The Trials and Travails of an Essential Worker // stories from work

Note: This post is a random conglomeration of stories from work. If you haven’t read the previous post about my job, I suggest doing some quick cramming, ’cause I ain’t going to explain it again. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, too bad for you. Here’s the link.

Another Note: I tried really hard to keep Covid-19 out of my last post, but couldn’t prevent its sinister presence from slipping into this one. I apologize. In my defense… being a Critical Infrastructure Worker makes it impossible to separate myself from current events.

Yet Another Note: “Critical Infrastructure Worker” sounds way cooler than it actually is.

The day pandemonium broke out was just a normal March day for the Cult of Mennonite Costco.

I was on register when the first customer came through wearing a mask, and I, having zero grasp of current events, thought she was trying to imitate South Korean fashion. (Why I knew more about South Korean fashion than the virus is beyond me, but here we are.) Then I noticed the man behind her, also wearing a mask. And the family behind him. All decked out in masks. (These ones had little flowers and birds on them, so I wondered if maybe it was an environmentalist trend meant to reduce the carbon footprint or something.)

Caught in the midst of my pondering, I was completely unprepared for the jaws of the earth to open and vomited up more panicked humans than I ever want to see again.

People were stressed. People were mean. People bought $300 worth of rice. And pasta. And doritos. (Those are the true essential item, right there.) Some fellow asked if we had more bread in the back because the store shelf was completely empty. (EMPTY??? my panicked internal voice shrieked.) A lady asked me why I wasn’t wearing a mask and I was like, “…because I don’t live in South Korea…?”

(That answer clearly wasn’t the right one.)

And then there was the customer who appeared like a self-righteous beacon of hygienic purity, declaring in his most nasally, passive aggressive voice, “Um, are you aware your dispensers are out of hand-sanitizer?!”

I explained that since customers were suddenly using a gallon per hand, we’d run out of the stuff in 42 minutes flat and wouldn’t get another shipment in until tomorrow. To which the customer said, AND I QUOTE—

Um, that’s no excuse!”

화– GIF

Pardon me, sir? Did I not make myself clear, SIR?? SHALL I REPEAT MYSELF, SIR???

WE. RAN. OUT. OF. HAND. SANITIZER.

There is no extra little stash hidden away in our warehouse that we’re keeping to ourselves because we’re stingy and want you to die. We cannot push a button and make more magically appear. I do not have the recipe for a chemical combination that sanitizes your flesh. YES, you can speak to my manager about this, but NO, he doesn’t have the recipe either. NO, I cannot “just bring you some from the back,” because as I previously mentioned (though you obviously weren’t listening) THERE IS NONE IN THE BACK.

*froths at the mouth*

(On the plus side, that evening I saw a sign in town exalting retail workers as heroes, and I truly deserve to be exalted for not strangling that man where he stood.)

I went to bed that night socially exhausted, mentally drained and bone-tired, desperately praying for the next day to be slow.

The next day was even worse.

An hour before the store opened, a line of 100+ people had formed outside the door. Some cupped their hands around the glass and stared in like forsaken waifs, as if their pathetic faces and puppy eyes would somehow convince us to open early.

(We didn’t.)

Anna and I swore up and down we would NEVER be taken in by this craze, renouncing the very idea and promising not to buy toilet paper for a month – two months even, as long as it took for the insanity to die down. This was shortly followed by text from mom, who had no idea any of this was going on but was letting us know we’d just run out of toilet paper at home and asking if maybe we could pick some up before we left work that night.

Anna flat out refused.

Then, having dismissed the idea for herself, passed the task on to me. And having looked out the front doors at the line of people – now stretching to the end of the parking lot – I realized I would have to get the stuff now, before opening, or there would be none left by the end of the day.

So off I went. Through the valley of the shadow of coworkers’ mockery. Past the front doors and the rabid humans staring at me with beady, vulture eyes. I grabbed a pack of toilet paper off the shelf. Glanced at the clock. Still fifteen minutes until opening, so I should have plenty of time to—

The front doors slid open and let loose a torrent of people.

