My Life in Retail: Part One

The Crank

As I think about my life, my thoughts turn to the whole “Legacy” thing. What do I actually leave with my friends and relatives when Momzilla pulls me kicking and screaming into the next world? Will people even remember me 15 minutes after I’m gone? Probably not, with the exception of Mikko passing a rag over his forehead and saying “whew, thank Darwin that’s over.”

I hereby decide that with a lifetime in various stages of retail, I will pass along an expose’ of what living your entire life in the sale of product to others is like. Cautionary note to parents and the squeamish:

This is not pretty. You may never shop again.

It all starts in the family business. I was six when I realized my upbringing would not have anything in common with Leave it to Beaver. My parents owned a Deli on Long Island. Each birthday, my dad would take me out behind the counter and put a pepperoni on a scale high up on the top of the salad showcase. He would then ask me if I could read it. At six? No. At seven? No. I am still at this stage reduced to getting stung as I separated the unwashed soda bottles for return and refill out behind the store (being ‘green’ circa 1962) and bleaching smelly wooden things inside the fridge units.

For my eighth birthday, I took the obligatory walk out behind the counter, and Dad put the pepperoni up on the scale and says “can you read it?” My answer would prove to haunt me for the rest of my days. You see, I figured that when I could finally read it, I would get some kind of extra-special prize for that birthday. Why else would he be doing this? As I looked up at the scale, I saw that the pointer was right on the mark that read seven ounces. “Seven ounces! Seven ounces!” I screamed. I couldn’t believe it, I could finally read it. Yay!! I then asked Dad, “Well, what’s my prize?” His answer? “You get to serve the next customer” as he retreated to the kitchen.

It was as if I grew up ten years in one day. I spent the rest of my formative years getting picked up at the bus stop after school, brought to the store, and had to do homework and serve customers in the store, as I cleaned and closed up shop. By age ten I got to be ridiculously good at stripping down and cleaning/sharpening/reassembling the slicer machines. My dad would come by to pick me up at closing. By 12, I had learned that a cold beer tasted mighty good after mopping the floor. My fave? Carlsberg Elephant Malt Liquor. By 14 I was driving home. Nothing like a slightly inebriated 14-year old behind the wheel of a ‘68 Rambler wagon we called the Green Glory. This, folks, is where the whole Coke and Twinkies thing started. Fat kid alone in a store filled with food. Thanks Dad. Little did I realize at the time that I would be battling those same demons well into retirement. Speaking of which:

It’s Alive, It’s ALIVE!
It's Alive, It's ALIVE! Twinkie Resurrection 2013
Twinkie Resurrection 2013

This was the late sixties and many teenagers would come in seemingly starving around 7:00 pm during the summer. At first I was rather perplexed, after all, don’t normal people have dinner like an hour ago? I soon found out about the whole ‘munchies’ thing and decided at 13 to exploit it. Mom would cook large roast beefs and put them on the table in the back to cool. I would put them in the walk-in fridge before I closed. When the ‘heads’ would arrive, I got an idea! I moved the beefs from their previous home to a new one on top of the counter up by the front door. The aroma got them every time.

“Wow maaan, what smells so good, maaaan? Oh boy, look at the roast beef. Hey like little chubby dude, we’ll take six Roast Beef heroes (subs to you westerners).” Worked like a charm.

I leaned a lot about life during those days. These were the braless days, ’68 & ’69, lots of swinging boobs behind gauzy blouses. I learned that I liked boobs. I liked boobs a lot. I even got flashed regularly for free sandwiches. That also worked like a charm. In fact, I ended up loving working. No, my life was no TV sitcom, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Now for a little Mick Zano story. When he was but a small child, he and his mom were visiting us at the store. When it came time to leave, he was nowhere in sight. We looked high, we looked low, looked inside and outside. Total panic was setting in when we found the little bastard hiding behind a candy display, watching the whole crazy people running around screaming thing and snickering. Should have known then that he would figure out a way to get paid to watch crazy people.

This would go on till my Dad passed on. He had sold the business a year before as he was ill. We now needed the money, so I decided to forgo college (much to the chagrin of Momzilla) and get a full time job. Where? Why, in a supermarket behind the deli counter, of course. It’s what I did. No, more than that. By then, it was who I was. I needed a job, and we had a relative who was a big shot with a local supermarket chain. He got me in. It was only going to be temporary, after all. I was going back to school as soon as we got back on our feet.

For the next 27 years I worked for supermarkets on Long Island. I could, and really should, write a book on my escapades in ‘Wally-World’ as we later on called it. Every year the memories fade, so I better get started soon. The supermarket business is its own world. It has its own language, mostly obscene. It’s where I got that wonderful little part of my personality from. You know those tapes of John Gotti taken from inside his social club? It’s like that, only instead of talking about killing, they are talking about Prosciutto (pronounced pruhzshoot). Most of the people I have met in the business all felt like they wanted more out of life, but life kind of threw them a curve , and they ended up here. Credence had just come out with their song ‘Lodi’, and we quickly augmented it with the words: ‘Was about a year ago, I set out on my own. Seekin my fame and fortune, lookin for a pot’o’gold. Well things got bad, and things got woise, I guess you know the tune…….Oh Lord, stuck in supermarkets again”.

No one aspired to be a supermarket clerk. No one, that is, except me. I was in a union for 26 years. With raving unmedicated ADHD, it was the perfect job. Do it FAST and do it so it LOOKS LIKE it was done right. Don’t need to finish it, just move on. Perfect. I got so good at it I was asked to do all the new store openings and remodels. I loved that. Three or four weeks in a store to set it up, and NO fucking customers. The day of grand opening, I would come in early to set up, and stand back and watch it all get fucking destroyed by the pillaging hoard. Think Jewish Vikings.

