A Helpful Smile, Indeed

Out of work again!

As reported in the last installment, thanks to the good offices of unsanitary culinary practices, my dreadful labor at the Chinese restaurant came to a rapid finis.  Naturally, my mother railed again, and quick as boiled asparagus (as Octavian was reported to spout), I had a new gig. Ma must have had connections all over town, because I never recall interviewing for any of the three jobs described thus far. Makes me wonder if Charles Augustus Milverton was a distant ancestor.

My new engagement was to be a bag-boy at Hy-Vee. With the negotiations signed and sealed, I was to start the following Monday.

Meanwhile, both my parents decided to take a holiday to Florida, looking up some old friends. So, at least I had the weekend to myself before the labors began.

I can still well remember coming home after school that Friday, delighting in the prospect of a couple days off, free of supervision. Honda Dream motorcycle parked on the seedy gravel driveway, I carefully undid its side hatch covering the six volt battery. Fingers probing delicately, I finally located the tiny foil-wrapped delight secreted there and taped to a flange. Hardly standard issue for most motorcycles: this was one hit of mescaline.

There are a number of distinct advantages to living near a campus.

Once inside the house, a swig of water to wash it down was all it took to initiate a night of revelry. Or...

The golden sun streamed in the windows of the living room; it really was a beautiful spring day. Big puffy headphones enveloped my ears. I plopped an album on the phonograph and stretched out on the floor to expand my consciousness through sound and a five-dollar philosopher's stone.

To this day I can still recall every detail with perfect clarity. The sunlight bathing me as I prostrated myself. The feeling of freedom. And especially, I vividly recollect which song kicked in to accompany the initial rush.

Wow! What a song, what a group! Black Pearl was always one of my favorites, in no little part due to the fact very few people knew of them in the Midwest. This tune, White Devil, even without medicinal ancillary, always seemed to me to call up The Garden of Earthly Delights. It's pure psychedelia, encouraging a walk on the wild side.

Imagine this sixteen-year-old drenched in the light of Tiphareth, floating in the astral, desperately reaching out to find the real world, free of limitation. Ever seeking love.

In those days, with the arrogance of youth, I thought such a quest might be unique. Let me be clear on this. I do not claim to have worked out any details then. My methodology was purely intuitive. But at the risk of sounding megalomaniacal, deep down inside I had already arrived at the following conclusions on my own:

  • The word of sin is restriction. -- Aleister Crowley
  • Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion. -- William Blake
  • Are not laws dangerous which inhibit the passions? -- Marquis De Sade
  • We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices. -- Oscar Wilde
  • Conscience doth make cowards of us all. -- William Shakespeare
Again, let me state that these precepts were slowing becoming clear, not through study or deep thought or great intellect, simply by watching.

Just in a nutshell, I felt then as now that self-development requires no laissez-passer.

Rrrrrrrrinnnnng! Rrrrrrrrinnnnng! Rrrrrrrrinnnnng!  

The harsh bell of the old rotary dial telephone affixed to the kitchen wall brought me rapidly back to a world which seemed less appealing, or at least less real. On the other end:

"Hello, Studs? This is Hy-Vee. I know you're not supposed to start until Monday, but we're in a scheduling jam tonight. Could you join us right away?"

"Sure," I replied, setting the receiver down, with no thought given to my current state. Confidence has always come easy. Or gullibility. Are those synonyms?

Fifteen minutes later I arrived to commence my new gig at the check-out lanes. Still flying. Should you be unaware, the effects of mescaline typically last some six to eight hours, maybe longer. But I bagged groceries like nobody's business, and hauled parcels to the patrons' cars in the parking lot like a real champ. It was actually kind of fun, especially compared to handling poisonous chicken carcasses.

At Hy-Vee we were constantly admonished to be friendly, to pay attention to the customer's needs, to bend over backwards. Indeed, in the breakroom, a corporate sign hung prominently to remind everyone:

Where there's a helpful smile in every aisle!

I definitely had the smile that night.

I won't deny that it was a bit of a struggle sometimes to maintain concentration. And one of the side-effects of most hallucinogens is that they tend to make you feel hot; a damp forehead often ensues. Moreover, the senses often play tricks; scent has always been my demon.

But I made it!

In those days, grocery stores closed at 9:00. When that hour came, we pulled down the shutters, then took a fifteen minute break before starting to stock shelves. There was perhaps a dozen of us on duty that night, most kicking back now with soda pop, snacks and smokes for a well deserved rest. I, of course, put in a large wad of Redman chewing tobacco, about the size of a walnut. Sweat rolling down my face. Must concentrate, must concentrate!

The standard routine was to pull in one of those huge corrugated boxes which previously held a buttload of toilet paper rolls. It served as a trash container during the break. Workers tossed in their sandwich wrappers, pop cans, apple cores and such as we all chit-chatted. Simultaneously, I expectorated large black globs into it. After all, it's just rubbish, right?

While the rest of my co-workers unwound, the night manager, Jack, busily sorted through various receipts from the tills, saving a few while tossing the spent ones into the cardboard box. My cud continued to satisfy, with frequent spits while we all chatted. Remarkably, despite the medicine of four hours earlier, I was in rare form for banter. It didn't take long to become part of the crew. Maybe they all thought I was giddy, but no one ever said anything. Truly, that may have been the best job I've ever had; everyone was so goddamned friendly! Quite unlike colleges where the faculty despise each other as SOP.

Jack continued: throw three away, file one in the pocket, four away, save one, etc. Meanwhile, my cud continued to be a juicy one.

And then we lost synchrony.

Still yammering away as we unwound, Jack tossed a supposedly useless slip into the trash box. I followed with a gooey blob of tobacco juice. Just as I spit, he whipped around realizing he'd accidentally discarded an important receipt. He thrust his hand into the box at the very moment a copious amount of black sputum left my lips. You can guess the results.

He looked at me and then his plastered hand and then back to me
with those big eyes of his, not saying a word. I was instantly apologetic and proffered my apron-front to wipe his hand dry of the inky biohazard. He finished off the night mute as we stocked shelves, right up to quitting time of 11:00. I guess I was nervous.

The following night Jack told me one of the best jokes ever, about the woman who gave birth to a giant eye-ball. Despite the age difference, he and I became excellent friends then.

Next installment: The Agent Infernal

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