We Grow Up In The Strangest Places – Part Three
Paul was psychotic and worked in the peas and beans aisle—canned food that had a longer life span than we had. He liked to slam down the heavy trays of tinned food from the pallet truck with a thump on the floor while telling tales of Saturday night fights. He had battered everyone in Artane, Raheny, Edenmore and Coolock, apparently. He confessed to me once that he wished while walking home at night he would be mugged so he could batter someone to death. This should have scared me, but he was pricing tins of baked beans at the time. He was, in his own words, a “martial-fucking-arts expert”. He would roll up his sleeves to reveal muscled, tattooed arms and would show me his moves, all of which ended with an invisible victim being thrown over his shoulder to the ground before having his neck broken. It was not uncommon for him to be interrupted by a customer during these briefings. This caused Paul great frustration as it distracted him out of his murderous inertia. It always amused me to watch him come down from his wide-eyed, trance-like poses and neck-snapping simulations in order to show an old woman where the sardines were.
I secretly loved these reenactments of him twirling around a limp corpse-to-be like a baton—as if gravity and reality had both slept in that day—because it was always sincere. He really believed in his superpower-esque fighting abilities. Post story he would grab another tray of baked beans, slash the plastic covering with a knife and in seconds it would all be on the shelf, every label facing out in true OCD fashion. Paul liked me because I also played the guitar like him—and I listened. I liked Paul because, despite his craziness, he was honest.
“What are marrow fat peas, Paul?”
“How the fuck should I know?”
Andy was a tiny man. He was as small as a grown man could be without actually being a dwarf. He looked exactly like Bono and had twice his charisma, but despite this fact, he was more into Elvis than U2. He smoked huge cigars alone in the car park on his lunch break, and rarely was he seen not carrying a small step ladder for fear that someone might steal it. A man as small as Andy carrying a step ladder always made a bad situation look much worse. When not carrying the step ladder, he was standing on it in aisle #1 packing pet food.
Andy’s aisle was the busiest because it was the one you had to walk through upon entering the store, and he chatted up every female that graced it. But this also meant that he was constantly having his stuff stolen by employees starting their shift, a problem new employees were sure to correct upon realizing he knew who was late in the morning and who was early leaving that night. If you left anything lying around someone would take it. As a backup, he had managed a system that allowed him to carry everything he owned on his person.
Box-cutter: top shirt pocket along with felt markers. Price gun: left trouser pocket. Spray cleaner: back left trouser pocket for cleaning shelves. Rags: back right trouser pocket. And, as he walked around like this, his little step ladder would be slung over his right shoulder. The man was a human Swiss army knife.
Andy, Paul, and Keith were best mates and in the months following my promotion, I slowly became an honorary fourth member. They said it was because I had a good knowledge of music and played guitar like them, but it was mostly because I was a lot younger, covered for them when they took long breaks and even more importantly, I let them borrow my stuff when needed, be it a price gun or a pallet truck. In return I was part of their group.
The months rolled in and I loved working at the supermarket for various reasons, mainly because it never changed. It was always well lit, colorful and everyone who worked there could be found in their own section no matter what. There was a certain predictability that I found almost romantic. The fact that I knew I would never be there forever made the bad days bearable. I was part of the transitional staff , most of which never lasted more than three years. The full-timers were there forever.
A system started every Thursday night where Martin, Stewart, Andy, Keith, Paul and I would finish and walk to the pub across the street after clocking off. A checkout girl or two would sometimes tag along adding some much needed reasoning to our ramblings. The barman would ask us to place all of our box cutters into a shoe box behind the bar. Changes by Bowie would start the long line of Bowie-only songs from the jukebox, while we sat in the alcove by the door talking. Stewart always made sure of that. I’ll always remember sitting there laughing, aching all over with hands burning from tearing open hundreds of boxes, my mind slowly adjusting to the low light after an entire shift of bright, vivid product colors, generic Muzak and brainwashing promotional displays. Here in the darkness we let Bowie wash it all away. Never before and never since has beer ever tasted so good. That first cold pint on hot sore hands. The spark and sharp kick in your throat. Feeling your head float slowly away as we laughed in the darkness by the door. I have never since had a pint I felt I deserved more.
Only once did I not have a good time there. On this particular day a man had pushed his shopping cart around the store like a bumper car with his daughter sitting inside, treating the place like a theme park. He was hammered drunk and the daughter was scared, but silent. We had all seen him at some point, but nobody approached him. He crashed through sales promotions, soap powder stands and swung the cart around singing his heart out. He only stopped when his wife turned up and screamed at him to stop. He had been in the pub all day then picked up his daughter from school and brought her shopping. Later that night, we went across the street, we listened to Bowie, but we made our excuses and left early.
The pub across the street. I never knew what its actual name was.