Lately I've been mostly successful at stemming the craving, but last night I fell down hard in that aisle at Walgreen's where the Easter candy is on sale. At bedtime it was nibble, nibble in between browsing Heirloom Knitting for a new Big Lace Project.
So I had a nightmare. It's one I have quite a bit, about once a month.
I was back at my first (and worst) job ever, stocking shelves at a forlorn supermarket in a depressing corner of upstate New York. I was paid minimum wage, minus the usual taxes plus weekly union dues that were equal to about 50% of my take-home pay.
The official job responsibilities were what you'd expect. I lugged boxes to and fro. I wrangled shopping carts that were determined to escape from the parking lot. I cleaned up spills, wielded a price gun with little skill and less enthusiasm, and suffered the insults of a supervisor five years my senior who had been rejected by Harvard (which he knew I was getting ready to attend) and was not happy with his lot in life.
He liked to give me the heaviest lifting to do, particularly as I was the youngest and smallest of the stock boys. Sisyphean tasks were his forte:
Move these thirty ten-pound boxes from this side of the stock room to that side. No, you can't use a cart. Carry them. Shoot, you just finished moving the whole stack? I just realized they shouldn't have been moved. Put them all back where they were. And do it faster this time. I'll be watching the clock.Annoying, but honestly no worse than stocking shelves. And it was good for my biceps.
The night supervisor, however, was a genuine sadist. He was a guy from my high school who'd been on two dates with one of my best friends, an enormously pretty girl named Candace. She'd apparently spent most of those two dates talking about what a sweetheart I was. Then she told him to get lost. He was therefore not inclined to look upon me kindly.
After his unfortunate affaire de coeur with the lovely Candace, alarming things began to happen on the shop floor. I'd be pushing a cart through the stock room and suddenly a full, heavy box of canned food would land with an explosive CRASH on the floor next to me. I'd look up, and he'd wave from the catwalk. "Oops!" he'd shout, grinning impishly. "Must've lost my grip!"
Six-foot stacks of boxes would topple as I passed. Full pallets would zoom down the aisle and knock me flat. I'd climb a ladder to reach a high shelf and find myself heading for the floor. "Wow," he'd say, smiling down at me, "You gotta be more careful about where you set up, slick."
I learned very early in childhood that it was no good appealing to authority about stuff like this. Rumors aside, I don't know what it's like to grow up as a little girl. But when you're a little boy, you discover fast that asking for help with bullies does no good. You get one of two stock responses:
- You better learn to fight back.
- If you're gonna act like a sissy, you deserve what you get.
So I said nothing, and kept my eyes open for runaway cans.
And then–and here is the scene that replays in my dreams–there was a late shift when the box crusher jammed. The box crusher was a big, green cage into which empty cardboard boxes were heaped. When the cage was full, the contents were pressed into a compact bale by the machinery, then tied with wires and ejected for disposal.
There was a huge sign on the side of this thing indicating that nobody under 18 was even supposed to touch it. I was 16, but when I asked questions about the sign the day supervisor told me to shut up and do what I was told. I became fairly proficient with loading, crushing, and bailing. It wasn't especially scary or difficult. If I pretended my boss was inside, it was fun.
But the night it jammed, the late shift supervisor ordered me to crawl inside and fix it. I was, he pointed out, the only guy in the building small enough to fit through the opening. And once I'd cleared the jam, I'd have almost ten seconds for him to pull me out before I'd wind up as Flat Stanley.
I told him to forget it. He persisted. He called over the other members of the night crew, none of whom were terribly fond of me, and they insisted I was being a faggot and a sissy.
"Get the fuck in there," said the supervisor, "or I'll fire your faggot ass on the spot."
I'm sitting here typing this, so I don't need to tell you I ultimately did not wind up in the crusher. But it took everything I had to stand my ground and say no. He told me I was fired, and I waited out the remaining hours of my shift in the parking lot. The next day, I swallowed my pride and appealed to the store manager, who was appalled by the whole thing and reprimanded the night supervisor, though he didn't actually fire him.
Of course, that just increased the rate of falling boxes, but I managed to survive the rest of the summer with only minor bruises and a whopping $250 in my bank account.
The nightmare is very weird in that I always get stuck in a sort of loop where my moment of indecision plays and replays. I stand there in my ugly apron as ten guys call me a stupid sissy faggot and try to get me to climb into that crusher. And in that moment, I honestly don't know what to do.