It took me a good thirty-seconds to realize what just happened, and another few seconds of stupid blinking to register the mob bearing down on me, the spirit of pitchforks and burning torches alive in their eyes. And there I stood in the middle of the aisle. Toilet paper clutched to my chest.

I fled.

a

I hid the stuff in the break room. That evening, after paying for it, I shoved it under my jacket and smuggled it out through a back door in the warehouse. To the unsuspecting eye, I looked like I was hiding villainous contraband – several pounds of drugs, or dynamite, or whatnot.

In actuality, I was just embarrassed to look like another panic-stricken survivalist overwhelmed by herd-mentality.

(If you are a panic-stricken survivalist overwhelmed by herd-mentality – I will not judge you. This is a safe-space. I have experienced a day in your shoes, and I do not wish to be you ever again.)

Shortly thereafter, the store put in place a policy requiring us to wear facemasks. As a whole I found it uncomfortable and obnoxious, but there were a few benefits to having my face covered. For instance, here I am, looking like a model of respect and customer-service:

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Meanwhile, my actual face:

DA8F8C4D-54A1-4DCE-9B87-7CD0E484B15E

Customers were happily oblivious.

At the end of the day, as my coworkers and I ripped off our masks – amidst much grumbling and complaining, I might add – I, feeling clever, rose to my full (unimpressive) height and said in my most resounding (also unimpressive) voice—

End Classes GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

No one got it.

Another time when I was running register, I felt a sinister tickling in my throat. Oh no, I thought, scrabbling for my water bottle, only to remember I’d forgotten it at home. The need to cough grew. Not a light, dainty, kittenish cough – this was the violent thing, the “I’m hacking up an organ” thing, the doubled over, lung shredding, “I don’t have coronavirus but this doesn’t look reassuring” kind of thing.

And I was checking out a little old lady bedecked in Facemask of Righteousness and Gloves of Holy Purity.

Yeah, no, I couldn’t cough up an organ while at register. So I held it in, which worked for approximately 3.47 minutes until it made things worse. My face got red. Tears welled in my eyes. I could barely breathe.

My bagger gave me the look of one who is observing a murder. “Are youuu… okay?” she asked.

I was clearly not okay. “Watch my register,” I wheezed, before stumbling away.

The question is, WHERE is a good place to cough your lungs out? There is no good place for that when you’re in a grocery store surrounded by terrified customers. My eyes landed on the door to the café. The café, closed since the start of the quarantine. The café, where no one was. I stumbled forward, just making it through the door and into the sanctity of a private space before all the organs came up.

I spent the next seven and a half minutes coughing. Drank some water. Coughed some more. Between wheezes, my face beet red and eyes running freely, I looked up—

–straight into the startled gaze of a coworker.

Who’d been there.

In the corner.

The whole time.

Bilbo and his face wiggle. Is it just me, or did he look straight ...

Just so you all know, I don’t have corona.

Shortly thereafter, Anna left work there and departed for Florida. Life slowly returned to a manageable (if somewhat speedier) pace, though adventures were no less easy to come by. In the last nine months of this job, I’ve been trained to bag flour, run a cash-register, use a pressure-washer, navigate a maze of warehouse shelves, deal with dumb customers, catch infamous check-bouncers (I saved the store from losing $500 and it was the proudest moment of my life), fall off ladders, scrub coffee stains off walls at heights no coffee stain should physically exist, and throw dead birds into boiling oil.

(In other words, I fry chicken. For the hotbar. Lots and lots of chicken. One night after I came home from a chicken-frying shift, my mom said gleefully, “You smell like dinner!!”

(…thanks, mom.)

I learned all these things with relative ease, but there was one task my over-achieving perfectionist’s brain couldn’t prepare me for. Someone had the gloriously misinformed notion that I knew how to cook, and assigned me to make food for our hot-bar alongside the fried chicken.

This was not a wise decision.

I am part of the 0.002% of our population who doesn’t know how to cook.

In only one morning, I managed to burn the rice, put too much liquid in the mac-n-cheese so it came out as soup (and promptly spilled half that soup down the front of me), forgot to cover the mashed potatoes and accordingly burnt the top, burnt the butter I was supposed to melt, burnt my fingers, somehow burnt my elbow, and most likely gave the girl who was training me a royal headache.

