Anyway, here's part 22...
I Do This For Nothing
I sat on the bus to the train on the day after Thanksgiving, feeling woozy. A combination of turkey and trimmings, about a dozen cans of beer, and a couple of glasses of wine were still having their effect on me, even though I had slept well the night before and had a big breakfast with lots of coffee before leaving for work. I didn't know how I was going to make it through the day, but, as Eddie always said, if you're man enough to party, you're man enough to get up the next day and go to work.
The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the busiest days in the retail business, and it was one of those days where it was "all hands on deck". The boss had asked all of us to make an effort to let him know when we were available, so that he could schedule as many of us as possible throughout the week to help the full-time people. He seemed disappointed when I told him that I would be available on the weekends only, but that I would be able to help out today. I tried to explain to him that I was paying a lot to get an education, and wanted to concentrate on that, particularly since this was the time of the year when many of my professors had scheduled exams and assigned papers to be done. He was not impressed, and when I thought about it, I realized that he was downright nasty to me, telling me that if I were as good in school as I was at work, perhaps I should consider a job in manual labor. I resented his saying that to me, but figured that it was only a part-time job, and it was better than working at the Jewel. Maybe.
I stood on the train platform at 95th Street, huddled behind a glass partition, smoking a cigarette. It was colder than a well-digger's ass outside, with a nasty wind that cut right through my heavy overcoat and slapped me across the face whenever I faced into it. Needless to say, the train was late, and a good sized crowd was forming on the platform. I was hearing predictions that this winter would be even colder than last year's, and if today was any way to judge, we were in for it this year.
A southbound train finally made it to the platform, and I knew that it would only be a few minutes before I would be on my way. I had to be at the store by 9, and it was only 7:30, so I wasn't too worried. It took forever for the train to turn around, but at last we were all loaded aboard, and headed slowly toward the Loop. It wasn't much warmer aboard the train, but at least we were out of the wind, and I managed to get a window seat beside one of the heaters.
Around 35th Street, the train stopped for no reason and sat for ten minutes. The longer we sat, the more nervous I got that I wasn't going to get to work on time. When we finally got moving again, I checked my watch and saw that it was quarter after eight. That meant that I had just enough time to get to the store if we didn't have any more delays and if the subway was running on time. I said a silent prayer to St. Christopher that I'd make it all right.
I transferred to the subway a couple of stops before I normally do, just to be sure that I got on a train that was moving. I got into the subway station in plenty of time, and made it to the platform just as a northbound train was pulling out. I lit a cigarette and hoped that the next train wouldn't be delayed by too much. I had twenty minutes to get to the store before I was considered tardy, and before the boss would dock me for the half hour. A train arrived almost immediately, and I got on board.
At Grand and State, the doors opened, and the conductor made an announcement that, due to delays, the next stop would be Fullerton. I cursed loudly, causing a couple of older women to glare at me, and got off of the train. Now, I'd be late for sure. I knew that I should call, and found a quarter in my pocket and saw a public phone just down the platform. Just as I got to it, someone picked it up and tried to put money into it. He pounded on the buttons a few times, then slammed the phone down. "It's busted," he said.
I shrugged and lit another cigarette. There wasn't anything that I could do about it now.
I made it to my station at ten after nine, and tossed my coat under the counter. The boss walked up immediately. "Late again, Mr. Reardon."
"I know, sir. I left home in plenty of time to get here, but had trouble with the trains. One of them stopped for a good ten minutes, then..."
"I know, I've heard it all from you before. You do seem to have more than your share of troubles with the transit system. Well, go hang up your coat and clean up this area. We'll be open in ten minutes, and this will be a very busy day. You'll be working with Joe."
"OK, not a problem." I had never met Joe, and had only heard about him in passing. "Where is he?"
"He's back in the stock room, getting ready to restock the shelves. Perhaps you should concentrate on working the floor, and let him take care of the stock."
"I'll do that."
Before long, Joe emerged from the stockroom, pushing a trolley stacked high with wine cases. I walked up to him and extended my hand. "You must be Joe. I'm Tony Reardon."
The middle-aged gentleman pushing the trolley regarded my hand, and looked at me. "Oh, so you're the guy who works here on the weekends."
"Right! And, you must be the guy who works during the week."
"Yeah, and cleans up after you." With that, he launched into a litany of my shortcomings as an employee of the Wine Shop. He complained about how I stacked the boxes under the counter, about how I rearranged the bags and boxes so that he couldn't find them. He went on about my inability to arrange the bottles in the various bins. He mentioned the one time that I left a case of wine on a trolley at the end of the day, how it was dangerous and people could get hurt. He criticized the way that I moved things around in the stock room, and how he could never find what he was looking for. He told me that my hair was too long, my tie was too wide, and my suit was too fancy.
I tried to explain myself to him, but he would hear none of it. "From now on, you leave things where you find them, you don't monkey with the stock room, and you stay the hell out of my way. You work the floor, I've got plenty to do in the back."
With that, he turned his back to me and began restocking the bins, muttering to himself. "And you might consider dusting off some of these bottles on the shelves every once in a while," he said.
I retreated to behind the counter and stood there, determined to stay out of his way as much as possible for the day. That didn't suit him much, either. "Well, you want to give me a hand here? For Christ's sake, you're supposed to be helping."
By the middle of the day, the boss told me to work with the others in the Gourmet Food department. That was fine with me. I was only too happy to leave Joe and his foul mood behind.
"I see you've met Joe," Carol, one of the regulars in the Gourmet Food department, said when I came over. "A real piece of work, that one."
"Yeah, well, it's his department," I said.
"That doesn't give him the right to yell at you the way that he just did. Don't feel too bad. He comes in late at least twice a week, comes back late from lunch at least once a week, yells at anyone who doesn't do things his way, and Pepe doesn't say anything."
"Yes," Carol said, smiling. "As in Pepe le Peu." I giggled. "He's got the accent, too."
"I thought that was German."
"He's from some town along the border. It's a little bit of both."
The day moved quite rapidly after that. I spent most of the day working the floor, helping to restock shelves, and got a chance to learn something about the Food department. I didn't leave the floor except for breaks and lunch, and pitched in wherever I could to help. At the end of the day, the boss came up, and I thought he was going to compliment me on not having any voids, and for working so hard.
"We won't be needing you tomorrow," he said.
"What?" I was shocked. I was certain that Saturday would be at least as busy as today had been, even more so considering that more people were off for the day.
"You heard me. You're off tomorrow. Joe will be here to handle the wine department, and we have enough people for gourmet. I'll see you Sunday."
"I'll see you Sunday, Mr. Reardon," he said. He turned on his heel and left me standing there, mouth agape.