Food to the Max

by Larry Griggs

Peter was late when he arrived in the parking lot of Food to the Max. It was weird, whenever someone else took him to work he was never late, but now when Peter drove he was late every time he worked. He walked slowly to the building, words from an old co-worker rung in his head, "If you are already late why speed up." Peter could feel the stares of his co-workers on him as he walked past the window and to the automatic door. He could imagine the mean things they said behind his back. "He's so lazy, why hasn't he got fired yet? Why does he ignore me when I try to talk to him; is he too good to talk?" "Just come when you can," Derek said to him as he past by. "It's not like the customers need you." Peter ignored him; he was tired he just wanted to get this day over with. He walked by the office door and tapped on the window. The owner Max Shepard gave him a blank expression. Peter couldn't think of the one time that his boss's smile wasn't sarcastic. Max Shepard was the only manager the workers were afraid of because he was the one who could fire you. This was Max's store, Food to the Max founded in 2000 by the man who sat on his chair waiting for the excuse Peter was about to give. "Um, I got pulled over that's why I'm late." Peter said. He pulled out the ticket from last weekend he had brought in from his car. Max didn't look up; he just nodded and kept working on the schedule for next week.

The schedule was always made on a Thursday, if someone wanted to be off an employee had to put in his request before then or the employee wouldn't get it. Peter shrugged and went to clock in. He searched for his name; his time card was always moved after payday. Great, even more late, He thought to himself. He finally found it under a name whom he didn't know who belong to. Peter clocked in at 4:10. He walked to the closet where they kept the Food to the Max bags. The inside of the closet was no bigger than a  bathroom. Boxes were stacked high to the ceiling towards the back and receipt paper, trash bags and cleaning supplies toward the front.

There was a window that connected to the office where the cashiers and the baggers went to talk to the managers, get their tills to their registers and get change for large bills. He stuck his head through; he needed to speak with Max before he put up the schedule. "Um Max?" Max turned around slow. The two years that Peter had been working there he had never seen Max move fast not even when he found someone stealing. "Yes," He stared at Peter with tired eyes like he had been asleep and abruptly awakened. "I was wondering if I could have Saturday off." Peter always got nervous when he talked to Max, his boss was too nonchalant. "Well too bad," Max said with a smile, turned and walked back to his desk.

Peter wasn't taken aback by this; he had already known the answer. Peter was only given 3 days a week to work Friday, Saturday, and Sunday every week for the past year. It was his punishment for requesting off all the time. By the time he got out to the front the store was already packed with customers. Peter didn't know what it was about the store that drew the same people there everyday. The store was gross; everything in the store made Peter sick thinking about it. The floors were dirty; a grayish color that Peter wondered if they had once had been white. They were always covered with trash and discarded coupons. The register stands were never clean and dust covered the old computers they used. The buggies in the corner beside the window where full of trash taken from the customer's cars. Peter had to watch when he had to push in buggies; he was always the one who found dirty diapers stuck below the bars.

He sighed, he hated his job. He went to the busiest register; register number one. The customer could be anywhere in the store, but they would always come to number one. There were eight cash registers in all that stood in front of sixteen aisles. Time was moving slowly, Peter was already getting bored. Everything moved into an annoying repetition: Doot, the sound of the barcode scanner rang throughout the store. Groceries slid down and piled together; cold with cold, box with box, "Paper or plastic?" The tedium was not something he had grown used to, every day seemed more impossibly monotonous than the last. He zoned out, it was one way to tune out the voices and loud talking that babbled like a gush of a river inside his head.

It was a Friday night in September; the few friends Peter had who worked morning shift had already gone home for the day. He switched to register to register helping each cashier until the lines shortened and started to disappear. His pocket vibrated, once and a long one. He had a text message. Peter walked past register one and down aisle 12 to the back. He had already been suspended for texting while at work; he had to be careful especially when Jayne worked. The time dragged and Peter wanted to shoot himself in the face. Frequent trips to the bathroom and break room were his only escape from the never-ending torture.

