Sunday, August 24, 2008

Well, a guy’s gotta eat!

No one told me that one day I’d be wrapping lettuce at a produce market. Likewise I was clueless that all those cello and saxophone lessons, recitals and practice would naturally lead to Audrey & Erica making orchestra and band trips overseas in high school. So what’s a mother to do but get a spur of the moment job to legally raise some fast cash.

The store manager assured me they would appreciate my skill at putting together fruit baskets for the holidays but in the meantime a regular produce person was needed—someone to wrap heads of lettuce and bunches of broccoli and grapes. Oh, and there was the orange juice machine, salad bar, pineapple de-corer and the scales. And we all had to work on Saturday because that was their busiest day.

Thus began my brilliant career at a small, family owned chain of grocery stores in the south suburbs of Chicago one fall where I learned that not only did money not grow on trees but a produce department is run on constants. Every night most of the produce had to be moved into the cooler and brought out again the next morning, day after day, night after night. Monday mornings meant bringing box after box of oranges out of the cooler to run through the orange juicer, filling the bottles, cleaning up the pulp and mopping the floor constantly so no customer would accidentally fall on the juice. Then there was the grouchy manager, a guy who refused to retire but hated every minute while he was at work. Some of the crew worked in the back room sorting, wrapping and weighing. The rest of us stood in a sort of kiosk called ‘the scales’ where customers lined up to have all of their produce choices weighed and bagged and tagged, then secured by a machine that taped the bag shut. This made for a surly bunch of customers who had to wait in line just so they wouldn’t have to wait in line later at the checkout register to have things weighed.

One morning toward the end of my sentence, I watched a customer picking out scallions. What caught my eye was the large turquoise jacket he wore advertising Buddy Guy’s Legends, a famous blues club in Chicago. When he brought his onions up for the obligatory weighing and bagging I saw it was the man himself, Buddy Guy. Losing any bit of produce-inspired dignity I said something special like, “Oh, you’re Buddy Guy aren’t you? Let me shake your hand.” Which he did and not often does someone look me straight in the eye like he did that morning. I handed him his bag and said it had been my pleasure. Smiling, he pulled out his wallet and he wrote a name on the back of one of his Legends’ cards. “Call this guy on Monday and tell him I said to save some tickets for you the next time I’m playing.” In that moment the air was rarified and all I remember doing was leaving ‘the scales’ to tell everyone in the back room that I had just met guitar legend Buddy Guy. That’s when I learned the third lesson about produce: wrapping lettuce can make one apathetic. The only person who cared enough to reply said, “Well, if you’re happy, then I’m happy for you.”

See more answers to the prompt: How I met my. . .on Sunday Scribblings. And while you’re at it, listen to Buddy below.


anno said...

Wow, quite a story! I would have been excited, too -- a shame your coworkers weren't. I'll have to return to hear the music clip. YouTube is not cooperating with me today. :(

b said...

What wonderful it again soon. Set out so meet someone you admire. It is so much fun! I stood at the stage door one time and left a note for a man who was a music arranger for Glenn Miller. He had played clarinet for the Pink Martini group that night. It was glorious. He called me the following Monday to say thank you. (New Year Eve 2007...I was 66 years old).


Granny Smith said...

This is a great story,and your telling of it is superb. I like that "One day toward the end of my sentence..." This is also a sobering look at the working conditions of just one fraction of the workers in the greater market. It isn't easy. I'm glad you were rewarded with such a delightful experience toward the end of your sentence!

Queen-Size funny bone said...

See all that hard work paid off in one very rewarding and meaningful way.

Beth said...

Great post and a fine clip! I'm a fan of Billy Guy now. You had me with your vivid description of the job and the reasons for getting it. How do we get through workdays like that? One day at a time and for moments that lead to music, sweet music.