Much Lemon

My father owned a chain of grocery stores so I would go in at any time with my personalized paper bag and rip off the company by just walking out the door. First, it was great to see all the staring eyes. That was worth the trip. Then there's that thrill of being caught and the great laugh you can have when you're in the midst of important company, like a store manager, a company director or a plant manager and they ask you if you want this guy fired, this guy that tried to stop me going out the door. I'll give you 2 choices. Choose your own story, depending on whether you want me sympathetic or not.

It was great to save up all my sweat so I could pour it out at the "inquest" and the little man would squirm, though it was usually a CSM, in charge of the checkouts, who was standing around enough to pay attention to me, but the creaking of the chair wouldn't drown out the begging for jobs and mercy, but I loved playing with people's lives like that, though it was truly best when a regular cashier would catch me because they have so much more to lose, their sickly minimum wage lashes, but pretty soon they were on to me. I had to start dressing up in other kinds of clothes, finally women's clothes, before they'd "detain" or have me arrested. Arrested was my favorite because they don't prosecute, but they take you away in handcuffs in front of the whole store so that you've Really got a bargaining chip when you're trying to give somebody trouble.

But now it was becoming boring. Almost seemly. Like that Tuesday I spent like $6.14 (or 93 minutes of quality shelf stocker time) complaining to this guy that he only had the lemon kind of tea on the shelf. He said he couldn't do anything about it. I said I bet he could. He said I could talk to the woman who does the ordering. She wasn't there the first time he tried to find her. Maybe they knew I was here. I started yelling at the guy who was trying to put cans of Alpo up where people couldn't reach them. He clopped back and his tie was foaming in the wind; I don't know, the tip just looked white that's all.

A big woman with lots of self-confidence came to me in a hurried step. She was forcing a smile and I asked her out.

"What?" she said.

"I don't like my tea with lemon. Like it sweet. Fuck it with lemon."

"Sounded different the first time," she said, a little disappointed. I mean, I'm an attractive person. Well, out of this dress. I'd just asked her out on a social function to get to the meat of her brain.

"Are you going to order some? I mean, look at this tag." I pointed to the bar code beneath a section of empty shelf. I got the lip. You know that lip women sometimes disjoint when they think you're totally nonsensical, when you're screwed like a light bulb but they have to let you have your say anyway? I got the lip out of her.

She pointed and said, "Office controller. Maybe you should ask there."

"Maybe You should," I recommended, keeping myself a right ass.

She bent over and began discussing something with the Stocker, something that had Nothing to do with me at all, that much they were trying to make clear.

I parted the heavy doors kept apart by all the rubber in the world. The warehouse. I went past the shitty employee bathroom (that's bathroom, Singular) and there were high broom stacks, pallets of frozen meats and bushes of corn stalks crouched in wire bags. There was a high office on my right and passing something that looked like huge rolls of carpets (I didn't know they sold carpets in these places?) I met up with like 21 or 33 guys all in hard hats, pounding bone into hand, expressions like nuclear cap pistols. There were some cashiers in the back of these guys for some reason but they didn't seem to want to get involved when the hard hats began to murder me and spread my blood around the stacks of Sunny Square loaves that hadn't been unwrapped yet.

Or it could've been that I laughed it off every time I got somebody into trouble and my dad was starting to worry about my mental stability and the slight ring of fat that was already beginning to have a prominent place around the mid-section of my bodily features.

I remember him standing by a red Subaru I'd never seen before, jangling keys, saying, "If it takes you to work, it moves."


"Three days a week. I'll work the schedule so it doesn't change week after week like other people. Move past that responsibility.... I'll make it so your schedule changes from week to week like other workers."

You can't say no to red cars in today's world, and it went without saying he'd handle the insurance for my fine little 19 year old body.

I'd taken typing in school because I couldn't think of anything else to do with a.... what's the word...... you know, a class that's not required, but you have to take a couple anyway to - electives! Couldn't think of something better to spring an elective with, so typing. And because of it, the keys on the computerized cash register went pretty quick too, I was learning. I bagged as I went, and pretty soon I was on the Cash Only lane which is Supposed to be something of an upgrade because you stand around a lot. More than the rest of them anyway.

But it was funny when this 1 girl came through the line. Well, I don't know why you have to call them girls up to a certain point; she pretty much looked like she'd passed on over descriptively to "woman", but anyway this girl. Came through my line with about 9 items. I scanned the first 1. Didn't scan. I punched in the number. Nothing. A bing. I put on my light to flicker so the plump CSM could come over and give my machine an insertion with her all-powerful key. A key that did anything mind you and took requests. While I was waiting I tried the next item. Didn't scan. I punched in the numbers, nothing. 3 items, if you're counting. Same deal. I was getting huffs and various noises from my fine customer, but by this time my superior was close and the key went where it was suppose to. I was told "try it again". I did. Same business. The scoffing of the customer was having real trouble keeping laughs in; at least, that's the idea I got from it. We looked at her when she let go the comedy. Laugh, laugh.

"Sorry, sorry, really. Sorry," she sputtered. Now there were 3 people behind her while she explained, "None from here. Sorry." She laughed. "None you sell, see..." She held up a 12 volt DC pump and it was the first time I'd noticed it. I laughed. We laughed. The CSM went back to standing, figuring I guess I'd clean it all up with 3 customers waiting. Then I looked at the Mylar sheeting/solar blanket I'd tried to get her to pay for. There was a hanging radiometer within grasp too. By this time, our eyes were streaming from the laughs and my side felt like I'd already eaten a medium pizza by myself, but then the customers complained and the girl tried to head off. I told her to wait, yelled at the guy who was last in line to put the This Lane Closed sign on. I explained you just have to turn it over from the side it's on now. He was slow but soon no one else bothered me and I rang these guys out fast.

She could wait she said. She had time. She didn't have to do Anything with her life, I learned. Her dad was Grangly. Of Grangly Scientific, those stores you see in every mall. We started dating, seriously.

—Ben Ohmart