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The Recyclable Apocalypse
Enjoying the State-of-Emergency Event
© 2012 James LaFond
Getting to Know the Noah in Me
It is 4:55 AM, Tuesday, October 30th 2012, and it appears that we have just narrowly survived another end-of-the-world event. Hurricane Sandy dumped a lot of rain on us, but, as of yet, my roommate and I have not been called upon by God to herd the local animals into our house, let alone slip the moorings and permit our ark to drift up into the Alleghenies…
I quite like these events. Yesterday morning I spent two hours walking home from a friend’s house. For a writer long quiet walks, periods of mobile solitude if you will, can be highly beneficial. As I experienced the gradual and total defeat of my partially water proof attire I wrote numerous chapters and articles in my mind. This was not one of them. This collection of tales has been lingering in my mind since 2010 when we had the worst area blizzard in my lifetime—two back-to-back blizzards—that dumped three feet of snow on the Baltimore area.
That blizzard helped me write Of The Sunset World, 6 chapters of which take place under whiteout conditions in 16th Century North America. I did most of that writing during a 10-mile walk from work to a lady’s house. I was not about to permit Mother Nature to get between me and a bachelor’s most anticipated event: a hot meal prepared by someone who can actually cook…
A Winter Wonderland
The last big blizzard I had experienced had been ten years earlier. It was most memorable to me, because after a harrowing twelve-mile walk from Eastern Baltimore County into South Baltimore, as I dodged cab loads of drunken yuppies being driven about by Sikh, Russian and Pakistani ‘tour guides’, I arrived proudly at work, the only night crew grunt to do so. Unfortunately I was an hour late. After my boss thanked me for walking in, even though, since there was a state-of-emergency, I could have called out without incurring disciplinary action, he wrote me up for being late! I was proud of that write-up, the only one I did not place in my Master’s round file upon receipt.
In 2010 the shoe was on the other foot. I was now ‘The Man’, the leader that absolutely had to be there. The best part about showing up was that only the very best employees showed up to work with me. We were one of very few area stores to open, and did a good business servicing many of the emergency personal and public works people that were clearing and patrolling the streets. There were a couple of rough spots…
I Don’t Get Paid Enough for This
My crew included Bill, a concert booking agent and music retailer who had fallen on hard times and ended up back in the retail food business. He was taking his turn on the register when our local family of Gypsies came in. Mind you this store was trashed. When a small city supermarket gets blitzed by the legions of locals who mostly shop at Wal-Mart and the big chain supermarkets a few miles out in the county, there isn’t a lot left. I had stayed up front as security, and would notify the guys working in the aisles when they were needed on the register. Bill had pulled the short straw.
The Gypsy family consisted of granny, mom, dad and two teenagers, a girl and a boy. The order was huge, and you would have thought that they were at a medieval bazaar the way they took turns haggling with Bill over the prices, and asking if we had any back stock. I was busy just keeping track of what they ate while they were in line, collecting the wrappers so I could have Bill ring it up at the end of the order. Eventually the mother began insisting that we must have some ‘skim’ milk back in the cooler. Skim is an archaic term for fat free milk. Bill assured her that fat free was the new skim. She disagreed. Bill took one meaningful look at her portly form and blurted, “It’s not like it’s doing you any good is it.”
Now, these folks had been beating up Bill in shifts, taking turns verbally haranguing him. Since things had begun getting touchy the teenage girl, the one with the best English, stepped in, “I’m sorry sir. My Mother just wants the best milk, the traditional ‘skim’ milk.
Bill snapped, “I don’t get paid enough for this shit!” and began turning red.
I then stepped forward as Adam took the snow removal guy that had been stuck behind these people in his lane, and the son pushed all of the snack wrappers up onto the belt for Bill to scan. The daughter then announced that they were finished, and produced a mangled EBT card and some wadded up money. Bill was besides himself, “Oh yes, what was I thinking! Like this was going to end smoothly!”
Ten Items or Less, Bitch!
That snow had hit on a Saturday. People did not get dugout until Monday evening. The crazy thing was, an equally intense blizzard was predicted for Wednesday morning. This resulted in the busiest Tuesday in retail food history. By now the winter wonderland with the many little Mexican guys operating bobcats under the watchful eye of their white masters mounted in their pickup trucks, had dissolved into a rutted maze of tunnels, serviced by few buses. I trudged into the city through the slushy ice tunnels running with water, collecting carts on my approach to the store. As I pushed the shopping carts through the slush at the base of the parking lot a motorist that was leaving the lot reached his head out the window and said, “Buddy, you don’t wanna go in there!”
When I got into the store my co-manager, Duz [the Polish guy beating me up in the Logic of Force photos], was standing near the exit as a bouncer, prepared to break up brawls over what remained of the DVD selection and the ice-melt. I worked my way through the crowd jamming the entrance. We had 8 registers, all of which were open. The line for the first register trailed all the way down the deli aisle to the meat-case, making it about 40 people deep.
I saw my chance to get through the line, then noticed that the space between the two ladies was opening up so that they could point their fingers while they argued.
The lady who was third in line pointed at the items that the second lady in line had placed on the belt, “This lane is ten items or less!”
The lady on deck, almost ready to get wrung up and ushered to safety by Duz, responded, “I have ten items!”
The other lady was venomous, “Then you cain’t count bitch!” and began stabbing her finger at the items on the belt, one by one, “One, two, tree, fo, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, ele—”
Then the lady in front of her picked up the eleventh item, the jar of peanut butter, and threw it at the woman. The customers behind the express-lane-Nazi scattered as the jar careened off a meaty hip and down the aisle. The second customer in mind declared, “There you go bitch, ten items!”
By the time the day was over we felt like we had been mugged. Duz and I got back in there the next day with those same dedicated clerks and opened up. By 5:00 PM we had to let everyone go because the state-of-emergency was taking effect. I stayed for an hour, locked up, and left.
The Last Panhandler on Earth
As I was leaving the store that stormy Wednesday evening Little Eddie Horn was there on the sidewalk, wanting to get in the front door to spend the money he had begged from our last customer. I normally chased this guy off the lot. He had mental issues and sometimes got aggressive with female staff. Besides, he was the most reviled of urban organisms, the able-bodied panhandler. Eddie had a ball cap crusted with ice, a snow crusted windbreaker, torn jeans, and canvas tennis shoes with wet socks. This was a nastier storm then the last one, with more wind and sleet mixed with the snow.
I said, “Get lost Eddie.”
He pleaded, “Please Mister Jimmy, I’m hungry?”
“Then starve Eddie!”
“But Mister Jimmy, that’s not fair! You’re not gonna starve are you Mister Jimmy?”
I then pushed my face into his and snarled, “Eddie I’m gonna spend the night with a fat woman—does that sound like starving to you!”
“No Mister Jimmy” he said as snot ran down over his chin and froze into an ice sickle, “that sounds kind of nice. Can I come with you?”
I snarled more deeply into his face, “Eddie when I hit that street down there at the edge of the parking lot, I’m not Mister Jimmy anymore, just the guy that will jump up and down on your scrawny ass—don’t follow me!”
I limped off into the snowstorm with Little Eddie Horn standing under the canopy on the sidewalk; wondering what to do, where to go. He did not follow me. For you bleeding hearts out there [Mom, Siss, Aunt Madeline] I would like to report that, despite my best Cain-like efforts at social antipathy, Eddie survived somehow. A week later, at Belvedere and Loch Raven, he was following this big light-skinned dude around the bus stop, quizzing him about what it was like growing up as a light-skinned black man. At one point, as the gentle giant continued his unsuccessful efforts to evade Eddie, the little man-child panhandler who had survived the apocalypse declared, “I feel your pain brother. I used to be a black man too. And they kicked me out because I look Latino.”
The bemused man looked at me, “Is he joking? How is this dude still alive?”
I just laughed.
Yo’s Last Meal, Yo
It normally took me 90 minutes to walk home from work, and only 60 minutes to walk in. When my concerned friends, relatives and employers asked me how I could get home I smugly declared that it would be a mere two hour walk, only 120 minutes of hiking.
It took me a half hour to walk the first half mile. Then I turned left and headed west, uphill and into the teeth of the storm. I spent the next hour and a half covering a mile and a half, even being blown back down the hill, and toppling on my side. I tried running to pick up my pace, and found myself running in place. My eyebrows were crusting over. I settled on ‘trudging’ head down with short chopping bent-knee strides, to get up the incline. Finally, after two hours, I was forty percent of the way there. I checked the time and noticed that the people who I had informed that it would take me exactly two hours to get home, had been calling repeatedly.
I was bundled up good; well-prepared enough that when I lost my hat to a wind gust I put on a spare. I thought about calling the ladies and letting them know I was fine. Then I was there: civilization! I had reached a main north-south road which I knew was almost halfway to my destination; to my cup of hot chocolate and my hot bathtub. The main street was well lit but fairly hazardous to cross, as the deep slush made for poor traction and the public works guys in their big yellow steel machines were doing about 40 MPH. I was about to make my break, and then reconsidered as the huge dump truck rumbled down the street from the north—and something flashed by me, like a phantom in the snowy night!
I stood aghast as this person, this young urban superhero, sprinted across the lot through the knee deep snow and darted in front of the humming machine and made it to the other side but barely. The thing that most amazed me about this spry youth was not his athleticism, but his attire, and the cause he had risked life and limb for.
Yo [I must call him something so I might as well use the universal nickname employed by his friends.] was wearing a yo hat, cocked arrogantly in classic ho-macking style. He wore a striped red and purple t-shirt under an open denim jacket. His oversized jeans were down around his thighs, exposing his fire engine red boxer briefs. These pants were held up by his left hand. He wore on his prancing feet, a pair of old school blue canvas sneakers with white socks!
The most amazing thing about his daredevil race against the public works truck, driven by a fat white man downing a milkshake, was the treasure that he bore in his upraised right hand. The hand was held high, as if for a layup, or perhaps in the timeless attitude of some prehistoric fire-bearer who once kept the sacred fire bundle of his clan from falling into an icy river he was crossing. That hand, that heroic hand, held a 20-ounce soft drink and a man-sized bag of nacho-flavored tortilla chips!
I don’t know how far Yo had to go, but I am confident that he arrived, and am equally confident that he was welcomed to his crib as a conquering hero. I was so impressed that I returned all of my missed calls to those worried people, standing in the parking lot barehanded so that I could regal them with the heroic tale of Yo’s Last Meal
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