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A Ghetto Grocer to Remember

Lenny gave me my first promotion in the retail food business.

We met when I was 18 and he was in his mid to late twenties.

Lenny managed the grocery store where I worked for his parents.

Lenny had a Doctorate in Physics—no fooling, the man was a real, authentic genius.

Lenny liked me because I was one of only two employees who had read a book—and I was the one who did not hate him. The other reader was also a full-blooded son of Polish immigrants and there was some native rivalry—perhaps a genetic memory of who had miss-used the other family's plough horse in olden times...

Lenny would stand behind me while I stocked shelves, tried to teach my algebra, calculus, trigonometry and physics—and then noticing my lack of mathematic purchase, but eye for detail, declared that I had "a natural sense for cubing and time and motion" taught me the principals of moving anything more efficiently, which served me well in years to come.

But a man who delves into the secrets of the Universe finds slim purchase for his soul in such a den of dogs as a grocery store. Like many a genius, Lenny could never fathom the motivations and operating principals of the idiots bobbing in the insane sea of humanity in which he found himself adrift.

My idiot peers vexed him to no end—but what was worse was the thought of managing a pantry full of idiots to feed a city full of human rats into his old age.

Lenny did have a sense of humor. As we walked out of the backroom ready to head home after Lenny unlocked the front door of the store we had just closed down, he, from his position in the front office, which he called "the Bridge" [he was a big Star Trek fan], and recalling that Duz forgot to put the mushrooms away on one of every three nights, he used the intercom system to speak a reminder. Duz, thinking himself safely in the back room, having just put the mushrooms away, bellowed, "I already did, you fucking asshole!"

To our horror, Lenny had not let the intercom system go back on Musak stereo and Duz's bellow could be heard echoing through the store. We all thought for sure, Duz would be fired. About ten of us stood in the isle looking at Duz, standing between the flaps of the produce room door.

As he hung his head, and moaned, "And the asshole will probably fire me over the intercom too." The intercom clicked, ominously, the holder of the phone theatrically letting the dial tone act as his 'enter the villain soundtrack'.

The announcement that followed was something very close to the following, "That simian cry of protest has been noted. An imperial star cruiser is being dispatched to your backward planet. The High Counsel recommends that your evolution toward an intelligent form of life might be facilitated, in the interim, by not letting your fungoid food degrade at room temperature. After that, the invention of fire would serve well. Our intervention team will bring plans for your first wheel—please, at that juncture pay attention and desist from your apish hooting."

Duz breathed a sigh of relief and smiled and we headed out the door to the bar.

There was the occasional adventure, such as when he was closing the store after hours, checking all of the various heating elements to make certain the place would not burn down over night. The number of ways a supermarket, which stores vast flammables and also cooks foods in many ways, might burn down, are legion.

Lenny checked the employee lunch room to make certain the coffee pot and electric frying pan were not plugged in and was confronted by two Reparations Recovery Agents, who had been hiding out in the room hoping to emerge to pillage the store after he shut it down. Lenny fought them well enough that they gave up on trying to do him in and fled, but the stainless steel frying pan had spit his head good. He gave chase—seizing a back door pipe on the way out—and then failed to catch his attackers, latter theorizing that they possessed a remarkable flight mutation, possibly linked to their ancestors cohabitating with giant felines on the Africa Savanna. He managed to stagger across the street to Rick's bar to call the police, his Polish skull having saved his giant brain from permanent damage.

That was Lenny's shining moment, of which he took a muffled pride, defending his family's business.

But the dreary nature of the business drove him away from what he called "the nest of my diminishment."

Walking away from what was a small fortune, he left the business to his sisters and made his own way in the world, working in the security field, which he saw as a good way to combine his military experience [he had been a U.S. Marine], his education and his facility management experience, in a venture with a promise of both creativity and gravity.

I have no idea if Lenny found his creative gravity, but he did smile warmly when we shook hands seven years ago, remembering me as a prodigy of idiot-kind with a "rare shred of honor," for what he habitually termed, "one toiling in this sick world."

There is something about his wide, thin smile and narrow, ever-factoring eyes that I now realize I will never forget, as I reflect, surprised to hear of his death, rarely having recognized before now that he was among my most important teachers.

The Ghetto Grocer Kindle Edition

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