My first real job was working as a stock clerk/bag-boy at the Winn-Dixie on Main St. in Columbia, South Carolina. I was a college sophomore back around 1969 and need a little extra money. I only worked there about six months but it was a memorable experience. To this day I take great pride in my ability to pack my own groceries at the checkout counter in the scientific way known only to former bag boys. Damn! This is starting to sound like an Abraham Simpson story so I will just move on with the little grocery vignettes that I have reconstructed from memory.
“A SOUTHERN TREAT”
I was in Food Lion a few years ago when some crazed guy was walking down the aisle muttering loudly: “Where da RC and da Moon Pie? Where da RC and da Moon Pie?” Every aisle he walked down he repeated this mantra, becoming increasingly louder and more desperate with each incantation. He finally found his goofy gastronomic grail and whooped in loud jubilation. I got to the checkout line and spotted him walking out without getting in line. I assumed that the RC Cola was under his coat and the Moon Pie was ironically placed next to his backside. I’m just speculating because it is equally possible that he consumed his elusive prizes in aisle nine then shoved the remnants behind a bag of dog food. Perhaps he changed his mind and put the precious objects back on the shelf but I doubt that. I always thought that “RC and the Moon Pies” would be a great name for a band. You can steal that if you want to.
On another occasion, I was in a crowded Bi-Lo the day before Thanksgiving when I witnessed the following incident: There were at least eight registers open and each one had a long line. A very old lady was in front of me sitting in a courtesy cart with around twenty-five or thirty dollars worth of groceries in the basket. After a long wait, it was her turn at the register. By this time there were at least five customers behind me. After the clerk announced the total, the old lady pulled out two huge, filthy socks loaded with change. This was long before grocery stores installed those handy coin machines. She spilled out the contents of the two socks on the counter and, from my vantage point, I noticed that most of the coins were of a brown hue with a few sparkles of brightness interspersed amongst the giant piles. Those rare glittery things were mostly nickels with a few dimes thrown in for good measure. I heard a collective groan behind me and turned to see everyone in my line moving to other, less problematic, registers.
I just stood there, my gaze transfixed at the pile of coinage. To add insult to injury the old lady would not let the check-out girl count the change. She insisted upon counting it herself. Slowly but surely she counted out the pennies. One-two-three-four, and so forth until she got to twenty-five at which point she got confused and started over. The old lady waved one of her dirty socks at me and said: “This may take a while. You might want to find another line.” I replied, “That’s okay, I’m just here for the anecdote.”
“Grossest Grocery Story Story Ever”
In 1981 I purchased a home in Hollywood, South Carolina. At the time this little community was very rural with lots of big farms and plenty of open space surrounded by Lowcountry tidal marshes. Today Hollywood still has a rural feel but is increasingly becoming a bedroom community of Charleston.
For decades the only grocery store was a solitary Piggly Wiggly. Sometime in the early nineties, Food Lion built a huge new store on Hwy. 17 South in Ravenel, right next to Hollywood. I spent a lot of money there but, a few years after it opened, I noticed a new assistant manager behaving rather strangely.
I can’t exactly pin it down but there was an unmistakable gleam of madness in his eyes as he scurried around the store in an almost rat-like fashion. Stopping here to adjust a tilted can of whole tomatoes, stopping there to check the Little Debbie display.
I bumped into a lady’s cart coming around a corner trying to avoid him loping down the aisle behind me. He paused for a millisecond and darted his gaze from my eyes to the lady’s eyes. Off he went in a flash! The lady looked at me and rolled her eyes. I asked her if she had ever noticed his strange mannerisms. She smiled, replied in the affirmative, and continued her shopping.
During one such trip to the Food Lion, I had to go to the bathroom. I went in and walked towards the urinal. Right behind me the assistant manager came running in, went into the stall right next to me, dropped his pants and squawked out one of the loudest farts I have ever heard, followed by obligatory grunts and splashes. As soon as the commotion stopped he jumped up, fastened his belt and ran out the bathroom.
He was long gone before I finished emptying my bladder…some sort of record no doubt. A record with an asterisk, however, because his feat was accomplished without wiping his butt, flushing the toilet, or washing his hands.
Curious, I peeked around the corner at the stall and spotted a giant turd…lonely for the company of wads of toilet paper to accompany it to its final resting place…No shit shroud for this glob of dooky.
I flushed his mess with my work boot and went to the sink to wash my hands. Left the bathroom, retrieved my cart, took a left turn down towards the eggs, biscuits, cookie dough and continued down the back aisle to the meat counter.
As I entered the meat section I noticed a flurry of activity through the big picture window (where you had a full view of the butchers at work). There, in front of a very big stainless steel work bench, was the store manager up to his elbows in a giant pile of hamburger…at least fifty pounds worth. He was madly tossing the meat this way and that way, hoisting up five-pound globs with both hands and slamming them back into the pile, then starting the process over again. I have no idea what he was doing and I am not sure that he knew either.
He reminded me of Richard Dreyfus in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” One of the best scenes was Richard fixated on transporting mud and rocks to his living room while building a model of the spaceship landing site.He also constructed a replica with mashed potatoes.
Postscript: I am long gone from Hollywood, having moved to another area a bit closer to Charleston. To this day, I am a regular Food Lion Shopper. Our local store is a friendly place and seems to keep their employees for a much longer time than other chains that serve this area. The manager is, for the most part, pretty normal. Every organization gets its share of misfits and weirdos. I am fairly certain that somebody eventually noticed that the subject of this article was bat-shit crazy.