The Grocery Manager: A Novel – Page One

Different Panic 2

Fluorescent bulbs hum disco in the background of this room bathed in a god-forsaken, harsh white light. My eyes water as they sit above facemask in a steambath consisting of hot breath and coffee. I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes. My index taps reflexively on the chair as my manager searches for my Year Review paperwork. I’m growing impatient with the length of what I consider a transactional meeting. My left ass-cheek is going numb and my back is beginning to hurt. I fidget and stretch but it does nothing so I pull my mask down, “So, did I pass or fail, Boss?”

“Don’t be silly. You did just fine. You know this is just a formality” she says while digging through papers — acting more flustered with every movement. “But I can’t find that thing anywhere.”

“Is this where I get to review your organizational skills?”

She looks up, rolls her eyes and says, “I guess it might be.” Then continues to search around the desk, opening drawers, looking increasingly lost with every passing moment.

The atmosphere in the room is stale with the dust of the 1980s and it’s long overdue for some new air filters. Every minute or so the air conditioner kicks on and sweet relief hits me but quickly stops and brings me right back to the DMV waiting room I knew it was all along. The oscillating temperatures cause beads of sweat to stack up on my freshly starched chef’s coat. The heavy wool doesn’t allow my skin to breathe. It’s a good looking jacket but I take no pride in it. But maybe I should since both men and women at work have said I look sexy in it, in fact, it might have played a role gettin me laid in the past but right now I take no pride in my apparel. I’m met only with discomfort and the increasing notion that my work is piling up downstairs in the bowels of this monolithic place.

As she searches frantically for the paperwork that I know is full of disappointments, I meditate on the fact that it’s not exactly her fault this moment has come down to a flurry of disorganized frustration, because we have been short staffed due to budget constraints for as long as I can remember. Our department leadership team is worn so goddamn thin that it’s hard to keep the world stitched together. You can only patch so many holes with drinking on weekdays. Shit, it’s a miracle if I smile some days when I walk in. And that wasn’t how this was supposed to work. It wasn’t because of the people. It’s the organization and the situation. There is a framework in place that doesn’t call for this to be a career. I keep pulling at this fucking mask. My beard makes it itch while my eyes slowly cook like pork carnitas. All for the inevitable result of this meeting.

“Oh, here it is. OK. Are you ready?”

“Well, before we start, can we take the masks off? Just for a moment. We are probably whatever distance the CDC says we should be and there is great circulation. And something seems disingenuous about the moment with masks on.

Her eyebrows raise. “Umm…sure. I guess. You aren’t feeling sick are you?”

“Of course not.” I respond.

“OK. Yes, that’s fine.” 

We both take off our masks and the staggered intensity of the scene falls away. “That’s much better.” I say as I inhale the dusty office air.

“OK. Now are we ready?”