When I woke up this morning, there was a new continent on the map on my Word Press statistics page. It lay in between Tierra del Fuego and the southern tip of Africa, and was roughly the size of Madagascar and the shape of a 1965 Volkswagen van. When I looked closer, it turned out to be a dry crumb of organic matter, stuck to the computer screen. I guess I coughed something up last night. I scratched the crusty thing off the face of the planet with my fingernail, and meditated on impermanence. Then I made coffee and ate cold pizza.
Now I write this on my blog. It’s intended as a confession, but maybe it’s more. Who knows? Maybe it’ll hold some meaning for the internet archeologist who discovers it on an abandoned server in a long lost cloud farm, five hundred years from now. Or maybe I’m only writing it to say, fuck you very much.
The seriousness of what I’ve done isn’t for me to weigh. I’ll let others do that, and if they’re harsh, they can kiss my ass. Just let it be known that at least I tried to go straight.
Today would have been my third day working at my new job as a Walmart Greeter. It also would have been the third time that I was forced to do the pre-shift cheer and bumble bee dance. But that isn’t going happen, 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 Taylor Swift, and was surprised to discover that I’m only sixty-nine. She could have sworn, she said, that I was much older. Nice.
“It was my last three marriages,” I said. “The first two were okay, but the last three, well, they aged me something awful.”
“Wow,” she replied.
Then Debbie asked me straight out, with a fresh wad of bubble gum in her mouth, why I was looking for employment, instead of enjoying my retirement. In response, I tried to explain 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, and a counterfeit Maersk Line bill of lading.
She didn’t get it, just stared at me a moment, and then ended our brief meeting by handing me a slip of paper with the Walmart job information on it.
Most of the Walmart employees doing the bumble bee were weary looking high school dropouts with nervous ticks, dilated pupils and scabs on their faces. Baba Henry was the shift lead, a poorly dressed man in a polyester Chinese checkers shirt and grubby blown-out Nikes. He was a gesticulating fiend, and possessed a dexterity rare in the obese, and lacking in many of us in the room who were much slimmer. He shouted louder and wiggled his hips more than any of us. I guess he simply had more heart, in the way that the truly idiotic often do. It only took me three minutes to come to hate him.
My first day was a four hour shift, dedicated to orientation. I and other new employees learned about the meaning of customer service, Walmart policy and the importance of absolute unquestioning obedience to management. Then we were introduced to the corporation’s secret website, accessible only to Walmart administration, staff and an elite force of NSA shock troops.
And we were warned to avoid ever being Coached.
Coaching, 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 the slaves of the new self-perpetuating recessionary epoch. Our situation was hopeless. Slackers, complainers and people with ideas were nails to be hammered down into the vinyl flooring. Union organisers, on the other hand, were summarily and ritualistically executed on the loading dock, and disappeared into the massive laneway trash compactor. Afterwards, their homes were incinerated in the night with all occupants locked inside.
I walked away from Orientation feeling like I’d leaned out of a car, and held my tongue to the pavement going 80 mph.
On my second day, after the bumble bee and cheer, I took my position near the main entrance, facing a large milling rabble on the other side of the locked doors, waiting to take advantage of a special bargain price on a limited supply of Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken without Giblets in the 50oz Can, limit: two cans per customer, no rain checks, double the Air Miles.
The crowd stared at me through the glass doors with blank expressions, as though they were fish in an aquarium, making blub-blubbing movements with their mouths.
Something like panic was growing in my gut. I wanted to run; I should have run. I was beginning to realise that I would be an obstacle to these canned chicken crazed demons. To them, I would be the Chicken Keeper — the only thing standing between them and canned chicken bliss. I was nothing but stampede bait. They were going to rip me to pieces.
9 a.m.! I heard Baba say, as he came up from 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.” There was scorn in his squinty eyes. “Remember, a true Walmart Greeter knows no fear, only the joy of greeting, of directing customers to Walmart’s excellent selection of quality value-priced merchandise, and deflecting all criticism away from management and the Corporation, onto yourself. You understand me?” he hissed. “Do you need Coaching?”
I thought about the rent due in three days and my new found desire to be a straight shooter. My first impulse, quitting, wasn’t an option.
“No,” I said. “I don’t need Coaching.”
