Saturday, July 23, 2005


"She's preggo, so give her handles"

This instruction was given to me sotto voce by Felicity, the cashier, at my new job. For three hours every Saturday, I volunteer as a grocery bagger at our neighborhood food co-op. I am the lowest person in the store's good-natured hierarchy (it's a pretty democratic place, on the whole), so the cashiers can tell me what to do. Felicity meant that I be sure to use the paper bags with handles.*

For some while, I've been lamenting the fact that I spent little time in my youth in service industry jobs waiting on customers. I worked at a gas station briefly the summer after I graduated high school. And after college graduation, I worked for less than ten days as a bus boy and an office temp before getting mono and being pretty much incapacitated the rest of the summer. That was it. The rest of my summer and full time jobs were white collar. Ho freakin' hum.

I'm not trying to romanticize low wage work or anything, but the restaurant at which I bussed tables seemed like it could have been fun. There was a buzz among the staff, and heavy flirtation, and sculduggery (the bartenders were cheating us busboys out of our tips). Had I worked there longer, I might have had more stories, like the time I hocked a large loogie on the driver's seat of the bartender's jeep on my way home for the night to avenge the tip thing.

(I might add that I bussed badly: I carried a dish tub around with me as I cleared plates from tables where diners still sat, and thought "something is wrong with how I'm doing this, but I can't quite figure out what.")

Having just gotten tenure this year, it seemed like the perfect time to moonlight in a low wage service industry job to get this thing out of my system. By coincidence, there was an opening for a barista at Grandma Moses, my favorite neighborhood coffeeshop, and I thought long about applying. But in the end I felt it would be wrong to take work hours away from the overqualified twentysomethings who actually need the money. (I swear, everyone who makes coffee for me has at least a BA.) So I went for the volunteer job.

I love my grocery bagging job. There's a certain 3D jigsaw puzzle zen to putting groceries into rectangular paper bags. It's liberating to be working in a public space without my professor persona, and it's amusing when the customer turns out to be a law student who does a quick freaked out double-take before regaining enough composure to say, "Oh, do you... work here now?"
*Her real name is not "Felicity" of course. It's Heather.**

**No, it's not Heather either. There's probably someone actually named Heather working at the store, but she wouldn't be the one in this story.


there is an art to bagging groceries - so much so that I rarely permit strangers to bag my groceries; much preferring to do it myself. It's rare to find a decent bagger - one who knows not to put the chicken on top of the boxes of pasta, or to keep the cleaning supplies seperate from the food.
Hmm...I think they always make me bag my own food at the co-op. And I never have enough time before they start rolling the next customer's items down the ramp. Where's a volunteer bagger when you need one?
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