Supermarket customers are inherently pigs. Stupid self-obsessed pigs at that. You all NEED to be there, but there is no way in hell any of you WANT to be there, and you make it known to all the personnel. You walk through the store with your lists, staring at your watches, thinking of everything else you could be doing and then take it out on your drippy little kids and the clerks. Oh, I’m sorry, do I sound bitter? Did I offend you? Tough shit. It’s true, deal with it. I watched it for 27 years. Beeoches

How does one get through 27 years of that? Humor and friendship. I met some wonderful people in my days at Wally world, some that I still communicate with. When I would end up in a store with an asshat boss, I would find a way to torture them endlessly. In a union, if you are careful and smart, you can do just that. Its endless fun, really. You should try it. That was taught to me by the best, a man named John –one of the best managers in the company in his time. He knew they didn’t want to do without him, so he took advantage of that, every day. Case in point: When the supermarkets first found out about the six foot sandwiches that delis were making, they wanted in. The V.P. came to us one day to teach us this new art. Mounds of lettuce, mounds of tomatoes, with the thinnest sliver of a layer of meat and cheese. Prof. Steven Hawkings couldn’t find the meat on this sandwich. When the VP was finished, he told John he was going to lunch, and would he please make up a sign to tell the customers about the availability of the new 6’ sandwiches. He did just that. The sign read:


The V.P. was not pleased when he came back, but all he did was ask him to remove it. I learned a lot that day. John was like a large beer-loving and funny Yoda. We had one supervisor who, when angered, would start to stutter. John would egg him on till he got a ‘but J-J-J-J-John!’ Then he would say-Gotcha! You see, back then it wasn’t as important to remain p-p-p-politically correct.

Every supermarket had one thing in common. Each one had a bar next door. We all got real familiar with the bars. The Taffrail, The Dry Dock, etc. It lead to many interesting evenings. Sometimes the guys would close the bars, sleep in the cars in the parking lot, and open the next morning like nothing happened. Others would spend the night drinking and come straight to work. Case in point: I remember once where the opening manager was real late. There were maybe 30 of us all standing around, waiting. All of a sudden, we hear a screeching, followed by a crash. We then see, on the road in front of the store, the manager crawl out of his wrecked car, limping and bleeding. He walks to the door with his keys out and opens the door. Again, like nothing happened.

Back in the day, each store would have its very own token bimbos. They were called ‘motor-room girls”. The motor room was a room at the top of the store, where all the refrigeration compressors were. It’s where you took the girls for some afternoon delight, which, back then, was a reference people understood. Each store manager had his ‘girlfriend’, usually a cashier. You would hear them tell the assistants, umm, if you need me-motor room… We saw a fight in the parking lot once where the manager put his ‘girlfriend’ in a shopping cart and sent her careening down a hill. Thankfully no one got hurt…er, until his wife found out.

One time I worked for a guy that spent the entire day in the main office. He liked the price-change girl. He was never around. One day the V.P. called and they announced for Paul to pick up the phone. Before he did, I did. “Hello, this is Paul. I am not able to come to the phone right now, please leave your name and number, and I will get back to you.” I knew that the VP would recognize my voice and, yeah, Paul wasn’t there very long. I was a bastard towards the end. Thank you, John. 

After many years of this, around the time that I got married, I met another person who I would call friend to this day. When I went to her store to make some changes, the supervisor had me doing all the deli counters in the county. But, much like reading The Discord, I was not totally prepared for what I saw. Let’s just say the Good Lord really had his shit together the day he made her. We would end up working together for some eight years, when she was the manager in the store closest to my home. I would periodically go to other stores for various reasons for short stints, only to return to what I called home base.

Karen was good at all things I wasn’t (all managerial stuff), and I was good at making things look pretty, and doing it fast. By now I was considered by most in the company to be ‘unmanageable’. Mr. Winslow believes this has continued with my career here on The Discord. I did my own thing. I marched to my own rather odd drummer. Karen was able to do the impossible. She knew how to get me to do the right thing without me actually knowing it. It was also great fun working there. Once, as we were both filling the salad showcase, it became apparent what protuberances each one of us had. As we would pull our heads out of the showcase, she was always left with salad on her boobs and me with some on my gut. We were a great team.

One day, I was told that representatives of the company owners were going around seeing if they could buy out the union contracts of any of the long-termers (i.e. me). Two ‘suits’ strolled up and told me how much they wanted to give me for going home and never coming back. It was a nice check. The Discord has not managed to meet this number yet, thus my continued submissions.

Anyway, I took the check. During my last week there happened to be a day when we were visited by the new V.P.s. They saw our deli showcase and remarked at how it was the best one they had seen. They asked who set it up and they were directed to me.

I asked them if they liked it.

They said, yes, we do.

I then told them they had better take a fuckin’ picture.

They asked why, and I told them they would never see one like this again as I had just taken the buy-out plan.

It felt great!

On the way out that last day, J.F. the store manager saw me leaving, so I waved and said goodbye. As I went through the doors for the very last time in 27 years as an employee, the store manager went on the P.A and said, “Attention shoppers, Elvis has left the building!”

I spent the rest of that summer on my deck, wondering just what the fuck I was going to do now. I hope I figure that out by Part Two.

End of Part One

Hold your Crank

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