"Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot" - E13

By jasonmcgathey | Jason McGathey | 8 Oct 2023

Healthy Shopper Market bulk section


This sensation of reliving a previous experience, altered just enough to make it weird, isn’t limited to strictly the Liberty store. It continues to surface everywhere, and none more prominently than his current home base, Palmyra. The shuffling bodies add to this effect, for example returning here to discover there is no Walnut location, but Karen Hatley is running this one, except she’s seated behind his old desk. Meanwhile he is making do in some smoker dust covered alcove beside the back dock, wondering, in light of these whirlwind changes of just the past few months, how did I wind up here? How did any of us wind up here?

Returning faces contribute equally to this phenomenon, too. He’s out looking something up in the vitamin department one day and bumps into Sharon Tolliver, a former employee who’d quit over a year ago and just now returned. He definitely wouldn’t say he’d forgotten about her completely — particularly considering she had a somewhat distinct look, with the long, straight, prematurely greyish-white hair, and the horn rimmed spectacles — but he hadn’t actually thought about her at any point since leaving for the AP position. They’d had limited interaction before, but yeah, if somebody mentioned her name, he would have recalled this person. Bumping into her with a start out here, their second introduction is therefore very similar to their first introduction, which only adds to its surreal aura.

Elsewhere, though, there are enough bursts of familiarity to prove he’s in the correct dimension. His mom and sister-in-law both still work here, and his wife’s other sister even attempted to give the produce department a shot for all of two days, both of which she carpooled with Edgar. Josey is still running the deli and Trudy grocery, Johnny the bulk department, while about half the other scattered employees are also the same. Shelly continues to act as de facto front end manager, minus the title, scowling from behind a cash register in her leather jacket and ever changing, vibrant hair, currently dark green. Although even she has somehow acquired a brand new nickname in the interim, as select employees now refer to her — when she’s not around, of course — as The Troll Under The Bridge.

At least certain other elements are as predictable as ever. The breakroom itself is reliably entertaining enough here to the extent he doesn’t even need to bring anything to read. Just in case he does, though, this store alone has always featured a well-stocked bookshelf, as employees continually bring in dogeared tomes they no longer want. Goofing around on one’s phone is often out of the question anyway, due to the common lack of internet, unless willing to burn through one’s data plan or set up a wireless hotspot.

But who would choose to do so, regardless, when there are diversions such as these? Right now on one of the two short tables (a pair of plush easy chairs are also crammed into corners here, on both sides of the bookshelf) someone has filled a paper cup with crayons, written upon the side that COLORING BOOKS REDUCE STRESS. From here his vision inevitably jumps to the nearby concrete block wall, where another bored and/or energetic soul has used these crayons to drawn a sign advising Please Clean Up After You Eat! Below this they have drawn a realistic recreation of this side of the break room. There’s a package depicted on the table, which is labeled “unidentifiable half-eaten low carb fat free gluten free sugar free snack that you no longer want.” Then a pair of arrows, connected at the base, one pointing to this item, another pointing to the trash can.

You can also rely on the steady amusement provided by the clientele, which he was mostly shielded from up on the second floor at Southside, and will be almost entirely removed from once Central is ready. Freakzilla is still shopping here, yes. As is the woman who not so secretly slips someone in the deli $20 every so often to sharpen her knives, and the one who spends an insane amount buying lamb steaks but having the meat department grind them, so that she can feed this to her dogs. They’ve even pointed out the presence of ground lamb already available in their meat case, but she insists the dogs like this better. Well, he can certainly believe this. He likes the steaks better himself, too. On exactly one occasion, proving that this store is continually besieged by fresh crops of weirdos, too, they discover that a woman has brought a baby kangaroo in with her, though attempting to obscure this fact by dressing it as a human one, seating the creature in the top basket of her shopping cart.

The random overheard bits are possibly more hilarious at this point, however. Like the afternoon he’s on his laptop in the cafe area and listens to a pair of young brothers as they check out the Disney fruit crisps display, arguing over who gets which flavor. Apparently neither wants the other to copy him. Too young to be smartasses, though, so when one says Mickey looks sickly, and wonders what’s wrong with him, the other earnestly agrees. Neither owill therefore pick this particular flavor.