“Sir,” Baba 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 smell of day old nicotine and eucalyptus.
“I don’t need coaching, Sir,” I said.
“That’s better, you senile old prick. Now you take that morose look off of your face and smile, before I really give you something to pout about.”
As he walked away, he said, “Fuck, I hate Greeters.”
He was clearly a master at opening. His bearing was confident, and he made no eye contact with the blub-blubbing throng as he inserted the key. He remained cool, even as the mob heaved forward at the sound of lock tumblers engaging, causing the glass to flex and bulge. He’d obviously been expecting the crushing surge. It was something they’d undoubtedly studied at the Walmart Labs in Bentonville, Arkansas. When he turned the key, he deftly stepped out of the way, like a 250 pound ballerina.
Then it began.
The invasion of single-minded dead-eyed humanity was terrifying. It was the chicken-zombie-shopper apocalypse, and Baba had disappeared through some hidden door in the wall. I was paralysed by the same repulsive fear that urged me to run, but somehow I stood my ground. I smiled and greeted — Hello ma’am, Hello sir. And as the grim and unruly horde shouldered past me, I was nearly knocked to the floor several times.
Then out of nowhere, she appeared. The shrieking woman.
“My God,” she screamed, grabbing me by my blue vest and pushing me into a display of Chuck Norris Fruity Uzis breakfast cereal, “where’s the chicken? – the goddam chicken, man! Stop stuttering, spit it out.” She gave me a good shake, and pushed me back again. 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 weed, disguised as a shipment of hand painted sugar skulls, through a checkpoint in Michoacán. I realised then that escaping this fire-sale running of the bulls would be impossible. I’d been setup as a chump. But suddenly, as the screaming woman kicked me in the shin, I was inspired by the smirking image of Chuck Norris on the cereal boxes at my feet, and karate chopped her hands off of my vest, and hollered, “Fuck off, you psycho bitch!”
It was a holler heard all over the front end of the store, and the marauding mass halted, turned and looked at me in awe.
“Did that Greeter just say fuck off bitch?” one of the zombies said.
“Yeah,” said the woman with the vice-like grip. Her eyes were flaring, her hair was a brittle blonde fire hazard. “He told me to fuck off, and called me a bitch.”
“Horrible!” a voice called out. There were growing murmurs of agreement and rage.
“Then he hit me,” she continued, strategically dowsing the flame in her eyes. Now tears formed. “I have a disabled child at home, Little Amy. She’s six years old, and has Tourette syndrome.” There were gasps from all round her. “I’m homeschooling her, because they won’t let her go to public school and play with the other children.” Now there was a generalised tsk-tsk-ing. “And we’re so poor that all I have to drive is a 1979 Ford Pinto, with a busted windshield and no cigarette lighter. I only asked him where the chicken was. Little Amy loves her whole canned chicken without the giblets.”
“He hit you?” screeched another woman. “That’s horrible.” She grabbed the man standing next to her. Together, they looked like American Gothic on crack.
“But he’s just a Greeter,” came a shout from the back of the crowd. “He can’t do that. Only management can do that.”
“He just did, though,” yelled another person, who shook a fist.
Now everyone began shouting —
“Don’t they bring the Greeters in illegally from Serbia? Someone has to call the police — Immigration Services.”
“He looks sort of Serbian, to me,” said a man in a hardhat and florescent orange overalls. “My brother in-law was Serbian. He made his own bullets in his basement, and 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 that he was a crossdresser, lying there dead in a dress and fluffy pink slippers. It broke my sister’s heart, but he actually had good taste in women’s clothing, and she was very happy to inherit his wardrobe.”
“What’s wrong with being Serbian?” asked a timid man with a foreign accent.
“They’re shifty and unclean!” yelled an old woman with broken plastic umbrella.
“We are not,” the timid man said.
“What the hell’s going on here?” It was a loud voice. It was Baba, appearing out of nowhere, oily and heroic. “Let’s clear this area. There are fire regulations, you know.”
“The Greeter assaulted a customer,” said a young woman in a Guns N’ Roses tee shirt and acid wash jeans. “He used kung fu, and the fucking bastard used the F word.”
“What’s this all about, old man?” Baba said, looking to me.
“The crowd was out of control,” I said. “That woman over there,” I pointed, “she was ready to kill me over a can of chicken. I had to defend myself.” The panic in my gut was returning.
