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A full grown man wearing a crushed velvet toga appears on the sidewalks in front of the Liberty Tax Service building early every January. These select men in togas do not stand by the side of the road and stare, slump shouldered and humiliated like the sign-holding employees of the costume shop down by Wards Road. No, no. They work that sidewalk. Aaron and I drive past them almost every day.

“You couldn’t pay me enough to do that,” Aaron says as we pull up to the stoplight. “That’s painful to watch.”

“I don’t know.” I say, “I think he’s kind of brave. Besides, look at all that effort.”

The regular performer is a thickset man in his early twenties with a little red goatee. He is a rap aficionado; I can tell by the way he dances. I admire his dedication; the intent, faraway expression on his face as he does his shoofy-shoofy arm motions that rappers make; the sweat rolling down his cheeks under the floppy Lady Liberty hat; and the iPod earbuds dangling incongruously down the front of his toga.

There he is on the corner as we drive past—swagger to the beat, over to the sign, jog back towards the edge of the sidewalk. Back to the sign with some extra enthusiasm in the arm-waving. First the right arm, now the left. Oh yeah, oh yeah, he’s got it going on. Down the sidewalk again, bob that Liberty hat so the tines wave.  Fist pump!

But the Dedicated Regular has nothing on his substitute, Young Talent, who only appears occasionally. This guy knows what he’s doing. He’s thinner, maybe a little younger, and he doesn’t just shoofy-shoofy his arms with enthusiasm. He is fluid; he moves all of himself to the music pumped into his ears by earbud lifelines. He doesn’t do anything spectacular like spin on his head, but he gives the impression that were he not required to dance in front of a Tax Service office all afternoon, and should he have the desire to spin on his head, he could spin on his head.

The last few weeks of tax season, however, we got a slacker on the job. I’ll call him Bob. He waves. Just waves. And it isn’t a wave like “Hey, I’m excited about life,” it’s more like he lost a hand and instead of getting a prosthetic limb, somebody fouled up and attached a fish instead. But you can’t dislike him for slacking on the job, even with the limp fish wave. He’s just too jolly. He’s tall and portly with a big round face, a happy little smile and round glasses that glint in the sunlight. He smiles beatifically at everyone, and waves—flap flap flap. Smile. flap flap flap.  

The sidewalk in front of Liberty Tax Service is empty now. April 15th has passed. The Liberty Tax Service guys have gone into retirement for the year. So here’s to you Liberty Tax Service guys. It takes guts, panache, and possibly a good paycheck to rock the impersonation of a female statue wearing a strange hat. May your iPods remain charged. May you never descend to the depths of holding a sign crookedly and staring out into space. Live life to the full; don your togas with pride and dance for taxes!

But not you, Bob. You need to expend a little more effort.

 

 

Putting the lion to sleep

It’s strange, working inside of a dying beast. I feel like I am participating in someone else’s death throes. My manager at Food Lion called a store-wide meeting last Wednesday and announced that the head corporation had decided to shut our store down, along with 116 or 113 other stores. Since then no more trucks have come in to replenish the stores, and the food is slowly disappearing off the shelves.

People come up and ask me, “Are they really closing the store? Why?”
I shrug, telling them that the high-up corporation probably decided that we just weren’t profitable enough for them to afford. Some of them frown. “Are you all being transferred to other stores? Where will you all go?”
Or, the more wallet-conscious of them ask, “When are the sales going to start?”
The answer to both of these is “I don’t know.”

The lion’s ribs are showing worst in the dairy section. It won’t need many sales to get it cleared out. The backstock that once took me three hours to put out now takes me forty-five minutes at a leisurely pace. There’s a whole bare stretch in the orange juice section and I put out our last gallons of milk today. The dairy cooler feels stagnant without the every-other-day pallet coming in, stacked with fresh yogurts and cheeses and butters. It’s sad to see the bare shelves, but worse, it makes me nervous; the quicker the dairy leaves, the quicker I leave.

The Frozen section, on the other hand, makes my head hurt. I know it will all sell, but I don’t see how anybody’s going to want to buy all those stacks of Parker House Yeast Rolls. Repeatedly staring at the unshrinking, looming pile of unopened cardboard boxes with neat purple lettering has put me off dinner rolls.

The assistant manager has been buzzing around, trying to fit his employees into new Food Lion jobs. “They have openings for you in this place and that place,” he says, thumbing through a mental list, “and I’m putting him here, and she’s quitting, and he’s coming with me.”
I mention a certain store I’ve applied to.
“Oh no,” he says, “You don’t want to go there.”

I spend a lot of time wondering where I’ll be next, if I’ll like it, if I’ll be stuck in the Frozen section. On Friday I stared imagining that a Second Great Depression was impending, but a bit of reality stopped that. The world does not center on me having a job or not having a job, and if the Second Great Depression is coming, my having a job will not hold it off. I am not really worried yet; mostly out of ignorance (I’ve never needed anything I couldn’t have before) but partly because I think I am trusting God. I know He’ll provide us with what we need. Though, I’ll admit, I’m really hoping He agrees with me on the subject of what we need.

