For over ten years I worked in supermarket retail, doing various jobs. I worked my way through high school and later through an indifferent college career and beyond. There were parts of it I very much enjoyed, and parts I loathed, which is pretty much typical when it comes to working.
Night crew was a blast, despite the hours. Most of us were young and strong, and the work was very easy. We got time and a half on Sundays in those days. Because it was a union store, we weren’t paid on performance, only longevity. It’s very difficult to get fired when you’re in a union. Here are a few night crew highlights, which I’m calling flash non-fiction so they just won’t seem like dumb little stories of things that happened:
- Howard was an older man: moved slowly, talked very little, and had more seniority than the rest of us put together. This is meaningful when you’re working in a union store. A likable enough fellow. He would start every ten to six shift with two two-liter bottles of Seagram’s wine coolers, and over the course of the night would polish them both off. Every shift. None of us commented on it when he was around. That was what he needed to maintain. Howard was, in our parlance, hard-core.
- Some of us did whippits. Not all the time, but when you’ve done all the work allotted to an eight-hour shift in four hours, you need to fill up the rest of the time. There was a trick to it: if you shook up the bottle, all you’d get was whipped cream up your nose. So you had to get one that hadn’t been shaken up. We used the store brand whipped cream, but not because the nitrous oxide in it was any better; it was on the bizarre premise that people expected a poor product from the store brand versus the more “premium” Reddi-Wip. Nobody got addicted that I know of, and nobody died, at least when clocked in.
- Turkey bowling was a thing, but not as much fun as you’d imagine. They didn’t wax the floors more than once a month in our store, and if you skated a frozen turkey across a waxed floor, you’d start scraping the wax off the tiles. That would create grooves for dirt to get into which made it difficult for the other guys to clean. The unwritten rule was to have fun, but not make more work for anyone else. So we had to do turkey bowling in the dairy aisle, which had grouted, unwaxed tiles. The rough “alley” made for a difficult game, and we only did it just to say we did it (turkey bowling and stories of it have been around at least since the 1980’s).
Those were the days.