“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?” Baba 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 the case out, considering the circumstances.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Baba said, turning his attention to the crowd and smiling, “please try to forget about this tragic incident, and know that I will handle it appropriately. Now proceed to aisle 5 to take advantage of Walmart’s sensationally low price on Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken without 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 three times the Air Miles. I need them Miles real bad, ’cause I’m taking Little Amy to Jesusland USA. She’s disabled, you know.”
“Fuck,” Baba muttered at me. “I’ve got red hot pokers in the back with your name on them.”
“I want free chicken, too,” someone else said. “I found this whole experience traumatising.”
“Me too!” others in the crowd shouted out.
“Alright, alright.” Baba 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 he turned to me and said, “It’s the trash compacter for you, grandpa.” Then to the mob, he said, “A manager will be right out.”
Now Baba grabbed me by the collar, and pulled me to a backroom.
“Sit down,” he said, as he slammed the door.
I sat down.
“I’ve never met a single Greeter that’s worth a damn.” He stuck his finger in his ear, and started digging. “No one else is stupid enough to do the job, so they hire old sons-a-bitches like you. I hate old sons-a-bitches like you, always making stupid jokes and slapping complete strangers on the back like you’re their best pal when all they wanna do is get as far away from you as possible.”
“That’s very ageist,” I protested, not really knowing why.
“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 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 on the kindness of strangers.”
I almost choked on the Old Spice tsunami, when he bent over me and leaned in close.
“You know what I think?” he said. We were now nose to nose.
“Ah, let’s see,” I said, “you think that chem-trails contain mind controlling substances that pacify the population and make us all passive stooges of Shadow Government?”
He looked at little stunned for a moment, as though I’d read his mind.
“No,” he said, licking his lips and digging his blunt finger into his ear again. “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.”
He gave me no choice; I had to take him seriously. I’d already had a near death experience that morning. I knew anything was possible. Out of instinct, I’d cased the room when I entered. There was a small fire extinguisher in a case right next to where I sat. And Baba wasn’t considering all of the possibilities, that maybe I had gotten myself out of far worse situations, that he was a lightweight compared to some of the thugs I’d faced. To him, I was just old. Bad mistake.
“Then when you’re all busted up,” he said, “I’ll drive you down to an alley I know on the bad side of town, and dump you there. The crack heads’ll steal your wallet and watch, and use you for a toilet.”
Swell, I was dealing with a clown who’d seen too many Joe Pesci movies.
Among the other advantages I held over Baba, was knowing that one should never stand too close to the person one is trying to intimidate. And never under estimate an old fart. There’s always an outside chance that he might be angrier and meaner than you.
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 fire extinguishers. They’re just the right size.
By now, he’d fallen backward over a chair and was struggling to get up, so I walked over and hammered him over the head with the butt end of the red cylinder. It felt so good that I did it again. He fell into a black pool of his own blood.
“Greet that, asshole,” I said.
After about ten minutes of heavy lifting, I was able to heave him onto a flat dolly. Since the backdoors were locked, and my car was in the front parking lot, I put a tarp over him and rolled him out through the busy store. A couple of Associates asked me on the way what I was doing, and I told them I was rolling Baba’s dead body out to my car. Each of them laughed and said, GREAT!
So now Baba’s slouched over, sort of in a sitting position, on my couch. His mouth is open like he’s still breathing, but he isn’t. I look at him every now and then as I type, but I feel no regret. I have no sympathy.
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: Don’t take any shit. Submit to no one. Use your hard-earned strength and intelligence to smack down petty minds. It’s our age that makes us beautiful, man.
If I drive steady for a couple of days, I should be able to get to Mexico, intact. By then, even Baba’s over dose of Old Spice won’t be enough to cover up his stink, so I’m confident that he’ll be found, unlike the old gal he drove out of town.
Like I said at the start, I tried to go straight and 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. Or maybe it’s somewhere else. Maybe I’m just blowing smoke. Maybe it’s under the floorboards of a ghetto hovel somewhere in Mexico City. Either way, it’s good to have an alternative retirement plan. Don’t bother looking for me. I’ll be invisible, just another old guy you think’s all used up, sitting on a park bench, feeding the birds.