Exercise “It’s so humid I wanna punch somebody”

I didn’t do a lot of writing this week. I’d write in my journal and then end up having only ten minutes before I had to go to work. I blame myself, though, dragging ass in the morning and taking longer to do things than necessary. Anyway, this prompt is something I said to my husband one day this week. Humidity kills me in the summer. I’m so miserable when it’s hot and humid. I get grouchy from being so uncomfortable.

From there I started writing about a couple of kids working a summer job at a supermarket, the poor cart boys stuck in the baking heat of the parking lot all day retrieving carts. I’ve been writing at it for like two hours and just finished, and I couldn’t for the life of me find an ending for it until the one I ended up with popped into my head as a wild idea that stuck. Don’t get all phobic on me, now. :P

The parking lot stank. Heat rose off it in waves like from the surface of a grill, the kind of heat Dave thought he could avoid by taking a summer job at the supermarket instead of at a fast food restaurant. His dad was all for the restaurant. “You’ll have cooking experience then,” he said. “You can work your way up. No one looks for experience as a stock boy.” But Dave didn’t want to stand over a hot piece of metal all day. Why go in from a hot day into a hotter kitchen?

Instead he was standing over a hot piece of asphalt, sick from the heat, sick from the smell of hot tar, car exhaust, a milkshake from some fast food joint that someone decided to dump out of their car, the garbage-filled dumpsters he could smell from across the lot.

Dave’s coworker, Taylor, slumped over the line of cards in the cart return and groaned. “God!” he blurted, like a martyr on a cross, so anguished-sounding that a lady getting out of her car nearby looked over in concern. “It’s so humid I wanna punch someone!”

“Don’t punch me,” Dave said. He took a swig of tepid water from the Nalgene bottle he wore in a sling. Technically it wasn’t allowed, but after pointing out the food safety inspectors probably won’t worried about cross contamination in the parking lot, promising to remove it inside while bagging or facing, and hinting at legal consequences should he die of dehydration in the heatwave, the front end manager, Carol, let him keep it on him instead of in his locker.

“It’ll keep you from coming in here every time you bring a cart in to use the bubbler,” she had said. Carol always bitched about how often they came in. “You’re strong young men; you can bring in more carts at a time. And split up! You get more done than tagging after each other like a couple of puppies.” Taylor joked that since Carol had no friends, no one else should. She split up any bagger and cashier pair that got too chummy so they wouldn’t chat between – or during—customers.

Dave knew better: Carol had friends. They had coffee and cigarettes over on the smokers’ picnic table at the far end of the sidewalk outside, where the overflow carts were. She, the lady who decorated cakes in the bakery, and the assistant manager of the deli would smoke, drink coffee, and cackle with each other every morning before the store opened. Dave knew because he had an early shift once in awhile. Taylor, he found out, had set his availability to be no earlier than 9am. “Even that’s early for me,” Taylor said, yawning. “That’s, like, when I get up.”

Taylor got up from the carts and snatched the bottle out of Dave’s sling. “Don’t worry,” Taylor said as he unscrewed it, in response to Dave’s nonexistent protests, “I don’t got the hep or anything.” He took a long pull.

Dave shook the dregs side to side when Taylor handed it back. “I’ll have to fill it when we go in. Come on.” He put the bottle back in its sling and grabbed a locked-together line of carts. The metal would have burned his hands, but even the plastic handle was almost too hot to grab. He wondered if he should grab some work gloves before his next shift.

“This is sick, dude,” Taylor went on. He looked wrung-out and he didn’t so much push his line of carts as stagger along behind them. “I feel sick.”

“Me too. My dad says that it’s going back and forth from the AC to the heat that makes people sick in the summer.”

“No shit. We should have, like, air conditioned tunnels or something, to underground parking garages, and underground entrances to everywhere. Then we’d never be out of the AC,” Taylor said. Dave didn’t even start to argue how ludicrous that plan was. Taylor was always coming up with crazy, overblown solutions to things.

The automatic doors parted for them, spilling out gusts of cold air. “Ahh…” Taylor sighed, his mouth open in a grin as if to drink it in. It was reviving, like wilted flowers given water and put in a cooler. They set the carts up, then Taylor followed Dave to the front end so Dave could refill his water.

“In again?” Carol said with exaggerated disbelief. Dave didn’t think she was as much of a crotchety bitch as Taylor thought; she was just one of those old ladies who always liked to give people a hard time, thinking she was being funny. She probably saw herself as a spunky grandma type, the kind who’d whip your butt and give you some cod liver oil rather than a hug and a cookie. “I’m surprised you haven’t been in the loo with all the water you drink. You’re not peeing out in the lot, are you?” she asked, her wild eyebrows diving and making her beady eyes recess even further into her wrinkled skin.

“It all comes out my skin,” Dave answered, capping his bottle. Carol would melt like a wax doll out there, all that makeup. Instead, she was wearing a sweater over a long-sleeved version of the uniform polo shirt: it was crocheted from cotton yarn, a fourth of the stitches snagged and dropped, unraveling in loops of string. She complained that they kept the place too cold. Of course now with his cotton polo soaked with sweat, the chill was setting in. Dad had a point, Dave thought.

