Once upon a time there was a girl whose only real desire in life was to become a grumpy librarian who yelled at kids for yelling in the quiet zone and hunched over her keyboard, typing away with gnarled, clawlike hands.
Was that too much to ask??
(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, shame on you. You can catch up with Part 1. In summary — God convinced me to work at a bulk food/grocery store.)
All too soon, the day of my interview & orientation came. I’d long since resigned myself to my sad fate. I was so resigned, in fact, that even as I clambered gracelessly from my car and surveyed the store of future doom, I felt a distinct lack of anxiety.
“Are you going to be okay?” said my mother, who was more nervous for me than I was nervous for me.
“Pfffffft, relax. The worst that could happen is I faint or something.”
With these confident words behind me, I went forward. And I felt good, man. Now that I was here, a small scrap of determination rose unbidden in my soul. I was doing this thing, and by golly, I was gonna do it well. So I glided toward the store like a queen come into her own, like a shield-maiden surveying the field of battle. Behold, my posture seemed to say, behold, I have come, and when these doors open your doom shall–
Except the doors didn’t open.
I stopped dead in my tracks and blinked. They were standard sliding glass doors, and I could see the row of busy cashiers on the other side. But they remained closed, barring me from my destination.
I took a step to the right.
They didn’t open.
I took a step to the left.
They didn’t open.
With growing frustration, I waved my hands in front of them, hoping to somehow trigger the sensor that would make them aware of my presence. Nothing happened. I jumped up and down. I did a little jig. Still, nothing. In desperation, I tried to catch a cashiers’ eye — and, at long last, one came to my rescue.
(The bratty doors had no problem opening for her, I noted bitterly.)
She gave an awkward cough. “Um, don’t you know? The entrance is over there.”
And that’s when I saw it. Not two millimeters from where I’d been standing was a neon green sign. A neon green sign that said “EXIT” in big bold letters.
And that, friends, pretty much describes how the rest of my day went.
I don’t think anyone who hasn’t seen the place can possibly comprehend the level of “huge” that is my bulk-food store. It’s owned by Mennonites (which makes for SUCH a nice clean environment), though it’s anything but a small country Mennonite shop. The place has everything. A huge produce section. A deli. A bakery. A cafe/restaurant. Salad bar. Fried chicken bar. Home goods. Gift shop. Shelves upon shelves of bulk products, like flour or beans or candy. Sheesh, they even sell flowers.
My first day on the job, Anna (who also works there, remember?) brought me in through the back door and I found myself lost in the fathomless maze of a warehouse. Forklifts. Two-story shelves. Dudes with carts and clipboards flitting back and forth like plaid-shirted wonders. It was amazing.
(But it must be mentioned: While trying to find the break-room later that day, I ended up getting lost in the warehouse. Which promptly killed the awe for me.)
Basically, the store buys bulk products in 30-100 lbs. pound bags/boxes for dirt cheap, we repackage them in smaller bags, and sell them for dirt cheap. Everyone gets a share in the dirt cheapness. Everyone wins. And one of the first things I was taught was the essential art of re-bagging.
Well this will be boring, I thought as one of the managers led me into the “bagging room,” the small haven of employee activity swimming in flour dust and destined to eternally smell like chicken. Hours and hours of nothing but beans and rice and–
My gaze landed on the stack of products needing to be packaged.
I repeat: CHOCOLATE.
For the tiniest fraction of a second, I thought maybe my job was cool after all. Until they told me I couldn’t eat any of it.
In the eloquent words of a friend…
“Here’s a scoop,” they said, shoving a metal scoopy thing at me. “There’s a stack of boxes. Here’s a list. This is the item number. There’s the label machine. Have at it, kiddo!”
My control-freak’s soul had an internal meltdown. You wouldn’t think it from… well, chocolate, and candy, but the system of operation is big. Really, really big. And confusing. So much to learn. So many little things to remember and forgot and be yelled at about.
Thus began a long day of mess-ups and miniature failures, one right after the other. I’m not the kind of person who fails often, mostly because I don’t agree to do things unless I’m 98% certain I’ll succeed at it. (Which is a failure in its own right, I suppose.) I’m not accustomed to… well, being bad at something. Really, really bad. I spilled popcorn kernels all over the place. I dropped things. I accidentally broke about four government regulations regarding commercial food sale. I knocked over my manager’s cup of tea.
(She didn’t notice, thank goodness, and I wasn’t about to tell her I was the reason her drink mysteriously disappeared.)
