Sunday, October 23, 2005

Except from: Jacob's ladder

Jacob Simon. Owner, proprietor, businessman, husband,--- and master of mood swings. The man with two first names. Just don’t call him Jake.

Jake just sounded seedy. Jake sounded like a man with a gold tooth emanating from his salacious smile beneath a pencil thin moustache on his upper lip. Jake sounded like a man with no fashion sense, someone Sully would be proud of, a man dressed in a checkerboard sport coat, pink shirt and baby-blue tie, trying to sell you a lemon off the used car lot.

By contrast, Jacob sounded much better. It had more power, more prestige. It was a trustworthy name. It commanded control. Jacob was the name of a man who understood his customers, but catered to their needs in an effort to sell them that lemon from the reduced fruit display.

You really had to know his ways to understand the man. Then, and only then, could you accept, that’s just the way he is. Set in his ways. Unable or just unwilling to change. The steadfast breakwater pushing back the relentless sea if-you-will. However, the process to this realization, was long and agonizingly painful. Very few employees had made the pilgrimage.

You see---Jacob has a gift, a talent, an intangible quality, of rubbing people the wrong way, or perhaps shoving them the wrong way, would be more appropriate.

There are days, like everyone else, where I find it frustrating and maddening. There are days when the tension is so thick, you can cut it into pie wedges and serve it up to unsuspecting patrons and the timid punch-clockers. Then there are days when tongue lashings and criticism are so severe even the customers wince. Yeah----Jacob. It’s a strange statement to make about one of Jewish faith, but the man would have made a good Nazi. Sometimes he would treat you like one of the family and then turn around and make you feel like the redheaded stepchild who’d just farted in church.

I think the problem is, when Dr. Jekyll is slipping into Mr. Hyde’s skin, it’s because he feels the best way to gain respect is through intimidation. No use telling Jacob that respect is
earned, not given. Not beat into someone while they cower against the ring post in rope-a-dope fashion. He won’t listen. As I have said--- the man is a rock.

I am used to intimidation. When I was younger, working for the grocery chain as a part-timer, I had hid from one of the assistant managers. We affectionately referred to him as, The Boss Man With No Eyes. He looked like the guy, of the same name, from that old Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke. He even wore the mirrored shades. The only thing missing, in fact, was the sound of rattling shackles from our chain-gang of bag boys and the high piercing words of Struther Martin— "What we have here is failure to communicate."

The Boss Man With No Eyes, could reduce a part-timer to tears, with his stone-like expression, and the gentle down curve of his lip into a snarl to show displeasure. The terrified frozen gaze of his victims captured in the reflection of his Medusa mirrored sunglasses.
"Fillin’ the cereals up here Boss."
"Go ahead boy."
"Baggin groceries over here Boss."
"Hurry it up boy."
"Carrying out for Mrs. Putz Boss."
"Don’t you get rabbit in your blood and try to run boy."

The Boss Man With No Eyes was an expert in catching people in all forms of malaise and wrongful actions, from tomfoolery, to shop lifting, to just plain goofing off. He’d materialize suddenly in his bright red assistant manager’s jacket. You’d catch him out the corner of your eye, observing whatever misdeed you were currently active in.

Once, a fellow employee, had accidentally shut the washroom light off on him, when he had been on the toilet doing his business. I saw the blur of my unfortunate co-worker, aghast at his mistake, as he scurried past the lunch room with saucer-like eyes, panting while he ran in a horrified panic. He was followed by the blur of The Boss Man With No Eyes, his belt buckle still undone and clinking against his zipper. His cherry red jacket was like the flashing beacon of a police cruiser in hot pursuit. I thought, my poor fellow grocery clerk was going to end up in intensive care that day, when The Boss Man got his hands on him. Instead a three-day suspension from work was handed out as punishment. The employee needed at least that amount of time to get the pee stain out of his pants and had created a comparable puddle among the rows of feminine hygiene products.
"Cleanin’ up in aisle seven Boss."
"Go ahead boy."

If nothing else, that job taught me how to handle a constant barrage of criticism and intimidation, like a tennis pro firing volley after volley at my head from just beyond the net. Jacob, reminds me of The Boss Man. The intensity of his intimidation however, can be ten fold and much harder to adapt to. Eventually no matter how much you may be prepared, Jacob’s ebbing flow of criticism, (or what I like to call specific suggestions of perfectionism),will eventually break through your levee.

My thoughts turned to all the employees who had passed through our doors. Names and faces now faded and hardly distinguishable. It seemed like thousands. Legions upon legions of morons and malingerers. Buried deep under a mountain of old pay-slips. Resting in peace in a new vocation on the outer rim of our little galaxy, asteroids floating aimlessly, hunks of rock in various orbits occasionally colliding with other objects to obliterating ends.

There are, however, a few employees that escaped the verbal abuse and critiques. Employees that Jacob took a liking to and who could do no wrong. Giving them a job was his way of doing a mitzvah or good deed he’d tell people. I knew what I had to do to place myself in this category amidst the most revered, but I had to draw the line at the breast implants.

Then there were past employees like Bubba who must feel that their time at Ultimate Produce was like being a P.O.W. except you got a paycheck at the end of the week. Over time, some were released on their own recognizance. Some received a stay of execution with a last minute call from the Governor and some, I’m sure, just tunneled out. For those who couldn’t cut it and eventually left, it was like a scene from a trauma center. Can you show me using this doll how Jacob treated you?

I had lost count of how many must check the obituaries daily in hopes of seeing his name there and I was certain that I even worked with a few of them still.

tomorrow: Na,na, Judaism

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