"G" is for "Grocery Store"
A few years ago – quite a few years ago – your friend Berowne was a 19-year-old student struggling to put himself through college by working in a grocery store.
The year was 1941. Politicians, the media, everybody was then assuring us that the Great Depression was finally over: jobs were available.
So I got one. I learned the skill of stacking shelves with cans of Campbell soup and other sundry items – and not just sundry; the other days of the week too.
Though the depression was over, no one had gotten around to notifying whoever was responsible for figuring out what an adequate salary should be. My pay was thirty-three and a third cents an hour. You worked three hours to make one dollar.
It may no longer have been the Great Depression, but as far as I could see it was a pretty good imitation.
Anyway, as I mentioned, I eagerly learned the art of filling the grocery shelves and the even more demanding skill of building displays.
Ah that, building displays, that was the exciting, intellectually-challenging work! Just putting cans of soup on the shelves was small-time stuff; being able to build an effective display was the major leagues.
Surely you have, at one time or another, gone into a grocery store and been greeted, just as you entered, by the sight of a magnificently-constructed display of toilet paper, or boxes of macaroni and cheese, or perhaps by a huge, awe-inspiring structure made up of large cans of tomato juice. It’s something you don’t forget. In some stores the displays are so crowded it's hard to navigate through them.
It is at least possible that you may have taken a moment to appreciate the engineering skill that must have been involved in such productions. That’s why anyone who could plan and construct a truly effective grocery display was always in demand.
And usually for a lot more money – forty cents an hour, in some cases. Anyway, to get on with my story, I was the new guy in one grocery store and during my very first week there I was startled to learn that I was to be given the assignment of building an important display.
It was to be in the front of the store, the most important spot, and should be built to a height of some ten feet. A blockbuster, in other words. My guess was, they were testing me, trying to see what the rookie could do.
In addition, the display was to be made up of huge jugs of Dad’s Old-Fashioned Root Beer, a prestige item in that store. These came in cases, four jugs to a case.
I went to work. Le Corbusier himself never planned better or worked harder to produce an architecturally perfect construction. I first set up a huge rectangle of cases of Dad’s stuff as a base, then built on these cases, using the ancient pyramids as my example. Up, up went the cases, and then, toward the top, I threw caution to the winds and used the jugs themselves for the crowning glory of the display.
It was superb – “magnificent” might almost have been an appropriate term for the structure. Until…
It seems that some of the cases that I had used for the base of the display had been empty; someone had removed the jugs. I had had no idea. When the base collapsed the result was disaster.
The massive juggernaut came hurtling down, the large number of jugs crashing on the cement floor. I stood there transfixed. My eyes were crinkled in panic; I was unable to utter a sound.
The store in that area was suddenly flooded with Dad’s Old-Fashioned Root Beer, up to everyone’s ankles.
After the screaming and shouting had died down, the manager of the store thanked me for my service and wished me well in my next job.
1 year ago