"Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot" - D3

By jasonmcgathey | Jason McGathey | 6 Jul 2023


Healthy Hippie bulk spices

Liberty Avenue remains his least investigated outpost thus far, for obvious, business related reasons. Though in many respects still his favorite to visit, because it is so chill, there’s not enough going on to justify driving over there more than once or twice a month. Even regarding the price updates, which, at Corey Brown’s suggestion — and a genuinely good idea he had, for once — they are now batching to crank out at all stores every Monday, only on Mondays, the Liberty crew is doing a great job of responding to these on their own, without Edgar needing to bring the shelf tags over.

But whatever he’s missing on frequency, spending any time at all at Liberty nonetheless affords a great opportunity for sustained observation, because it’s such a compact, thinly staffed, well lit location. And it’s possible that a ratio you might term characters per capita is highest here as well, even if George the Wilford Brimley clone is out, replaced by his backup, a really sweet older lady named Isabel, who hails from somewhere in the Caribbean.

Though the endless butt of jokes, about his lack of technical proficiency, the employees have always whispered that George is actually a major dickhead, which he offsets…not at all, considering he also kind of sucks at his job. Nobody ever comes out and declares that this is the reason he’s given the old heave-ho, and certainly not Duane, but it’s generally assumed these points are connected.

Even though Isabel speaks with a bit of an accent, there is no language barrier at all, for her English is very good. And in temperament she could offer just the mild mannered steady hand that this operation needs. She’s the mother of a virtual miniature mob full of kids, two of whom work for this company at the Southside store, and has presumably seen enough that she’s not getting worked up about anything happening over here.

Her steadiness offers a nice contrast to the unhinged delirium brought about by Russian Robert, and his thoroughly bizarre if much less menacing nephew, Sam. As a utility player responsible for their minuscule produce set, and if not that then working in grocery the rest of the time, Sam is plenty hilarious, his responses commonly surreal head-scratchers which leave the listener wondering if he’s hallucinating. And if there’s some odd trinket that shows up out of nowhere on the shelves, which nobody seems to know anything about, or a weird incense line materializing in similar fashion, then Edgar has learned enough to know that Sam is probably his man. Extensive detective work unfailingly leads to Sam digging out some invoice he temporarily misplaced, often handwritten, from a vendor nobody else has dealt with in years.

But nothing compares to the near daily headaches of interacting with Robert. His antics are somewhat leavened by an often accidentally comical demeanor, but only somewhat. It’s not at all uncommon for him to call Edgar a half dozen times a day, as happened one morning recently, when a flurry of intercom pages continually interrupt him, as he’s trying to work his way through a scan audit at Southside. During one such call, he’s in an aisle near the front desk, so Destiny simply calls out to him from there, imitating Robert’s thick accent.

“Ed-gar. Meester Ed-gar. It’s your best friend again.”

A high percentage of these conversations involve the exact same thing, though he can’t seem to get through on this topic with Robert. And so it is with this one, in which he’s complaining that Bellwether scratched a certain item from his most recent shipment, and therefore he wants this item updated in the system, a new shelf tag cranked out listing Universal Foods as the supplier instead. At this point it’s gone well beyond frustration into outright hilarity. Edgar explains yet again that unless an item is discontinued, they’re not changing it. If this situation continued for week after week, they could switch it, even, but not for a single scratched order.

“Ugh,” Destiny groans, after he gets off the phone, “I don’t know how you deal with that guy all the time.”

Edgar chuckles and says, “I think he’s kinda funny, actually. Although I know what you mean. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if there’s a little bit of a language barrier there, or…”

“He’s just an asshole? Yep, I’d say he’s got a little bit of everything going on, there, doesn’t he?”

There is one endlessly fascinating scene which will forever sear Russian Robert’s essence in his mind. A morning where Edgar is scanning invoices at Liberty’s copier machine, a device that’s up against the glass front wall. He’s kind of pleasantly daydreaming his way through this task, when he observes Robert exiting the store, drifting over to the curb, where a taxi cab arrives as if on cue. Except nobody climbs aboard this ride. Instead, as they meet at the window, the driver reaches out and…hands Robert a wad of cash?

