1/10/2008

Osco Memoirs, Part 4

Don't forget to scroll down for the previous installments of Memoirs of an Osco Clerk!

The Liquor Department


In the twilight of my Osco career I worked at a downtown location, in an "economically diverse" area. It had a dreadful clientele. Many lived in squalor. And of course, many were alcoholics who made daily visits to our liquor department. God help you if their brand of bottom-shelf liquor was out of stock. This one cantankerous, Bojangles-looking-mutherfucker, one of the regulars, insisted that I produce a "fifth" of Sunnybrook Whiskey when he couldn't find any on the shelf. We had sold out, and there was no Sunnybrook in the warehouse. Still, he demanded a fifth of Sunnybrook. I didn't know what the fuck a "fifth" was. I was 17 years old, and not an alcoholic. The only "fifth" I knew of was the disco smash-hit, A Fifth of Beethoven. Anyway, this guy gives me the stink-eye and a rash of shit because I can't sell him his favorite hooch. The whole time, I'm thinking to myself, what the hell difference does it make which hooch you blitz yourself out of consciousness with tonight? Why are you giving me grief? I'm a 17-year-old high school student who still has a chance at happiness and a meaningful life. Go grab a bottle of Ten High and pass out in a dumpster, you piece of garbage.

Also, the alcoholic regulars knew a little bit about everything. They'd engage you in conversation because they knew you were trapped on duty and couldn't run away. They'd ensnare you in a one-sided conversation and inform you on some facet of life. It's amazing how much somebody panhandling for beer money knows about life and the human condition. This one guy counseled me how I might earn better grades in college! Really? Should the four 40-oz. malt liquors you buy every other day part of my study regimen? How about you and I knock back a couple 40s of Mickey's Big Mouth liquor and kick out a 10-pager on the economic ramifications of post-Civil War Reconstruction?

Politics was often the subject of their soliloquies. These dirtbags loved talking politics. They couldn't keep a roof over their heads, but they were competent to manage a 10.2 trillion dollar national economy. That's a what a nightly fifth of Sunnybrook will do to your brain. Jeez! I'm still so bitter, even 15 years later!

Mood-Elevator Music

During my first few years at Osco the store piped elevator music through the PA system. But eventually they made the transition to contemporary pop music (Phil Collins, Barry Manilow, pre-disco Bee Gees, 50s and 60s hits, anything lacking pizazz and the potential to offend). This change afforded me another opportunity to mock my employer. I took to injecting my own dirty lyrics into easy listening hits from the 70s and 80s. I was, after all, a high school kid. If you're going to force me to listen to Phil Collins, I'm going to spice up his songs with a few educated F-bombs and crude innuendos. I'll look over my shoulder for customers before I belt out an X-rated Barry Manilow tune, but if a customer is in a neighboring aisle, oh damn well.

Oh Mandy, you came and you gave me a blow-job. Then I sent you away. Oh, Mandy. You kissed it and started the spooging. Your cab fare's on the dresser...

Speaking of dirty lyrics, some of you may remember the Osco jingle: "...at Osco, you can count on people who care." YouTube has a 30-second video clip featuring the melody at the end. I made my own version and sung it often: at Osco, you can count on people who SWEAR..." and then I'd swear, something in a "God Dammit." Why the gratuitous swearing? Because, fuck Osco. That's why.

The Black Hole called Osco

I wondered about many of the employees with whom I worked. Some of them were high school and college kids who needed a part-time gig, and who didn't want to flip burgers. I understood them. But then there were adults, people as old as my parents, who worked there. What the fuck are you doing here?, I thought. Using my Jedi-interrogation technique, renowned for its subtlety, I'd elicit from the adult clerks the cataclysmic sequence of events that led them to this lowly station in life. Most explained that they had other plans, but that as the years whizzed by, their plans didn't materialize. And Osco was always there to soften the landing. I observed that Osco exacted tremendous gravity. I met many who couldn't escape the retailer's tractor beam, like when the Millennium Falcon got sucked back to the Star Destroyer. Nowadays, poor Han Solo's been working the liquor department going on 14 years, making all of 7 bucks an hour. It was a telltale sign that this Jedi make the Kessel Run to college at light speed, lest I fall in the hands of the Death Star, too. Alright, enough Star Wars trivia. The point is, people who planned on making Osco a part-time gig in their youths wound up giving it their lives.

