I was both excited and nervous to start my first day as a bag boy at Harry’s Thriftway in Kaysville, Utah. Harry’s was the local-yocal grocery store where everyone knew everyone’s name, where they lived, and which addiction they suffered from. I was 16 years old at the time and lived in Layton which bordered Kaysville and allowed me the ability to work as a common bag boy without having to get razzed by my Layton friends. Yes, there was a method to my madness. As the newbie, my first shift was of course, the 4PM to closing shift and that meant I was there until midnight.
I arrived a little nervous but with the, “I’m-going-to-change-the-world-one-bag-at-a-time” sort of attitude. I was given my red Harry’s Thriftway apron and a tag with the name John labeled on it. Once I tied the apron around my waist with my name tag pinned crookedly over my heart, it was official. I was a bag boy. I quickly learned to keep the hard items on the bottom and the soft items on top. It wasn’t quantum physics. Equally important was to know how to stack bags in the customer’s car. This was the time when the job of “bag boy” crossed over and into the area of “indentured servant.” I would follow a crabby old lady out to her 1979 Buick, and when she stopped along the way to chat with a neighbor, I was the shadow that stopped behind her. When she moved, I moved. When she sneezed, I handed her a tissue. We had sort of a “customer-bag boy confidentiality agreement.” You get the picture.
A few hours into my shift, I began chatting with the hot cashiers and my fellow bag boys between my bagging duties and price-check runs. During one of our chats, I was warned to stay away from the mean guy back in the meat department. I learned that this guy was recently released from county jail and got a job in the meat department because his parents knew the owner (Harry, of course), and he was not to be messed with.
As a 16 year old New Waver whose only concern was how to get tickets to the next Thompson Twins concert, I duly noted the warning because New Wavers and ex-cons didn’t really mesh well. I eventually caught a glimpse of our local bully while on a price-check mission. He had long, stringy blonde hair that complimented his long, stringy facial hair, and by the looks of it, he really liked the Scorpions.
As the closing bag boy, one of the chores was to adventure out into the parking lot for carts that have gone MIA. These carts tend to float around the parking lot like trash in space until some unlucky bag boy has to go on a search and rescue mission to bring them back to home base. In my situation, it was a perfect, warm summer night. I had great visibility of all the wandering carts in every direction. As I was out near the former planet known as Pluto rescuing a stray cart, I saw the meat bully jump into a rusty truck full of other bullies (I had to assume they’re all bullies, right?). My gut instinct was on the money about the Scorpions, because “Rock You Like a Hurricane” was blaring from the stereo in the truck and it was echoing throughout the vastness of the barren parking lot.
I didn’t think much of it as I began pushing my precious carts towards the light of the grocery store, until the truck picked up speed and was heading in my direction. That god awful song became louder and louder and I even found myself mouthing the words. Tom Bailey would not have been pleased.
After the meat bully and his cronies sped past me, I heard a voice yell out, “F#$%ing New Waver!” It’s true. I was a proud New Waver and never hid from my ability to look great in boat shoes, pegged pants, shirt buttoned to the top, and the hair to complete the look. This guy was a “rocker” and obviously hated us bubbly-looking New Wavers.
By some unnatural force I was unaware of that existed in my core, I immediately reacted. I turned around, raised my arm up nice and high, and flipped them off. The truck came to a screeching stop and even the Scorpions song faded out. All I could hear was the chugging sound of that piece of shit truck about 100 yards away. I released my carts not caring for their safe return, and began doing the “fast walk” towards the promised land of the store. I was hoping that the only cashier (she was reading a book at the time), would be either be a witness to the end of my 16-year run or save me from getting my ass handed to me by a bunch of guys that listened to really bad music.
“I’m going to see you again real soon, you New Wave faggot!” I heard the meat bully yell. And they drove off.
I clocked out and drove home that night thinking, “That’s real great. My first shift and I already have the local bully wanting to kill me.” I went to school the next day with this long haired, rocker douchebag on my mind because I was scheduled to work the same shift that night.
I came home from school and was in the middle of recounting what happened to my Mom, when my brother James entered the conversation. James was on leave from the Marines. When he would come home to visit the family, he would tell fascinating stories of bar fights and brawls that left my younger brother and I in awe of this badass that was our older brother. James was also on the Marine wrestling team and to make that team, you pretty much have to be tougher than nails or in this case, tougher than a long-haired, Scorpions-loving meat bully. He had the buzzed hair cut, wore shirts that only read, “USMC” on it, and said “f#$%” between every word of every sentence that came out of his mouth.
He told me to tell him what happened, which I was reluctant to do on the account that I was embarrassed of the whole situation. When I finished my story he asked, “When do you work again?” (Our Mom was there, so he refrained from asking, “When the f#$% do you f#$%ing work again?”)
