Wednesday, February 26, 2014

No. 99 – Money for Nothing

Performer: Dire Straits
Songwriters: Mark Knopfler, Sting
Original Release: Brothers in Arms
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: Live Aid, 1985. This version is why this song is in the top 100. Check it out and tell me why I’m wrong to think it’s better in every way from the original. Their Live Aid performance made me a Dire Straits fan.

When I said a week ago that my promotion in 2007 was the first promotion I received on the job, I didn’t include my time at Food World, because, technically, that wasn’t a promotion. It definitely was a step up, though.

Typically, when you started as a bagger at Food World, you were promoted to cashier if you were female or stocker if you were male. After my senior year at Wabash, when I couldn’t land an internship of any stripe to prepare for Northwestern, I went to Todd after my brief fling at being a knife salesman (good ol’ No. 621) seeking a job.

Todd said he had something for me, but instead of putting me on bagger duty again, he made me the assistant to the produce clerk. That meant a slight bump in pay to $3.85 an hour. Cool.

It also meant early arrival, as I’ve mentioned. On weekdays, which I worked four of the five days I was on the schedule, I went in at 6. On Sunday, when the store opened at 10, I’d go in at 8, which was a little easier. Depending on the day and the schedule, some days I was the only one in the store the first hour, before the head cashier and the butcher showed up.

Most of the time, I worked with Bob, who had been the produce clerk at Food World for as long as I could remember. Bob looked like a bootlegger from the Roaring Twenties and made tuneless whistles while he worked. He also worked hard and was glad to have the help, so we got along fine.

For the first two hours until the store opened, my job was to bring out the produce that we couldn’t leave out overnight due to a lack of refrigerated produce counters or spritzers (let alone 24-hour access)—the lettuce, green onions and such. I’d first grab a couple huge bags of ice from the beer cooler in the back and lay that out on the counters. Then, while Bob cut and rewrapped the lettuce in cellophane, I’d run trays out and stack up the produce neatly.

When that was done, it was time to reload any bins that were low, such as bananas and apples, and pull the pieces of fruit that had grown a little too long in the tooth. Some of those, like the bananas, Bob would rewrap and put out on the discount table for baking; others he’d just toss.

A bagger came in for when the store opened at 8, but from then until 10, I was always on call, so if it got busy, I’d have to help out up front. At 10, though, a second bagger came in, and I could hide in the back for the rest of the day, chatting with Bob or whoever else happened to be back there, with the radio on, and doing whatever needed to be done in the produce aisle.

I got two 15-minute breaks during my eight-hour shift, per union rules. Although I was encouraged to take one before the store opened, I tried to save them for after 10. This helped to make the afternoon go quicker. Besides, I usually wasn’t hungry before then.

One week that summer, Bob went on vacation, so I was in charge. That meant I had to do all the loading and wrapping and rewrapping, which made those days fly by. I also had to make out the produce order that week.

I guessed what we needed based on sales and my recollection of how fast things moved and filled it out to the best of my ability, but I was out of my element. Back then, I had no real concept of retail profit/loss and that produce can go bad quickly if it doesn’t sell. I bet the store lost money that week, because I ordered too many containers of, say, plums.

It was a fun summer job in all, particularly whenever a certain strawberry Scotch-Irish blonde would come in, sidle up to me in the produce aisle and ask whether I wanted to squeeze her tomatoes to make sure they were fresh. I suppose, in retrospect, I didn’t take the job as seriously as I should have, but I didn’t blow it off either. Working produce at Food World was my last “childhood” job before I jumped into the newspaper pool. To a certain extent, I miss it.

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