After awhile of texting, stealing food and, talking on his phone outside Peter found himself back at the front. His legs hurt from walking around. "Where have you been at for the past couple of hours?" Latoya asked. Peter smiled at her, a mask for the people who barely talked to him. "Oh. I forgot you don't care," She shook her head and turned around and tended to the customer who had turned into her line. Peter helped her; he would leave in a minute, when he walked around the store time went by faster. He turned his head towards register four and saw Lawrence on his phone texting. Seeing Lawrence on his phone prompted Peter to do the same thing. He pulled his phone out to check his unread messages when he felt a clammy hand clamp down on his arm. He stared into the eyes of Jayne. Her face got close to his and Peter could feel her hot breath on his face. "Get off your damn phone!" She yelled in his ear causing him to knock into a bagger putting a case of wine into a buggy. The wine slipped from his hand crashing to the floor spilling wine and glass everywhere. "Now clean up this mess!" Jayne furiously walked away passing Lawrence still on his phone texting. Peter raised an eyebrow, shrugged and walked to the back to get a mop. It was better than being suspended again; he only worked 3 days and being suspended would make his paycheck even shittier.

The time felt like to Peter was moving in slow motion. After cleaning the mess that Jayne caused him to make he looked at the duties list to see what he had to do that night. Under returns was his name in big black letters and a smile. Returns located in a buggy at the end of aisle eight, were the things that idiotic customers wait until the last minute to say that they don't want. "It's better than cleaning the AIDS infested bathroom," Peter muttered to himself. The bathrooms were never clean and Peter never used them in fear of catching something. It had gotten so bad that a customer took the liberty to write on a stall. "Clean: the act of removing dirt, grime, and filth from any surface. Ex: No one cleans this restroom." Peter finished quickly that night eager to go home and escape from his prison, but when he asked Jayne if he could leave at 9:45 she told him no. "Check if every thing is done first: Check bathrooms, break room, sweep the front, make sure the trash is up, make sure the lot is clear, make sure all the returns and done. Oh yeah before I forget tell Lawrence that he can leave." The night was over, all the customers were out of the store and everything that Jayne had asked was done. That night Peter needed someone to talk to. By the time he had gotten home his mother was already asleep with the door shut. His father being a "night owl" was still up, however he was in Mexico. Peter opened his laptop and sent him an email:

PETER: Dad, I'm, really bothered at work. My paychecks have been getting lower and lower because Max won't give me any more hours. My car payment is due pretty soon and they won't like it if it's like last time. I feel like I'm alone there. Nobody really likes me, they don't talk to me, they don't help me and Jayne keeps yelling at me and humiliating me. Do you think it's because I dubbed her that bitch Jayne? I feel as though I wasted two years of my life working at that shit hole. I'm not getting anywhere and the people that have just started make me than me. What can I do?

The sun rays shone through the cracks of Peter's blinds waking him. His eyes opened slow, pieces of sleep fell to the bed as he wiped them away. He glanced at the alarm clock on the bedside table. He had slept through his alarm clock again. Jumping out of the bed landing in a pose that lasted more than he intended it to, Peter realized how late he was and slipped on the pants he had worn the previous night. The only thing left was to find his Food to the Max! shirt. After tearing up his room he found it under his cat Leo. Wiping the hairs and fuzz he put it on and ran to his car. After letting it warm up, he started the drive to his job.

When Peter got to the parking lot he was later than he was yesterday. He quickened his pace wiping the still present cat hairs when he saw Jayne outside smoking. She took long drags on her cigarette despite the fact in her old age she was suffering from diabetes. Jayne saw him approaching and her face hardened. "Well, don't stare at me smoking, get inside you're already late! Peter opened his mouth to reply, but closed it. He trudged inside and clocked in.

