Bag Boy Blues

Life tends to be comprised of big things and little things. Most often, if you pick things apart, you will see that most big things are comprised of little things. I recently had quite a big thing happen to me. Way back when I was still frantically job hunting, I e-mailed a resume to the Jasper Tramway. The Jasper Tramway is one of my favorite places in the whole world, and I would give anything to work there. I applied to be a tram operator; the guy who actually drives the tram up and down the mountain. I tell you, that would be a dream job for me. So, one Sunday morning, my mother frantically gets me out of bed. “It’s the Jasper Tramway!” she said. I picked up the phone, and this is what the guy had to say.

“Good morning, Mark! I hope I didn’t get you out of bed. It seems that we now have an opening for a tram operator. We’d like to conduct a phone interview with you at 1 this afternoon.” Naturally, I said yes. I was all ready for the interview. I spent most of the morning pacing around the house in anticipation. And soon, my mind wandered to the current big thing in my life, my job, and all the little things that go into it.

The first little thing about my job that popped into my mind was my uniform. I’ve got this white dress shirt, and my dress slacks, and the most nondescript black tie you’ve ever seen. That uniform disturbed me for the longest time, and then I was reminded of why thanks to a late-night movie. Have you ever seen that Michael Douglas movie Falling Down? In it, Michael Douglas plays this average guy who gets caught in a traffic jam on his way to work, snaps, and goes on a destructive rampage throughout the streets of L.A. It tried to tackle the same subject matter as Fight Club, but Fight Club did it so much better. My favorite scene in Falling Down is when Michael Douglas goes into a fast food restaurant and orders a burger. Then, with his Uzi, he points at the burger and says “No no no. I don’t want this burger….” Then he points to the glamorized picture of the burger on the menu board and says “I want that burger.” But I digress. With my uniform on, I look a lot like Michael Douglas in Falling Down. My biggest fear is that one day, at work, I will snap, point my Uzi at a customer and say “No no no. You don’t want your milk in a bag.”

And then there’s the apron and name tag. You know, I thought getting a degree would completely eliminate the need for a job that requires me to wear a name tag. It casts my mind back to that scene in one of my all-time favorite movies, Wayne’s World. Wayne, who is twenty something and lives with his parents, by the way, looks in to the camera and says “Let me say this about my career goals. I have an extensive collection of hair nets and name tags. But what I really want to do with my life is do Wayne’s World, and get paid for it.” I love that movie, and I see now how I’m turning out more like Wayne. All I really want to do is Chaos In A Box and get paid for it. Until then, I’m just building up my collection of hair nets and name tags.

That’s just the uniform. Wait until I get to work. I often feel out of place simply because of my gender. On an average shift, there will be seven people working, and I’ll be the only man. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against women in the workplace. Just that, when I’m the only man, I tend to feel somewhat…alienated. Add to that the fact that some days, I’m the only bagger on duty, and I’m being pulled in all directions. “Mark, do a price check.” “Mark, empty the garbage cans.” “Mark, put this back on the shelves.” “Mark, quit bagging at that till and go bag at this till.” “Mark, help these people out to their car.” Actually, I should look on the bright side. Probably never again in my life will I have this many women wanting me.

And don’t get me wrong, but every feminist doctrine I’ve been taught goes out the window as soon as someone comes up to the till will a leaking package of meat. The woman running the till will generally have this response. “Eww eww eww!” Then, being very careful not to touch any of the leaking juice, they will gently pick it up, and pass it over the scanner, going “Eww!” Then, they place it down for me to bag. Me? I just pick it up, toss it in the bag, and wipe off my hands. Hey, leaks happen. You think that the customer would help the cashier by wrapping up the meat with a handy bag from produce, but that will never happen.

What I have come to discover that I find odd is that bagging groceries is the only profession on the planet where people feel obligated to help you. If you work in, say, a video store, a customer will not grab a handful of movies to go back on the shelf away from you, and put them back on the shelf. If you work in a doughnut shop, a customer will not hop behind the counter and proceed to grab his own doughnuts. If you work in a deli, a customer will not cut his own meat. But, I have had people walk right up to me, just about grab the bag out of my hand, and proceed to bag groceries. Maybe there’s a logical reason for this. Maybe because places like Superstore make you bag your own groceries, the concept of that being someone’s job has grown alien to them. Maybe, after taking into account the people at the processing plant, the shelf stocker, and the cashier, the customer just can’t stand to have another person handling his/her food. I don’t know! All I know is you won’t find this level of customer/client involvement in any other job.

But my bosses want me to be more involved. At a recent staff meeting, the boss declared that we aren’t asking people if they’d like help out to their cars enough, and that we should now be asking everybody. So, I ask everybody. Elderly people with three full shopping carts. Single mothers trying to haul out the groceries and take care of three bratty kids. Punk-ass teenagers buying a pop and a bag of chips. Seven-foot-tall hulks buying the day’s paper. And, the response is always the same: a funny look, followed by the words “No thanks, I can manage.” Don’t get me wrong, there are the odd few who want my help. And most of the time, they let me keep the loonie from the cart-lock. But, I have to ask why do I keep asking when I know what the answer is.

And then there are those days at work when I have my filthy mind working against me. There is a pharmacy in the store, and there will be the occasional person who buys condoms. I don’t know if it’s just me, but as soon as I spot those condoms, everything else I bag just has a certain…connotation to it. Know what I mean? Here. Go through this average list of groceries, and I bet you that everything after condoms will seem dirty to you too:

Corn Flakes
Tomato Soup
Macaroni and Cheese
Cottage Cheese
Whipped Cream
Dristan Nasal Spray
Ground Beef
Fruit Loops
See what I mean? But, at least, humor like this gets me through the day.

And it was all these little things that helped me result in my ultimate decision. When the Jasper Tramway called back, I would accept that job. Who cares if it’s only summer employment? This would be a summer doing my dream job. 1 soon came, and the phone rang. And this is what the guy had to say: “Hello, Mark? Yeah, um, shortly after we called you this morning, the person who turned in his two weeks notice came in and rescinded it. So, we are no longer hiring. But, rest assured, your cover letter and resume have impressed us, and we will keep it on file.” I was devastated. Turned down on the way to the interview. This one big, good thing had suddenly turned into one big bad thing. But now, it was time to pick myself up and go bag the groceries.

At work that evening, this elderly gentleman bought a few things. A dozen eggs, a carton of milk, stuff like that. I did my usual exemplary job of bagging, and then asked the question I have to ask everyone: “Would you like a hand out with that?” The gentleman said “No thanks,” but then he looked me in the eye, and said more. “You know,” he said, “I managed a grocery store like this for 20 years. A person who shows initiative like that is destined to head straight for the top.” Then, he left. A compliment. After one huge, crummy day, a compliment. Sometime, it is the little things that can neutralized the big things.

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