But as far as sheer nuttiness, virtually nothing can compare to interacting with one’s coworkers. And while it’s true that the latest saga, a seemingly simple request over plastic shields for the bulk bins, will swell to encompass most stores and even a couple people down at Bellwether Snacks, it originates here, therefore Edgar most associates it with Palmyra. Johnny asking Edgar where they get replacement parts for these bins, specifically the heavy, clear plastic shields that snap in over the labels — possibly because, due to Vince “running” bulk for years, nobody is accustomed to the merchandiser doing anything. And Johnny hasn’t yet grasped that Brian is his new boss and things might finally be different. Edgar agrees to look into it, never dreaming what kind of drawn out odyssey this would turn into.

Though spending a great deal of time at this job, Johnny has never had to order these before. One major reason is that the stores are often able to just borrow some from one another, as there are only three different sizes in use — a fat cylindrical bin, a skinnier cylindrical one, and then a boxier shaped bin. But after researching the matter, Edgar can see that bulk managers have ordered these in the past from a company called Grocery Fixtures Inc.

He emails a request to them to ship 25 of the larger curved shields and 50 flat ones. They respond that they don’t offer terms, however, and need a credit card number to proceed. Figuring that this just about ends his involvement with this project, he forwards the email chain to Brian and Karen.

Karen instead emails Edgar back to say that this isn’t the “normal guy” that they do business with there — as in, whoever responded from Grocery Fixtures Inc., it wasn’t some rep named Scott which she claims always handles the HSM account. This feels like a really bizarre response, because it’s unclear why this would even matter. Or at the very least, why Edgar would care, because it would seem the extent to which this concerns him should have already reasonably concluded. Nonetheless, she is telling him to cancel the order. Brian, meanwhile, responds that he thinks Bellwether Snacks stocks these.

Okay, so it’s obvious that neither of them are going to take the reins from here. As it turns out, Brian, who is still somewhat new to the merchandiser role anyway, thought that Edgar was talking about the floppy plastic sleeves, with sticky backs, that they affix to their spice jars. Though all Edgar can think, and really wishes he could say, is something along the lines of yes but why am piecing together this order for the bulk department? he’s nothing if not a good sport, and it is kind of entertaining to see where this might lead. By the time he discovers that Brian was thinking about the floppy sleeves, Edgar’s already contacted Tracy at Bellwether, to see what she can do.

She replies that they do not stock these, but that Mike LeJardin might be able to order some for them, if Edgar can tell her what he needs. On the 15th, Edgar says that he needs 25 of the curved plastic ones and 50 flat for Palmyra, but never hears anything. Nearly two more weeks go by before Johnny, who’s getting antsy at this point, asks what’s going on with this project, so on the 28th Edgar sends a follow-up request to Tracy. Now she immediately fires back an email, asking him if this order is just for Palmyra. She says the reason she’s asking is because Brian was wondering if the other stores need anything. Apart from the fact that he already told her this, he’s kind of wondering why in the world this would matter. Yet composes a very neutral and patient response that yes, these are just for Palmyra.

Edgar had in fact already emailed the other bulk managers twice to ask if they wanted to get in the mix on this, but hadn’t heard anything. It’s true that Tracy might not have been aware of such, but again, this just feels like getting bogged down by pointless details and making things way more complicated than necessary. An impression all but confirmed when she emails again to ask whether any of these are for “the new store” because “the timing might not work out” for that if so. Yes. These are just for Palmyra.

The next day what is perhaps the strangest dispatch yet arrives in his inbox, from Tracy:

The false fronts for the Bins at Liberty are not sold as a separate piece is what we are being told. It is all built into the bin. Do you want to order 30 new bins? This may be quite expensive. If so, I need to know which one you have? How tall is it? Do you have a part number?

By the time he unscrambles his brain enough to sort this one out, it’s already the 3rd of the next month. Tracy forwards Edgar’s request to Mike LeJardin, who asks Tracy what store these are for, who asks Brian. Brian of course has no way of knowing that when he tells her to send these to Palmyra, this is the now the fifth time this information has been imparted to Tracy. On the 24th, Edgar sends an email to all three of them to ask where these parts are, because Johnny still hasn’t seen them. Mike blessedly responds with a totally rational email to explain that these have been ordered, and he will follow-up. Finally, about a week later, the pieces arrive.

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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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