I’ve been thinking about ‘digging through the stacks’ recently, pulling favorite stories of mine written years ago. This is the first of that. Enjoy.
Sisters are strange, you either hate them or get along with them, or both intermittently. Sisters can make your day easy or hell; some are bitchy and some are quiet. Sisters are hard to work with, and I worked with mine for two years.
Before she got hired at my Grandparent’s bakery, I had already worked there for nearly a year, and I knew I finally had one up on her. I knew the in and outs of working there and I finally felt I had the upper hand against my older sister.
Her and I worked mostly after school, closing. My grandmother had the strangest way of ‘evening’ out the register, a nice round $105, but each denomination had enough, or close enough. This boggled my mind for the first few weeks but I eventually got it. My sister picked this up much faster and seemingly understood why my grandmother choose $105 as the cut off. This left me out in the storefront most nights, dumping the old baked goods, cleaning the wide array of glass that encircled the retail side of the store, and sweeping.
A moment should be taken to say something about my grandmother’s pleasantries with the woman who work at the store versus the men. The woman could do as they please and the men were a lazy group of do-nothings. As a for instance, I’d been “caught” reading a book, all while my sister was sitting reading a magazine; I’d be scolded and Karin would get a friendly “hello.” This was not single instance, but occurred with every other female employee, I was the whipping boy. It would go as far as my sister would receiving unsolicited gifts from my grandmother and I would get told to get more boxes.
My sister and I worked the long dog days of summer together for two full summers. Our days ran cleaner than the old clock in the office. We both would come in at around 12pm in the summer, relieve the person working, usually an old clown woman or a giggly flamboyant fellow. They were usually grateful to have someone there, as they were left working alone for a few hours between shifts, and in some cases refused themselves a bathroom break. Karin and I would then check everything: boxes, the cleanliness of the floor, trays that need to be pulled or condensed and ran in the pan washer, and check the phone for voice messages; a combined total of a half an hour at ‘teenage’ speed. After we had cleaned up after the morning shift we would walk around, maybe talk about our friends for a bit then get lunch. Lunch was always a sandwich for each of us from a new sub shop down the street. We would eat, maybe have a snack after lunch of cookies or a French pastry. We’d get tired from sheer boredom, and then eventually I’d end up in the office.
The bakery office was a dark room with one doorway, two chairs and a desk in it. I would sit in the far chair, my grandfather’s, would keep the lights off and put my head down and just fall asleep. Sometimes she’s sit in the chair at the other end of the room and glide into sleep or simply steep in my snoring – unknown to me which.
We would take turns on who should get up when someone came in and help them, our wake up call was a distance and distinct door bell and sometimes jingle bells. Then there were times when I would fall deep asleep, unbeknownst to me that she had gotten three or more people in a row. I’d roll into my drool and make some noises. And the uncountable times she’d knock on the glass thin mirror glass that faced the storefront because more people were funneling in and they were waiting. She would look at my face and stretch an embarrassed smile and I’d turn and look at the mirror window to see sleep lines running across my face. I’d call out for the next person in line with a scratched and groggy voice, eyes bloodshot and half-stuck together. The customers that I helped never looked at me sideways nor addressed the issue, things are better left unsaid, or unasked.
After our, more of my, nap we would go our separate ways doing our tasks which lead to closing up shop. We would trade off either cleaning the horrendous pan washer and helping customers. If there were any days she didn’t feel up to cleaning the pan washer, I was obliged to do it for her – she’d watch out for me enough to pay her back.
The pan washer was about seven feet tall and had buttons on the front that looked like they belonged on a 1970’s imagined panel of the future. Most pan washers are self-cleaning, at Carney’s we had to clean it. It may not sound too bad, to clean a pan washer, but imagine what all goes in: flour, oil, fats, sprinkles, sugar, egg residue, crumbs, and so so much more. You tried not to think about it as you washed, the thought of it all is just a bit too much. First it had to be drained which took enough time to turn on the radio and separate yourself further from the horrible retail end of working at the bakery. Then the four grates inside had to be taken out, banged inside a garbage can, then rinsed – these stopped the chunks from moving lower, hunks of nuts or maraschino cherries. Then the cleaner had to reach inside with the hose that seemed more like a small inter-tube and spray under the metal guards that held up the grates; this was easily the worst part, the things that were thin enough to go though the grates or were water-soluble would stick to underside. So when washed it all plopped on your hand and caked your wrists. It was the color of light dog vomit and the consistency of warm pudding mixed with oatmeal. All of which made sparing the goop off their hands off inside the machine strangely satisfying. A heavy dousing of bleach cleaner and a massive scrub brush and a rinse finished it up. The grates would go back into the machine, and then the filling would begin. This took the longest, and at which point I would usually practice my Kung fu with the floor scraper. Swinging a giant blade connected to a heavy broomstick, like I was battling off the evil ninjas – swishing and clanging and gaining power-ups to fuel my superpower – all under the rising and falling of commercial free classic rock.
From there, we’d continue through our routine; her counting the old doughnuts while I would swept. I had no problem counting, it was my writing and the ridicule from Peter, the baker, that I didn’t enjoy. The message would get passed through my grandmother in the mornings and she would nice it up in the way only a cranky old woman could. So I left that job to my sister who had an even hand. Around this time my grandmother would come in and we would lock the doors. Then Karin would count the drawer, and I would clean the glass – usually with the lights off and passers-by looking in, watching while I sprayed the empty cases and wiped off the vinegar/Windex mixture.
My grandmother would chatter to my sister while I would toss out all the old stuff – sometimes I’d eat half of one, or more, of the different types of doughnuts or bismarks. Grabbing one off the tray and ravishing it while the rest of its friends fell into the big gray can. I’d mostly go for a laugh as Karin would get a kick out of it because by the time I was done tossing all the old stuff out, my face would be covered with smears of jelly and sugar and frosting. I’d wipe up stick the old danishes in the freezer, where we kept them until we gave them to an old folks home on Thursdays. The two garbage cans got pulled out to the dumpster in the back of the store; one bag wet, near the pan washer, while the other would be heavy with discarded doughnuts.
I’d get back to the long metal table around the same time my sister had counted all the money and we were ready to leave. At some point my grandmother knew she didn’t need to come in anymore and we had gotten so used to this routine that we were left to close the store ourselves. It was nice because we could close at our own pace (quickly), and she didn’t have to come dragging herself into the store either.
It was almost always nice to work with Karin.
This was a good read – a glimpse into your life. I have good memories of my first job at Sbarro’s.