A mile of scum clung to the edges of the grocery store aisles.
Every night the machine that waxed the floor spit excess gunk onto the baseboards.
Hal Smith pondered the mess from above, perched in a cloud of cigarette smoke, surveying his store from behind mirrored glass.
Removing the scum would require someone to crawl around the store on their knees dragging a noisy machine that shot steam out of a small brush.
The night crew was expensive and would never agree to clean the residue.
Convincing an employee on the bottom end of the hourly wage chart seemed to be the only option. But who?
He would have to find just the right sucker.
Hal’s eyes landed on an aspiring employee below bagging groceries. Bingo.
That’s when I heard my name called on the store intercom.
"Adrian to the upstairs office please. Adrian to the upstairs office."
Hal was known to blow his top, the white collar of his shirt always seemed too tight, his cheeks chronically red, his eyes permanently bulged and baggy. He would get a little too close to you, close enough that you could smell a blend of coffee and ashtray. Then he’d give you his used car salesman grin as he explained what you were going to do for him.
You don’t say no to a person like that, at least not when you are 16.
I spent the next weekend on special assignment cleaning every inch of the perimeter of the store with a steam powered toothbrush.
I still harbor a deep hate for Hal despite the 25 years I’ve had to forget him.
Why hasn’t Hal’s memory dissolved, why hasn’t my rage softened to nostalgia? What do you do with a memory like that? A wasted weekend scraping scum doesn’t mean anything. Except that maybe it sparked a permanent skepticism of authority. Perhaps it taught the importance of learning to say no or that there is value in doing the jobs nobody wants to do. Maybe it showed that quality work can still be created despite corrupt leadership. Or maybe I cling to grudges tighter than scum on baseboards.
These days I have the luxury of getting paid to do work I love. When people notice the old Schnucks name badge on my desk they think it is a quaint souvenir from my first job. They don’t realize the fire that this object lights inside me, that it’s a symbol of how deeply committed I am to working on my own terms. I have no problem doing dirty jobs, but you can be sure I have my own reasons. If I were to meet Hal today I might shake his hand and thank him for giving a dumb kid a job. I could probably suppress the urge to spit in his eye. Probably. Because I learned long ago how important it is to do things you don’t want to do.
Thanks for reading. I write every Saturday morning, scraping the scum from the perimeter of my skull, searching for ideas you might find useful. Follow me, if you enjoy what you have read. Stay creative.
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