As hard as it is to admit it, I was wrong about Dave Freeacco. Dave is a supervisor at Snucks market where I work. I’d always thought him to be arbitrary and vicious, and he still seems very sensitive to me, but I’ve found out the kind of pressures he’s under, and I’m beginning to forgive him.
Everything became clear to me the day the lights went out in the Northeast. I was working outside that day, pushing carts around. Union rules say six carts at a time. According to the union we’re only supposed to push six carts per trip. Dave and the union disagree. I overheard Dave talking to a cart boy once. Dave was saying, “All. Every cart. Each trip. I want to look out on this lot and see lost brats, wealthy customers, and double-parked cars, but I better not see any shopping carts.”
That’s why, when you pull up at our store, you’ll see a kid about four foot tall pushing three hundred carts. If you look close you’ll see he’s crying. That’s cause Dave threatened the kid’s family. Threatened to starve them out, make them leave town. “Other stores would sell to us. You couldn’t just pick up the phone and make it so we don’t have groceries.” the kid said. “Are you sure, Bobby?” Dave said. “Are you absolutely sure? Are you willing to take that risk? You’ve got a baby sister gonna need some milk about nine o’clock. Do you want to do your job or do you want to hear little Tabitha crying all night?”
Anyway, I was outside that day, supposed to be bringing in carts. But, I have my own system. I tell customers, as they arrive, that there aren’t any carts inside the building, so they immediately take hold of one while they’re outside, and they’re perfectly happy to take them inside. What they say when they see four thousand carts inside, doesn’t interest me all that much. They’ve already done what they should be doing in the first place.
So like I said, I was outside when Dave drove up. He was in a big black shiny HumVee. Three other men were with him. They parked in a hurry. Parked slantwise across three handicapped spots. Dave leapt from the drivers side. The other three men were running to catch up. They crashed through the door like a group of teens about to try out a fake ID. Out of curiosity I followed them into the building. Dave rushed right to the intercom. He held the phone up to his big serious face. He was frowning; which made him look like a three hundred pound hamster with a stomach cramp. “Attention customers,” he said. “can Penelope Saucehead Whistlepepper please report to the service center, we have a long distance call from your sister.”
Everyone who worked in the store knew he was speaking in code. For one thing Snucks markets would never accept a long distance call, they’re just too cheap for that. For another thing it was Dave on the intercom, so it had to be important. Dave never uses the intercom. He has an assistant for that kind of thing.
I ran to the nearest cash register and picked up a code book. All the employees in the store were doing the same thing, looking up Dave’s message. I found it on page three. PSW Long Dis call from sis. I ran my finger across the page:
POWER OUTAGE IMMINENT. MANAGER TO ASSUME TOTAL RESPONSIBILITY. FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE EMERGENCY THERE WILL BE A TEMPORARY SUSPENSION OF THE LAWS OF NATURE... AND THOSE OF MAN.
We all started walking towards the service counter. We came forward hoping for a miracle. Dave was going to be our miracle.
You two...” Dave was pointing to men who worked in the loading dock. “You two are going to buy ice. Buy all you can. Bring it to me here. I’ll be right here. Everyone, I’ll be right here. If you have any questions or suggestions during this emergency come to me here.
“Randolph, does the store have an emergency generator?”
“Then go upstairs and write a request for one. Backdate it by at least a week, sign my name, and then send it to headquarters.”
“You...” he was pointing at Mary, one of the checkout ladies.
“Yes.” she said.
“You go to the back room. Get anything bulky, like those hundred pound bags of dog food and start barricading the front of the store. I want a wall of Tasty Hound Kibbles across the front of the store by noon.”
“I’ll certainly try.” She said. She started walking back to the storage area. Seeing her walking I thought it might take her till noon just to get to the back of the store. You see, Mary is ninety-six. With cataracts. She’d started working in the store during the Harding administration. She weighs about seventy pounds and she’s always bent over like she’s checking her shoes.
“Is there someone here from the meat department?” Dave asked.
Three-fingered Al raised his remaining hand.
“Go to the shelves and reduce everything by two percent. Let’s sell some of this stuff before it spoils. Don’t accept shipment of anything perishable. Turn your freezers up as cold as they’ll go and start making ice. Put all those bottled waters into the coolers.”
“Ok boss.” Al said. He too, ran towards the back of the store.
I raised my hand. “What’s wrong?” I asked when Dave pointed to me.
“Power outage, all along the East coast. I expect it’s related to events in the Middle East. We’re going to be ready. We’re not going to let Mennacum Begin get his hands on the Midwest.” he said.
About the time his speech came to an end, the men he’d sent for ice came up to the desk. “We bought ninety-four bags.” they said.