Yes. This is totally what just happened. By way of confirmation, as the cab driver pulls away, leaving Edgar to wonder if it’s even remotely possible his eyes betrayed him, he watches Robert return to the store. As the figure drifts just inside the door again, pulls the money from his pocket. Begins counting it, then nods, satisfied, and stuffs it back into his pants, before returning to the job.

Now it’s Tuesday, the first of the month. Edgar didn’t begin his day here, is only arriving midday. As such it’s somewhat unfortunate — well, from a business standpoint, anyway — that he is, also that he wasn’t paying any attention whatsoever to what Robert’s been doing. At least until this belligerent bulk manager strolls up to him and points out what this might be.

“Ey, these sales no ring up, buddy.”

“These sales?” Edgar questions, and glances down at the fistful of sale signs that Robert is clutching. “Wait, are those the new ones?”

“Yays.”

“Those haven’t started yet. Who told you those started already?” Edgar chuckles and points out something that this guy surely knows — considering he’s worked here for years — regarding their monthly circulars, their specials stuffed into local newspapers, “we always start our sales on the first Wednesday of the month.”

“Man….,” Robert sighs, shakes his head, rubs his chin for a few seconds. Then recovers from this atypically calm interlude to rear back and violently launch these signs at the floor. “Stupid! I hate this place! I hate this focking place!”

This phrase seems to crop up a lot here at the Healthy Hippie Market. So much for working with a bunch of peaceniks. Well, Edgar has yet to count himself among those airing that sentiment, for he rather likes his job, probably more than any he’s ever held. Although disappointed that Tonya Flaherty isn’t here this particular day, because that was somewhat the point of his visit. Well, the presumed cherry on top, anyway.

At the moment they bumped into one another Friday, he’d mostly forgotten all about her in any kind of social context. That day she casually mentioned the festival at the park months behind them, and a situation he assumed he misread, anyway. Which may have been true. But either way, the conclusion of his initial foray to the arts district could not have gone any better.

After exchanging waves, Tonya and her friend, Sherry, slipped around to the other side of the glass, and joined them on the patio. Where the four of them would sit, sipping beverages for the next three hours. Though Edgar and Tonya had not really conversed much at work, only vaguely hitting it off the way two people in the same age bracket who are outgoing enough might, it turns out she’s a major music nut, and somewhat of an expert on 1990s rock in particular. As for Sherry, she’s friendly and cute, and Brady holds his own conversationally, which once again demonstrates the importance of a non-psychotic wingman. Although he might be threatening to blow it when she mentions her own slightly more modern listening choices.

“Kid Rock,” Brady scoffs, chortling as she throws this name out there, “that dude is about talentless!

“Yeah, but…,” Tonya interjects, following a short lull brought about by that clunky tirade, “Sherry here plays a little bass guitar, believe it or not.”

“Oh, really?” Edgar says, perking up as he turns to her. She merely nods a few times and shrugs in response.

“Yeah, and she’s not bad, actually,” Tonya concludes.

“Well what about you? Play anything?” Edgar asks her.

Tonya does not, but she is something of a pet fanatic, it soon emerges, or animals in general, and this makes sense. He’s thinking back again to that wacky day, bringing kittens to give away, at the cookout Christie was paying him to work. However unknowingly, this might have worked in his favor, winning Tonya over to some small degree.

However you frame it, things are apparently clicking now. As the bar announces closing time, the four of them stand, and Tonya throws her arm around him for a hug. “Here,” she then says and, possibly unsure whether he has a cell phone or not, produces a slip of paper and a pen, writes her name and number upon it before handing it to him. During this exchange, waiting out the handoff, Edgar glances over at Brady, expecting he will do the same with Sherry, but the two of them just stand somewhat awkwardly, watching this.

