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Ghetto Grocer #9
What Retailers Do With the Meat You Eat: Part 2, Running Over Hotdogs
© 2013 James LaFond
In the mid 1980s I was a night crew member in a Harm City supermarket. My Friend, Ronbone, was the assistant manager responsible for closing the store at night. As I worked perishable grocery and did the store audit [checking dates on shelf product, and pulling what was out of date] he often consulted with me concerning the meat case. This particular meat case was run by ‘Rancid Ray’ a notorious purveyor of past-dated product. The following story touches on some of the techniques used to ‘rework’ out of date smoked meat products.
The Case of the Memorial Day Hotdogs
The manufacturer of the above named hotdogs is a local Baltimore area packer, who shall remain nameless, as they truly were blameless in this case. The astonishing thing about the habit of some meat managers pushing out of date smoked meat products is that the packer will buy it back. But, ‘Rancid Ray’ was never one to take a packer’s wholesale buy-back when he could get the customer’s retail purchase, especially when he purchased the item for a sale price, and wanted to slack it out at regular price and ‘whore up the margin’.
‘Rancid Ray’ bought in his memorial day hotdogs at the end of April, a month before the holiday, so he could get them at the packer’s end-of-winter closeout price, as they were shedding their old inventory to make way for the making of the hotdogs that were in fact intended to be sold for Memorial Day consumption. That year, I believe Memorial Day fell on a 24th or 25th. The hotdogs went out of date on the 29th. Needless to say, Ray’s sales were not what he expected, as most of our customers had automobiles, and therefore the ability to drive to the local chain store and buy fresher hotdogs. One night after Memorial Day Ronbone took me into the meat room and pointed to a pallet of hotdogs that had just gone out of date, and said, “What the hell is he going to do with that?”
I responded, “I don’t think you want to know.”
Manicured Dogs
It had been well established that the Rancid One loaded his case with reworks in the early evening after his more upstanding first cutter went home. Friday night was a big night for him to push old product as this was back in the day when Friday evening and Saturday morning were peak food purchase times. Now it is Saturday afternoon and late Sunday morning.
The next Friday night Ronbone pointed out a display of these hotdogs—hundreds of packages—which were all dated with an ink stamp for July 5th. He asked me, “Okay, you’re the evil mastermind. Where did he get plant-dated hot dogs? Did they just send him new wrappers or what?”
I informed Ronbone that that would be something a packer would never do, and that Rancid Ray lacked the vacuum-sealing equipment to achieve the customer comforting seal.
Consumer Note: Never purchase a package of refrigerated foods in which the vacuum seal is broken, indicated by air pockets between the wrapper and the product.
We took a trip back into Rancid Ray’s devil’s workshop, the piled boxes of nic-nacs and ad circulars above the rewrap table, a table, that, in my opinion, should not exist.
Having brought a package of hotdogs with us I cracked open a sealed case and retrieved one pack, and then a half empty case, and retrieved one from there. The original May 29th date on the package from the sealed case was stamped in fine ink. The hotdog package from the display had a wide and somewhat smudged ink. The package from the open case had no date!
I rooted through Ray’s box of secrets and found a half-empty bottle of fingernail polish remover, held it up, and snarked, “What are the chances that Ray is a transvestite?”
Ronbone was in awe of Ray’s evil genius as I then produced Mister Tony’s old ink stamper that he had used to price frozen orange juice back in the days before scanning.
Ronbone had me pull the case, and we sat the hotdogs on the cutting table. The next morning I heard screamed obscenities from back in the meat room not long after Ray arrived. Before I left at 8 a.m. he had the hotdog display loaded, having spitefully re-dated the hotdogs to July 6th! And so it went, twice a week we pulled the hotdogs, and twice a week he re-dated them a day ahead, until the hotdogs being put out were a fresh looking July 29th. This war went on below the ownership horizon, as both Ronbone and Ray doubted the owner would back them; Ray being a senior big-earning department manager, and, Ronbone, while having right on his side, being the youngest member of the management team.
The March of the Immortal Dogs
By the end of June, as the hotdog pallet continued to diminish, the dates on the packages on display continued to advance into the future toward Labor Day, as they would have if they were freshly purchased shipments being rotated into the case. You see, Rancid Ray’s genius was to avoid making it look like he just had one big mess of hotdogs bought in at the same time. His dating scheme assured that it would seem to the customers that he was bringing in fresh product twice per week.
The Pact
Ronbone brought this process to the owner, who confronted Ray, who lied through his teeth. Believing Ray’s vehement assertions that Ronbone was smoking too much pot, and should mind the front end and not the meat case, the owner reprimanded Ronbone. Ronbone was a big nasty dude, who beat his girlfriend and did more drugs than Jimmy Hendrix and Jim Morrison combined. But he had a soft spot for the many senior citizens in the neighborhood who shopped with us, and did, despite his depravities, believe in right and a wrong. He said to me, with tears in his eyes [for Ray’s sins were many and extended far beyond hotdogs], “These are my friends. These old people could die from food poisoning. What do we do?”
“Well, we can’t be seen taking anything out of the building to the dumpster—that’s our ass. We can render the stuff unsalable, if you have the balls to stand up to Mister... when he comes after you.”
Ronbone, was not a bad conspirator. He put his hotdog size finger to his chin and said, “Ray thinks he dodged a bullet. He’ll just try and out do us—won’t go to Mister…”
We shook hands, and Ronbone rumbled, “It’s on Jimmy. It’s on!”