“Good work.” Dave told them. “Now put all that ice in the Igloo coolers.”
“Put it back?” they said.
“Where’d you get this?”
“Over from those coolers.”
“Not from us, you morons.!” Dave said. “Leave our store and go buy ice from other people.”
“Oh.” they said.
They pushed the ice back towards the white Igloo freezers and left looking for other sources.
Just then an old woman came up. She was obviously in shock or pain. “I’m Miss Whistlepepper,” she said “you say you have a call holding, a call from my sister. I’m wondering how that’s possible, since Mildred died in ’63.”
Dave put the phone up by his ear. He pretended he was talking to someone. “Yes... Yes.” he said, “Sure... I’ll tell her.” he said. He put the phone back on the hook. “I’m sorry,” he said, “she had to go. She’s hung up. She’ll try to call you later at home.”
Penelope walked away swearing to herself she’d stay by the phone. Maybe never leave her house.
“Aren’t we panicking a bit early?” I asked.
Dave glared at me. “Don’t you remember the snow warning last September? September 4th... when one TV station predicted six tiny inches of snow and we had Pandemonium? Weren’t you checking at that time? Remember the man with the tires?”
I remembered. I was doing lane two. A man came barging into line pushing old ladies out of the way. He had coffee, beer, pork rinds and two snow tires. I called over the intercom, “Price check on snow tires. Price check on snow tires.” No one called me back.
“Where’d you get these?” I asked him.
He pointed out the store window, pointing to my car. “Off that Toyota.” he said.
So yes, people can overreact and they always overreact at the market. That lady that beat her kid with a rock? That was at a market. The LA riots? All happened in a market. They hanged Mussolini in a market. Jesus tore things up and beat people, and where was he? A marketplace. Stores bring out the worst in people, no doubt about it. I was running a ticket machine once, just selling concert tickets, and had my life threatened. Two kids wanted tickets to see LIL BOW WOW in concert. I tried to explain to them that they couldn’t buy tickets unless they were accompanied by an adult. The three year old punched me while the five year old held my arms behind my back. I would have fought back, but that’s against company policy.
“Dave, what is the plan? Are we going to close up?”
“No.” Dave said, “But we must take precautions.” Dave looked around. Most of the checkers had been given assignments. Dave looked at me. “Tom, can you be trusted?”
I didn’t know what to say. I just nodded my head one time.
“Then come with me.” he said.
We went into the little room. The room where they go to count money. Dave opened the safe and crawled in. I followed.
It was dark inside. We crawled about fifty feet, the floor of the tunnel slanting down and down. At the other end of the tunnel we stood up. Even before he turned on the lights I could tell we were in a very big room. I could sense it was gigantic. I could tell by the sounds. Dave hit the light switch. The room was even bigger than I’d imagined. To my left there were racks of guns. Rifles. A couple of heavy machine guns. Far off behind the racks there were shapes. Tanks. Four tanks were down here in the big concrete bunker.
“Tom. I know at times over the past few years you thought I was being petty. Like following Steve into the men’s room and asking him if he was on break that one time. Or all those times I asked you button your shirt pocket. That time I made you take your belt off and re run it through because you missed one of your belt loops. I know there were times you thought I was being a petty tyrant and you didn’t know I had a reason. Tom, I had a reason. He gestured. His arms opened and he showed me his violent toys. Tom, I’m not just a manager at a grocery store, I’m in charge of safety for everything west of the Mississippi.”
“I knew it was something.” I said. “I just knew an intelligent man like you wouldn’t be a petty tyrant unless he had a good reason.”
“I’m so sorry.” I said.
“About the keys,” I said, “about not wanting to give you the keys to my house. I always opposed your key exchange because I didn’t see how it was necessary. I didn’t want to give you the keys to my house in exchange for getting the keys to the video drop box. I just thought that was silly. I mean after all, they’re MY keys. They go to MY house.”
“Now you know the real purpose. It’s so we can go and rescue your family. Your pets. Bring your treasured items into the store where we can make a last stand. Where we can defy the forces of evil.”
“I see now. More clearly than ever.”
We stayed in the basement and cleaned a few rifles. Dave counted the grenades. He tuned into a radio station and we found out that the blackout in the east was caused by an equipment failure. We weren’t going to have to attack the rest of the known universe.
We crawled back up to the store.
Mary had two big bags of dog food piled by the windows. The ice from the Igloo coolers was melting and people were falling down in isle six and seven. Steve was in the men’s room. Dave had to call off the emergency. He got on the intercom. “Attention customers,” he said, “can Penelope Saucehead Whistlepepper please report to the service center, we have some bad news concerning an escaped bear and your grandchildren.”
Copyright © 2003 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith