Thursday, October 29, 2020

Supermarket Fun part 2

 What got me out of bed this morning was my cell phone ringing. Thought it might be something from the medical office where I am seeking help with something, but I didn't recognize the number so I let it go to voice mail.  Later listened and it turned out to be the county clerk's office- my ballot for the next election had been received from the drop box where I had left it several days ago.  Not processed yet, but that will be soon. Well, that's good news, my vote will be counted, not a given in this country this year.

So where did I leave off?  As we moved through the 20th century, A&P got larger and larger, and other chains were created and joined the party.  More departments, more products. Frozen foods for example. The tv dinner was created when a supplier found himself with a excess of turkey after thanksgiving, and was tired of paying to keep it refrigerated.  Got the idea to cook it, package it on a divided tray with meat, side dish(es) and dessert, and sell it as a frozen convenience food perfect to eat in front of those new television devices that were getting popular.  Priced at about a buck, sold out quickly and became a new ongoing item.  (this kind of thing happens- comic books were created when a publisher ended up with a large supply of newsprint, reprinted old newspaper strips on it, and created an industry) In my youth tv dinners were packed on aluminum trays, and cooked in standard ovens. Those don't exist any more (looked in vain when I was doing a tv dinner piece decades ago), now replaced with plastic plates and microwavable products, ready in minutes.   Half of the tv commercials I see are for ready made meals, delivered to your door- you heat and eat. Could be for dietary reasons or just convenience ("we never need to cook again!" exclaims a woman in one commercial I saw today) Most supermarkets have two of three aisles of frozen foods now.  Deli counters also became standard. Freshly sliced meat and cheese, prepared items, all very convenient.  Thanks to cars and roads, instead of small buildings in downtowns, they could be larger buildings on the outskirts. My father's father started working for A&P, a variety of jobs, and moved the family down to the shore around 1950 to help open a new location, which eventually resulted in my existence. He died when I was young from a fatal illness, living just long enough to qualify for his pension, which his widow continued to collect for decades.  Not a huge amount, but every little bit helps.

The A&P did well, but the original owners were a bit greedy, which what did it in.  They organized the corporate structure to give most of the profits to them and their estates, with little going to the chain itself.  Other chains started to catch up and surpass them.   Went through a bankruptcy and reorganizing around the turn of the century. but still were popular.  Some store brands remained popular.   There was one across the street from where I live, and I ended up taking a part time job there while still teaching at the college. I was told that the deli was my grandfather' favorite department, so I decided to try that. 

Had its good and bad points- probably not the same as 50 years ago when my grandfather did it.  Slicing meats and cheeses is not particularly challenging, though if you got an order for prosciutto, you were granted access to the best slicer we had (the store was not expected to repair or replace them any time soon. )  The cleaning was a lot like what we did at McDonald's, so I could do that.  More complex tasks like loading the rotisserie with chickens and using the deep fryer was handled by the full time staff, jobs not available to me. Once I was asked to pluck chickens, which surprised me.  Did they come to us with feathers still on them?  Turned out this was their term for removing meat from the bones, which we did after there freshly roasted chickens had reached their maximum time under the heat lamps.  Not wasted though, that meat (now devoid of skin and bones) was refrigerated and used to make chicken salad, a very popular item in our department- sold out very quickly.   All our store made salads did (red skin potatoes, macaroni salad, freshly made cole slaw) especially in summer when they were commonly used as part of cookouts.  We just raided the other aisles for ingredients. 

Some customers wanted a lot of help, seeking to know what might go with something or make a special request.  Once had a customer ask for half inch thick slabs of ham for a recipe.   I adjusted the slicer, did a sample,weighed it for him so he would know what such a thing would cost, and at his request. sliced a few more.  He was very grateful.  Occasionally customers would thank us for being so helpful. Most did not, and some were downright mean.  We had one regular with what is commonly called a "resting bitch face" (not our slang- it's out there in the world) and some deli staff just didn't want to wait on her. On an evening shift, with only two people on line, had an elderly man throw a tantrum because he was tired of waiting while the other customer ahead him was being served.  (quarter pound of this, quarter pound of that, and a long list)  He eventually dragged some manager over who took the side of the complainer, and didn't notice the the customer with the long list of items left, tired of the discord, and not purchasing. The manager took out his anger on my coworker who was doing exactly as our immediate supervisor had requested- clean the slicers while I took care of the first customer so we could close down for the night. (it was clear I was working) Once had a customer just walk up and ask for ham.  "Which one?" I asked, since we had maybe 8 varieties. "The best one", he said. Which one was the best? "Obviously the most expensive one" he told me.  In my head I thought the managers must love this guy, and hoped that people would be really impressed with he extra $3 per pound he was spending, but I kept my mouth shut and filled the order. Once had a customer ask me which was the best ham for dogs.  None, really, with all the preservatives- he'd be better off getting something from the pet aisle, but while I worked there I cut a lot of cold cuts that were intended for dogs- mostly ham, roast beef, and liverwurst.  Probably the tipping point came with bologna.  Word had come down from above that we were to sell more of the store brand, but most of the customers had been cultivated to like fancy name brands advertised on tv, and that is what they wanted, no matter how much you tried to suggest the other ones.  I decided that helping the owners (most supermarkets these days are owned by international conglomerates) sell more baloney no longer held my interest.  In the end though, I needed more time to grade at the end of the semester and requested a lighter schedule, but instead I was given more hours. When I started we were told it was part time and we'd be limited to 20-25 hours per week. Instead, we got no full time pay, no vacation pay, no pensions, and asked to work a full time schedule.  I just had to go.

Even while I was there, I wondered if something bad had happened there. There was the kind of vibe that you found in 80's movies like Poltergeist, and The Shining, evil caused by the presence of spirits of those who had died there. I asked people who had lived in the area for a long time, and one told me the property had once been a horse farm.  Plausible, with Monmouth County being well known place to raise horses.  I was also told that the property was known to host lynchings.  I have no facts to back that up, but unfortunately, also plausible.   Back in the 1930's, the KKK attempted to acquire the old Marconi property here in town and turn it into a resort for themselves.  The IRS put an end to that, and eventually the military got it and used it as a base for decades, a place to test high-tech items, such as a radar bounce off the moon. It's been a few years since I worked at a supermarket, but it looks like things have gotten worse.  Any supermarket I go to I feel a lot of anger.  My current thoughts are less evil spirits, and more likely they are just unpleasant places to be. People don't go to supermarkets because they want to, they go because they have to.  And they resent it.   You can take your life into your hands walking through a parking lot, second only to convenience stores for danger.  Inside, around any corner you may be hit with a shopping cart, people in a hurry to get what they want and get out of there.  Compare it to a casino.  Go to a casino and you will likely lose money, and if you think otherwise you are probably delusional, but people still like to go. They are bright, colorful, with flashing lights, lots of music and action.  I do not think much of Donald Trump as president, but I have to admit that in his Atlantic City casinos the restrooms were impeccably clean, and the buffets had tasty food.  The cocktail waitresses were always good to look at.  If supermarkets were decorated like casinos, people might be happier there.   

How would this work for art? Hasn't been settled yet, much less drawn. What I am thinking right now is a print larger than my current supermarket series prints, more room for details. Still black and white.  Maybe show the evil happening in supermarkets, maybe ideas of what could have caused these to happen.  Or maybe something else.  Have to give this one a bit of thought.


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