This happens to be a girl who went to culinary school and is a master of her trade.

To her credit, she was very patient with my kitchen stupidity.

Even when I tried pouring the entire can of greenbeans into the bowl before draining the liquid.

Taking the trash out when I’m on a chicken-frying shift is always an ordeal. The trashcan is huge, the bag too heavy for one person who is small and shrimpy to lift alone, and it’s usually leaking raw chicken juice – so if you try to lifting the bag out of the trash-can, you get covered in toxic slime.

The solution to these problems is two people lift the entire trash-can over the mouth of the dumpster and shake it until the bio-hazardous bag falls out. This method is flawless, as someone usually wanders past right when I’m eyeing the trash-can and offers me their services.

Well, one day they didn’t.

“But I can get it,” thought I, stupid independent to the last, scorning the notion of asking someone for help. “It’s not that full today.”

(It was.)

So off I went, and lo and behold, I actually managed to get the three-ton thing up over the mouth of the dumpster myself! (And only pulled one muscle in the process!) Feeling enormously powerful, I gave the trash-can a vicious shake and watched the garbage bag fall out—

And the trash-can, free of its burden, slipped through my weak grip and fell into the dumpster with it.

I blinked.

Standing on tip-toes, I peered over the side of the dumpster. It had been recently emptied, and the trash-can was at the very bottom. I took a few pathetic swipes, but my arm wasn’t long enough to reach it.

Did I do the logical thing, which was go back inside, confess my plight to someone taller and stronger than I, and ask for assistance?

NOPE.

I found a random picnic table nearby, dragged it over, stood on the top, and leaned into the dumpster. Scrabbling like an angry gecko (and almost falling in), I managed to grab the trash-can. “Victory is mine!” thought I, pulling it back over the side with a spray of foul liquid. (And a few scraped elbows.)

Safely back on the ground, trash-can in hand and the triumph of the conquest swelling in my chest, I prayed a fervent word of gratitude that no had been around to witness the spectacle.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

That evening, I was looking through my mom’s phone to find some pictures Anna had texted, but instead found—

My dear mother – who picked me up that day – not only parked where she could see the entire debacle, but photographed it like the sinister matriarchal paparazzi that she is. And then texted it. To everyone.

My mom is spectacular.

One evening as we prepared to close the store, I asked one of the girls what else needed to be done before I could clock-out for the day.  She looked around, noting the few straggling customers who remained (even though we’d been officially closed for fifteen minutes) and said wearily, “Well, you can kick people out.”

You laugh, and so did I (heartily, I might add), until I looked at her face again and—

Oh

She’s dead serious.

And that’s how I ended up wandering around the store, walking up to complete strangers and saying in my most pleasant, chirpy, sickeningly-sweet passive-aggressive voice, “Excuse me! Can I help you with anything?? Because we’re actually closed right now!! So you need to wrap up your shopping for the day!!!”

Watching the mad panic spark in their eyes was worth every ounce of my introverted qualms.

I felt powerful.

One day when I was running register, a coworker came to bag for me. This is a girl I like quite a bit (a rare thing for me), so we chatted some as I checked customers out. The day wore on, and she stayed, and we chatted more, and laughed some, and everything was all very nice and comfortable until at one point, I glanced at the clock (almost noon) and asked, “Are you on a register shift this afternoon?”

“Oh, I haven’t been trained on register yet,” she said.

I coughed politely. “Um… Um, yes you have, Julia. You… you were on register just yesterday.”

Oh,” she said with an airy laugh, “I’m not Julia! I’m her sister.”

HOLD UP.

This person. Who looked like Julia. Who sounded like Julia. Who was bagging for me. For an hour and a half. Who I’d been SPEAKING TO. For an hour and a half. Who I’d been speaking to COMFORTABLY for an hour and a half. Who was supposed to be Julia. This person. WASN’T JULIA???

Every introverted particle of my soul underwent one tremendous jolt before my soul died forever.

One afternoon after I’d clocked out of work, I got to the car only to find my mom (who was picking me up that day) staring in consternation at one of the tires. Which was flat. So BACK I WENT, traipsing off in search of a male coworker willing to play the part of knight in shining armor.

