Where do I begin?
How about this: Hi, I’m Larry and this is my last blog entry. It’s me telling the world that I really tried to go straight. That I really wanted to be a good guy, just like the suckers out there. And it’s me confessing to a crime, that by now, everyone knows I’m guilty of.
For years now, this blog has been my diary. And who knows? Maybe it’ll hold some meaning for the internet archeologist who discovers it in the drizzle of some abandoned cloud, five hundred years from now. Or maybe I’ve only written it because bloggers come in two flavours: manic egoists and the desperately lonely. Each obsessively seeking the approval of others.
Try to guess which flavour I am, by the way. Hint: I haven’t cleaned up my apartment in over 6 months, and my last girlfriend started an Instagram account exclusively to smut-shame me after dumping me when she found my stash of ‘70s vintage pornography. Her Instagram account features dozens of adult entertainers displaying a diversity of sexual eccentricities. Each pic attributed to me, with my photo, email and Twitter handle attached, cycling over and over for all the world to see.
I don’t know what flavours Instagrammers come in.
Tomorrow is supposed to be my third day working at what was meant to be my new and redeeming job as a Walmart Greeter. And the third time I was to be forced to do the “motivational” pre-shift Bumble Bee Dance. But it didn’t quite get through my shift, for reasons I’m about to explain.
I got the job through a seniors’ employment program at the YMCA, where my Employment Counsellor was an intern named Debbie. Debbie liked Disneyland, energy drinks and Beyoncé, and was surprised to discover that I’m only sixty-nine. She could have sworn, she said, that I was much older, in a sort of sweet grandfatherly way. Nice. And it was there, sitting together in her tiny three walled cubicle with a Beyoncé calendar pinned to the portable fabric wall above her desk, that I tried to explain my unduly aged appearance.
“It was my second marriage,” I said. “The first wife was okay. Her name was Valentina. We did some really weird shit together.” I shrugged and sighed. “They found her dead in her Ford Pinto one day. Bullet in the head. Didn’t change a thing, though; she was still gorgeous when I identified her in the morgue, head wound or no. Maybe it was the loan sharks that got to her, like the cops said. Who knows. We ran with some mighty rough hombres, back then. I still miss her sometimes. She was good in a knife fight.
“But it was the second wife, Amelie. She was a Scientologist. Aged me something awful. Guess that’s why I look the way I do.
“And then there’s my last girlfriend. Dumped me a little over a year ago. I’m reminded of her every day. By little things. Wanna see her Instagram account?”
Debbie said she didn’t, but asked me straight out: why was I looking for employment, instead of enjoying retirement.
I told her it was complicated, but that it had to do with the ins-‘n’-outs of the endless asymmetrical underground war between the Mexican Government and assorted drug cartels, and how easy it was to lose one’s life savings getting caught in the middle, with a shipping container full of brickweed destined for the US college market, while holding a forged Maersk Line bill of lading with the Mexican Mafia on my tail.
There came a dim moment of silence.
“See?” I said. “Complicated.”
Bewildered, Debbie handed me a slip of paper with a job lead scratched on it.
“This company has a reputation for hiring seniors,” she said.
And that was it.
The meeting ended with us looking into each other’s eyes. She wasn’t bad looking, but I wondered if I would still respect her once she’d aged, once the damage of time and circumstance were engraved on her face.
“You better go,” she said.
Yeah, women say that a lot.
As it turned out, the company with the reputation was Walmart. The big box supermarket/department store combo, stocking inventories of down-market consumer goods, targeting lower income costumers with lower life expectations. 200,000 different brands of merchandise spread across 15,000 square metres.
Most of the Walmart employees doomed to do the Bumble Bee Dance were weary looking high school dropouts with nervous ticks and facial scabs. Bubba Henry was the shift lead, dressed in poorly fitting clothes, counterfeit Pakistani Levis jeans and a polyester shirt—pink flamingos against a black background. He smelled a little like smoked oysters, and was a gesticulating fiend. And possessing a dexterity rare in non-evangelicals, he danced the Bumble Bee shouting louder and wiggling his hips harder than any of us. He had more heart than any anyone in the room, in the way that the truly idiotic often do.
Bubba had hired me after a very brief interview. It took me only 45 seconds to come to hate him.
My first day was a four hour orientation shift, where I and other new employees were introduced to the deep occult meaning of Walmart policy, and the importance of absolute unquestioning obedience to management. And above all, we were warned to avoid ever being Coached.
