Poetry

The Slow Damnation of a Supermarket Checker in New Jersey

Photo by Heamer.CC0/Public Domain license.
Photo by Heamer.
CC0/Public Domain license.

1.

Though he’d been as terrified to be tested
in real time with customers’ money,
after his three-days of training
like an actor live on Broadway
for the first time,
the new cashier found he loved
the supermarket in the morning:
vast universe, breezy with openness,
Time, Space and Order
bounding the big box walls.
Abundant harvest
overflowed on produce shelves.
Rainbow bouquets danced with the eye,
perfuming the florist counter.
Elegant cold cuts and salads
waited at the deli for kings.
Each shopper, an independent world,
pushed a cart at leisure
along a timeless aisle,
pulling cans down
from opulent shelves
restocked during the night.
The cans, fruits, vegetables, meat and milk
then tripped along the conveyor,
rolling easily to his waiting hand
which gingerly lifted each item,
placed scanner to bar code,
waited for that musical beep,
nimbly punched produce codes,
then neatly and swiftly
bagged everything up
like a cowboy hog-tying a steer,
bidding each customer adieu
with warm namaste’ smile.

2.

Months went by.
The honeymoon slowly began to fade.
Holiday season meant extra shifts.
More afternoon work,
traffic jams of snarled carts.
Customers pressed against meat freezers
way at the back of the store,
the whole line glowering at him.
No one’s fault, really— mostly
it was the waiting for overrides
from harried supervisors.
Back in morning shift’s Elysian Fields,
no crush and everyone endlessly patient,
bosses had come by whistling a tune.
Now, when they finally got to him,
they grumbled, while turning
the key in the register
as if twisting a knife in his ribs.
The gears of time ground horribly.
Naked in slow motion,
he was failing in plain sight,
incompetent bullfighter who should never
have shown up at the stadium.
Thanksgiving weekend came and went, but then
Christmas Season started building with no let-up.
One day when his relief came,
he counted the drawer of cash
and carried it into the little airless office,
sliding it under the glass partition
to the girl who never looked him in the eye
or said hi, but only, “Please sign your statement”
and who, if she ever addressed him at all,
called him, “Mr. Thing”.
Today she pushed the paper
back in his face with the words,
“You forgot to write in your number.”
He slid it back under the glass to her and replied,
“Fuck you.
I quit.”