“Why did you have to come in anyway, Taylor? Doesn’t take more than one to fill a bottle. Are you supervising?” Carol asked. Dave tried not to roll his eyes. She was one to talk about being useless. All she did was tell people what register to open and put in her code when someone needed an override.

“I came in so I wouldn’t die. Can’t we bag yet?”

“I don’t know, are there still carts in the lot?” she answered. Taylor groaned. There were always carts outside on Saturday, and today it seemed like everyone in town was using the store as a place to escape the heat. Technically, that meant they needed more baggers, but cashiers could do that themselves, plus the girls had preference. Carol never sent girls outside to do carts unless she had no choice. Gender discrimination, Taylor protested, to no avail. Technically they weren’t supposed to have to do carts the entire shift, so Carol would put them on facing or running returns for the last half hour so they couldn’t complain.

“Try pushing more than one cart at a time and maybe you’ll get ahead enough to switch to bagging. Now git! I don’t want to see you for another hour or two.” She waved her knobbly hand at them and went back to her podium.

“Wizened old hag,” Taylor muttered as they trudged back toward the doors. The wash of hot, moist air hit them like a wet wool blanket to the face. The boys groaned simultaneously.

Dave sighed. “You know, I used to like the summer. It was my favorite season. No school. I’d spend all day in the pool. I literally would get up, put on my swimsuit, eat breakfast, go in the pool and stay there ‘til lunch, eat lunch, go back in the pool until dinner. I wasn’t dry until I got into bed. Today I was in the pool until the minute I had to put clothes on and drive in. Putting on clothes was like the hardest thing ever, especially since they won’t let us wear shorts.”

“Which is bullshit,” Taylor cut in. “I hate having a job,” he whined. “I thought I’d be escaping the heat. Work in AC all day. Sounded sweet. I should’ve done the movie theater.”

“Everyone does the movie theater,” Dave reminded him. It was a prime job. Free popcorn and candy, free movies, and probably the worst thing was cleaning. They didn’t even advertise their summer jobs because they filled up so fast. “If they don’t do the ice cream places.”

“Aw man, that’d be sweet. Free ice cream! And what do we get?”

“All the blisters we want?”

Taylor laughed. “No shit. We even have to pay for our uniforms. I had to pay for this hat!” He took it off and fanned himself with it. His dark, curly hair was damp and matted to his head. “I had a hat, but they said I couldn’t wear it. It didn’t even have a sports team on it or anything! Dark hair is the worst. I have literally burned my hand on my hair on a hot day.” He put the hat back on. “Remind me to take it off next time we go in. Let the AC cool it.”

“I don’t think my hair even dried from the pool,” Dave said.

“How much longer?” Taylor asked.

Dave checked his watch. He tried not to check it during his shifts; it made the day drag. Taylor never wore one, though, and he was constantly asking the time. Dave supposed he could leave it off, but he felt naked without it.

“Five hours,” he pronounced, like a sentence.

Taylor whimpered. “We’re gonna die out here! Eight hours in the heat?”

“At least we get a half hour lunch,” Dave said without enthusiasm as he pulled yet another cart from a parking space. The next space over was the cart return. What was wrong with people?

“Bullshit, it’s more like 15 minutes. Carol starts the clock when she sees us come through the door and by the time I get through Yertle’s line with some grub she’s already paging us to the front,” Taylor grumbled.

Yertle was what he called the man Carol always put on express. Yertle the Turtle. He was in his sixties (so Dave guessed), and pale with a slack expression and wispy white hair clinging to his scalp. He never spoke to the customers, even when spoken to, except to offer a faint “have a good day” when they were well out of earshot.

Customers didn’t know, but the slowest cashiers always went on express. “Yertle” (his name was really Paul), was slow in all ways, including mentally. “I don’t think he’s full-on retarded,” Taylor said, “but the elevator doesn’t go to the attic, yknow? Like he got hit in the head too much or drank bleach as a kid or something and it fucked him up.”

Paul would pick up each item slowly, turn it over in his hands delicately as if it was a perfectly preserved pot from an archaeological dig, and look for the upc before running it gingerly over the scanner. He would also pack only two or three items to a bag no matter what size they were or how many items people had. One time Dave saw him ring up a guy with three items: a bag of chips, a bottle of shampoo, and a package of hamburger. True to his training, Paul separated the fragile from the soap from the meat, and gave the guy each item in a separate bag. The guy tried to tell Paul to save his bags and just put them all in one, but Paul just gawped at him silently and the guy went away with a handful of bags, shaking his head.

Dave only went through his line once before he started going for Kim’s line instead, and then he started bringing his own lunches in. Kim was lightning-fast, almost too fast, just about hurling cartons of eggs and bags of chips down to whatever poor schlub had to bag for her. Taylor kept going through Paul’s line anyway. Dave thought maybe he just liked having something to bitch about.

They had an hour to go when Carol said, “Okay, you crybabies, you can come in. Jason’s taking over for you.”

