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Bagger On Fire

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A dream come true is a delusion to be medicated. I went to the asylum in cuffs. My dream was to break free from cashiering and hence society by becoming a night stocker. Grandeur is a state of mind and socializing is slavery. After many rejections spanning several years, I was made one of grocery's elite. Many times we climb the mountain and find nothing at the apex. Annoyance is inescapable and we're always free to live in our own world. Escape isn't a reality: the world won't be through with us until we succumb to it.

Imagine freedom from small talk and faking smiles. I dropped out of civilization, living where thought is unadulterated. As I walked past people talking and spectating aimlessly, I wondered what asinine world they lived in. What's the point of inviting people to a party when you've already got booze? Simply incomprehensible. Intense drudgery followed by daylight in my leisure was the price. Boredom doesn't kill, it rapes.

I dazzled them in dairy and was recruited by night crew in October, 2007. The driving force behind the three-man crew was our boss, a kind homeless man. He stocked like a maniac with a body wrecked from 40 years of manual labor. He led us to success and we had some laughs — until he got fired for moving freight out the back door. The crew disintegrated without his leadership.

New hires disappoint under the baton of an idiot. Upon being fired this week, the deaf new hire sporting a battle flag belt buckle shouted a diatribe featuring the racial slur that has become an American fetish. Good riddance, I hated the way he looked. Third shift's jackass in charge, renowned for stocking like an incontinent drunk, successfully campaigned to have me banished for my slow and inconsistent performance. After one year on nights, I was back amongst the customer slime. Demons never die.

Courtesy clerk is the ultimate joke job, skillfully performed by the prepubescent and mentally retarded alike. As if bagging groceries wasn't simple enough, the teen slackers even get to sleep in their cars. The night was mine once more on the shift I know best. My first shift started at 3 pm and I was back to a 6 am bedtime. The night can take me anywhere.

My hands fly as the fire in my mind screams for a release. Is the fake smile showing or am I still stone-faced? I can almost hear Beethoven and Ozzy. Excited by the violin, my eyes roll as my brain melts into my nerves. I've got to calm the deepening intensity in my stare, it might look bad. Desperation and distortion threaten to overcome. To ward off the onslaught, I work furiously while focusing on the guitar screaming in my head.

What cacophony drills into me? I tease the beast and look up. Straight chaos widens my eyes and pours inside. The overbearing legion of moving mouths and eyes tear at me . . . sounds like a farm animal being brutalized. Just like old times, I'm becoming a little disoriented. My nerves grate with a screech and fray like an electrical wire. Maybe my caffeine pill could have helped. I don't want to run away, I just wish I could pace the floor. The comfort of fading away soothes me. Front end's maelstrom is unreal as consciousness ascends to another plane. I look back down and see only a torrent of groceries to be bagged like a puzzle.

At 8 o'clock the store went dead. Piece of cake. Front end veterans called it the busiest day they had seen in months, which abruptly became the slowest. That's the unpredictability of evenings in retail. I talked with an Egyptian cashier who claims he enjoys dealing with customers. Yeah, and he probably thought this little rush was bad. I also bagged for a cashier who used to bag for me at a previous job. We joked around yet I somehow neglected to mock his new receding hair line. Being the only courtesy clerk on duty, I juggled three registers that day. Just another screwed up day in the gutter of Hell.

It was almost invigorating to confront the action once more. Crowned with high praise from managers who were totally blown away to see a bagger actually work; I won't get another raise in this decade, so who gives a damn? No customer complaints; survival is success.

Pedaling hard on a bike with dead brakes, my mind was dark as night and a free man's life is divine. I needed the kind of thrills that satisfy only geeks and addicts, only in public this time. At the risk of hearing sports nonsense on TV or being accosted by a patron, I strolled out to a bar for the first time since 2007. My pen needs some action — time for some real work.

Fire charring my mind, sentences in Times New Roman scroll through my brain and caress my nerves. Wherever they come from, they always bring me closer to something ostensibly unattainable or unreal. Dopamine for the soul. I'm sucking tar like a fiend, but the gorgeous smoke can't give enough nicotine. Entranced blue eyes glare beneath a stern brow as an indulgent mind lays napalm on paper. Why are there mirrors behind the bar? Nervous system writhes in beauty and splendor. Times New Roman stays etched in the brain, so I pocket my notebook and shift from beer to bourbon.

The bartender couldn't hit me fast enough. I slammed the McCormick home and quelled the pain in my vengeful esophagus with a Coke back. Forty or so dollars later, some European freak started asking me about cocaine. Just try to get the drop on me. I don't know any peers, much less dope peddlers. In the same sentence as "methamphetamine," he directed my attention to a table of young ladies. Wasted and fully reminded that women exist, I'm intrigued. Rather than tell the shapely girls what was on my mind (the implosion of the free world), I asked them who they "liked" for the playoffs. Football is obviously in season . . . and maybe basketball or something, whatever.

Euro-freak passed out some Pez from an amber dispenser with a fat bonus for me, probably for buying him a shot and not for insulting him with a laugh. Back on earth, I told the foxy blonde majoring in business to blow off her "future" in light of the impending uber-depression. Seems like that was the wrong line. I lost the last brunette standing to a dullard who probably uses his cell phone to tell time. Even happily intoxicated, the charm that got me fired from Taco Bell shines through. After last call, I was escorted out by a fat man with orange hair. In retrospect, I don't think that bar has a bouncer.

Savoring the crisp air, I smell the old foreboding of desolation in the wind. Deserted streets are my red carpet as the city's far north sleeps. Under infinite blackness, the dead of night is sublime and pure. Now I'm eager to blast that violin sonata and see my cat. The best part about working evenings is spending the nights in sweet solitude.

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About Superior To You

  • Great read! Hooked from the title to the last sentence. Thanks!

  • Jesse

    Joe, I just now got around to reading this… Another hard-hitting, evocative piece. Your talent continues to grow and fine tune…

  • Thanks, y’all are too kind.