Fundamental Values Conflict

Here's the fundamental staffing model problem at Osco. There's an inherent values conflict. You have adult, middle-aged people who've hitched their anchors to a drug store franchise. For them, this is it. Fuck college, vocational training or the rich relative who didn't remember them in the will. These people aim to climb the corporate ladder at Osco. They've resigned to the fact that Osco is their future after several failures to launch at college, self-employment, etc. They've read their inspirational paperback management books from the Borders' business section. Now they're motivated. They've written their goals on 3x5 inch notebook cards. They've looked in the mirror and affirmed, "I will make a vice-president position within 5 years," or similar hogwash. And they've convinced themselves they can do it with effective goal-setting and a lot of hard work. Go team!

Here's the problem. Their goals depend on a bunch of I-don't-give-a-shit high school and college kids who are hanging out at Osco for beer and gas money. Condemned to minimum wage, they aim to do as little as possible. Thankfully, I didn't stick around long enough to confirm it, but I theorize that a good working definition of hell is when your career success depends on motivating a bunch of teen-agers to give a damn about the retail business.

35 comments:

Hammer said...

The only time you'll hear the term "fifth" is from alcoholics that have managed to hold on to 30+ years of drinking hard liquor.

Personally I like Mickeys, it's very tasty for a malt beverage as opposed to the other types of 40's which taste like they dripped out of a hookers butt.

Little Wing said...

I am laughing so hard I hurt!
Your description and thoughts of the alcoholics are dead on!!!!!!
This one was so funny that when I go to bed I will still be giggling about How about you and I knock back a couple 40s of Mickey's Big Mouth liquor and kick out a 10-pager on the economic ramifications of post-Civil War Reconstruction?
YOU ROCK!!!!

Lyvvie said...

Your pharmacies sell booze?! Welcome To Arizona!!

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Hell, I'm still not sure what a fifth is. I go into the liquor store and say "I need a bottle or Captain Morgans please." and then make him point at all the bottles until he gets to the size I want.

"No...not that one....no...no....not that one. Two bottles over...no...no..not....yes! That's the one!"

tornwordo said...

I remember after graduating college attending the job fair. Osco was recruiting assistant managers. Thank God I didn't apply.

katie said...

haha! oh, LLB, classic stuff yet again. gotta love a good alcoholic, no? they're the best, man. and your version of Mandy is quite impressive. Barry ain't got shit on you.

Have a great weekend!

CarmenSinCity said...

I've never worked in a liquor store, but I can imagine that you have so many funny stories. It had to be really funny to people watch.

Tequila Mockingbird said...

HAAAAA "bojangles looking motherfucker" i will go ahead and admit i will be incorporating that into my every day conversation.

and fuck, if people panhandling for beer money doesnt know about life and the human condition, who the hell does?!

Jeannie said...

As much as we never had prohibition, we are still stuck buying our booze from a government liquor store. Keeps those prices high. We call a fifth a mickey.

Oh great One said...

CCB would love your version of Mandy. He still inserts his own dirty lyrics into songs. It doesn't matter what genre they are from!

christopherc said...

We usually eat at BoJangles for Sunday dinner... the model for a BoJangles-looking muthafuka works at the one here in Boone; glad I never worked at an OSCO; it sounds as though they suck---in a bad way.

-c

Preposterous Ponderings said...

Too damn bad you didn't film all these interesting peeps.

Ari said...

I could still name the names of every 40+ something supervisor that was stuck with too few teenagers on staff every time I was late or called in (which was more often than absolutely necessary, I assure you).

I had the same superiority complex, so whenever I was reprimanded or otherwise fussed at, I reminded myself that even though this sucked, I was moving out of it. They weren't.

The WORST for me is going back 7-10 years later to Target (in my case) and seeing the SAME PEOPLE working there. I never know whether to say hi (while pretending not to be thinking, "Oh my GOD. YOU'RE still here??") or just keep walking, pretend like I don't know them, and seal my fate as a holier-than-retail asshole.

WhosTheBoss said...

I heart drunks.
I guess I'm living in hell or at least I chose it because it is my life's career choice, to motivate the unmotivated.
Good laughs. Thanks. I might have to use you as a consultant later. Would that be ok?

mckay said...

you've been a busy lil blogger, haven't you?

thank god i never worked at an osco..i don't think they have them in CA...i hated working retail.

happy new year,
mck.

R.E.H. said...

You made me think of some people I know [of]... back up about fifteen years ago when I was working at McDondald's... well - lets just say that I know of two people I used to work with who are still flipping burgers.

I say "hi" to one of them, whenever I go through the Drive-Thru in my fancy Chrysler... they don't need to know I can barely afford to keep the thing though ;)

The Wisdom of Wislon said...

Realy funny. I love the last line. God help anyone who has to motivate snotty teens!! that's one reason why I Haven't gone into teaching.

Janet said...

