Published on March 27th, 20170
Of Mustard and Milk
After a full year out of high school and questioning the significance of a B.A. in performing arts, I figured an income was needed. I roamed the plains of retail and hospitality in hopes I would find an entrance into the workforce. After months of searching, I was finally called into a supermarket and was given my first job: ten hours a week, stacking shelves after from close to midnight.
I imagined myself as Björk in Dancer in the Dark, seamlessly slipping into a musical number whenever any physical labour seemed too difficult. I was wrong. It was hard work. I was forced to lug around heavy cartons of groceries, drag palettes down aisles and stack shelves taller than me. Instead of Björk’s musical fantasy, I felt like I was working in a John Steinbeck novel. I don’t mean having the looks of James Dean to combat the American Dream, I mean slaving for hours surrounded by burly men, slaves to a fragile masculinity and search for purpose.
In fact, it felt a lot like I had joined the cast from Of Mice and Men. The most consistent night filler of the store was also the slowest of wit which I later discovered was from the joint before work. He was ordered to train me. He prepared for each shift by flicking his multiple rat tails over his wide shoulders and cracking the knuckles of his Andre the Giant sized hands. A co-worker, named (for the sake of this metaphor) Slim, did most of the speaking for him. Although, Slim had not been in the store for long, he had already gained the respect of everyone on night duty.
We all reported to Carl. To exercise this power he would shirk away from his duties for long periods of time and slip out for a smoke with the woman on service simply given the moniker of “the bird from check out.” The clinically white lights that flooded the store often caught his badge. If you got too close to him, not only would you be hit with his stench, the reflected light from his name badge would blind your eyes. His badge was a shinier gold than the others to mark his fifteen years stacking shelves. This was the only recognition for his efforts. That and a limp before age thirty.
My father picked me up after my first shift, the air conditioner running to cool my sweat-soaked suit shirt and pants. I was exhausted. He huffed and tore off his tie, dumping it over his shoulder in the back seat, “Count your lucky stars.”
My father had been made redundant the same day I received my job. His position was passed on to a younger, more enthusiastic worker. Thirty five years of a stable job in the lighting industry disappeared after a sixty second meeting in an office that was no longer his. I sat there watching my father searching to find his next move. As I sat there I felt I had taken my father’s position in the workforce and soon he would have to go out into the workforce follow the process his teenage son had just accomplished. He felt humiliated. Youth trumps experience.
I became the breadwinner, with an income of $14.95 an hour.
Words by Connor Reidy.
Image by Sash Corowa.