Sterner Stuff

What would I do if some of the teenagers I’ve taught English to around here saw me stocking the shelves at Walmart? Would I flinch, take refuge behind a rack of potato chips?

I don’t think so. I don’t think I’d care how it looks.

For decades I ran from what Life seemed to be trying to tell me, which was, “You ain’t shit.” Now, having marched into hard evidence of the credibility of that assertion, I find I don’t care, even if it is true. The part of me that anybody could jeer at, that was swollen and conceited, no longer exists. So swing all you like at the old, puffy Bob. He’s not there anymore. He’s got his chin tucked in, like a good servant, or a good boxer for that matter.

They’d get a laugh all right. See me scurrying around in my characteristic haste to get it done. What is my damn hurry? Sometimes I think I’m about to start scampering around on my knuckles and feet like a monkey, I swear.

The kids who hated me most would see justice served. I guess they found me windy.

I probably was. I think the definition of a bore is someone who believes he’s interesting and likes the sound of his own voice.

I’m not doing much talking these days.

My wife said the other night I’ve turned into a bit of a zombie.

“I thought I was a recluse.”

“You’re a zombie recluse.”

But she wasn’t mad or anything. She’s always telling me how glad she is that I take what work I can, and give it my all. I hold up my end as a bread winner. I taught high school English but they cut that job in half. I needed another gig. Some guy at an AA meeting said I could get on at Walmart, where he worked. So I marched in there, the human resources gals were nice, and, after a period of immense anguish trying to complete the [expletive deleted] computer application process, I was in.

And that’s fine.

Walmart’s fine.

I had to do something, that Visa debt was about to eat me alive.

I head to Walmart at four in the morning, at least some days. Worked there full time all summer. Now just weekends, as I’ve accepted the shabby package of the .5 teaching job which is Monday through Thursday at this little budget-strapped school.

I’ve made my peace with it. When I’m on there, it’s a placid, agreeable zombie who staggers from Walmart to afternoon nap to dinner and to bed . . . wakes up in the dark to do it all over again.

I used to care about being important and dignified. That’s because I saw myself as a loser. To tell the truth it kind of looked that way. No glamour had accrued from my existence, only defeats. Mere survival, that pale accomplishment of the dogged, seemed my only claim to mettle and merit.

I don’t see it that way anymore. I’m not ashamed to be just another guy busting ass to make it to retirement. In fact, in a life that unreels like a clinic in comeuppances, working at Walmart even smacks of a certain pugnacious elan, if not downright victory. There, I’ve hit the dreaded bottom. And so what? I’ve worked retail before.

Did I whine and resist, deploying that great Jewish word “should” to point a quaking, accusatory finger all the supposed wrongs Fate has dealt me? Use my sense of outrage and entitlement to sit on my ass and do nothing? No. I took it in stride. As the English say, I was made of sterner stuff.

Enroll me in the ranks of Jews who find outside their own faith a language to express their transcendent experience. The Bhagavad Gita says work for the sake of the work itself, not for the fruits of the work. And all work is equal, whether killing your uncle on the battlefield of Kuru, or determining foreign policy for the United States of America, or designing curriculum for a bunch of electronically distracted teenagers, or stocking the shelves of a Walmart in Prescott, Arizona.

Me, cart pusher at the Walmart on Gail Gardner Road. A young fellow employee kind enough to snap the shot must wonder if I’m nuts.

5 thoughts on “Sterner Stuff

  1. Hey, nobody commented on this one. I think I revised it to the point where it was uncomfortable. Well, Cactusman, here’s a comment! Yay Bobby! [Everyone put Workingman’s Dead on the turntable.]


  2. Your folks and grandparents would perhaps encourage you to conduct union organizing at the friendly corporation for which you labor (and undoubtedly receive great pay and benefits, sarcasm intended). –But they would also probably want you to keep your job….


    1. I’m sure they would. The irony of my working there is not lost on me. A near and future post, the part two to what you read, will address this conundrum, and have no answers whatsoever.


  3. Omg seeing you with your cart at Walmart. Like a proud kid showing his parents his school, made me smile. Love this story of your days and insights of reflection.


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