Booze

When I was in my young adult years I couldn’t always find a job in the graphic design field. Desktop publishing was in and paste-up was out, and although I had some experience designing on the Mac, I was still more comfortable with my T-square and pica guage. So art jobs were hard to come by, even when you lived a stones throw from Manhattan.

But a girl’s gotta eat, so I took a job at our local liquor super store, Bottle King. Glamorous, right? Well, it was easy work, and the store was so close I could walk to it. I worked a 40 hour week as a cashier – scanning beer and booze. You’d be surprised the things you could learn wearing that blue Bottle King vest.

I loved working the opening shift because you figure – how many people buy booze at 9 am? Well I’ll tell you something – there was almost always someone waiting for those front doors to open every single day. We had our regulars, that’s for sure.

There was the business man in an overcoat who came in just about every day shortly after 5 and bought a pint of BK Vodka. There was an overweight dude with long hair that would buy 2 or 3 jugs of Almaden wine – not every day, but a few times a week. And there were the throngs of blue collar dudes who came in for their case of Bud, or Miller, or Coors.

And there were the bouffant sisters. Two ladies in their 50s or so with big beehive hair-dos who would fill a shopping cart full of all the fixin’s for Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. They would argue and bicker as they went up and down the aisles, but I have a feeling that they were best buddies again a tumbler or two into happy hour.

Then there were the wine connoisseurs – the folks who came in and bought bottles by the case. My boss liked them. And my boss liked me too. He was a decent guy – I think his name was Mike. If you showed up and did your job, he gave you better shifts and didn’t mind if you took an extra 5 minutes for your dinner break, which was good because it was only 30 minutes long. Just enough time to buy a slice or two and inhale it in his office before heading back to your register.

I remember while I worked there is father died – he had a heart attack while shovelling snow. I felt so bad for him…it’s such a lack luster way to go. Here you are just clearing the snow from your driveway and bam, you’re dead. You know, I think of his dad almost every time I shovel.

During the holidays the store would be rocking. Thanksgiving day the lines would run the entire length of the store back to the beer cases. Ditto on the days leading up to Christmas and New Years. And if we had a big lottery? Uff da – the line would circle the store.

The lottery machine was another ball buster. Not so much if folks filled out their card or just wanted a couple of quick picks. But every week we would get a few hard core lottery players that would come in with a very long, very tattered list of pick 3 and pick 4 numbers. Those sucked.

There was one lady who was in her 60s or 70s that would waddle in with her walker once a week stinking to high heaven. I don’t think she did more than sprinkle water under her armpits once every 6 months. She had that classic, sour, old lady smell and boy, did it linger. You had to practically hold your breath while you punched in her lottery numbers and then the front of the store reeked for at least a half an hour afterwards. But I was never mean to her – not like some of the other cashiers.

We used to have one dude come in that had these odd horn-like growths on his fingers and the back of his hands. One of the girls would tell me she tried to make sure their hands never touched when she took his money. It didn’t bother me though. I don’t like making folks who may have an abnormality feel out of place. Except for once…

We were really busy – so busy that I was nothing more than a change making machine. I was ringing folks up and handing them their change like a robot, barely making eye contact. I went to hand back this one gentleman his change when I saw that the palm extended out to me was not your average palm.

I think the man had Ectrodactyly – where the hand looks more like a lobster claw. In any case it caught me 100% off guard and and instead of dropping the change into his hand, I screamed and threw the change – about 94¢ worth – in the air. It came clattering down noisily as everyone in the store turned to stare.

I was utterly humiliated. But the man was very kind and understanding while I babbled a string of apologies and gathered up his change from the floor. It’s still one of my most cringe-worthy moments.

I worked there on and off for a couple of years. If I left for a new job, and it didn’t quite work out, Mike was always ready and willing to take me back. But eventually I found a good enough job that my Bottle King days were officially over.

The store is still there, but it’s not a Bottle King anymore – it’s now called Wine King – hey! Right up my alley.

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