Sunday, May 13, 2012

88 Seconds in Greensboro

Remember this great scene from "Good Will Hunting"?


As I've learned to subdue my passions (but seriously, she is beautiful and smart and funny and did I mention beautiful? She is bee-YOOT-iful!), I'll aim to keep my highs and lows tempered. Suffice it to say, falling head over heels for your best friend might be precisely what Proust had in mind:
"In his younger days, a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses the heart of a woman makes him fall in love with her."
Note the "her", rather than the "he". For some, such a minor detail is of monumental importance. For instance, citizens in my adopted state recently voted to extend their impressive record of civil rights abominations. Disturbingly, the demographics of those hating their fellow human beings for how they were created were those who bore the last salvo. Did it take 88 seconds (to vote) in Greenboro?

For those claiming Christian justification for their loathing, Jesus never uttered a word regarding the matter. Atop a hill in Capernaum, in the streets of Jerusalem, in the deserts, on the sea - not a single word. In fact, He summed up the matter succinctly with His 11th Commandment: Love one another. Don't judge them, don't hate them, don't cast the first stone, don't cite the speck of dust in some else's eye while overlooking the plank in yours.

Secondly, the Republic may be on a ventilator, but we are a Republic just the same. What right does one citizen have to foist their dogma onto another? Also, how do institutions exempt from paying taxes have any sort of say in civil matters anyway? This is one of the reasons why our country was founded and our Constitution worded so explicitly. What's next, Sharia Law? Would every woman who voted affirmatively on May 8th be equally comfortable in a burqa?

Some day, in between repeated airings of "Carpet Shampooers", The History Channel will present a program on this issue. Just as I felt repulsed and stupefied seeing black-and-white footage of people being lynched, beaten, hosed and harried, will the next generation will look back and sadly wonder? There is no middle ground on the right side of history, that much is certain.

Regarding other apples, I've been thinking a lot about my first job lately. I started at The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company in the summer of 1987. I was sixteen, the Mets were well on their way to six-peating and the world was my oyster. The company's name struck me as so grandiose; I'd imagined myself signing on to the Dutch East India Company, but instead of captaining galleons around the Cape of Good Hope, I settled for cashier.

These were the analog days, well before optical scanners and QuicKarts. I had to actually pick up the box/jar/bag up, stare at it intently, twirl the box/jar/bag around in my hands and find the price tag. Once the .00014 millimeter hidden sticker was located, I then had to manually enter it into the cash register. For produce items, we had little cheat sheets with codes. Bananas? 300. Broccoli? 231. I eventually developed mnemonic devices, such as the one with the housekeeper from "The Jeffersons". After George and Weezy called it quits, she was in a show called "227". Every time I see that blessed woman's face, I immediately think of garlic. I'm sure she'd be pleased.

I'll admit to growing lax. The Rome apples were nearly indistinguishable from the Macintosh to my untrained (read: apathetic) eye. They were both red, after all, just like the Red Delicious variety. It was only logical (i.e., perfectly lazy) for all apples to then assume this catch-all "200" code.

I'd spend a lot of time wondering how they parsed through all the data, correlated the inputs to stock and eventually compensated the correct apple provider. I had visions of some poor, hard-working Cortland farmer scratching his head at the end of the week, wondering why his check was so paltry. Meanwhile, the Red Delicious big-wigs were undoubtedly living large on their burgeoning profits, which undoubtedly caught the shifty eyes of Enron, Tyco and WorldCom. As with everything else in life, it is all about me, sooner or later...

To be sure, there was a rogue's gallery of interesting customers. You never forget your first, they say, and mine was the short older woman with the frizzy salt-and-pepper perm. There were the two older gentlemen, one carrying oxygen and the other looking after him with a kindness that didn't quite compute. The one whose face will be forever branded into my terrorized psyche, however, is The Gambler.

No one knew his real name, and I'd have to believe no one cared or dared to. The mere mention of the moniker was enough to send shivers down the most ardent cashier's spine, and "Lane Closed" signs would pop out en masse the minute he entered the store.

He was a mean, lumbering oaf with long, wavy white hair and a matching beard. He would glare - nay, scowl - as he waited in line, and heaven forbid you took too long with the customer in front of him. I'd be all thumbs, hyperventilating, fumbling a box of Rice-a-Roni as if it were a slimy fish. "Where the @#$% is the price tag?!", I'd wail internally as he berated me for $3.35 an hour.

I wish I'd had the stones to stand up to him, but I suppose that's all part of the journey. I marvel now at just how far I've come, and it's ironic that my first job and my last came less than a mile apart. I never imagined I'd be parenting, transponding or boycotting the Amazin's all these years later, but here I am.

Just as the antagonist teaches the young man in the song above, I, too, learned some valuable lessons along the way:

1. Never start a land war in Asia
2. The secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep

When it's all said and done. there is no Miserable Lifetime Achievement Award™, and a commitment honored isn't a license for someone to treat you poorly. True happiness is no longer some unattainable Hallmark vagary, and it's not something to be compromised for or with. It's right here, right now.

I feel the strongest, clearest and most at peace I have since faux-Kenny Rogers stalked into my checkout lane all those years ago. While part of me would like to deck the man today, I have to be honest: I'd shake his hand and say, "Thank you".

How do you like them apples?