Monthly Archives: June 2013

Out Manned

The Man was already screaming at The Cashier by the time I turned off my iPod and caught on. I was buying bread and Drano®.[1] There was a line of people behind him, trying very hard to ignore what was happening or, like me, openly gawking at what was happening.

Cashiers have it hard. Sometimes they have it real bad.

There are certain inevitabilities to being a cashier and I think it has a lot to do with the obligations of the job and the expectations that surround it. Of being professionally servile and acting as if this were a feat of personality rather than a fact of cold hard survival.

Service with a smile.

This is true for a lot of places.

This may as well have happened: there was spittle flying from The Man’s bottom lip. He was, in any case, livid, screaming about The Cashier’s “stupid manners,” refusing to believe that the bouquet of flowers he wanted to purchase could be so “fucking expensive”. [2]

Taking abuse with poise and fortitude – keeping cool, absorbing it all until the incident passes or until management arrives to deal with the Difficult Situation – this is what separates committed employees from the unambitious dregs just out to get a paycheck.

The flowers were for The Man’s moth-er! Did the cashier not understand?

In this way, everyday abuses get disregarded, and managers don’t always come to help.

Hedging bets against the customer makes more sense than counting on them for anything.

The Man brandished that bouquet at the cashier. “Brandished” (vb. to wave or flourish [something, esp. a weapon] as a threat or in anger or excitement) is the word.  Had The Cashier been trained at all? How did she even get the fucking job since she obviously can’t even handle this obviously simple fucking transaction? No, he did not want a price check you stupid fucking girl.

I was a cashier for a while, and it was hard and sometimes real bad.  Working too few and too many shifts, standing for hours on end, earning next to nothing is hard; having to deal with other people’s total fucking bullshit is sometimes real bad.

Hell is.

The Cashier was poised and she had more fortitude than I imagined even possible in her difficult situation, but it was wearing heavy on her. It was very obvious by now that there was nothing she could say or do to appease The Man, even if she really wanted to.

Finally and thank god:

“Rachel,” the cashier next to The Cashier announced over our heads, “I’m calling The Manager.”

The Man scoffed, did not bother to turn around. “Go ahead and call the fucking manager! I’ll give her as good![3]

But The Manager did not come.  I don’t know why.  We waited forever until, finally, someone did come.

A man dressed in white.  A man whose motorhead mustache seemed to drip with the same blood that spattered his apron. A man whose solid, concrete frame and massive stature casually dwarfed those around him.

The Butcher.

The Butcher's Shop by Bartolomeo Passerotti c.1580

His arms knotted in work muscles – solid, but not quite defined – sleeves rolled up to reveal body hair as black as holy sin, he had come from the back of the store to tell The Cashier that The Manager was not there. He didn’t know why.

Service with a smile means survival of the fittest. You have to adapt.

“Hey! Over here, Bruce!” It was Rachel.

“What’s up?” asked The Butcher, looking at her curiously.  She directed his gaze with her gaze to The Man, standing there, agape.

Taking half a step, The Butcher turned to face The Man.

“What?” He may have barked it. He crossed his meaty butcher arms as he said it.

“I…nothing,” muttered The Man, wholly uncurious, the exact opposite of anything approaching curious.  Keeping at least one eye on The Butcher, he dropped a few bills and coins on the counter, hesitated, and took some back.

Rachael took his money, rang him up and tossed him his change. Hard. As soon as she was done, she excused herself to the old lady standing behind The Man and hurried to somewhere in the back of the store, away from the cash register.

You can’t pay someone to care.  You can’t not pay them to care, either.

I wondered idly how much of her shift she had left.

The Man shoved the change into a worn pocket. He left the store, flowers in hand, less now like a scepter than a lot of dead weight he had to drag all the way home.

They were limp. Obviously, he squeezed too hard.


[1] Mutually exclusive purchases, I assure you.

[2] Actual quotes.

[3] ???


Filed under Emotion, Employment, Jobs, Politics

Take Out

The light lit up the room in a queer way. Things glinted, they shone, they were infused with a shimmering beige-gold glow that bounced gaily off the chandeliers above and suffused the plush carpeting below.