I think about not being a Dairy/Frozen person—I would like to be a barista if I could manage to smile and be bubbly for six straight hours. I want to know if I can handle a job entirely focused on customer service. I’ve heard horror stories, but I want to know if I can do it. Would I lose my temper? Cry? Be politely snarky? But if the assistant manager gets me a solid job with another Food Lion, I’m not going to refuse it on the chance that I might get employed in a coffee shop somewhere.

I guess I’ll know definitely by our closing date, February 15th. Until then, I’ll watch my hours and my paycheck drain away with the life of the beast.

Swings

I was going to just post this, but I realized that people might be confused by a sudden description of swings. To give some history, this is writing exercise I did for setting. I decided to do more exercises after getting back from my Christmas writing pause. I read my work only to feel like I was reading a poorly written dime novel and panicked.  Hence, the exercises. Since I hate the idea of letting yet another blog float around as flotsam in the interwebs, useless and untouched, I’m going to put them on here.

My first swing was a rounded yellow plastic shaped slightly like a squashed banana, ends pointing up. Its chains were covered in blue plastic tubes, no doubt to protect young hands, but when those tubes split and covered my hands with fetid rusty water, we discovered that they had also rusted the chains inside nearly through. I was to get a new swing. A swing cut and crafted by my Dad.  My brother and I picked out the colors for our swings. Mine was to be green with yellow chains, his yellow with green chains. Dad hung them and my swing dangled over the hot summer mulch, still smelling of new paint. I noticed with a jealous eye that my brother’s swing (which, I informed him, would be named Calliope) was slightly higher than mine—an unfair advantage for a younger brother. But regardless of deficiencies in height, it was my swing and I loved it, and claimed it by naming it Watermelon.

It had its own rhythmic song when I kicked off the ground and whipped back and forth through the air: eeeka EEE eeeka EEE. My brother’s swing went: ek—EEEEE, ek—EEEE, like a woman being pushed off a cliff repeatedly. Put together with the hum of cicadas and the smell of cut green grass in the air, our swings sang Summer to me.

When friends came over, we ran for the swings and kicked off as high as we could, chanting our own slogans to match the creaking swing songs. Our feet thumped on the ground, pushing off higher, stretching dirty bare toes towards a blue sky.

In solitary moments, those swings for me at eight were the same as driving a car would be for me at sixteen. What did it matter that I actually traveled only four feet of ground over and over again? With the wind in my face, and the friendly swing song to keep me company, I went anywhere I pleased with whoever I pleased, not caring that my hair slapped back and forth in a tangled mess, or that my feet were bare; I kept company with kings and horses, dogs and cats. The swing chains were reins to a team of wild Roman chariot horses, or the seat was my saddle to ride a deer, continually leaping out into the wild, or a train, rushing past the world at a swooping pace.

In my teenage years, my friends and I continued to wander out to the swings at a slower pace. Rain, snow and sun had weathered the swingset. Watermelon was slightly chipped, and the color on both swings’ chains had peeled. Then we sat on them, rocking back and forth with our toes in the mulch, discussing injustice, solving the world’s problems, figuring out boys, and thoughtfully peeling more paint off of the swing’s chains.

Eventually the sweep of autumn brought a complete change to the swings in the backyard. They drifted silently on their chains, left behind as I drove away for college. My brother bought a car and instead of endlessly pushing for the blue sky, transported himself over roads and hills.

They were good swings, good chariots of imagination. They are still hanging out there, their bolts slightly rusty, the paint on the chains tattered from years of thoughtful peeling, bare spots showing through the green and yellow paint. Many friends that once swung with me are gone; gone forever, gone from anger, gone from forgetfulness. My brother no longer fits on his swing; or rather, he does, but his knees nearly hit his chest when he sits on it. He has found other ways to explore the world—cars, guitars, society. I do not go out to visit Watermelon much either; I no longer worry about hurting its feelings by liking Calliope’s height better. My imagination, trained to the sweep of my swings, has grown up and become independent of the creaking swing song.

This spring, my fiancé and I wandered in a park, barefoot with the cold mud in between our toes. We happened on a swing set under a grove of pine trees, black rubber swings low to the ground with long metal chains. I sat in one, rocked hesitantly for a moment, and shoved my feet in the dirt, pushing off, kicking the ground to get me higher, the pine branches above me swooping closer and farther, ice crisp spring air splashing my face. I stretched my toes out, muddy and cold, out towards the blue sky.

Customer Service

Today I had this exchange with a Food Lion customer: “Y’all got misha diet cwee?”
This was so incomprehensible that my brain rolled around in my head and died. “Huh?”
Firmer: “Y’all got mixa datkree?”
“Uhhhh…”
“Mix a dakree!”
Enlightenment hit me and I took off for the proper aisle in my excitement. I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleased to understand the words, “Mix for a daiquiri” before.

My job is to keep the dairy section of our Food Lion stocked and on occasion, answer customer’s questions. Though I do enjoy stocking the juices, I think the most entertaining part is the questions.

At first, I feared questions about product location because I had no clue where anything was. I have a basic idea now, but one question still rattles me. Only the nicest people ask it. They say, “I hate to bother you, but this is such an excellent sale and there aren’t any more on the floor. Is there any chance that you have some in the back?”