“Good, Superman’s here,” Taylor snarked. Jason was a showoff. He was an athletic guy who played lacrosse for one of the nearby towns. His favorite thing to do on carts was to see how many he could bring in at a time. Carol loved him and he sweet-talked the hell out of her to stay on her good side.

“Load up a couple of carts with return items and put them back on the shelves. And split up!” Carol ordered.

Taylor rolled his eyes and grabbed a cart. Dave went to grab one and Taylor gave him a look. “Come on,” he said. Dave shrugged and followed Taylor to the return bins to load up the cart.

“Let’s do the bakery first,” Taylor said. “I want a cookie.” Dave remembered the “cookie club” when he was a kid. Back then you had to be under the age of 12 and have a punch card. When you got the whole card punched you got a free bag of cookies or something. Now it was just an open bin, cookies for whoever wanted them. If Carol’s friend, the cake lady, was there, she would glare and sometimes even bark at them that they looked a little too old for cookies. Dave avoided the bakery when she was there. Taylor just said, “You’re never too old for cookies,” and take one anyway. “What’s she gonna do?” he’d say. “Frost me to death?”

The bakery was in the back corner of the store, and dead this time of day. Usually the pretty goth girl was there, wrangling a mop or leaning against one of the counters, bored, doodling on order forms. “By the time I come in, everything’s done,” she’d told Dave once when they got to talking. “I just have to stand there and wait for someone to want bread sliced or a cake written on. I can’t even sit. It’s bullshit.”

The bakery seemed deserted. “Hey! We have returns!” Taylor hollered. He had a cake in hand, or half of one, anyway. “I guess it was labeled the wrong flavor. Funny how they ate half of it before they realized that,” he sneered. Dave followed him around the corner.

The goth girl was in the corner, her fingers in her mouth and her eyes wide in panic. One of the specialty cakes was open on a table, all the chocolate-covered coffee beans picked off of it. “It was getting thrown out!” she blurted.

“Hey, I don’t give a shit,” Taylor said, handing her the other cake. “Enjoy.”

“I thought she was getting chubby,” he said to Dave as they rolled the cart along. “I wonder how much stale shit she eats at night by herself in here.”

“I don’t blame her,” Dave said, pulling things out of the cart and putting them back on the shelves. “It’d drive me nuts being surrounded by that stuff all day and never getting to taste it.”

Taylor laughed and elbowed Dave. “Hey, you think Carol’s buddy there sits in the deli cooler eating ham all day?” He picked up a stick of pepperoni from the cart and pretended to gnaw on it.

Dave snorted. “It would explain a few things.”

They worked their way around the store until the cart was almost empty. The last item was a head of iceberg lettuce gone all soft and fuzzy on one side. “That’s so weird; I didn’t think iceberg ever went bad,” Dave said. “Is it weird that we’re pushing a whole cart for this one thing?”

“I ain’t touchin’ it,” Taylor said. They went through the swinging plastic doors into the produce back room. It stank of rotting fruit and vegetables. The trash compactor was also back there, through another set of doors to try and keep the stink and flies from the fresh stuff. Whoever designed the place was an idiot, Dave thought. “Anyone here?” Taylor called. “We have some rotten cabbage for you.”

“Lettuce.”

“We should just throw it out.”

“Don’t they need to write it down in a book or something?” Dave asked.

“I don’t know how returns work!” Taylor said.

Dave picked up the lettuce by the good side. “I’ll just throw it on a table back here. Maybe write a note.”

“Just toss it, dude.”

Dave lifted it up as if he was going to chuck it at Taylor. Taylor put his arms up in defense. Dave walked to the door that lead to the tiny room housing the compactor. He took a deep breath and pushed the door open. Taylor followed him in. “Dude, really, just stay out there,” Dave said.

“Dude, it reeks in here!”

“No shit.” Dave slid the door to the compactor open, chucked the lettuce in, shut the door, and mashed the button for the compactor. There was really no need; it’s not like the lettuce added much to the bulk. Technically he wasn’t supposed to be operating it. It was why he and Taylor didn’t have jobs in some department instead of the front end: they were under eighteen.

Taylor was right behind when he turned. Dave jumped. Taylor grinned. And kissed him.

Dave’s stomach leapt. He was just getting into it when Taylor pulled back abruptly and coughed, nervously.

“So that’s why you’ve been shadowing me,” Dave said. “I knew it.”

Taylor started to say something, but Dave pulled him back and kissed him, hard. With his mouth occupied, he had to breathe in the reek of the trash room through his nose. He didn’t care.

He pulled back after a minute. Taylor’s eyes were hooded, his hat pushed back on his head from the brim colliding with Dave’s face. “Good thing you don’t ‘got the hep,’” Dave teased.

Taylor laughed nervously. “We will if we stay in here much longer,” he said.

They were still holding each other. Dave pulled back with reluctance, his pulse hammering his throat. “We should go. Someone’s gonna catch us. And it’s gross in here.”

“Yeah,” Taylor agreed. “Hey, you wanna go grab an ice cream or something when we get out?”

“Yeah,” Dave said. He couldn’t stop grinning.

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~ by Amber on July 28, 2012.

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