The Strategic Hotdog Command
We had his production facility and methods down. We just had to time our strikes appropriately. It was now late July/early August, and the immortal dogs kept marching into the limitless future, the pallet in the meat box slowly melting down to the last 25 cases or so. Then came our watershed event.
One Friday night Ronbone had been inspecting the ever refreshed hotdog display, of dogs that were now about 4 months old, and had been out of date for over 2 months, but nevertheless grew new legs and continued to march to the checkout lane. The factory vacuum seals, were, however, beginning to fail. We went with this phenomenon and replicated it, by popping the seals with our hands, and tossing all of the compromised packages into the back. Every time Ray loaded the case with ‘fresh’ dogs, now being dated for September 9th, to be sold through Labor Day, we would pop the seals and set them in the back.
As we closed in on the end of August we popped what had to be the last seals. Then, the next night, we noticed a new brand of hotdog in the case, displayed in Styrofoam meat trays overwrapped on the machine used to wrap steaks and such. They were labeled, ‘Ray’s Fresh Hotdogs.’
Ronbone looked at me and hissed, “The meat box!”
With that we rushed back into the meat room and then into the box, to find that the pallet of vacuum-seal compromised dogs was still there, repacked in the boxes, from where they were being plucked and then transformed into ‘Ray’s Fresh Hotdogs.’
Ronbone looked at me and asked, “What can we do?”
I examined the pallet and noticed that Ray was doing this work in stages, and announced, “We have to hit him in the production phase. He doesn’t have all day for this. He has to cut meat too.”
Ronbone and I took the newly packaged dogs and threw them in the ‘bone and fat’ cans, which were not kept under refrigeration necessary for food stored for human consumption. Surely he would not reuse those dogs.
Hotdog Armageddon
The next day we came in and found that the ‘shit-canned’ dogs had been displayed. Ronbone went into a rage, took the dogs in the back, and cut them in half with a butcher knife, throwing them in the bone and fat can. He stood and breathed heavily to calm himself, and rumbled, “It’s on now!”
A few nights later, perhaps a week out from the Labor Day weekend, Ronbone awaited me by the meat case, a dejected downcast look distorting his face as he leaned against the case housing. I came up to him and he walked me solemnly over to the prominent cutout in the meat case where Ray now proudly displayed his ‘Ray’s Fresh Hotdogs.’ Ronbone pointed to a new item in Ray’s selection, an array of economy-sized packages of hotdog slices, labeled ‘Ray’s Fresh Hotdogs for Beans’!
We both broke into laughter, which turned to tears, having been bested by a true artist. Finally Ronbone looked down at me, and grumbled, “What can we do against this guy—he’s a fucking God!”
“I got it. Grab them and bring them back to the stockroom. I’ll get his wrapped and un-priced case. We can still interdict his production.”
Ronbone and I met in the stockroom with his box full of pulled dogs for beans and Ray’s case of wrapped ‘fresh’ dogs to be priced up and displayed in the morning. I dragged out the 1-ton forklift, and placed the case and box of dogs on the concrete floor between the forklift and the stack of empty pallets it had been parked under.
Ronbone stood back to the side, and I leaned on the control arm of the stand-behind lift and said, “The wholesaler doesn’t let us send back mislabels. So when I order green beans and they ship me goose liver pate in a tin, or Armour tripe in milk gravy, I send it back as damaged! They give us credit for damage, and this is how we damage it, the same way they do at the warehouse, with a forklift!”
I then cranked the lift up to its maximum speed of 5 MPH and speared both cases, lifted them, and then ran the giant twin shish kabobs into the stack of pallets, smashing the dogs between the 17 pallets pressed against the stockroom wall and the steel uprights behind the forks. Ronbone hollered with joy as I speared, and mashed, and smashed, and finally even ran over the hotdogs. It was an orgy of meaty destruction, two defiant clerks in their early twenties striking back at the corrupt world of retail food in the name of the elderly patrons who were loath to abandon their neighborhood market for the chain store out the road.
We placed those two boxes of mashed hotdogs on the re-wrap table, shook hands, and went our separate way with a feeling of victory.
The next night, Ronbone intercepted me at the door, grabbed me by the shoulder and walked me over to the case. He did not even have to point at the slice of contentious display space that we had fought over heroically for the past three months. There were two new items in the case. Alongside ‘Ray’s Fresh Hotdogs’, and ‘Ray’s Fresh Hotdogs for Beans’, were ‘Ray’s Diced Hotdogs for Spaghettios’, and ‘Ray’s Fresh Bologna Salad!’
Ronbone put his hands in his slacks pockets and shook his head, mumbling, “The man is an artiste. We can’t stop him, can we?”
I reached up and patted the big man on the back with a conciliatory tone, “We’re all out of bullets and he’s got plenty more Indians.”
He turned and shook my hand, and said, “Thanks for the help. I actually thought I could be a manager. What a joke. It’s just spitting in the wind.”
Some 20 years later I would return to this store as a grizzled old veteran of shift work and special assignments in 34 stores, and take the General Manager position. Rancid Ray was still there, up to his old tricks, and on my hit list. In 2006 I would take up Ronbone’s lost cause. Would I fare any better?
Find out in What Retailers Do With the Meat You Eat: Part 3, Frying Ray’s Bacon.
A Hostile Work Environment
‘Obedience is Due’
the gods of boxing
logic of steel
honor among men
the lesser angels of our nature
song of the secret gardener
time & cosmos
blue eyed daughter of zeus
Charles M     Dec 27, 2013

"Ray's Fresh" line of fine products has graced Baltimore dinner tables for decades; I'm eager to ascertain the brand's fate!
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