Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hell's Market: My First Job As A Metaphor For Life

When I was 16 years old, I got my first job at a local grocery store. The best thing I can say about it is that it helped me realize certain things I didn't want to do with my life. I can say that about most jobs I had through my 20s, though, so I guess the best I can say is that it could have been worse. 

Then again, this was my worst job ever. Huh. Well then.

Every experience is meaningful and imparts a certain amount of wisdom if you can appreciate it as a learning experience. It was hard to do that with this job, but if I couldn't find a deeper meaning in what I was doing, all of that miserable shit would have been for nothing. 

So here we are. 

Below are a few things I did at my first job that either have a much deeper meaning than what appeared on the surface, or they were simply awful experiences of a young teen being taken advantage of by a cutthroat business owner. It may not matter to you, but believing in the former helps me cope with the latter. 

Dumpster Jumper

[Hell's] Market is a small, family owned grocery store with a great deli section and an excellent selection of fresh fish, veggies, fruits, and salads. A cherished, adorable little neighborhood market in West Hartford. Fanfuckingtastic. 

The local landmark had one dumpster in the adjacent parking lot. It was emptied once a week. It should have been emptied at least twice. But that would cost money. So, along with whichever other minimum wage teenager was on shift with me at the time, I spent late afternoons jumping on and stomping down the week's garbage. Garbage pick up was usually Thursday mornings, so Wednesday evenings were the worst. 

Me. Every Wednesday. 5-6pm.

And this was trash from a market, so all the discarded fish and veggies and cheese and everything else was in there, for a week, piling up. 

To save our shoes and some of our dignity, we would lay large pieces of clean cardboard down on top of the pile. Standing on the edge of the dumpster like it was the top rope in a wrestling ring, we then jumped onto the cardboard and stomped the yard out of that pile of garbage until we could fit the rest of the day's garbage on top without it overflowing.

Deeper meaning: Life is full of bullshit. Just keep stomping that bullshit down. And a
lways have a designated pair of work shoes. 

Cockoach Killer

A week into my new job, I was told I would have to work every other Saturday morning, when the lowest workers on the totem pole (me...always me) had to help organize and clean the basement. A lot of that involved taking items from storage and restocking shelves. Sometimes we had to clean out the basement meat locker. Most of the time, though, I spent every other Saturday morning of the summer of my 16th year spraying Raid cans into dank corners and stomping hundreds of fleeing roaches. 

It was never this much fun. Jack Blanchard, you lied to me!

Incidentally, I came to dread Saturday mornings. Sadly, weekdays weren't much better, as the roach raids occurred on a daily basis. To be fair, the owner called in exterminators once a month to help stem the tide of roaches. But they were either incompetent or incapable of accomplishing that mission, so any time an employee was working, part of their job was to spot any roaches and remove them before customers saw. The aisles, the produce, the register; no place was safe. 

One day when I was working as cashier, a roach ran across the register, onto the counter, and down to the floor. I don't know how, but the woman purchasing her groceries didn't see it. Or she was just used to it. She might have been a regular there. 

Deeper meaning: Job descriptions are never complete. You will be asked to do some disgusting, degrading shit that will make you reconsider the entire concept of work in exchange for currency.

Meat locker/Fish shelf Cleaner

There were two meat lockers in the building; the aforementioned basement locker, where most of the meat was stored, and the upstairs cooler, where meat was brought before it was prepared to sell. Both were cold as hell, obviously. Downstairs had the bonus of cockroaches. Well, there were roaches upstairs too, but downstairs was ground zero. We cleanes out the downstairs locker once a week and the upstairs locker at the end of every day. 

I used to be a voracious red meat eater but I had never been so close to so much uncooked red meat. The bags were tightly sealed yet blood always managed to find a way out, onto the shelves and eventually the floor. The stench stayed on my clothes well after my shift ended. It was like crawling up a frozen cow's asshole. I finally understood how Han Solo felt. 

There was a wet-vac that we used to clean up the blood,. Emptying the wet-vac was proof that people are punished for things they did in previous lives. Nobody in this lifetime deserved experiencing that stench. 

Cleaning the fish shelves at the end of the day may have been worse, though. The shelves had a drain system, so once everything was removed, we took a hose and sprayed down the shelves and protective glass. Then we had to clean the trays that held the fish all day. The hose didn't work on those so that was done by hands. 

I love fish. All types, all styles of preparation. Sushi. Grilled. Fried. Shellfish. Whatever. And I've been to docks and fish markets so I've encountered pungent fish aromas. Nothing prepared me for the pungency of these shelves and trays at the end of a long summer day. There was no amount of scrubbing that got the fish odor off my fingertips. They smelled like I fingerbanged a dead mermaid.

Deeper meaning: Some things that you love can hurt you. 

Financial Abuse Victim

As this was my first job, I wasn't cognizant of the ins and outs of contract negotiations. I started working at $5, which I believed was minimum wage at the time. It may have been for a little while. But at some point, the minimum wage rose to $5.50. U
nbeknownst to me, of course. When I finally found out about 6 weeks later, I asked a few people, and miraculously the next paycheck reflected the increase.

If this was the only case of cutting corners and taking advantage of employees, I would have chalked it up as a simple oversight or accounting error. But this was intentional. The owner knew I wouldn't confront him directly. If I never mentioned it to anybody, I would have never seen the extra 50 cents an hour. And the only reason word ever got to the boss was because the whole family worked there. The wife, at least three daughters, and a few cousins and aunts all had key jobs. The older family members basically set their own schedules, too, so they would go long stretches without showing up, then return whenever cash was low. 

The owner was rich, and he stayed rich because he barely paid anyone else. Half of the employees were teenagers working for minimum wage. These kids, including myself, were the hardest workers. We truly kept the place running because we didn't want to lose our jobs, plus the owner and manager ensured we were always working diligently. The other half of employees were the owner's family members. He didn't have to pay these employees very much, on the books anyways; he would just give them a "company" Benz or a handful of undeclared cash.

Deeper meaning: You will be taken advantage of if you don't pay attention, ask questions, and assert yourself. 

All in all, I'm not bitter about the experience. I mean, I did just write a whole blog post about it, and I have never set foot in the place in the 19 years since I left, but I'm not bitter. 

Nope, it was a learning experience and I'm glad I went through it. Not bitter at all. 

I Love You All (Except For My Former Boss Who Can Lick the Bottom of My Dumpster Jumping Shoes. I'm Not Bitter)...Class Dismissed.

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