Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century
The photo is to remind me of a time when the world wasn't white. Looking out the second floor window this morning, my first thought is: Darn, it snowed again. The snow cover is so complete it looks fresh.
My original intention today was to write a short list of new titles for future excerpts. For example,
There's another orb, ya know! An explanation would get me in trouble.
The title for this episode listed above comes from The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. Use your imagination.
How about Nigger Babies? At breakfast my wife and I discuss childhood memories and candy.
Another Bryson image:
Licking Lincoln Logs.
Surfing old documents I come across a good one. Since it is rather long, I will post it in two parts. That gives me time to fool with the gnomes today. I'm waiting until solstice to find out their names. Until then, these guys know how to party.
Hidden subtext message to Bulldog...
Psst. do you know how hard it is to resist sampling new venison? I'm nearing two full gallon bags. Mmmmmm. Tasty stuff.
It rolls off your tongue and is hard to control.
I like the word because of the way the combination of letters rolls off your tongue. In the Oxford dictionary of English etymology, the word is a sub form of the Latin noun supere. The Old English derivation was spatl. It describes much of the last month. I hunted for apt descriptions of the way I feel. That’s what comes through. The weather is foggy, rainy, misty, dreary. It precludes any outside work. Mud season.
Saturday, my wife and I work ourselves close to near exhaustion, cleaning up 2 of 11 garden plots. Removing 8 ‘ weeds with tough fibrous stems, roots that run straight to China, then to hell and back. We take the chain saw to wood boulders that lay strewn in the old spinach patch, haul cut blocks to the wood pile or cart really huge log slices by dolly to a parking place next to the stump. It takes most of the afternoon. By four pm, I’ve mowed the front lawn and decided the rest of it could wait. My wife can mow the backyard. I will cut the highway side with the gardens and so on after work on Sunday. Monday, I’ll be hanging on for dear life, as the mower slips and slides on the berm hill. We take a nap. Sunday it rains-all day. Pools of water all over the place. After a week of intermittent rain, the river is up to the top of its bank.
I stand on at the second floor window at 6:30 am Tuesday and survey the scene. The herb gardens are a mess of weeds. What’s new? I wrestle with the idea of just clear cutting the 3 remaining plots of perennial sage, thyme, chives and the annual basil. The fourth plot was an overflow for onions. When they were removed, itinerant sunflowers take over the plot. Now, all that remains are the woody stumps of eight foot tall sunflowers. Garden #1 is a deep-green patch of mammoth clover that might bloom if we have some sun. Garden #2 is a lighter shade of pastel green clover. I planted it two weeks after number one. My gaze skips to garden # 9 which has been retired permanently. It looks healthy and grassy green from the mix of clover and $9 /lb grass seed from the hardware store. Plots 3 & 4 are a pleasant shade of newly tilled burnt umber. The plan is under way.
My work day Tuesday starts at 11 am. I’ve been working the 7-4 shift since October 7th because the dairy manager is on vacation. In the Wal-Mart way that means I did his job and my job too. Add under staffing and an incompetent night crew, a new hire who exhibits three distinct learning disabilities: has bulging eyes, an irritating nasal twang that’s suggest her alcoholic parents produced an alcoholic syndrome baby and an inability to pay attention. Chronic ADD. That’s a recipe for gruntling. Major disgruntling.
I’d like to join the members of the afternoon truck unloading crew who, when informed that their 2-11 pm schedule had been changed to 4pm to 1 am, gave notice and will begin working in Richland Center for Rockwell ( Allen-Bradley) at a beginning wage of $13.50/hour plus overtime.
One member of the crew stops to gossip and spits when we talk of the 18 years she worked for Wal-Mart. “That’s the thanks I get”, she says. I surmise that the new manager from who looks like Mussolini with a buzz cut, is following a directive to reduce salary costs. Long term employees are an economic dead-weight. Our Wal-Mart is heavy with staff over the age of 65 who are supplementing meager social security(none at all if they were farm workers and paid no SS tax). Imagine the store as a clipper ship. It lists to the far left side, almost to the deck rail.
The grocery side is staffed with younger people who actually perform 8 hours of hard labor. The other side of the store, the soft lines, electronics, hardware, automotive, house wares are staffed with septuagenarians and posers. They’re overweight, infirm, a few actually crippled, and gravitate to positions that allow for maximum leaning and little or no work. I see them frequently huddled in the backroom talking about nonsense or on the sales floor shifting merchandise one place to the left.
