manage to try a few.  People are into the ales and the IPAs (India Pale Ales), which are too “hoppy” for me.  Hoppy is a pleasant euphemism for “bitter as hell.”
I prefer a lager, or a Boch.  But I listened to what people liked, what they said, processed it all, and could make some recommendations.  And I learned something about being in sales:
If you say it with confidence, people believe you.
I haven’t touched a drop of wine in years, and the last time I did, I didn’t like it.  Maybe I do have an unsophisticated pallet; if so, you can tell me what wine goes best with deez nutz.
But I can tell people to try a wine, and they will.  “Oh, yes, I’ve had that one.  I do like it; however, this cab is more full-bodied.”  “I would thoroughly recommend any of the wines from South America.  This Australian Shiraz is really good, too.”  “I usually have some of that Moscato chilled–I like a Riesling more, Germany makes an excellent sweet wine.”
Say it with confidence, say it like you mean it.  Be helpful.  Just like evangelicals that proselytize their religion, most people just want someone to agree with their decision.  And for the people that are into it, wine is a religion.  It has its fanatics.
With us in the plaza is, from stage right, a tanning salon, a dry cleaner, a Chinese restaurant, us, a Vietnamese nail salon, a Subway, and a bar.  Having the bar there is pretty cool.  For one thing, we are never the last one to close in strip, so I don’t walk out of there in the dark.
For another, there is a never-ending flow of people, and a lot of hot chicks.  The tanning place is too far down for me to see, but I know a few cute girls go in and out.  The Chinese food place has one hot girl and a bunch of overly-protective family members.  The nail salon has some pretty girls that I hardly get to see–they are kept out of sight like a rare commodity.
But summer-time and the bar go together like alcohol and adultery.  Chicks in shorts go in, and eventually they stumble out, come into the liquor store for some smokes, and go home with strangers.
They had planned to train me for three weeks.  I would come in about a quarter to six, do the shift change, and the day person would leave and me and the other night person would stay.  But seriously, the place is small, and there is not much to do for one person.  For two people, it is sheer boredom and overkill.  Maybe I was good, but I’m sure they were looking for an excuse to let me go it alone.  After a week and a half–which was five shifts–Marsha said I was ready.
And I guess I was.  The register–no problem.  Lottery?  A little bit of practice was all it took.  Plus, we had a couple of regular players that were patient and took the time to help, and that was more valuable than the normal training, as they talked me through their special ways of running tickets.
I learned how to do kegs.  All it took was a couple of people ordering them.  At the end of the night, run the slip and count the money.  My first night closing with Marsha, she showed me what to do.  The next night I closed with her, I did it and she talked me through it.
“Wow.  I’ve never seen anyone do it that fast.”
She was standing behind me, looking over my shoulder.  I said, “I’m a little out of practice.  I get faster.”
During the week we closed at 11pm.  I was getting us out of there about ten after.
And the last part of the night I sweep and mop, take the rugs outside, clean the glass on the cooler doors, and take out the trash.  Nothing to it.  Once in a while there was something special, like dust off the wine bottles, or sweep in front of the store.  I wasn’t paid a whole lot but it wasn’t hard, either.  Sundays were slow.
“How slow?”
“Bring a book,” Marsha said.
I worked more with Marsha than with Bob.  Bob was your typical gruff old man, and not quite sure how to take me.  But he liked me because I did good work, and word got back to him and Marsha from the customers that I was a good joe.  People liked me.
And why not?  I am one likeable asshole.  Sarah was nice too.  I would place her in her mid-twenties.  She was not beautiful, but she was cute, and very sweet and helpful.  Of course, after I was done training, I saw whomever I was relieving for no more than half an hour while we did the shift change and made some chitchat, and got an update on anything new or different.
We have an apartment complex behind us, and that is a large part of the clientele as well.  I remember delivering to that place from various delivery places I worked at.  Lots of regulars from there.  Lots of regulars–
Jason, Marsha’s son, lives there with his girlfriend.  He is out of work.  Why didn’t they hire him?  Well, he had worked for them, for a couple of years.  He was a young, good-looking jock-type.  Oddly, we hit it off.  The first few times he came in he was drunk, and he gave me an extensive tour of the craft beers and the wines.
I remembered when I worked at Papa John’s in the nineties, we had a large international crew.  One driver was a tall young Chinese dude.  He mentioned that his parents owned a restaurant.  I asked him, “Why don’t you work there?”
He scoffed.  “I tried, man.  I can’t work with my parents.”
So I can see how it might have been for Jason.
There was Don, a man of about 70.  Actually, I bet he was younger than that, but alcohol abused has aged him.  He might be only 60.  I’ve heard that he is super-smart, and he seems to be, when he’s not lit.  He is a slight, skinny fellow with a snow white beard.
I never caught the name of most of the other regulars.  I would see a few people from the bar–people that worked there, I mean.  They had a few cute servers that would come over for smokes, or for some airline bottles of vodka to drink on the job.  Marty owned the bar, and he is a piece of work.  Just really a spastic piece of work.
At least once or twice a week, someone from the bar would come over and buy something like an 18-pack of Miller Lite bottles or a fifth of Jack, ask for a receipt–
And ask to go out the back door.  I don’t know all the rules and laws about alcohol, but I guess the ATF frowns on liquor establishments buying liquor from places other than their approved vendors.  I’m sure this is a big deal.  To me it’s arbitrary and bullshit, and I’m sure the law was enacted more for the protection of the big breweries and their salespeople than whatever reason they claim it was enacted for.
But whatever.  I oblige.
July and August I worked there, it was fun and easy, and no problem.  I had asked for one day of the Labor Day weekend off–and I didn’t care which one, I just didn’t want to work all three.  They obliged.  My first day back was Wednesday.  I was relieving Marsha, and she had some news.  I didn’t notice the sign taped to the door.
“I wanted to tell you before you might hear it from someone else.  We have a buyer, we’re selling the store.”
“This deal has been off and on for about nine months.  It sounds like it might go through this time.”
“Bob and I are ready to retire.”
I need to be positive.  “Well, that sounds great.  I hope it works out for you then.”  I could sense some guilt in her, like she felt bad for me, which is sweet.  But this is her deal anyway, and I couldn’t stop it.  They had been nice to me, so I didn’t want to add to their burden.
“We don’t know yet if the buyer is going to want to keep one or both of you on yet.”
“Well, that’s the way it goes, I suppose.  When will we know anything?”
She explained what she knew, which wasn’t much.  The buyer was a Vietnamese guy, he didn’t speak much English.  He had a friend, another Vietnamese guy, helping him.  He was only slightly easier to understand.  The deal would happen sometime this month.
I thought I was going to have until the end of the month. but it turned out that September 11th was my last day.  The deal would be done on that Wednesday.  I thought I was going to work that Wednesday night, but the deal would be done during the day on Wednesday, so that Sunday, close to closing time, Marhsa and Bob came in.  This was my last day.
We chatted, I cleaned, I closed.  Marsha counted the money, while Bob took me over to the bar and bought me a couple of beers.  They had my check ready, my last check.  With an extra fifty bucks in it, that was nice.
Marsha joined us in the bar and we all talked about random stuff and interacted with the regulars.  But Sunday night at the bar is Karaoke night.  Marty, the bar owner, gets up there to sing first.  He does that a lot–we can hear it from the liquor store.
Marty’s soul-filled and tone-deficient performance was the impetus to leave.  I shook hands with Bob, gave Marsha a hug, and we wished each other luck.
I was out.

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