“Tonight. Four to Midnight”, I replied.
He said, “I may stop by to see how you’re doing.” And he took off.
I arrived on my second day wondering how my shift was going to end. I tactfully asked a cashier if the meat bully was working today and it was confirmed. He was working the same shift as me. Shit.
Was I going to run into the meat bully in the break room? Was he waiting for me in the parking lot? I kept my head down, bagged as fast as I could, and avoided going near the meat department, the break room, or any room where I could run into the meat bully.
About an hour into my shift, I looked up to see James walk in through the automatic doors. He scanned the area until he caught me looking at him. He quickly walked over to me as I was placing a precious loaf of bread (soft item) carefully on top of a few boxes of cereal (hard items). He was wearing a tight, yellow t-shirt with the red letters, “U.S.M.C.” on it. His pace was fast, arms were out, chest was pumped, and his eyes had purpose. To put it plainly, he looked really pissed off.
“Where is he…” he asked without moving his teeth.
“He’s the only long-haired guy in the meat de..” By the time I finished saying, “department”, he vanished down an aisle heading towards the back of the store.
I looked at Shelly, who was the cashier I was bagging for. You could have landed an airliner in that mouth because her jaw was wide open and her eyes looked as if she was being electrocuted.
“Was that….your brother?….Is he going to….” she leaned in and whispered, “face the meat bully?”
“I think so.” I said. I quickly finished bagging an order of groceries and ran them out to the car for a customer. By the time I came back, word spread that “John’s big brother came in to beat up the meat bully” and baggers were now giving me details about his history. He was 23, served jail time for drugs, and apparently reigned terror over every teen-aged employee for the past three months.
Time moved slower than a really bad romance comedy. James eventually reappeared from a different aisle with the same intensity in his walk. This time, he was breathing a little heavier than before and his face was red.
“You won’t have to f#$%ing worry about that f#$% again.” He patted me on my back and left. I noticed that all the baggers stopped working and watched him leave, then they collectively stared at me in wonder. An unknown cashier caught my attention and dramatically mouthed the words, “What did he do?” I just kept bagging not believing what just happened.
A few minutes later, a scruffy voice was heard over the intercom, “John Piper, please come back to the meat department…John Piper, back to the meat department.” I was stunned for a moment. The meat bully wanted to talk to me? Holy shit. So I made my way to the back of the store and there he was. The meat bully. It was the first time I actually got a good look at him, but I was guessing he didn’t always look that disheveled.
His stringy, blonde hair was ratted and sticking up in all directions, pointing randomly. It wasn’t pillow hair because pillow hair is when the hair is typically smushed in one area. This hair was fiercely attacked from all angles and left to bleed out. His “Iron Maiden” t-shirt looked like the shirt he was wearing when he was mauled by a family of Kodiak bears, and his entire face was a deep, Christmas red and I noticed that his eyes were unable to blink in unison.
What came out of his mouth sounded like a well scripted, thought out, memorized set of words that took every ounce of his miniscule cognizant energy to formulate. He spoke slowly, as if to make sure he was saying…everything…clearly…and…correctly.
“I want to sincerely apologize for my inappropriate behavior and vulgar outburst that I displayed last night. I was drunk and projecting my own psychological state of mind onto you, and if I caused you any amount of grief or stress in any way, I am incredibly sorry and embarrassed for my actions and will reconsider how I treat others and….blah blah blah”. When he finished his apologetic speech, I didn’t say a word. I slowly back away and went back to bagging.
The news spread quickly that John’s brother ended the three month reign of terror the meat bully held over the store. He never said a word to me or anyone else and he quit a few weeks later. Once the meat bully vanished, it was like Spring magically appeared. Bag boys and cashiers alike were holding hands, skipping and singing songs of joy. Flowers were blooming everywhere, unicorns came out of hiding, pixies were filling the air with pixie dust as we all tearfully dance and hugged each other. The meat bully was no more.
The rumors were quick to create a life of its own. One tale was of a Marine the size of a giant who cornered the bully in the back room, wrapped a produce hose around his neck, and repeatedly dunked his head into a barrel of water while shouting, “Don’t you ever f#$% with my brother!” Another story was that of a large Marine hunting down the evil bully in the breakroom, grabbed a wad of his long hair, and used his head as padding as he punched the concrete wall while yelling, “Don’t you ever f#$% with my brother!”
I never heard the full story about what happened that day at Harry’s Thriftway but I don’t think the details are important at this point. In the case of the meat bully, I hope he learned a valuable lesson. It pays to have an older brother who is a Marine. Thanks James. Semper Fi!
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