Now I take backstock out three times a week and if I’m not taking the backstock out, I’m unloading a pallet to further restock the shelves. If it isn’t on the floor, we probably don’t have any. Nevertheless I scuttle off to look full of hope and then head back to the floor empty handed and full of remorse. Rarely does it bother them to miss out on the product, but I find it most distressing to be consistently unable to present them with what they want.

But to counterbalance that fruitless question, I get my favorite question, The Cool Whip Question, all the time. I can always answer it with decision and accuracy.
The customer approaches: “Uh, excuse me, do you have cool whip—”
I point in an inquiring way at the Reddi Whips behind me, just to make sure, but they shake their heads.
“No, no. In bowl, or a tub, or—”
“A bucket. That’s aisle two.”
And off they go. Quite satisfying.

Then I occasionally get to display my ignorance of all things alcohol. The dairy is right next to the alcohol row, and all the wines are next to the ice cream, so people often come to me with alcohol questions. Most of the time, it’s not too difficult to figure out. Today a woman asked me for “mumblemumbleSix PackemumbleBudMumble.”
I brightly told her, “Aisle Twelve!” and rested in the satisfaction of a question well answered. But besides common vocabulary, my only knowledge of alcohol is that cheap cooking sherry isn’t actually very good for cooking. I don’t even know where we keep the alcohol in my Food Lion. So when a gentleman came up to me a few weeks ago and asked, “Do you have any good dry sherrys?”
I responded, “Um…Yes. We do.”
If they’re really confused, sometimes I’ll offer some token obvious advice: “Well this Barefoot brand here has some sherry. And so does the Orange Tail brand.”
Most customers take pity on me and refrain from mocking me when I resort to tactics like that. It’s very gracious of them, really.

I finish with the observation that women never ask me where the bathroom is, but the men always do. People, I think, are very interesting.

Hurried tidbits

In my few moments I have snagged to have internet, I will rush out some facts about life so that we don’t fall into the category of people who write a few posts and rejoice about being bloggers and then forget about it and go on with their lives. That bothers me, for some reason.

I like my job; I’ve been there a month. Most of the people who come through have kids with them, and in a month’s time, I’ve seen exactly three parents who were glad to be with their kids and not screeching at them ineffectively.

I’m driving stick shift now! I like it, actually, except when I have to downshift.

Next week I work almost thirty hours because my boss is getting married today and will be on his honeymoon. He informed me with great relish that I would be solely in charge of two aisles of frozen foods, an aisle of dairy and an aisle of ice cream. It takes me a solid four hours to just backstock the dairy, so I panicked. Fortunately, my other managers put me in charge of only the dairy!

That’s about it. I feel better about my status as a blogger now.

Been A While

Been a while since Ive blogged.  ‘Course, it doesn’t help that we haven’t had internet in the past week, and I’ve started playing my first video game in months.  Work’s gotten pretty steady: mostly just cleaning DeMoss every day.  Stef and I are still getting used to us both working, especially with working out transportation for her.  She is still learning how to drive a stick, so that poses a problem for us.  The Raineys from church have been so kind to us and let us borrow their automatic.  Once she learns, she can take the Yaris, and I’ll be able to ride with a co-worker except on weekends, so we might have to borrow the Rainey’s car then (sorry, Mr. Rainey, we don’t know what else to do right now!).

My pursuit of a Masters degree is looking like it will change: every person I talk to about LU’s seminary recommends I go elsewhere.  It’s not that it’s not doctrinally sound, it’s because with it being so new, it’s just not that challenging.  I’ve heard people say their Bachelor’s degree was more challenging than the Master’s at the seminary.

I was talking, though, to a couple of people, and found out that people who want to teach will go and get their Masters of Religious Education and be a Graduate Assistant and teach classes while they pursue a Master of Divinity.  This could be potentially what I will do–get my MRE and go to another seminary to teach and get my MDiv.

There is another possibility I am considering.  We are getting close to becoming members of Forest Baptist, which I found out that if you are a member of the Southern Baptist Church (I never thought I would be, but God may continue to lead in that direction) they will pay for half of your tuition.  You can apply for another scholarship in the SBC and have the other half paid for.  We shall see what God wants.

A fellow and I that I work with have become good friends.  We discuss theology every time we’re together.  Last night we discussed emotionalism in worship.  The reason being was that I listened to a group of Korean charismatics singing a song for probably around 20 minutes total, the last 15 or so being the guy preaching yelling something and the others wailing.  I know that you can’t have worship without emotion (look at Psalms), but is their brain being engaged?  I didn’t know what they were saying, but I’ve been in worship services like that before.  The songs consist of repeating a couple of the same phrases again and again till the are trite.  Sometimes I wonder what the lyrics are even saying.  As much as it is opposed to my generations mentality of worship, I am so much more edified when I sing with a congregation an old hymn that is played skillfully–it’s not out dated or ‘traditional’, it’s exhilarating and engages my mind with who God is (theology, ironically).

Anyway, I’m looking forward to developing this new found friendship.  And hopefully soon I’ll be able to revisit an old one.

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