The Chain

Pride is nigh, and what good is a story, if I don’t share more of it.

One of the lessons I learned working at Trader Joe’s, that really sank in and shifted my thinking, was that every single worker at a grocery store is the last person to touch any product before any one of us spoiled, entitled brats gets to purchase it.

I was encouraged to think about the people growing our tomatoes, packaging our proteins, shipping our imported blueberries (and thus I’d consider those workers and their system some); about the folks designing the labels for our cans and bottles, and the ones driving night and day to fetch and deliver pallet upon pallet of foods and goods; and about all the underestimated brainpower keeping track of it all, etc. My hands received the literal fruits of all this labor, the neatly packaged results of all this effort, for three years and three days, and you better know I’d place every single thing on those shelves with so much fucking care, because I knew my privilege and that I was doing the easy part, so the least I could do was do it right and do right by everyone up the chain. 

It was also my privilege to be invited to heel (OK, fine…transfer, and change my life) or quit, because of some Rachel (kinda like that lady recently at Central Park in New York). Her kind of abuse was easy to try and let roll off my back and say, “You know what? Limit hit. Fuck it. Bye.”

I spoke up for myself, and the cookie crumbled how it crumbled. Whaddya gonna do.

That lady rightfully complained (I did say to her I was done helping her, called for a manager, to whom she began to lie-complain, natch; and I did tell her to keep it going, but like, totally in an Erika Jayne way that obviously didn’t translate – but when you know you know), but she also weaponized her privilege. In writing, via email, after she stewed on it for three days and decided she was offended enough.

And don’t you know, girlfriend knew to veil her language so as to suggest I was a menace to her, making up an entire dialogue that didn’t happen (she trifled with a trained journalist, but I’m sure she must have pegged me as undereducated – the caucacity is real, as are the narratives they invent to make sense of us…), all to state that she wouldn’t be coming back to the store because she didn’t feel safe.

Meanwhile, she had on sunglasses, a hoodie (I want to say I remember a mane of curly hair tamed by a grey-ish hoodie, half up, because as-little-as-possible was her look and vibe), and I noticed headphones – all of which contributed to her not understanding my greeting and my simple show-and-tell ask to use the shopping baskets designed and provided for the task of shopping in a supermarket, for fucking fuck’s sakes. (I swear, that last bit I said only in my head, and, maybe, a little with my smile.) Point is I couldn’t pick her out of a line-up. Not then, not now. And it was ugly to suggest I could be that untoward.

My matter was simple enough – she said (and wrote, and lied); I said; and, clever minx, she got what she wanted (someone wasn’t raised right…), which was my ass on a platter. Me done and gone. I bet she probably wanted an apology. I had to write my statement of the incident purposefully using gender-neutral pronouns (oh you know the unapologetic bitch within came back by popular demand), so as not to prove her suggestions of misogyny. Wait, no. She said I was a danger to the community.

It’s OK. She doesn’t know me.

She more than likely doesn’t even know what she did, just like the reachable-with-ease man at the top (they eschew bureaucracy…) doesn’t know what he did, when he gave into the capricious, vilifying words of some basic Rachel from around Nob Hill somewhere, whose threat to take her business to Whole Foods/Amazon immediately proved my value to him.

Or, maybe, he did know. I don’t know.

All I know is, in the end, I was disposable. I was a body brought on under $15/hour due to my lack of retail experience (I realized later California woulda found that questionable; perhaps, illegal). When someone drew a swastika somewhere backstage, one the OG managers I met made a real white stink of it. I really admired that. His embarrassment and shame were clear. Sexual harassment is taken seriously at the company, but there’s a long way to go to achieve equality, but that’s cultural. Learning that women are taking on evidently more and more leadership roles on the ground still leads to unoriginal, stale whispers about their age, capability, sexuality, and bitch quotient out on the floor.

Know what else I know? When a co-worker, who habitually showed up lookin’ and talkin’ crack-y, slid me some sort of pilled drug – in broad daylight, at 2 in the afternoon, right on the floor next to the coffee, where customers would congregate for freebies (including so many firefighters and first responders and cops in uniform because it’s free shit at the grocery store), I flagged it, of course. I wasn’t about to do some random Molly, OK. (I suppose I can understand how he had confused my earlier questioning of his state and habits, because it happened so early in the morning). The guy got canned (I hope he got it together for his kids’ and his sake). I got some very chill thanks, and that was that, as well it should be.

Just like that was that, when a different, lives-in-the-real-world, has-known-struggle customer emailed the store to thank them for having me, and people like me, there to help them shop and make them feel seen and welcome without judgment. I still have that email. It boggled my mind that that person had to note that I wasn’t an asshole because they were disabled.

Know what else is what it was? When someone spat in my canteen at work, and I realized it much too fucking late, and I didn’t go writing no fuckin’ emails looking for someone’s tongue (suspects were bandied about, yet I never named anyone). I got lucky in that I was able to locate a manager tout suite and show him that which I had to spit out of my mouth. He saw it, and he saw my face, and he trusted me when I said the loogie wasn’t mine, and he believed what he saw. He believed me. (I mentioned this, almost a year ago, rather obliquely, alright because I did rise above it all. Do try to keep up.)

There was a general talking-to, but it was allowed to slide. I let it drop because I am not CSI: Phlegm, knowwhatImean. But did I ever get or went looking for a company apology?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and apologies. I am not a ridikolous person, and I do not require those to make my day.

There is so much fucking injustice in this world. Don’t support companies like Driscoll’s, which sells at TJ’s – not until they demand that workers along and down their chain of supply are treated with dignity. I’m not talking about myself. Fuck me.

I’m talking about all those men and women and, sometimes, children, the current regime likes to blame for all the problems on our streets.

These workers don’t want more than a fair wage, safe conditions, and respect (how some company “leaders” sleep at night, systemically stealing from their laborers and threatening immigration or replacements, especially when choosing not to be and living as not an asshole are much more rewarding – it’s lunacy, at the end of the day…like shooting yourself in the foot…).

I know my privilege. I know how easy I have it (though, believe me, it isn’t easy staying alive in America in 2020, and this is a savage world).

Pay attention. Don’t be a Rachel, I mean…an asshole. Do not worry about her or me (I have a lovely life and I reckon she does, too).

Respect the chain. Shit, be more curious about it.

We are all linked. Remember the Golden Rule.

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