Coached, it turned out, was the word Walmart used for disciplining low end staff who were in the shit. It was an extreme form of corporate bullying, and a brutal and unequivocal reminder that though we could go home at night, we were slaves of a self-perpetuating recessionary cycle. Our situation was hopeless. Slackers, complainers and people with ideas were just nails to be hammered down into the vinyl flooring. Union organisers, on the other hand, it was whispered, were ritualistically executed on the loading dock, and disappeared into the massive laneway trash compactor. Afterwards, their homes were incinerated in the dark of night with all occupants locked inside.
Walmart hates unions.
Orientation left me feeling like I’d leaned out of a car at 80 mile an hour, and licked the pavement.
On my second day, after the Bumble Bee Dance and Cheer, I took my position near the main entrance, facing an already large milling rabble on the other side of the locked glass doors, waiting to take advantage of a special Door Crasher bargain price on a limited supply of Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken with Giblets. Limit: two cans per customer, no rain checks, double the Air Miles.
Some in the crowd stared at me through the glass with blank expressions and buggish eyes, like fish in an aquarium, making blub-blubbing movements with their mouths.
I wanted to run; I should have run. When the doors opened, I’d be an obstacle in the way of these bargain crazed demons. To them, I was the Chicken Keeper—the only thing standing between them and canned chicken bliss. I was stampede bait. They were going to rip me to pieces. Could this be what it meant to be a Walmart Greeter?
9 a.m.! I heard Bubba say, as he came up behind me. It was time to open up and let our valued customers in, but he must have seen something my eyes, something that disgusted him, because he put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it hard.
“You stink of fear, old man,” he said. Scorn in his squinty starling eyes. “Remember, a true Walmart Greeter knows no fear, only the joy of greeting and directing customers to Walmart’s excellent selection of quality value-priced merchandise, and deflecting all criticism away from management and the Corporation, onto yourself. Do you understand?” he asked. “Do you need Coaching?”
I thought about the overdue rent and my empty refrigerator. Running wasn’t an option.
“No,” I said. “I don’t need Coaching.”
“Sir,” Bubba said. “You address me as Sir. No, I don’t need Coaching, Sir!”
The heat of his indignation was close to igniting the excess Old Spice he wore to mask the aroma of smoky oysters.
“No, sir,” I said. “I don’t need coaching, Sir.”
“That’s better,” he said. “Now smile and look accommodating. And don’t worry. We’ve got enough chicken and giblets back there to feed the entire continent of Africa. Limit: 2 cans per customer.”
Then, “Fuck, I hate Greeters,” he said, as he went to open the doors.
And he was the master of opening. Confident, making no eye contact with the blub-blubbing throng as he inserted the key. Cool, even as the mob heaved forward at the sound of lock tumblers engaging, causing the glass to flex and bulge. He’d studied his vocation at the Walmart Labs in Bentonville, Arkansas. He’d been top in his class. When he removed the key, he deftly stepped out of the way, like a 250 pound ballerina.
Then it began.
The onslaught of single-minded dead-eyed humanity was terrifying. It was the chicken-zombie-shopper apocalypse, and Bubba had disappeared through some hidden door in the wall. I was paralysed by a repulsive fear, but I somehow stood my ground. As the grim and unruly horde shouldered past me, I was nearly knocked to the floor several times. But I smiled, nonetheless, and greeted—Hello Ma’am, Good Morning Sir.
Then out of nowhere, she appeared. A mammalian thing I’d no idea existed. Defying all established limits of cryptozoological possibilities—
It was the Shrieking Woman.
“My God,” she shrieked, grabbing me by my new blue vest, pushing me into a stacked display of Chuck Norris Fruity Uzis breakfast cereal. “Where’s the chicken?—the goddam chicken, man! Stop stuttering, spit it out.”
When I couldn’t answer fast enough, she picked me up and pinned me against a pillar. Her grip was like a vice.
It’s true, I was stuttering. I who had faced down the Mexican Federales, as I drove a truckload of bargain basement hashish, disguised as a shipment of hand painted sugar skulls, through a checkpoint in Michoacán. And I realised then, as she held me hard against the concert load bearing member, next to the sign directing customers to the nearest washroom, that escaping this fire-sale running of the bulls would be impossible. I’d been setup as a chump. But suddenly, as the Shrieking Woman kicked me in the shin, I was inspired by the smirking image of Chuck Norris on the cereal boxes on the floor, and karate chopped her hands off of my vest, and hollered, “Fuck off, you psycho bitch!”