Okay, okay, that’s not actually what happened. I got my manager to go in search of a knight in shining armor, because I’m too much of a coward. Fortunately, she was not, so she headed off toward a group of guys and called, “Hey, can any of you fix a tire?”

A guy’s head shot up.

Six other guys’ heads shot up.

And thus I returned to the car like a pied piper of men instead of children, leading a herd of over-zealous fellows who all wanted in on the excitement.

I’m pleased to announce the tire is fixed.

I was bagging flour one day, making a mess and muttering under my breath about the “fabulous experience of flour failure,” when my manager (the one who owns a sword) got an odd smile on her face. “Sarah, even if I couldn’t recognize your voice, I think i would know it was you talking. You have a very…”

She paused, a glazed look coming into her eyes, no doubt remembering all the times I’d called out “Farewell, humans!” before leaving for the day, or the time I’d called her punctilious.

“You have a very… uh… unique way of using words.

Sobbing Gamora GIF - Sobbing Gamora Crying - Discover & Share GIFs

For a writer, there can be no greater compliment.

Well, this post has gotten long. 3,000 words long, to be precise. But before I wrap it up, I have one last story to tell.

The story of how I left.

THAT’S RIGHT! 3,000 words into this thing, and you only just now find out I don’t work there anymore!! Most people spend the winter doing Other Things and then get a summer job, whereas I’m doing the exact opposite. I’m taking the summer off to focus on my family and creative pursuits. (Consistent blogging, anyone? A finished novel? Perhaps some art news I’ll reveal later?)

Weird and stressful as it was, I loved my job. I’ll miss the place, and my friends there, but I’m going back in the fall. In the meantime, lots of changes are about to take place, and adventures, and new paths previously undreamt of, and things I can’t quite talk about yet but are sure to be exciting. And hey, did anyone know Dad and Anna are back from Florida?

Yep, this summer should be wild.

Now please look at the flowers my coworkers bought me.

~Sarah

 

One Last Note: The “Mennonite Costco” term was coined by Savannah Morello in a comment on my last post, and was so brilliant I had to use it. Savannah, thank you for being brilliant.

I Lied Because Here’s Another Note: Something wonky was going on with WordPress, and my original post was deleted only to have an earlier draft (pre-edited) published instead. Every time I tried fixing it, it would only publish the draft version. I think I finally got everything squared away, but if you notice anything strange in this post, that’s probably the culprit.

33 thoughts on “The Trials and Travails of an Essential Worker // stories from work

  1. Aaaah, this was so amazing and hilarious and fun!!! Okay, maybe not so fun to live through, but I thoroughly enjoyed your accounts and was laughing spectacularly. YESSS. BREATHE THE FREE AIR AGAIN, MY FRIEND. I say that every. single. time. I take off my mask in various endeavors of the day. Even though no one gets it, because one must be strong in the face of adversity. “self-righteous beacon of hygienic purity” and “male coworker willing to play the part of knight in shining armor” literally made me erupt in giggles. 😂😂

    Oh, and I absolutely love these types of posts, how you add your splash and glitter and sparkle of humor into daily life. Hilarious and inspiring and brightening-ing of my day. ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The one thing that made the experience not so miserable was writing this post in my head while everything happened. 😂 I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      (Also that quote is completely underrated and I applaud you for using it.)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You may be the only blogger who can actually make me laugh out loud. I rarely do that even for funny books, so BE PROUD. THIS POST WAS AMAZING. (Also I think the coughing up an organ story was the thing. AHAHAHA.)
    Heheheh, “Mennonite Costco” is genius. That bring a clear picture into my mind, probably because I’ve been in some of those and most of my extended family is Mennonite. It sounds like a truly wonderful place to work!
    I will deeply miss these stories from work posts over the summer, but I look forward with hope to the future, as in fall. *nods* Have a simply splendid summer, Sarah! I can’t wait to hear about your exciting newses. 🙂

    Like

    1. THAT IS A RARE AND WONDERFUL COMPLIMENT AND YOU JUST MADE MY EGO SKYROCKET SEVENFOLD.

      (I don’t know if “skyrocket sevenfold” actually makes sense but I like saying sevenfold so imma use it.)

