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My first job was as a bagboy at the Piggly Wiggly in Raleigh, NC. I was 16 and needed money for my new hobbies: drinking and driving. The job was perfectly suited to my talents, placing a variety of different shaped objects into a paper bag and lugging them out to cars. For this, I was paid $1.25 an hour plus tips, which were generally a quarter.
I loved the people working there, with one exception: the produce manager was to this day the worst letch I have ever met. When an attractive woman was checking out, he would pretend to drop a pen so he could bend down and look up her dress. Class act. Even as a sixteen-year old with a budding interest in the subject, I found his hobby repugnant.
I witnessed the end of his avocation when the cashier motioned to a young customer to look down beside her. Caught in the act, an embarrassed, and deflated, if you know what I mean, red-faced produce clerk took up other interests, probably stamp collecting or torturing cats.
There was a Coke machine which dispensed the only Coke worthy of drinking: the 8 oz. bottles. On breaks we would put our quarters in, grab our bottles and look on the bottoms where the bottling plant was listed. The one whose Coke came from the plant farthest away would be reimbursed for the drink, my earliest foray into gambling.
I was generally considered the best bagboy the Pig had ever had, a title I was assured was intact years later when I would visit the store. But there were, as with even the greatest athletes, fumbles.
One day I was carrying groceries along with a one-gallon bottle of vinegar with a jug-handle out to a customer’s car. I slung the bottle into the bottom of the back seat and the entire bottle made it into the car, with the exception of the bottom, which hit the running board and sliced clean off. The entire gallon of vinegar was thus freed from captivity and saturated the back of her car.
Months later she would come into the store and complain that her car smelled like an Easter egg. But there is beauty to being a teenager with a low-wage, low-skilled job: the ability not to care.
Another customer was an older Italian woman who lived in an apartment above a near-by store. She always wore black, in mourning for a long lost husband from another time and place. I would bag her groceries, walk her home, up the stairs to her apartment and then perform whatever small tasks she needed: changing light bulbs and putting up the groceries I had so neatly packed. For this service she always tipped a dime.
My friend Bill Moore worked down the street at the Winn-Dixie. This was the early seventies and provincial, ie: racists, attitudes abounded. Two of Bill’s co-workers and friends were African-Americans, Harvey and Freddy. A genteel, and I use the term loosely, woman in a low voice asked Bill, who was working the produce section: “Do those darkies actually touch the food?” Without missing a beat, he yelled across the aisle: “Hey Harvey, Fred, this lady wants to know if you darkies actually touch the food?” They played it up magnificently and the little lady was so humiliated, she ran out without a word.
They laughed over the incident forever, a friendship bonded by a mutual distain for ignorance.
Hometowns change and the Piggly Wiggly was too small to compete against the larger chain groceries. Eventually it closed and a trendy cafe and gift shop has replaced it. In homage to its predecessor, which was beloved for its friendly people, minus a produce manager, it is named “the Pig.”
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