At the end of the day, a customer came to the bagging room door and brandished a small, unassuming bag of chocolate. “The label says these are chocolate covered cashews,” he informed us, his voice quivering like an anxious walrus. “But when I bought them and ate one, it was a chocolate covered raisin!!”
My mind instantly returned to the box of chocolate covered raisins I’d bagged earlier.
As the managers descended on the room to interrogate us and discover who had committed such a travesty, I slunk further and further into my dark corner of fear and shame, until — “OH,” said one of the managers as she studied the label on the package, “the date here says it was bagged last week.”
Last week when my employment was non-existent.
I have never been so overjoyed to be vindicated of a crime I wasn’t accused of as at that moment.
Speaking of cashews, my nut allergy makes life in the bagging room… fun. Raw nuts are often being bagged, and they have a peanut butter grinder. I’m not so allergic that being in the same room with tree-nuts will make me keel over, but long-term exposure and breathing in the dust and smell doesn’t bode well for my respiratory system. Management is aware of this, and are deathly afraid of committing nut-induced homicide, but having spent my life taking care of my own allergy, it’s strange to have so many people fussing about it.
Once, when clearing my throat, I… uh… may or may not have… over-exaggerated the noise just a bit.
Every gaze in the room shot towards me in panic.
It was fantastic.
Another cool thing I get to do at work is man the salad bar, which means I’m let loose with a set of knives and permission to exact my vengeful rage on lettuce.
“Yep,” said one of the managers, who was showing me how to arrange a fruit-bowl while unsuspectingly voicing my innermost thoughts, “I like knives. And chopping things.”
I temporarily forgot she wasn’t a writing friend and took the opportunity to make a joke about my sword. (Which probably wasn’t a great idea. Guys, take it from me: Non-writers don’t get it.) All of a sudden, she went deathly quiet. Well great, I thought, now she thinks I’m a psychopath who hoards creepy medieval murder weapons.
But just as I was becoming seriously worried, she looked up again, edged closer, and whispered a fated thing:
“You know Sting, from Middle-Earth? I own one.”
Guys, I have the coolest boss.
In fact, there’s a lot of sharp things involved in my new job. Anna, who is stationed in the deli, is in charge of cheese blades and meat saws. (Yes, this is the girl who could injure herself with nothing more than a paper-towel tube… I’m slightly concerned for her limbs.) And when one of the other girls was teaching me how to make coleslaw (the store makes its own coleslaw to sell, as opposed to selling the prepackaged variety), I was shown how to operate a massive vegetable shredder.
“You put the cabbages in this slot,” she said, and then, far too calmly for the topic of conversation, “but make sure you always turn the machine off before adding more cabbage, or it will rip your fingers off.”
Yeeeeeaaaaah, I stayed clear of it after that.
(There may or may not have been another incident involving cabbages, knives, dismembered limbs, and the cafe manager nearly having a heart attack on my behalf, but… *cough* we don’t need to talk about that.)
“Hey Sarah!” one of the girls called as she entered the bagging room later that day. “The cafe needs a runner. You’re up!”
Despite having no clue what a cafe runner was or why no one else wanted to do it, I agreed to the task. But just as I was leaving, the same girl caught me by the arm. “You’ll… you’ll have to be loud, you know,” she said, squinting dubiously at me.
However, I soon learned what a cafe runner was, and the root of her concern began to make sense. Simply put, customers order their food at the front counter, then find a table and wait. When their food is ready, one of the cafe people will bring it out to them. The only fly in this otherwise seamless ointment is there are only three people working in the cafe, and when the place gets crowded, those poor frazzled souls don’t have the time, space, or multi-tasking abilities to take the orders, make the orders, AND bring the orders.
Thus, a clueless Sarah enters the picture.
“Here’s the food,” someone said, shoving a tray at me. “There’s the receipt and order number. Go out there and call the number, and whoever it belongs to will raise their hand.”
That seemed easy enough. Gripping the tray tightly, I waltzed into the dining area, thoroughly impressed with myself for not only fulfilling my childhood goal of experiencing the life of a grocery store employee, but also a–
THERE WERE PEOPLE.
Holy cow, there were a LOT of people.
“Order 57,” I called, but my voice was instantly swallowed in the cacophony of the body-packed room. I tried again. “ORDER 57!!” I was like a fly trying to change the pattern of the wind.
I cleared my throat.
–I bellowed like an out-of-control semi-truck.
