Beer Ambassador display space

"Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot" - C5

By jasonmcgathey | Jason McGathey | 17 Aug 2023

A mere 1/30th of the Beer Ambassador’s display space. At Southside.


This isn’t to suggest that Palmyra has cornered the market on personnel — or personality — struggles. Naturally, after months of relative calm, many of these bombshells just so happen to arrive during the busiest months of the year, when they can least afford to deal with such distractions.

The first major bloodshed splatters upon them when Aria is escorted off the premises by police. This move doesn’t just signal the end of her employment, but finds them pressing charges against her as well. Although the exact details are murky to those who haven’t dealt with front end paperwork — and probably even many who have — she had apparently perpetuated some scam for years which involved pocketing cash, and adding that amount to the daily credit card total, having realized that nobody was verifying this. Reports vary, but the consensus seems to be that she had stolen somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 over the past few years.

Most developments are not nearly this scandalous, of course, and, just like personality clashes, you are going to encounter this stuff everywhere. But what’s unique about the Healthy Hippie experience is just how bizarre some of these interactions are. This is mostly attributable to the characters this place attracts, but also that they have a full-on riot of philosophical clashes, concerning what they’re even trying to be, which a screwy organizational structure isn’t much helping. Most realize that this brand is now associated with natural/organic foods. Some, however, are frustrated because they believe this is more of an outlet to display how trendy they all are. Some diehards hanging around from the days Beatrice Locke was more involved recall that they were known as a “penny pinching” outlet back then, and fight to continue promoting that angle. Still others have their entire identity wrapped up in pushing local wares at all costs, though this often flies in the face of, for example, what Edgar’s been instructed to do, which is find the best price for everything — and the small time local vendors are commonly not even close.

In each category, a select handful are committing to just doing whatever the hell they want, and are mostly getting away with it. Now that talk has gone from vague murmurs to a full on buzz that, once the holidays are over, they will begin working to open a fourth store, the location has solidified as well: they are setting up shop in Walnut, a charming, mid-sized city about halfway between their existing locations and the mountains. Which is a dazzling prospect, and sounds like a ton of fun, although it’s hard to imagine by what factor this is going to multiply the complexity of the operation.

Man it seems like still there’s a ton of chaos around here, for just three stores,” Edgar remarks to Dale one day, on an unrelated topic, when the latter has waltzed into his office with a question.

“There is,” Dale nods, “I mean, it’s getting better, but…well, at least we’re hiring better people now. That’s a start.”

Are they, though? Yes, he supposes on balance that this is true. But you already almost need a scorecard to keep up with the various ways one is supposed to contact one’s coworkers. He’s not allowed to speak to Zaire, but meanwhile, he shouldn’t be emailing Palmyra’s new bulk manager, Johnny. He is only to call Johnny, or talk to him in person. Possibly call Corey, if Johnny isn’t there that day, and that’s it. Which isn’t to attack Johnny, who’s a really nice guy and doing a great job. But he was brought in from the wild with no modern business experience, and it’s a learning curve that complicates matters.

Edgar’s supposed to play hard ball and demand that the employees send in all new items on those spreadsheets, except for a few old timers and other assorted technophobes, who are so bad at this that they’re given free passes. And this says nothing of the random anonymous figure at Liberty Avenue who, in perhaps the most baffling twist yet encountered with this company, will occasionally type up things on the new item Excel sheet…but then print it, and scan that printout at the copier machine, send it to Edgar as a PDF email attachment.

Unfortunately, receiving an email in such a manner means that it arrives from [email protected] and he has no clue as to the sender’s identity. Further compounded in that, to date, having received three such emails, they contain a mix of products from various departments, which obliterates any hope of eliminating suspects in that manner.

You have to be careful how you approach things, attempting to get to the bottom of something like this. Once the employees get to where they think it’s hilarious to fuck with you, you are doomed. And he believes he might be there already with a couple of them. But if he had to put money on it, he would bet either Sam or Ralph is behind this, though leaning more toward Sam. Edgar can’t really see Ralph taking it upon himself to collect and type up information for everyone in the store. Plus, he allegedly has a “tech background,” as vague as that phrase might be, which would indicate he knows better than such backwards, caveman methods of transmission — although then again, those stacks of paperwork on both sides of his computer tend to negate that theory. So who knows.

Meanwhile, Corey’s going long on idealism. When Edgar mentions one day how excited he is about this Walnut location, Corey hedges somewhat, seemingly nonplussed and not quite sold on the concept. “I mean, it’s cool and all, don’t get me wrong. But I think we need to be looking more into Asheville…Boone…Chapel Hill, places like that.”

