Essay #19: “Everybody’s Working For The Weekend”
Part 3 - “The Dutch”
In the summer of 1994 when I left Michigan and returned to the Miami Valley of South West Ohio I had five hundred dollars, a car, a place to live, and nothing else. The night before I left my dad and stepmother didn’t talk to me beyond pleasantries, I talked to my girlfriend who I couldn’t visit because of her parents, and my friends took me out for one last night of fun before everything changed. I hit the road the morning after my 18th birthday at five o’clock and arrived at my grandparent’s house before nine.
I wanted to curl up and die.
For the first week I did absolutely nothing. I didn’t look for work, I didn’t contact any of my old friends from when I used to live there before, and I didn’t call anyone on Michigan other than my girlfriend who I knew wouldn’t be my girl much longer. I probably would have just stayed in bed until became one of those guys Richard Simmons has to come rescue with a forklift and a camera crew if it wasn’t for my grandmother,
Isn’t it always my grandma?
Grandma had gone back to work after I moved out of her house. She didn’t need to work, before he was injured my grandfather was a long distance truck driver and made good money, but inactivity after my baby brother started school was driving her crazy. She was hired at the local Meijer before it open and worked there for more than a decade before her own injury and the bullshit way the corporation treats their employees forced her to stay home.
What did you say? You’re not from the Midwest and have never heard of Meijer’s? Well I’ll forgive you because even if you think you’ve heard of Meijer’s what you’ve probably heard of is Fred Meijer’s a similar but completely unrelated enterprise out west. Let me give this to you in a nutshell then we can get back to the story of my life working for the Dutch.
Meijer is a Michigan based retail company founded in the 1930’s by Hendrik Meijer a Dutch immigrant in Grand Rapids. I’ve always posited that Hendrik escaped the Low Countries with a fist full of cash one step ahead of fascist elements. That or he was escaping Jew who hid his affiliation and spent the war years supporting the resistance from the safety of the Great Lakes region of North America. Either way I’m sure my suppositions are a million times more interesting than the truth.
Meijer was Wal-Mart before there was a Wal-Mart.
That’s really all you need to know about the company. The parallels between the two over the decades has me more than convinced that for a long time they ripped each other off for ideas and strategies. While Meijer will never be the global or even national powerhouse Wal-Mart is it is a regional force to be reckoned with. As of this writing there are more than two hundred Meijer’s locations spread over five states (Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky) and in the interests full disclosure I should tell you my wife is a manger at one of our local locations and has twenty years with the company. We met almost a year into my tenure there at first we hated each other, then we were friends, then we were together. That’s all I need to say about that in this installment.
Oh yeah, we never fucked at work, her rule not mine.
Grandma took me in one night to meet the Night Store Manager Leo a big and I mean giant Canadian man. He gave me a job on the spot because he liked my grandma a lot. I was hired onto the third shift Building Services crew. Sounds cool right? Sounds like I’d be building walls, fixing machinery, and glazing windows right?
Yeah no, in reality I was a Janitor. It was in working for the Dutch that I fell into my first career in the Custodial Arts. I’m not even fucking around with one exception all of my relevant jobs from 1994 until the end of 2014 revolved around the cleaning up after people and being treated like a servant.
Wow twenty years… I need a second for that to register.
Okay on with the tale. I hated working third shift, I hated cleaning up after people, and I hated fucking mouth breathers who shopped at two in the morning. What did I like about working the night shift at a super store? The people I worked with were some of the most interesting I’ve ever known.
There was the Native American fella named Joe with a chip the size of Texas on his shoulders. The fat asshole named Rick who’d “Fallen and hurt his back” three years prior and was in the process of suing the company. The lawsuit was settled after ten years for less than fifteen thousand dollars. There was Jimmy, a guy my age who I’d actually gone to Junior High with and who was obsessed with cars and video games. There was Tom the ex Vietnam vet dwarf manager with gimp leg who if you believed him, killed a lot of commies back in the day.
And finally there was Mike.
What can I say about Mike… he was the single most unique human being I’ve ever known. The son of an alcoholic and a schizophrenic and pushing fifty when I first met him he captured my imagination. He was crass, perverted, lazy, suffered from PTSD even though he was only a clerk in Nam, a sober alcoholic, and in the end one of the loneliest people I’ve ever known too. When I left Meijer’s for the first time (yeah you read that right) two years and four months after I was hired Mike was the only person I actually missed.
Some really amazing things happened during my tenure working for the Dutch. There was the monster rat living in the outdoor garden center we spent weeks trying to kill or capture. There were the monthly air rifle hunts in the store for birds and the one lady who tried to call the cops on us for it. And there was the girl, not gonna name names, who I may or may not have gotten frisky with during the midnight hours.
Why did I quit?
There were three reasons. The first was most of the people I liked were gone. Tom had quit six months prior, Jim was prompted out of the store, Leo quit due to never disclosed circumstances but heard it was a pay dispute, and Karen and I were married so I wasn’t losing her. The second was the Night Store Manager. I considered Jim Walters to be the worst boss I ever had for less than a year, more on that in the next installment. The beady eyed petty little know it all made life impossible for just about everyone under his thumb. I know for a fact more than one person had to seriously fight the urge to punch him in the mouth. He and I locked horns on day one of his tenure and the tension did nothing but ratchet up.
In the end he defeated me.
I freely admit it. In December of 1996 I quit my job with no other prospects, the one and only time I ever did that in my entire life. I was twenty years old, a new husband, a new father, and living on something less than subsistence wages. Even with all of that I up and quit. Thirty eight year old Josh wants to beat the shit out the twenty year old selfish little prick.
But I did it and for four months we lived on my wife’s eight dollars an hour.
In the end I took three things with me from Meijer’s and only one of them was good. I found my wife, that’s the good one in case you needed me to point it out to you. I gained a lot of skill in the realm of commercial cleaning which pretty much railroaded me in one direction when it came to finding work. And finally I walked away feeling for the first time in my working life that I was a failure… it wouldn’t be the last time either.