A Hollywood Tradition
by Gregory Schaefer
The Part-Time Job
They look at you the way you would want women too. But they’re men and that really doesn’t do much for me. Still, the sexual energy in the produce aisle is steamy, it’s melting the frozens and making the dairy’s nipples hard at the same time. I’ve never been surrounded by so much raw testosterone in my life. A gourmet grocery store in the middle of LA’s giant gay ghetto is definitely its own cultural palace.
It’s a lot of fucking fun too. I guess that takes the sting away. For a while I was chanting a mantra like a crack-ho-Krishna, “it’s only temporary, it’s only temporary, it’s only temporary.” I know that’s true, but it’s still a little tough admitting to myself that I work in a grocery store. Just the fact that I needed a Part-Time job is what bugs me. Bugger. After a long and dull winter, work in the industry has nearly dried up. I needed a part-time job. Gotta pay the rent and in the immortal words of Burt Reynolds, “You gotta eat.”
It’s a Hollywood ritual I suppose– the part-time job. In Japan, my students wisely used slang to define part time work as “poo.” THE JOB to have in Japan was convenience store clerk. Strange, but the kids fancied it rebellious and tough.
In Hollywood the part-time poo to have is waiter. Usually we only hear about waiters, assuming they’re “actors.” Naturally, most actors in LA are really full-time waiters. I’m always being asked if I’m an actor, and since I’m not, I decided to avoid waiting tables. Besides, a restaurant is an artificial den where people go to eat. The grocery store is where it’s at. It’s a critical, all-encompassing watering hole where the human animals gather for Italian bottles of sparkling water, hunt for prepackaged Curried Thai Noodles, and flock to for hairy bum paper.
I chose to work in a grocery store for the human contact. The close personal contact I share with thousands of people weekly is invaluable. I have never dealt with so much human interaction before and it is outstanding. Every day I study the oddest of characters and see how they navigate the outside world. I am in the position to directly affect the rest of someone’s day with a nice fake smile, a bored and pissy yawn, or just plain weird-ass-shit, like singing every item they purchase!
I can read my customers in a single glance. I know where everything you couldn’t find is. I know exactly what you’re hiding in your cart. I know what you’re thinking: Beverly Hills, parking is a bitch, Argentinian red shrimp ($8.99/lb), Moet and Mercedes.
They’re stuck in a giant capitalist maze that I navigate with ease. I stocked that coffee you prodded, ruining my straight rows. I dollied those bananas off the truck at five a.m. My foot kicked your loaf of carb, wheat, and flour free breadless bread. And now you’re handing me money for this shit? We threw a few hundred pounds out yesterday.
You need to wash your hands now. A grocery store cashier’s hands are the dirtiest things on Earth. Raw chicken, pork, beef, spoiled fruit, rotten onions, moldy bread, stanky milk and the queen mother of filthy things– MONEY. Hundreds and thousands of dollars slip through my hands at work and black water rinses off my fingers when I finally wash them– after work. I touch everything you’re going to take home and eat.
The customers at my store are cool and the atmosphere is mostly fun. The store’s filled with energetic people, in good moods, with money to spend. Ninety percent of them are gay men. They rule the place and mark it with a steady flow of hyper-testosterone. From the muscle men to the queens, the old suave sophisticates, dirty bastards, young ravers, preppy boys and cross dressers. Everyone is very alive and nearly everyone is exuding desire, sex and stamina. All you gotta do is THINK about raising a brow and they’ll latch on and flash you a smile, a flex, a sashay, a smoke ring and even full-on propositions.
It’s crazy. I can be helping an old lady find the honey one second and then have some dude sneak a wink and blowkiss me while his boyfriend’s back is turned. The other day a handsome antique dealer offered me a weekend ski trip while I was stocking frozen salmon steaks stuffed with goat cheese.
The rest of our customers are angry Russian housewives. They barely speak English and ALWAYS pay with hundreds. Spent my first week on the job training at a tough store in a Russian neighborhood where the Babushka’s were in complete control arguing over prices and hissing at the vodka selection.
Been at the West Hollywood (WE HO as the G’s call it) store since it opened. So far, so good. It’s a good feeling to know that I can pay the bills now. Since it’s part-time I can still work on my other job– breaking in. Post Production on japanned continues, volunteering at the AMERICAN CINEMATHEQUE’s a go and still writing. Lots and lots of writing.
Things took a positive turn in the last two weeks. Booked a pitch session with an exec at Network X and landed a few freelance gigs. Coupled with my part-time job, this was nice. I could live like this. I was getting comfy.
The next thing I knew, one of my clients decided not to pay me, my car broke down again and I suffered a nasty spill on my bicycle. Lost control, flew over the handlebars and landed on my face. I slid across the sidewalk in slow-motion as skin peeled and rolled under my beard. I could feel bruises and sore spots all over my body–hands, feet, hips, shoulder. But that impact, that smack of face on LA concrete, was positive! Knocked me sense-ful.
I’m in LA. Remember the struggle, mind the bad luck. I can’t get comfortable till I pay my dues. IT’S ONLY TEMPORARY. Maybe that’s not such a bad mantra after all.