      It is a really amazing store, and I love rubbing shoulders with so many mennonites. They’re truly wonderful people.

      Like

  3. so *This* is the level of real and humorous and self-deprecating i aspire to, and i both admire you for possessing it and am intensely jealous of you for possessing it. i can’t count how many times i choked on my rice laughing. if you ever attempted world control, i think you’d get farther than most historical figures just by your wit alone.
    that being said, if you do achieve world control, i’d immensely look forward to it. 😀

    Like

  4. BAHAHAHAA. *doubles over* this is too funny and true. I don’t work at a Mennonite Costco, or anywhere for that matter, but I still understand crazed, rabid people bearing down on you. Also HOW DID NO ONE UNDERSTAND YOUR QUOTE?!?! I also get that because I am forever quoting things and no one realizes it. (Every time I say “I don’t remember now” I wait for someone to laugh and get the reference and they don’t. Ugh). And I also understand the “sinister tickling” as you so adequately phrased it, because I am a person who gets life draining mild colds a lot and often I find myself rasping and choking up my lungs while horrified onlookers scoot not-so-discreetly out of the way. (I also had the urge to sneeze several times the other day in the store due to allergies and I’m sure my stricken expression as I forced it back in scarred several people for…for eternity). And, on your cooking segment, my dad has also made mac’n’cheese soup before (accidentally, of course). Your dumpster incident cracked me up. The flowers resemble something Samwise Gamgee would grow 🙂 *long comment but I’m not apologizing. Actually yes I am but it doesn’t matter). Will miss your Exploits From the World of Rabid People. :3

    Like

    1. The World of Rabid People will probably NOT miss my exploits, but I shall miss them with you. 😂 Do not apologize for your long comment. Long comments are powerful. 😉

      Like

  5. Oop, I realize the “life draining mild colds” did not make a corndog of sense but “life draining” originally had a line through it. Ahem.

    Like

  6. You… you are an absolute hero for surviving that. *shudders* Honestly. This post sounds like a nightmare. And yet, because of your writing skills, you make it sound funny??? And make it enjoyable to read??? Even though I know it must have been torture???

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoyed this post so much; you have no idea. I laughed out loud while I was reading it. Thank you. Oh, and I am so glad you survived all of that madness. XD

    Like

  8. Oh goodness… you’ve humbled me. I’ve been blessed enough to be able to avoid shopping through this whole ordeal (thank you, dad in shinning armor!), except for one trip to Trade Joes and Costco. I thought I had experienced the depths of human misery as I pushed our cart around and suffocated in my mask. Now I know that is not true, so thank you XD

    Like

  9. These are such epic and hilarious stories! You always make me laugh 🙂 Can’t wait to see what you’ll do this summer!

    Like

  10. I know I’m a day late. Or two. Or whatever it is (I can’t do time this week XP)

    BUT. I needed this TODAY. It’s been a long day and I needed to smile and chuckle at your sarcasm. And your adventures. And your triumphs and sorrows and everythings. You survived!!! I knew you could do it. 😉

    Congratulations!!! HELLO SUMMER. I cannot wait to hear about it. 😀

    Like

  11. HOW DID I MISS THIS BEAUTIFUL POST? I blame those endless hours of binging Survivor. Anyways, I am overjoyed to receive another dose of much-needed laughter and appreciation of your work experiences.

    And I do NOT envy you on having to handle all those the insane toilet-paper-craving shoppers. *can’t imagine how crazy it must be*

    Like

  12. These are every one of them hilarious. Why isn’t the market for “person working in job so ubiquitous as to be invisible recounts adventures and misadventures of their working days” bigger? I’d love to read more books like that. (In fact, one of my own jobs is so much Like That that I’m writing one myself. We could all use more jollity in our world.)

    In my other job I’m now required to wear a mask. I weep for you, the Walrus said, I deeply sympathize. What’s really fun is when you’re bad at remembering faces and everyone else is wearing a mask and your ability to recognize people you’ve seen regularly for ages goes out the window.

    Like

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