People get married in that room, and in that light. They celebrate bah mitzvahs and have work parties. And when I was there, they were, also, selling reptiles.

Imagine that!

Because when I say that “I went to a Reptile Expo”, it was in this light, this glittering haze that I wandered the rented ballroom, eventually aimlessly, and which brought on yet another small, but not insignificant existential fit.

Reptiles in take out trays.

Snake to Go

Snake to Go

Everywhere!  The makeshift aisles brimmed with them, they were piled high and spilled under tables, even.














Chow mien displaced by corn snakes. Bearded dragons instead of vindaloo. Tiny chameleons in otherwise empty humus containers, with a few holes punched in the lid, for air. Vendors with names like DragonsONE, Tails & Scales, Oddball Exotics, Slime Beards: Designer Boas & Pythons and, my favourite, Gecko Brothel.


A man in a ponytail bought his four-year-old son a little gecko. The boy shook it as he jumped around excitedly, examining it in that wonderful light. A woman offered to set up an axolotl[1] tank “anywhere in the house” for me, complete with a carefully selected axolotl.  They were, in her words, “very unique”. They came in various colours.

And this:

I saw a man pay a brick of tens and twenties for an albino python, specially bred. The breeder placed it in a brown sack for him, and in a just a slight tick of the mind’s eye, I swear I saw him throw the sack over his shoulder like he did it all the time.

Who knows?

And of course it all made a kind of undeniable sense.

I recently acquired a tarantula, and it is basically like having an alien in my house, not exactly living with me but existing alongside my daily comings and goings.  It is very, very silent and feeds only once a week – a of diet 3 to 4 live crickets. I’ve seen Ivan kill dozens of times.

That’s the tarantula’s name, Ivan.


I got Ivan from someone who was moving and could not take her along. I bought a book to help me learn how to care for Ivan. There was a warning printed on the insert. On tarantulas and keeping tarantulas as pets, it could not be more clear:

  • Even though they may appear to be merely large, gentle spiders, they [tarantulas] are still venomous animals, and enthusiast keeping them as pets must acknowledge this fact. Even if the pet is well known to be gentle and harmless, the enthusiast must assume that the potential for a serious reaction always exists, and must be prepared to take appropriate action.
  • In addition, many of these animals are known to have urticating or irritating bristles. Even if the pet’s bristles are known to be relatively benign and inoffensive the enthusiast must assume that, upon exposure to them, the potential exists for a serious reaction. Of particularly grave consequence is the trauma caused by the bristles in the human eye
  • Tarantulas have been kept as pets for only a few decades. There is much that is still not known about them…The keeper of a pet tarantula must acknowledge that these creatures are still wild animals and must treat them as such. Keeping any animal as a pet requires a great deal of responsibility. Keeping a wild animal as a pet absolutely commands that responsibility (Schultz and Schultz 2009 emphasis mine).

I have a friend who has a brother who has snakes.  “They don’t need much,” she said. “Lots of people collect them and keep them in drawers, even. There are collectors who have walls of drawers.”

Reptiles in take out trays.

Animals so different from people, in ways completely different from how other animals are very different from people, wild and biblical, the stuff of legend and nightmares and evolutionary wonder, all carefully coiled and secured and immobilized and handy.

They probably don’t mind it; in fact, given the chance, they’d probably appreciate the care shown to their particular tastes for small spaces and special feedings.  But it’s weird, really weird, having them available like that and ranging in value from like $20 bucks to $2500 dollars.

More than the reptiles themselves that’s what really got to me about the Reptile Expo, that day when the snakes and turtles and dragons bathed in that pretty light before me: the reptiles, being there and being extremely manageable and terribly convenient.

Enthusiast. Collector. Keeper.

I think there is a word for this, this kind of devotion.

I think it would be OK to call it unrequited love. High romance. I think that would be close to something approaching it.

Here is something that is also included in the warning on the insert of my book:

Schultz, Stanley A. and Schultz, Marguerite J. (2009) The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide: Comprehensive Information on Care, Housing and Feeding (revised edition). Barron’s: Hauppauge, New York.

[1] A Mexican salamander whose name means, among other things, “water monster”.


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Filed under Animals, Interruptions, Philosophy