FoodEase Grocery was a madhouse. I have changed names to protect myself and others.
Charlie worked part-time in the produce department. He was a conspiracy theorist, alien believer Viet Nam vet. Whenever he saw a black suburban SUV pull into the parking lot, he hid in the walk-in cooler. “The government’s here. They’re watching me.”
In 1999, he also prepared for the end of the world. He stockpiled canned goods and toiletries. And actually, stockpiling canned goods and toiletries was not all that unusual for 1999. Y2K loomed large. People feared planes would fall out of the sky, cars would stop working, nuclear missiles would launch themselves. Financial institutions would crumble. The world would spin into utter chaos. People literally buried money in their backyards.
Now my wife and I are all about a good conspiracy theory, but in 1999 we felt Y2K was hype.
We stockpiled nothing. Laughed nervously at those who did. We had more pressing concerns.
Randall, the general store manager, my arch nemesis, hired my wife because he was told to do so, and he placed her in the front end of the grocery store, behind the customer service desk, in charge of all the teenage girl cashiers, and every day he told my wife how much of a lazy idiot I was. Some days, Mary would be in tears over how much he bitched about me.
In the summer of ’99, Randall told me I couldn’t work at FoodEase because my wife and I didn’t have a second car. Luckily, by total coincidence, and now I think not so much coincidence, John—the produce manager—had a 1988 Lebaron for sale. This car was Knight Rider KIT cool. Spoke to you. Bossed you around. Told you when the oil needed changed, when it was running too hot, when the back passenger doors were left open—except, it was a two door. You’d be driving down the highway, and it’d tell you the trunk was open. You found a spot to pull over, and checked, and the trunk was locked tight. We bought it for a paycheck and a half.
Randall started asking Mary when she planned on divorcing me. She did not tell me this until months later. Randall himself was divorced. All four of his kids worked at FoodEase, and none of them could do any wrong.
Once, I was asked to get something from the freezer for the deli department. Later that day, Randall sat down three TV dinners in front of me. The boxes had been ripped open and they were crushed. “You did this,” he said.
“You were in the freezer and didn’t pay attention and ruined these three TV dinners.”
“You’re going to pay for them.”
“We need to be compensated for your mistake. Negligence. Worthless employee.”
“Fine. Fine, I’ll pay for them, but I want a written record.”
“We don’t need to tell the owner about this. You just need to do it.”
“We’ll write up an incident report.”
“No. No, we won’t.”
I paid for the TV dinners and behind his back had an incident report wrote up. The next Saturday after Christmas, the owner on vacation in the Bahamas, I came in to work to stock the produce section. I worked the entire shift, and at the end of the shift, Randall asked to see me. “I have to let you go.”
“You’re being fired.”
“And you didn’t tell me this at the beginning of my shift?”
“Needed someone to stock the produce.”
On Monday, I drove to the local employment bureau. So distraught, on the way home, I hit a parked car. I pleaded with Mary to quit. I knew we’d both be out of work, but feared Randall would destroy our marriage. Mary gave her notice. Randall asked her to stay. Bribed her with a cash bonus. She stayed at FoodEase for an additional two weeks because of the bribe, and I sat at home wondering what the hell to do. Charlie was right. The world had come to an end.