It was an exclamation heard throughout the store. And the marauding mass halted, turning to look at me in awe.
“Did that Greeter just say fuck off you psycho bitch to a customer?” said one of the giblet zombies.
“Yeah,” said the Shrieking Woman with the vice-like grip. Her eyes were flaring, her hair was a brittle peroxide-blonde fire hazard. “He told me to fuck off, and called me a bitch.”
“Disgraceful!” a voice called out. There were growing murmurs of agreement and rage.
“Then he struck me,” she said. Weeping, as she transformed from deranged to tragic. She’d become a black hole, sucking every scrap of sympathy out of the cold collective.
“He hit you?” a woman shouted, grabbing her husband. Making the two of them an American Gothic on crack.
“I have a disabled child at home,” said the Shrieking Woman. “Little Amy. Only six years old. She’s got the Tourette syndrome.” There were gasps. “I’m homeschooling her, because they won’t let her go to public school and play with the other children. And we’re so poor that I have to drive a ‘79 Honda Civic, with a cracked windshield and no cigarette lighter. I only asked him where the chicken was. Little Amy loves her canned whole chicken with giblets.”
“But he’s just a Greeter,” someone near the back shouted. “He can’t do that. Only management can do that.”
“But he did,” yelled another person, shaking his fist.
Then began the inevitable. A kind of benighted inquiry only possible in the age of the Putin, Trump, Hannity, Motel 6 ménage à troi.
“Don’t they bring the Greeters in illegally, from Venezuela? I saw it on Reddit. Someone has to call the Immigration Service.”
“He looks Venezuelan, to me,” said a man in a hardhat. “My brother in-law was Venezuelan. A gun nut. He made his own bullets in his basement. Blew his head off when the bullet press exploded. They didn’t find his body for a week, because my sister was in detox. That’s when they discovered he was a crossdresser, lying there dead and smellin’ up the joint in a flower print dress and fluffy pink slippers. It broke my sister’s heart. He had good taste, though. Sis was pretty happy to inherit his hidden wardrobe.”
“What’s wrong with being Venezuelan?” asked a timid man with a foreign accent. The crowd quickly encircled him.
“They’re shifty and unclean!” said a woman smelling of nicotine and eucalyptus.
“We are not,” the timid man said.
“What the hell’s going on here?” It was Bubba, appearing loudly out of nowhere. “Let’s clear this area. Yer blocking the exits.”
“The Greeter assaulted a customer,” said a young woman in a Guns
N’ Roses tee. “He used kung fu. Mother Fucker used the F word, too.”
“What’s this all about, Larry?” Bubba said.
I told him the crowd was out of control. “That woman,” I pointed, “she was ready to kill me over a can of chicken. I had to defend myself.” Panic was peeking round a corner in my guts.
“She’s got a daughter with Tourette syndrome,” someone cried. “I’m not sure what that is, but I hope they don’t have a vaccine for it. Vaccines cause the bubonic plague, you know. My brother got it and had to have his tonsils out, the little mite.”
“Is this true?” Bubba said to me. He looked horrified.
“No,” I said. “Vaccines are perfectly safe.”
“Don’t mess with me, you old geezer. Did you assault a customer?”
“Well technically, yes,” I said, “though a judge wound probably throw it outta court.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Bubba said, turning his attention to the crowd and smiling like an eel, “please try to forget this tragic incident, and know that I will handle it appropriately. Now please proceed to aisle 5 to take advantage of Walmart’s sensationally low price on Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken with Giblets in the 50oz Can. Limit: two cans per customer, no rain checks, double the Air Miles. And please remember to speak enthusiastically to friends and family about your outstanding Walmart shopping experience.”
“I want free chicken,” said my supposed victim, “five of ’em. And triple the Air Miles. I’m taking Little Amy to Jesusland USA. She’s got Tourette syndrome, you know.”
“Fuck,” Bubba muttered at me. “I’ve got red hot pokers in the back with your name on them.”
“I want free chicken, too,” said someone else. “I found this whole experience traumatising.”
“Me too!” others in the crowd began shouting.
“Alright, alright.” Bubba had his hands in the air, trying to calm things down. “Remain where you are, and I’ll have someone come out.” He took a walkie-talkie form his belt, and spoke to a crackly voice at the other end. Then putting the two-way back on his belt, he said, “A manager will be right out.”
“It’s the trash compacter for you, grandpa,” he whispered to me, like a steam pipe. Then grabbing me by the collar, he pulled me down an aisle into a backroom.