It's been awhile since I've been here. How do I know? I no longer make the cut:(

Amandarama said...

God, I loathed working low end retail. My first gig out of college was at a Payless Shoe Source. Gak.

Now, high end retail. That was more tolerable. Mostly because of the product - jewelry, and the surroundings - Harrods.

Plus I knew it was only going to be temporary because my work visa had an expiration date.

ZenDenizen said...

I am completely digging this OSCO series! Please don't let this be the last one. I can't wait to write my own tales of my minimum wage experience but of course it won't be as funny as your's. Although rather than parodying lite FM lyrics, I just switched our radio station to hardcore rap when my manager was out. It was all good until I put him on hold one day and got busted!

Little Wing said...

I agree with Zen, give us more of the Osco experience!
So funny!!!!!!!
So are some of the comments!

Loving Annie said...

A fifth ? I can understannd wanting 5 ounces of beluga caviar, but rotgut ? No, thank you.

Alcohol destroys livers and lives. No redeeming value that I can see for 90% of the population that doesn't know or care when enough is enough.

If you were writing the Osco Annual report, they'd have to close their doors.

My Dad used to say 'there but for the grac e of God, go I'. sounded stupid at the time, but now it makes a lot of common sense. Plus he worked hard and made effective choices. Sounds easy, doesn't it....

Samantha_K said...

In the future, should you run across any alcoholics needing some booze, might I make a suggestion?

It's a little piece-o-heaven I like to call Gem Clear. It is satan in a bottle. Two sips will have you passed out or dead, depending on your weight. If you are the size of a fully grown African elephant, you might survive.

It smells like rubbing alcohol.

Because I secretly think it is.

Please don't ask me how I even know this stuff exists.

Bella said...

You know, I've never been in an Osco or even heard of it for that matter, but after reading your memoir on it, I think I'd like to see one!

:) Bella

Miss Cellania said...

I hate to break the news to you, but they didn't "switch" from elevator music to contemporary pop muisc. You just got older. "Contemporary pop music" IS elevator music!

NWJR said...

Comment moderation ate my post.

:-(

Superstar said...

I am not an alkie, but I refer to the large bottle as the 5th...Or maybe it's that I will drink my brain silly then need to PLEAD the 5th????

@17 you could sell booze??? I couldn't even take booze to a table, when I waited tables as a teenager...WWWWWWOOOOOWWWWWW!!! AZ is sooooo progressive...

Memphis Steve said...

So what should I do with these 3x5 cards with my goals on them? Dammit.

The Thinking Man's Babe said...

It would be wonderful if you could upload an MP3 of your version of Mandy. And, yes, that is an excellent working definition of hell...you are an absolute stitch. You should parlay this into a book; observations on working life or some such...Great stuff. Can't wait to read the rest!!!

Susan as herself said...

I think the same problem of attempting to motivate youths with a devil-may-care attitude applies to the restaurant industry. I can only speak for myself when I say that for 13 years of waitressing (and then bartending) I had no respect for any of my middle-aged loser managers. We mocked them openly even. I feel sort of sorry for them now, but back in the day i couldn't have cared less. In my mind they were pure evil and the epitome of "the man."

david mcmahon said...

I like the sound of your Jedi-interrogation technique!!

Jahooni said...

Come on LBB can we please read something besides this? Osco. Rubbish.

upset waitress said...

Hey thanks for pooping by my blog today. I linked you back :) I tried to read the Osco post but it was too long and I have a very short attention span. Oh and I like lots of pics to keep my interest :) I'm needy like that.

Hey jahooni :)

Carolyn said...

Love the Osco stories. When I was in college I worked at a mom and pop grocery store. It sucked and they didn't pay a penny over minimum wage but that was okay because we all stole a LOT of booze and cigarettes...just to even things out, you know.
However, the alcoholics were always coming in with their food stamps and buying a pack of gum so they could get the change back in cash...after buying 5 packs of gum in separate transactions they would have enough money for a bottle of Colt 45. Then they would walk out drinking and leave all the gum on the counter. I think all the drunks in town bought the same 5 packs of gum the entire time I worked there.

Dave Morris said...

Did I tell you that I worked at Wal Mart for a while when I was 19? I was placed on probation once for ridiculing a guy when he asked where the 8 tracks were. I sold everything from camcorders to nose-hair clippers. The clippers were the easy sale because you could hear a potential customer's nose-whistle from two aisles down.

Anyway, about Osco. Today's version in my area is Walgreens, and it was a heartbreaking day when they stopped selling liquor. So convenient it was to pick up your prescription for mood-management medication along with a 16 year old highland single malt chaser.