The morning shift was different than night shift; there was a lot more rules and ruder customers. Peter leaned against the register stand, looking out the window into the parking lot scattered with cars. Bacon slid down and hit his elbow. He turned around and put it in a bag and handed it to the customer. Peter shook his head and turned to the cashier named Maria, "He got out of bed and came here for one thing?" She shrugged and placed her closed sign at the edge of the register and did what all cashiers did after 20 minutes; she went to smoke a cigarette. He followed her, not to smoke but to stand outside to kill time. Outside there was Derek, sitting on a crate talking on the phone, Shannon and Crystal leaning on the wall dragging on a Marlboro light. Peter moved away from the smoke and close to the wall where Derek was. The parking lot had filled up with cars during the last hour; Max would be calling them soon. Derek pulled out a new pack of Newport from his pocket and held it out to Peter, "Smoke?" Peter shook his head. "You know I don't smoke." Derek laughed, "Sorry I forgot, goodie-two-shoes." He took a long drag on his cigarette, and exhaled it toward Peter. Peter held his breath, counting to 5 before letting it out. Max's head came around the corner, "We need you."

Back inside the lines of customers grew long; the usuals made the store stay alive and seeing them everyday made Peter feel as though he relived the same day every time he worked. Unnamed to him and unnamed he was to them, didn't stop them from talking to him. "How's it going? Still trying to hide I see," The man with the cowboy hat said to Peter whenever he would come in. The man's wife smiled at him, she didn't talk much, but she always looked pleasant. Peter chuckled, always the reply that got him through the conversation.

Around 4:00 P.M. the switch between morning and night shift took place. Peter watched as the cashiers cleaned their registers and took out their trash. Max walked out the office, coat in hand and went out of the door. Victor would be taking his place tonight. Victor was new, but unlike the veteran managers he was more laid-back.

"Peter," Tina called him to her register. "What's up?" "I need a bagger," Peter glared her, he hated when a cashier would call him to come bag. The customer smiled at him, Peter smiled back, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. He was waiting on an escape and when he saw one he would not hesitate. Finally he saw it, the customer picked up a piece of meat that she didn't want and handed it to him "Sorry, I just don't have enough," Peter grimaced as he felt the slimy texture in his hand. "It's ok," he said as he walked away. He slid past the customer and nonchalantly picked up a magazine. He secured it into his back pocket and rolled his shirt over it as he walked. "What you got there?" Matt, one of the meat guys asked. "I think some ham hocks or whatever this is." He handed it to him and walked through the double doors to the back.

Past the baler there were two staircases: the one on the left led to the employee bathroom and the one of the right led to a room full of broken and used displays. Peter climbed the staircase on the right, shielding his face from the camera high in the corner on the opposite hall. Inside the room there was a makeshift desk and a dusty armchair, a manager had once joked that this had been his office. Peter had never explored this room before and when he reached the top of the stairs he looked around. In the corner of the room there was a box that stood out from the rest; it was tipped over rather than sitting on top of the others. Peter reached down and picked up the papers strewn from the box. "So that's what they do with the old schedules," he said with a smile as he looked at the one from 2007.

May 28th 2007

"Are you sure you have everything?" Peter reached behind him in the backseat making sure he didn't forget anything. "Think so," he said as he turned around. "Where's your shirt at, you didn't forget it at home did you?" "No," Peter said with a laugh. "They give it to me when I clock in; this isn't my first job you know," His mother looked at him and smiled. She was looking better since the divorce; he hoped she stayed that way. She reached into her wallet and pulled out a five dollar bill. "Use this for lunch, but you owe me when you get your first paycheck." He smiled and opened the door to get out. "Be careful, I'll pick you up when you get off." In their family saying "Be careful" was the same as saying "I love you". He watched her as she drove off until he couldn't see the charcoal Chrysler anymore.

"Wow, you're here early," Derek said as Peter walked in. Peter gave him a bright smile as he walked up to him. Derek was Peter's best friend in 10th grade, but after Derek graduated they had lost touch. "C'mon, we're slow; let me show you around for a little bit." Derek had been working there for two years and knew where everything was. Peter followed with amazement, he had never known about the store when he and his mother shopped there. "Now since you're my boy, I'm going to show you one of my hiding places, but I recommend that you don't use it until after a week of working here." He led Peter toward the produce section passing the apple cider until they were in front of the double doors that said, "EMPLOYEES ONLY" He turned to the left and opened a door anyone would have passed by. "In plain sight," Derek said with a smile, he held the door open as Peter stuck his head in. The room was narrow, but big enough to have three people inside. "Nice," Peter said wiping the dust and dirt from his shoulders. "So you ready to become a Food to the Max! employee?" Peter smiled big he couldn't hold back his excitement.