Edgar’s so startled by this take on the situation that a cackle escapes him, considering that each target Cary named is roughly between ninety minutes and two hours away from Palmyra, even farther from Chesboro. “Well, yeah, those would all be awesome too. I think we need to get a lot more organized before that happens, though.”

For there is still plenty that does not seem to make sense. Like the company might have a Beer Ambassador in place, okay, sure, and as swell as that sounds, now that some of the challenges in bulk are coming to light, hiring a merchandiser at last for that department would appear to make sense. As a half-step in this direction, though, or maybe more like a single wasabi coated pea flicked that way, it’s decided that Arnie will simply assume dual roles as the produce and bulk merchandiser. It makes one question who is calling the shots around here and the rationale behind these frequent air balls — after all, Rob Drake is signing the checks for this place, and the bulk section is Bellwether’s kingdom of dominion.

Elsewhere, they have at least decided that Barbara either has enough on her plate or is taking too long to finish it, and bring on a new hire, Valerie Swanson, to cover approximately three-fourths of what she was doing. Barbara will continue doing the radio show and possibly writing an occasional article, as her hours are gently clawed back to something resembling part-time. Valerie assumes the rest, such as their employee newsletter, and some other marketing responsibilities, like finally getting a social media presence up and running for this company.

But as they blow past Thanksgiving, with Southside and Palmyra both logging all- time highs that week — if just shy of the magical $100K — it occurs to Edgar that one of the extra advantages of this holiday season is that things are so crazyfrom a workload standpoint, that the auxiliary wackiness is curtailed drastically. People have no time for anything else but to slap the proverbial blinders on and knuckle down to work, and so the days have temporarily become a little less weird.

December therefore seems to fly past in a blur. Aside from minor adjustments, not much of consequence transpires. As the previous Southside deli manager, Christopher, lasted about two months, so does the current one, Kirk, who perhaps not so surprisingly finds a more lucrative assignment elsewhere. He does launch one classic phrase into the stratosphere, however, mere days before leaving, when he and Arnie are bickering about the cost of veggie trays.

This altercation will occur in Edgar’s office, quite naturally. Arnie seated at the other computer when Kirk breezes in to ask if produce can donate a bunch of assorted trays to an upcoming, company wide deli meeting to be held in the conference room. Arnie, who is already stressed to the eyeballs over the added bulk workload and some lower than expected produce margins, says he will transfer them at cost, but he’s not just giving away a bunch of product. Negotiations only escalate from here.

“Put your New York away, man,” Kirk tells him.

“You need to go that way! Right now!” Arnie says, pointing a finger at the door.

And Kirk does, although that leaves this episode a cliffhanger in that Edgar has no idea how it ends.

He too has his docket full as this year winds to a close. That he is already staring down one full calendar at this job feels like the most outrageous case of time slippage ever. In some respects it’s as though the ground underneath them all, not just him, has finally begun to solidify, following twelve months of intense attention to detail. Viewed from another light, however, you can make the case that they’ve barely begun to tackle the chaos around here, and that it might be accelerating, even, moving farther and farther away from them.

But at least the guy hired to replace Kirk, Anthony, seems to get it right out of the gate. He’s a former HHM vet brought back for a second tour of duty, and as such can appreciate how much has changed since his first stint with the company. As he makes the rounds with Destiny, and she’s introducing him to everyone, they reach Edgar’s office and Anthony is standing with one hand on his chin, nodding, eyes all but twinkling as Destiny explains what Edgar does around here.

“What an awesome idea! What an awesome role for somebody to have!” Anthony enthuses.

He seems spellbound that this position exists now, gears turning as he mulls the possibilities. Considering that Edgar’s job was created out of thin air a year ago, and who can even imagine what was transpiring around this place before then, not to mention however long ago it was that this dude last worked here.

So this is a good sign. Yet, much work remains, for it’s not just produce’s margins that have been coming back a little soft. The bosses seem happy with Edgar’s mom, because she’s actually bringing in a consistently decent profit in Palmyra’s deli for the first time since anyone can remember. Yet it’s still far below where it should be. And hopefully this Anthony can turn around Southside’s deli, because it too has continued hanging on for dear life in the same leaky boat. If not, a thought popped into Edgar’s head recently, as far as how they might improve the bottom line there. The only problem is, he’s aware it will sound a little strange when said out loud, even by Healthy Hippie standards.

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I am a professional writer with 8 published books under my belt. And many other unpublished ones, in various stages of disarray.

Jason McGathey
Jason McGathey

Semi-Coherent Musings - from one of the leading masters of this questionable art form!

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