The noise dimmed. Heads swiveled. A hand shot up.
“Here’s your food,” I croaked (my throat was suddenly sore) and unceremoniously shoved the food onto their table. But before I could retreat into the depths of my people-hating soul, the customer (a very stereotypical Southern old lady) stopped me.
“Can I get another serving of fries?” she asked. “And some ranch dressing?”
I blinked. This was the kind of thing my mom would always pester the waitress about when our family went out to eat. Except this time, I was the waitress.
Later that day, I was bagging groceries for one of the cashiers when a customer and her daughter pulled into the check-out line. Most of the time, the customer’s children only stared at me, blank-faced and limp-eyed as I did all the work, and I’d have to mentally recite the Bible verse about leading little ones astray to keep myself from decking them with their mother’s cauliflower. But this kid was special. She was about seven years old, with wispy blond hair that stood straight on end and eyes that glimmered as she watched me bag.
I was loading the grocery bags into the cart when she suddenly exclaimed in a shrill, raspy voice, “You are a very bright young lady!”
I almost choked.
She squinted at me. Then, her face brightening, “You look like Rapunzel!”
Right then and there, we bonded over Disney princesses. She made it onto my list of rare children who don’t instantly annoy me. But it was only later, long after she and her mother had left, that it finally struck me: the messy hair, the shrill voice, the odd conversation starter, the precocious eyes.
I literally met Lotch.
Another customer I bagged groceries for happened to buy a tub of the coleslaw I’d helped make earlier. It was like seeing someone compliment my baby. (Albeit by wanting to eat it, so maybe that’s not a great metaphor…) By the sweat of my brow and at the risk of my fingers, I’d made this creepy cabbage concoction, and here was this person who wanted it, this person who saw my coleslaw and thought, “That looks tasty, I’m going to buy it.”
I got extraordinarily excited. Wiggling like a giddy little puppy, I pointed at it and exclaimed, “I HELPED MAKE THAT!”
The woman blinked. “…oh? G-good for… you?”
Beaming, I shoved it in a bag and took extra care of how I placed it in her cart. “Enjoy your coleslaw!” I called as she wandered confusedly away.
(I told Anna about this during the drive home, and after faceplanting into her steering wheel, she said, “Sarah, sometimes you’re cold and fearsome, but honestly, sometimes you’re like an overly-soft baby bunnies that’s all fluff and dumbness.”)
I was just about to finish bagging groceries and head back to the bulk-foods room when one of the cashiers ran up to me. “Sarah,” she said, “I can’t leave my register for long, so I need you to do something for me.”
Apparently, a customer claimed she’d left their wallet in the car, and needed to go out and get it before she could pay for her mountain of groceries. Which, hey, we all forget stuff, so that in itself wasn’t terribly implausible — HOWEVER, she took her groceries with her. The cashier didn’t realize until she was already out the door, groceries in tow and not a dollar spent.
“Keep an eye on her,” I was told. “And if she tries to leave, STOP HER.”
My whole life had been spent in preparation for that moment.
I slunk outside, keeping within the shadows and hiding myself from view. I could feel the blood of a thousand mystery stories and secret agent books flowing through my veins, giving strength to my eyes and keeping my movements clandestine. I was the future Nancy Drew, by golly. I was Natasha Romanov’s soul sister. I was–
–yep, the customer and was coming back to pay.
SO, yeah. There it is. A day in the life of an employed Sarah. There is still so much to learn, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m currently being trained as a cashier (which will yield it’s own plethora of stories), but even besides that, the system is SO huge and oftentimes, I feel like I’ll NEVER be able to learn it all. I’ve messed up, and mess up, and will continue to mess up. But strangely enough, God has given me a huge amount of peace with my failures. No one stays a newbie forever. I’ll learn, in time.
And you know what? Just the other day, one of the girls came up to me and told me a marvelous thing:
“Sarah, I just want you to know that I heard the others discussing how you’re doing, and not one of them had a bad thing to say about you.”
That’s a start, at least. And sure, it’s not the library, and I don’t see myself here long-term, but despite not wanting to be here, despite how much arm-twisting I went through before God finally convinced me, despite all of that–
The wildly bizarre thing is, I almost kinda like it.
*and Anna trumpets victoriously in the corner*
Hey humans! I had approximately 30 minutes last night to write 700 words, and five minutes to edit this morning before I put it on auto-publish and left for work. So if there are grievous editing errors… I’M SORRY, OKAY??