Monday, 10 September 2007

Stocking Shelves on the Night Shift

EDIT: 4 May 2015: This post has received some traffic lately, which brought it to my attention. I realize I had included a description of a character in this story which could be read as racist. As far as I can recall that was not my intention, but my only defense is that I was ignorant at the time that I posted it that it could be read that way. (At the time I wrote this, "brown arms" was suggest to me a well-tanned white person. I cannot overstate how much of an idiot I was about this at the time.) No one's called this to my attention or anything like that, but I'm nonetheless horrified to see what I had written and I wanted to admit it.

Spaghetti. Costelle’s. Small.

Where was I? What was I thinking about?
It doesn’t really matter. Eventually I’ll think about whatever it was. That’s all I do here, think. Stew in my own juices, while slicing open boxes and putting packages on shelves. Two-hundred and twenty-one. Two hundred and forty when this cart is done. And then break will be soon, because it will be three, and I’ll go and sit down for a while.
Break. If my legs weren’t tired I wouldn’t bother. I have nothing to say to them, and, as far as I’m concerned, they have nothing to say to me. Yesterday Chase was hassling the newbies, and he’ll do it again today. He’ll ask them for their piece count. What a pain, being a newbie. He used to do that to me. “What’s your piece count, Matt.” Like that, “What’s your piece count, Matt.” Not a question, a statement. “What’s your piece count.” Then I’d tell him, at first not knowing what it meant, and then being ashamed, and now he doesn’t bother anymore, because he doesn’t care. I’m Matt, and I’m here, and he can count on me for that. I’m always here. So it doesn’t matter if I do four hundred or two hundred by the end of the night, because he knows I’m not going anywhere for a while now, because it’s already September, and I’m not in school, so he figures he’s got me for another year. If he even thinks in that fat head of his. He probably doesn’t even really think I’ll be here, he just sort of assumes it. It’s been more than a year, now, right? Around here, that’s a record. Well, I suppose not. Alfie and Pete and Marge have been here longer than that. Alfie’s been here for a few years, I guess, and he’s probably been hyper and moody the whole time, throwing pieces around, and ripping them open, and slapping product on the shelves with those long brown arms. He looks like a monkey hustling across the ropes at the zoo. And then there’s Marge. If she’s not having a smoke, she’s squawking about the coffee pot, how the day people always leave it empty. She has been for a whole year now, and no one’s ever done anything about it. I guess she never told anyone. She must’ve been here for ages, seen lots of people come and go. I don’t think she liked one of them.
Pete’s a nicer guy, but that doesn’t mean anything in the break room, not with Chase and Alfie sitting there, hassling the newbies and looking over the newspaper, making gay jokes and black jokes and tree hugger jokes. I can never understand what Pete says. I’ve been working with him for more than a year now, and it’s still like he speaks another language. “Where’s de parcel at, bye?” He’s not stupid--Newfies usually aren’t--but you can’t tell if you don’t know what he’s saying.
Most of the newbies are gone, though. Off to school. That new kid, one with the early grey hair, he’s still here. Don’t know what he’s up to. Real quiet. He won’t be here long, though. I don’t think he knows what he’s doing with his life. I could tell him all about that. I’d say, “You’re just out of high school, aren’t you? I bet you’re working for a year before you figure out where you’re going? You’re not from here. I wasn’t either. I came up here from Vancouver for the same reason you did. Easy to get a job, easy to make money. Save up a bit, and then school. Well, watch out. You save that money, and you work on getting to school. Guy who lives next door to me spent all his money, and now he’s stuck. I heard him on the phone, yelling so loud I could hear through the wall. Spent all his money, and now he’s trying to get back to wherever he comes from, but doesn’t have enough to afford the plane ticket, and clearly doesn’t own a vehicle. Well, he’s got the four-wheeler he wasted his paycheck on, though I’m surprised he can afford that between the bar and the casino and the porn. You want to be careful, because this is the first time you’re away from home, and lots of guys get stuck. You save it up, and get yourself out of here in one piece.
And get started early looking for schools. It’s real easy to wait and wait, especially when you’re on nights, and in order to get to a computer on your day off, you have to be awake at ten in the morning, which feels like it should be three in the morning, your clock is so screwed up. It’ll suck for you for a little while, but eventually you’ll figure out how to sleep in the daylight and amuse yourself at four in the morning when the rest of the world is sleeping and you’re up and trying to spend your day off doing something fun. But during the days, you get to the library and rent out a computer and find some schools, and apply well ahead of time, because its so easy to put it off until the middle of the summer and by then it’s too late, you’re stuck here again for another year. Sure, you could start in the winter, but it’s better if you make a full year of it. You be careful. Now don’t worry, I’m getting out of here next year. I’ve got money in the bank, that’s for sure. Rent’s a lot, but I don’t drink much and don’t gamble much. I watch TV, mainly. Rent movies. Sleep. I used to try to read, but now it’s usually TV. But I’ve got money in the bank and I’m gone next year, off to school, to make something of myself. I won’t be like Alfie or Marge, who hate their jobs but don’t know what else to do. Or like Chase, who’s stuck looking after these losers, checking their piece counts, slowly getting sloppy and fat. How long must he have been here? Almost as long as the manager, there, Taylor. Poor, miserable Taylor, trying to run this store with no competent staff and a turnover rate of one a day. How’d he get stuck here? Got a degree in business, and got just high enough in the company to warrant store manager, but unimportant enough to get shipped up north to northern Alberta, and now he’s here for the rest of his life, just like Alfie and Marge and Chase will be here until they retire. None of them thought this would be a last stop, but it was. They came here expecting to leave soon, but there you go, it was a last stop, because they didn’t watch themselves. They didn’t get out before this place got to them, and now they’re here for good. So you get out of here, kid, before you get stuck.
Oh, that’s the last one. Break’s soon, anyway.
Where was I? What was I thinking about?

Major disclaimer: You know how works of fiction are never depicting anyone real or dead, and any coincidence (as in co-incide-ence, or two things that happen together and seem related) is just a coincidence (as in two things that happen together and aren't related). You know about that? Well, that's true of the above. Only that I think that all of these people really do exist, I just have never met them.

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