My old name tag from Albertson’s. Seemed fitting for labor day. My good friend Charlie worked there, and got me an interview when I was fifteen maybe sixteen. I was hired as a Courtesy Clerk. You did a lot as a clerk. You were asked to do what needed to be done where there was no one to do it. It was never the same from one day to the next. I spent time helping in almost every department. Cleaned toilets, buffed floors, stocked shelves, cleaned machinery, and froze working in dairy refrigerators. If there was something too heavy to be lifted for a customer or employee, they called the 135 pound kid over to handle it. It was 30 hours a week, the maximum allowed for my age. Full days every Saturday and Sunday and a few 3 to 4 hour days throughout the week after school. It was hard work, and by the end of the day, I felt it.
Mostly, I fetched shopping carts and loaded groceries I bagged into customer’s cars. Often helped load for elderly customers or mothers trying to manage one too many kids. Occasionally there were the able bodied eccentrics, who just liked to talk to strangers. Always got a kick out of reactions as I handled a customer’s eggs. You’d think I was moving an unpredictable stick of dynamite. The few minute walk from the checkout line to the car taught me how to make small talk. Weather was the typical topic. Customers were always curious to know if I was saving up to buy something specific, a car maybe. I always surprised them and got a few laughs when I said “retirement.”
A faulty moral compass kept me from accepting customer tips for a long time. My family, friends, and co-workers eventually convinced me I was insane for it. Think I made five or six dollars an hour. The job taught me the value of those dollars. I vividly remember sitting at Wendy’s on my lunch break, calculating in my head how much time the food I was eating cost me. I ate every crumb, and soon after started bringing my own lunch.
Collecting carts outside was my favorite. I didn’t have to talk to anyone. There was time to think. I taught myself to whistle out there. I always wore a wrist watch but once I learned that time liked to move faster when you didn’t watch it, I kept my eyes away from it. Instead, I liked guessing the time by eyeing how far the building’s shadow was cast across the parking lot.
I have more memories and stories from the job than I can fit here. It was invaluable to me and the most laborious job I’ve ever had, yet I worked every labor day I was there. In a strange way, I do miss it sometimes.
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