Stranger Than Fiction
by Todd Smith
A few years ago, my coworker Coop called in sick to work. When I asked him what was wrong he told me that he had eaten too much the night before. “I went to a pig roast,” Coop explained, wheezing into the phone, “And damn near ate the entire pig. Washed ’er down with some black Irish beer and half a Boston cream pie. I’m wrecked today.”
“Fair enough,” I said to Coop. What else are you going to tell a guy who admits to over-eating to the point of immobility?
Every workplace has its own quirks, its own predicaments and sticky pickles. But whoa, man, there is nothing like the blue-collar field. Coop’s pork hangover is just one idiosyncrasy of the world I inhabit here at Morning Glory garden center. Check out my average work day.
I’m greeted by a truck-driver with a delivery of mulch. The driver, a swarthy man named Tater, leaves to use the restroom, and when he returns he asks if I know the show CSI. I ask why and he says, “Because I just turned your bathroom into a crime scene.”
Lou Barlow, the owner of Morning Glory garden center, comes down to the loading dock and tells me that the store bathroom smells like the zebra house at the Como Zoo and that truck drivers are now banned from our restrooms.
I peacefully water the plants inside the greenhouses. Dozens of yellow finches swoop in and tweet out a beautiful melody. This Disney-esque moment is abruptly ruined when my bleary-eyed coworker Tom sways up to me. “I drink like half a case of PBR every night,” he confesses, unprompted. “But I hate having to get up off the couch to change the channel on the television. So last night I went and got a wheelchair. Now I just sit in it, drink and when I want to change the channel I just roll over. No getting up. How awesome is that?”
The first customer of the day asks, “What color is Blue Salvia?”
The second customer of the day tells me that she hates butterflies and wants to know if we have a chemical that will kill them.
A college kid named Scroggins shows up to work wearing only one shoe. I tell him to go home to find his other shoe. And for the record: Scroggins is studying Aerospace Engineering at a Big 10 school making him an actual rocket scientist.
While giving advice to a customer, I’m rudely interrupted by another customer who, in a desperate attempt for attention, has been walking around the garden center with a massive blue macaw parrot on his shoulder. The man nudges the squawking blue parrot into my face and asks, “Did you see my parrot?”
Scroggins returns to work his labor job in flip-flops.
A coworker named Peaches, a preachy trust fund hippie, smugly asks me what percentage of the plants at the garden center have been treated with chemicals. I glance over the endless acres in front of me and the labyrinth of greenhouses that contain thousands of tropical flora shipped from Florida, Oregon and California. “If I had to ballpark it, I’d go with 100 percent.” She finds my answer disgusting and takes a break to get her chi back. She hula-hoops for fifteen minutes.
I share the lunch table with a worker named Roy. He has eaten a frozen Swanson’s Hungry Man Fish dinner for lunch every day for a month straight. Today is no different. He heats it up in the microwave and makes the employee break room instantly smell like a noxious combination of piss, vinegar, and the wet leather palms of my hockey gloves.
A high school kid named Zane sits down at the lunch table. His lunch consists of a bag of skittles, a Mountain Dew, and flame hot Cheetos. As he eats, Zane reads a magazine called “Bear Hunter.”
I watch a new coworker wince as he bends down to unload a cart of hydrangeas. Then I notice that he’s walking kind of bull-legged. Until recently, this guy had been at a cushy corporate job, but after be downsized he’s now at the garden center to “find himself.” He’s been sweating his ass off all day in brand-new Carhart pants, hauling carts of plants, bending up and down in the blazing sun. I can see from his wincing and funny-walking that his, um, undercarriage is hurting big-time. I give it to him straight: “What you’ve got going on right now is what we call ‘The Chafe’.” He gives me a stunned look that says, “How did you know my crotch was on fire?” I go into Doctor mode: “Here’s what I want you to do tonight: Buy some Gold Bond medicated powder and a tube of Desitin diaper rash cream. Shower, clean your crotch, and dry it in front of a fan. Then douse your crotch with the powder and put the cream all over your taint. You’ll be all good by morning. Trust me.” The guy nods his head in appreciation.
Mack, my fellow Foreman asks me how my day is going and I tell him that I just advised a grown man with an MBA from the Carlson School of Business to buy diaper cream for his crotch.
I walk to the end of the lot and find Peaches hula-hooping again while she is supposed to be resetting the shrubs. “I make hula hoops,” she says to me, as her icky white girl dreads fling in the air. “Of course you do,” I reply.
I am up near the entrance restocking a colorful display of annuals. I’m wearing an Acres issued garden center t-shirt with our store logo on the front, the word ‘staff’ in giant bold letters across the back, a baseball cap with the name of the garden center on it, a name tag, and am unloading and pricing a cart of merchandise.
A woman walks up to me as I work. She has on a tiny tank top and yoga tights. Her body is in ridiculous shape and she knows it. This is why she is wearing exactly 1/4th of an appropriate outfit. I look up as she caresses a large coffee. She looks at my name tag, then my shirt, then my hat, and then the word ‘Staff’.
“Do you work here?” she asks me.