“Sit down,” he said, as he slammed the door.
“I’ve never met a Greeter that’s worth a damn.” He stuck his finger in his ear and began digging, viciously. “No one else is stupid enough to do the job, so they hire rejects and old sons-a-bitches like you. I hate old sons-a-bitches like you. Always calling in sick. Always falling down and can’t get up. Always making stupid jokes, or bitching about your aches and pains, or carrying on about how things were different once, a long time ago when everything was actually just shit compared to now and they didn’t even have the Netflix. Always talking about how great your grandkids are, who really think yer fucking wanker and laugh behind yer back at how yer jeans sag in the ass.”
He took his finger out of his ear, to see what he’d found.
“That’s kinda ageist,” I said.
“You know what I did to the last Greeter who fucked up? I really Coached her. And let me tell you, she didn’t fuck up nearly as bad as you. I put her into the trunk of my car, and I drove her fifty miles outta town and left her on the highway. She had borderline dementia. I bet she never made it back. I bet she’s sitting at a gas station lunch counter right now, talking to herself and depending upon the kindness of strangers.”
I almost choked on the Old Spice tsunami, when he bent over me and leaned in close. Now we were nose to nose.
“You know what I think?” he said.
“I’m not sure,” I replied, “but I can guess and you can tell me if I’m close. You think that chem-trails contain mind controlling substances that pacify the masses and make us all stooges of a Deep State Shadow Government?”
He looked a little stunned, as though I’d read his mind.
“No,” he said, licking his lips and digging his finger back into his ear. “I think you need to fall down a long flight of stairs. I’ve found that senior citizens break like China cups on the stairs.”
Things had changed. It didn’t sound like just talk, anymore.
He was giving me no choice; I had to take him seriously. I’d already had a near death experience out on the floor. Anything was possible. Instinctively, I’d cased the room when I entered. There was a small fire extinguisher in a case on the wall, next to where I sat. And Bubba wasn’t considering all of the possibilities. Like that maybe I’d gotten myself out of far worse situations. A long time ago before Netflix. To him, I was just old. His mistake.
“Then when you’re all busted up,” he continued, “I’ll throw you into my car trunk and drive you to an alley I know on the bad side of town, and dump you there. The crack heads’ll use you for a toilet.”
Swell, so he’d seen too many Joe Pesci movies.
Among other criminal-past advantages I held over Bubba, was knowing that one should never stand too close to the person one is trying to intimidate unless that person is tied down. And never under estimate an old fart. He’s probably angrier and meaner than you.
So, I lifted my knee into his junk, extra hard. Then clobbered him across the nose with an arthritic left. When he staggered backward, I elbowed the glass plate of the fire extinguisher case, and retrieved the contents. I’ve always loved small handheld fire extinguishers. They’re hard as a rock, and just the right size and weight to cave-in a skull.
By now, Bubba had fallen backward over a chair and was struggling to get up. I walked over and hammered him over the head with the butt end of the little red steel cylinder. It felt so good that I did it again. A black pool of blood bled out round his head, where he’d fallen onto the floor.
“Greet that, asshole,” I said.
After about 5 minutes of heavy lifting, I was able to heave him onto a flat dolly. Then I put a tarp over him and rolled him out through the busy store. A few of the Associates on the sales-floor asked what I was doing. I told them I was rolling Bubba’s dead body out to my car. There was laughter, and everyone said GREAT!
So now Bubba’s slouched over on my couch, sort of in a sitting position. Mouth open like he’s still breathing, but he isn’t. I brought him home when I left the store, thinking I might bury him at night in a nearby park. It’s nice there. Better than he deserves. But I changed my mind. He ain’t worth it. He can stay on the couch. I’ll turn on the TV for him before I leave. There are rats in the wall.
I write this confession out of what might be a mistaken sense of duty to ageing Walmart Greeters everywhere. It may provide some hope. My message is this: Submit to no one and remember that it’s our age that makes us beautiful, man.
I plan to leave tomorrow morning, and should be in Mexico in a couple of days. By then, even Bubba’s over dose of Old Spice won’t be enough to cover up his post-mortem funk. He’ll be found, unlike the old gal he drove outta town.
Like I said at the start, I tried to go straight but it didn’t work. I thought it mightn’t. The world of squares isn’t for me, never was. I’ve got some cash, hidden in an abandoned mine in the Sierra Madre. And some under the floorboards of a ghetto hovel in Mexico City. Enough to live out on the desert.
Don’t bother looking for me. I’m old; I’m invisible.