Present Day

Peter set the schedules in the box and sat down on the rickety chair. He opened the magazine and flipped through the pages when the smell of smoke reached his nose. "Outside's for smoking, not the back dumbass," Peter muttered. "OH MY GOD THERE'S SMOKE EVERYWHERE!" Peter ran out the room and took the stairs two at a time. The whole backroom was engulfed with smoke. The smoke made his eyes water and his throat hurt. Matt saw him and rushed over to him. "Go get Jayne, tell her that there is smoke back here." Peter ran full speed to the office, nearly knocking over a couple on aisle twelve. "Jayne, Jayne!" "What is it?" "There's smoke in the back!" "Smoke?" Jayne jumped out of her chair and burst through the office door. "Get everyone out of here," She yelled over her shoulder as she rushed to the back. "Peter rushed to the intercom, "Attention Food to the Max! customers, there is smoke in the back, please exit the store in an orderly fashion." "What about our food?" a customer asked. "I'm sure your food will still be here when we come back inside." He led the customers to the emergency exit; the siren of the fire truck was heard in the distance.

Peter sat down on a crate against the wall away from the customers. The sun felt good on his face and arms, he smiled. Freedom. What better way to spend your last hour of work sitting outside marveling at God's works. He thought to himself. The chatter among customers was quiet at first but soon it got to the point were they approached him and the other workers with questions. "When can we go back inside I got milk in my buggy." "As soon as the manager says it's ok," The baggers and cashiers sat under the tree across the street smoking away on their cigarettes; some in their cars listening to music. Peter sat alone with Nathan. "So did you do it?" Nathan asked, plopping down on a crate beside him. "No," Peter said with a laugh. Nathan gave him a look and began texting on his phone. Minutes went by and Jayne walked out. Her hair was frazzled and her baby blue shirt had smudges on it. "It's safe to go back inside," She announced, opening the door and dusting her shirt. Everyone went back into the store to claim their buggies and resume their transactions. As Peter went in Jayne grabbed his arm and pulled him to the side, "What were you doing in the back?" Her eyes burned into his, searching for an answer. "I was filling up the paper towels in the bathrooms," he lied. Jayne looked at him and released her grip on his arm. She went back inside to the office letting the door shut behind her. Peter let out a huge sigh. "Close one." He clocked out and went home. The sun began its descent when he got home making the sky a brilliant orange color. He pushed opened the front door and Leo scrambled out. "Crazy cat," he said as he went to his room. The computer screen was flashing as he opened the door illuminating the posters for a few second. It was a new message from his father.

JOHN: Son, first off no one really likes their second job, but you have to remember that this job is just temporary. Second of all stop complaining; instead be thankful that God has blessed with a job when in this economy someone could really need it. Think of when you are the most efficient at work. Are you a morning or evening person? Your mom says that you don't talk to the baggers or the cashiers. Why is that? When you befriend your co-workers you have a vested interest in the people around you, inherently that comes with a vested interest in how work goes for them. A job well done on your friendly co-workers part often makes your job easier and vice versa. Knowing more people facilitates work flow. Start telling people good morning and telling them bye. As for Jayne, don't allow yourself to criticize her and don't listen to anyone's criticism. Get to work on time, dress appropriately, and give at least 5-7 hours of productive work. I love you son.

Peter decided to take his father's advice. He should be thankful for having a job than trying to decide whether to quit or not when there wasn't another job that could take its place. He fell onto his bed and laid there until his eyes drooped and the sleep took over.