Edgar doesn’t call Tonya over the weekend, however, or at any other point leading up to this morning. It occurred to him that he was supposed to be over here at Liberty anyway, and would hopefully just bump into her, or maybe even cross paths a few times throughout the day. And could therefore discuss going out or something. Instead, her absence requires a gear change, although this is totally fine and might work out better anyway.

On the way home, he’s shopping at one of the Healthy Hippie’s closest competitors, a natural chain with esoteric wares and a fun atmosphere at, well, often quite lower prices. He doesn’t shop here often, but was driving right by it and needs something for dinner. While in here, it occurs to him that this would be a perfect moment to call Tonya.

“Edgar Lodge! The Cackalacky Treat!” she cheers, with a laugh, upon answering and hearing his voice.

“Cackalacky Treat?”

“Yeah, you know, that’s what they call this region.”

“That’s awesome. Can’t say I’ve heard that one before. But then again I’m not actually from around here…”

“Yeah, I know. It just sounded cool,” she giggles.

As he strolls the aisles here, mostly in an attempt to find something that sounds good for tonight, their talk floats from topic to topic in mostly seamless fashion. When discovering where he’s shopping, she barks out, “traitor!” before cackling and admitting she frequents this establishment quite a bit herself. As the old r & b classic What You Won’t Do For Love wafts over the speakers above him, she can hear this, and coos, “ooh…good jam,” thereby indicating she might possess more musical knowledge than he initially supposed. In fact, he’s soon questioning his own.

“Oh yeah. Al Jarreau,” he replies.

“That’s not Al Jarreau,” she tells him, which will set off a debate they only later resolve, once this conversation is over.

Though in three hours the other night, he made a nearly successful point of avoiding any work related talk, Edgar feels like picking her brain now regarding her Liberty Avenue brethren. They only arrived at this topic because she remarked that his emails were a riot, to which he replied, “hmm, I thought only Arnie liked them.” And this reminds him that he wants her impression of Russian Robert, Sam, and the others, which he addresses by not voicing his own opinion, but rather asking her “what’s up with” so and so. He assumes she’s cool, at this point, and wouldn’t go tattling, but caution still pays at this early stage.

“What about that one cashier, uh…”

“Linda? Oh my god…”

Which sets off another extended, almost stream of consciousness type, rambling monologue, although he finds this very entertaining. She’s not difficult to follow, despite bouncing around quite a bit, and often hilarious. They agree that there’s a fine line between mental illness, which isn’t funny, and someone just being weird, which is — and without coming right out and saying so, it’s plainly obvious this is conjectured in relation to Linda, in which case it’s really difficult to say.

Regarding his inquiries as to “what about” their mountain of incense varieties, and strange trinkets up front, many of which have no bar codes, she references Linda once more, says these items are on a cheat sheet up front — because they don’t have barcodes, and Hobart scale stickers won’t fit on them — and Linda refuses to look these up, therefore she just hits the generic grocery key. That Sam finds this stuff on their overflowing racks in the back room, racks which are stacked to the apex of their very tall ceiling back there, material often bulging from them, and that if Tonya had to guess, some of those items have been hanging out on the receiving dock in that fashion for years. Thanks to Linda’s generic grocery punches (which should technically be housewares, Edgar is thinking, for a multitude of reasons, chief among them maybe tax ones), they have no idea about item performance, but that the bulk resin baggies seem to do well, as does the patchouli incense.

“Damn dirty hippies…,” she jokes, under her breath, but then laughs.

All of which is fine and good, even excellent, perhaps. Yet the real point of this call is when they are going to get together again. He didn’t want to throw this out there right off the bat, without gauging how this phone call would go, but they’ve been chatting so long that he’s wandering the aisles now without purpose. So it’s obviously been a resounding success. And when he casually mentions meeting up for a drink, maybe, soon, she seems excited enough about this prospect. Says she should be open for happy hour on Friday, but will call him back to confirm.

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jasonmcgathey
jasonmcgathey

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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