For example, on a trip to the town dump, one of the road crew from the Town of Kickapoo asks me about Ed in sporting goods. According to an Assistant Manager, the position requires an intimate knowledge of state and federal regulations regarding firearms. As a result, it is one of the higher paid positions. Jeff tells me Ed is dumber than dirt when it comes to selling rifles or ammunition. Wal-Mart eventually drops Ed and eliminates rifles. Second quarter profits are down and the stock price has dropped from $48/share to $43. In another cost cutting measure all employees have their schedule trimmed by two or three hours. “Do more with less.”
For breakfast, I grab four small white onions and slice until my eyes brim with tears. I toss in another yellow onion, diced venison steak, a fresh potato and the piece de resistance: a can of mushrooms. I simmer the combination in olive oil until the onions are separated and tender. My wife joins me for breakfast in the 10 minutes she has before making the 20 minute drive to town. “I won’t belabor the point,” I say. “Last night at dinner I described some of the more noxious events of the past week.” Included in the description is the quote from the new hire who already has been nicknamed Yah-Yah,
”What do you want me to do with these coffee creamers: the perennials and cream?” With an astonished look, I note that she can’t read or conversely-is dyslexic. Pralines & Cream.
The day before, I ask politely, as I move palette stacked high with 100 cases of frozen food into a freezer, “ Please don’t stand behind me.” She’s peering over my shoulder to look at the palette as I move in into the freezer. “Do they go in a certain way? she asks. “No, “ I reply. She doesn’t hear me because she’s not able to assume multiple tasks. In her mind she processes information much like a computer with little or no memory. Given instructions which contain subtasks, she’s off and running like a racehorse scared out of the stalls before I can complete a sentence.
Another time, she walks into the dairy cooler. I begin to explain that there are additional palettes of milk in another cooler. Before I can complete my sentence…”You need to bring the 2% milk down to this cooler", she asks if we carry organic milk. I walk to the sales floor and begin my explanation again.
After repeating,” Don’t stand behind me!” several times, more forcibly, because I almost step on her, she retreats and breaks into tears. A customer asks for assistance finding an item. She follows me around the store as I look for molasses which is stocked in the breakfast food aisle. On the sales floor she chats incessantly with customers.
As an corollary image, picture the retarded man who hangs out at the Village Market. He’s forty, has red sandy hair in a buzz cut and shaped like a pear. When you enter the store, he’s sitting on a bench. Retarded Rudy begins a long description of the pizza at Subway. His nasal twang grates your ears as he says,” I eat pizza at Subway. It’s really good. Do you like pizza?” I avoid eye contact and mumble some platitude. I see customers react in similar fashion to Yah-Yah. Other associates roll their eyes.
My statement to my wife is short. For me, short is astounding.
“We gotta do something”, I tell her during the Kickapoo Corners dinner of catfish breaded with cornmeal and sour cream and chive fries. I describe the rock, the hard place and the cramped space in between in which we currently reside.
When I arrive at work at 11 am, I’m am confronted with a swarm of magpies. “Did yah hear what happened to Yah-Yah?” they ask. After the fourth person asks me the same question, I respond with a surly retort.” She hurt herself lifting cases of orange juice,” I’m told. “Roberto took her to the hospital.” Roberto is the new manager. “She’s under a doctor’s care and cannot lift more than ten pounds.” Today’s the day my manager is scheduled to return from vacation. He’s not there when I arrive. I ask for assistance with the load of work. Roberto assigns ICS associates to work the freezers. Meanwhile, the dairy portion which is over half the grocery portion of Wal-Mart is neglected. The shelf of Great Value butter which holds over four cases when completely stocked is empty. It’s one of the items Wal-Mart rules state very plainly:
Never let the butter run out.
I don’t care. Counting on my fingers, I determine it’s taken all of 7 months to become jaded and cynical. Wal-Mart fosters incompetence, mediocrity and arse kissing to a credo we all label The Wal-Mart Way.
When the dairy manager returns the next day after a span of 10 days off, I’m suspicious of his “diarrhea” excuse. He hasn’t survived working in grocery business since he was 18- 8 of them at Wal-Mart (meat, photo lab, dairy, bakery, cashiering, God knows what else, by being a model citizen. There’s the Wal-Mart way and then there’s the Bulldog way.
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