Can't live in the past or how else would we move forward

Pain of the loss and the things now gained

Self inflicted torture

Pain feeds to the depression that drains the fuel of life

Time waits for no one why should I be different

Mistakes overpower the weak

Only redemption can save

Love hurts so why pretend

Everyone gets hurt in the end

Will change work?

The willing to change has a fascinating quality. It begins with difficulty, but as the will survives, progress presents itself along the way. The next morning Peter was determined to be early. During the night he had set the alarm clock an hour earlier, putting the clock close to the bed so he wouldn't sleep through it. Peter awoke the next morning at 7; despite the tossing and turning during the night he was energetic.

Small drops of rain splattered against his windshield as he drove. The road was empty; it was too early for the townspeople to be up at this time. Peter smiled; he was actually going to be early today. "I'm going to be"." BLAM! Peter ducked and swerved to the right. "Who's shooting at me?" He frantically looked behind him, but he found no one. He pulled the car to the side of the road. "Weird," he murmured. He pulled back onto the road and started driving again. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! He swerved and looked behind him. No one. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! The noise continued to shake his car until he drove it to the tire shop down the road. Even at early in the morning the tire place was packed. Peter parked in the corner and waited until one of the workers approached his car. The rain dripped down the window as he rolled it down. The worker's face was covered in dirt and was unshaven. "Help you?" "I keep hearing a weird noise in my car." "I'll get the mechanic to see what's wrong." He went to the back of the shop and went into the office. Peter waited in his car, watching the cars in the lot get new tires and drive off. He checked his clock on his phone. 10:03. "Damn it!" He punched the dash; he was now an hour late. The rain continued to pour, much harder than it was before making it impossible to see. The mechanic tapped on his window. He opened the door, the rain drenching his shirt as he held the door opened. The mechanic smelled of old booze and like the worker his face was dirty. "What's wrong with it?" he said in the raspy voice. "I heard a weird noise," "Let me take it for a spin." Peter opened his umbrella and got out into the rain. He grimaced as the mechanic got mud all in his front seat. The car started with its usual roar when he saw what the problem was. The back tire on the driver's side had blown out. "Wait, it's the tire," he pointed. The mechanic nodded and rolled Peter's car under the shed.

When Peter arrived to the store it was 10:32, the latest he had ever been. The rain had slowed and now was a faint drizzle. Derek saw him as he came inside, "How did I know you were going to be late?" He turned to a cashier and said, "Don't ever call Peter if you need help, he'll be like President Bush with the Hurricane Katrina victims." The cashier laughed like he had said the funniest thing in the world. Max was waiting on him by the time clock. "No excuses clock in and follow me."

He led Peter to the back of the store to the loading bay. The loading bay was scattered with trash and broken pieces of pallets that had fallen off the unloading trucks. A trail of sludge led to a pool of murky water at the end of the bay; the strainer was stopped up. "We got a truck tonight, I need you to clear the way for the water to go down the pipes then get all the trash and wood picked up and put it in the garbage."

The clouds in the sky rolled away exposing the hot sun. Sweat dripped from his face as he worked. The shovel was too big to use, his back hurt from heaving mud into the worn out trash barrel. He took a break to text, sitting on a stack of pallets in front of the door. It was a good thing he had worn old shoes he was covered with dirt and mud from his pants to his feet. The strainer was unclogged and clear the only thing left to do now was get up the trash. "Need some help," He looked up to see Logan in front of him holding a broom. He smiled, "Tobie's going to get on to you for not being on the front." "I don't give a fuck, hell she doesn't wear a light blue shirt." Peter laughed; he picked up his broom and they got to work.

"So who would you do Maria or Shannon?" Logan asked dumping the last bit of trash into the trashcan. They half lifted, half dragged the trashcan to the dumpster. "That's a hard one," Peter said laughing. Matt opened the back door, "Logan they've been calling you to the front," he called. Logan shook his head, "Lazy ass people," he said walking to the door. He turned around, "Peter?" "Yeah," "When are we going to play Halo?" Peter shrugged. "See that's that bullshit I be talking about," Logan said with a smile and went back into the store.

The trashcan was a lot heavier by himself.

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