Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I Was A Teenage Criminal Part V

It may surprise many of you to hear that I have a bit of smartass in me. I was far worse in high school, mainly because I hadn’t yet learned when to shut my mouth.

Let me tell you about the Receiving area at the Caldors I worked at as a teenager. It was basically a small warehouse. With warehouse workers. There was one who really stood out. His name was Big Al.

Big Al, was, not surprisingly, quite big. He was very overweight, but would have been big even had he not been heavy. He was also homeless.

The fact that Big Al was homeless says a lot about the management at this store. It was common knowledge that Big Al and his wife lived out of their car. From what I understand they used to have a place to live, but at some point lost it. I never did know the details. Big Al, despite the fact that he was not the manager, ran the warehouse. He was so big and so surly that nobody wanted to challenge his rule. Everybody had to deal with Al, because you had to go back to Receiving to do battle with the Raccoon from Hell, at the very least. Another thing you had to go back to Receiving for was to make tickets.

As an employee at Caldors we could always count on one thing: the sale that started on Sunday. That meant that on Saturday we would have to get our yellow sale tickets printed up and go out onto the floor and put them on the merchandise. The ticket machines were located in the Receiving area, and if you were back there making your tickets you were sure to get an earful from Big Al.

Now that we’ve gotten most of the background out of the way I’ll get to the actual story. I had a couple of good friends who worked at Caldors with me, and we were always up for causing a little trouble. So one fine day I went back to Receiving with one of my friends to get some merchandise, and we found that nobody was around. We got our goods, and on the way out we had to walk by the ticket machines. Picture a light from the Heavens shining down on me as the clouds opened up. I had an idea.

The crime only took a few seconds, and though I didn’t know it at the time, the aftereffects would last several hours. I would start out as one of the suspects (duh) but end up in a surprising position, which I won’t disclose yet.

The crime: I took the fuses out of the ticket machines.

Twenty minutes later panic erupted. We heard whispers of a disaster in Receiving at first. Then it was confirmed. Both of the ticket machines were broken, and nobody had made their sale tickets yet! Managers from each department were called to a meeting with the Assistant Store Manager, then to a second meeting with the Store Manager. There was talk of sending out a team to another Caldors to make the tickets, but that got shot down for some reason (I don’t know why, it was the best solution they came up with).

My friend and I played it cool. We had hidden the fuses at the very top of a shelving unit in a box so there they wouldn’t be found. We waited a while until we had a good enough reason to head back to Receiving to witness the carnage firsthand. When we arrived we were delighted. Big Al was in an uproar. There were people all over his warehouse, including managers, and they weren’t leaving! We couldn’t stay long because our task was a short one, but we had a great time.

When we arrived back at our department we laughed about the whole thing for a while, but wisely decided to keep our involvement to ourselves for the time being. Every so often somebody would come back and spread rumors about what had happened, which made it even funnier.

In all the time I worked at Caldors I had never before cringed upon hearing my name over the PA system. I was being told to report to Receiving. I was sure I was being called to my doom. My friend’s eyes were wide as he looked at me – he was getting nervous. This is why I do most of my little jokes alone. I don’t need a weak-link partner throwing me under the bus.

I reported to Receiving and was met by both the Store Manager and the Assistant Store Manager. They said they wanted me to look at the machines to see if I could figure out what was wrong because I was a smart young man. If this doesn’t sound suspicious to you, it should. I was already a suspect.

Fortunately, I am a good actor. I looked at the machines, poked them a few times and examined the cords. I asked if they had tried plugging the machines in to another outlet. Before an answer could be given, Big Al jumped in, not wanting to be shown up by this young punk. He proclaimed that the power strip was dead.

Now here’s where I should have shut my mouth. But I was indeed the young punk that Big Al thought I was, so when I noticed the radio that was plugged in to the same power strip was playing, I had to say something.

“The power strip can’t be dead – the radio’s playing.”

“Shut up. It’s dead.”

“But the radio’s playing!” Strike Two.

“The power strips dead!” He was definitely raising his voice now.

“Sure sounds like it!” Strike Three, I was out.

Did I mention before that Big Al was big? Before I (or the managers) knew what was happening, Big Al lost it. As he bellowed “It’s dead you little bastard!” he reached out, grabbed my shirt at my chest and pulled me towards him. I remember quite clearly the popping sounds I heard as the buttons on my shirt flew off. I remember being amazed how strong he was, because he nearly pulled me off my feet one-handed. I also remember seeing his other hand balled up in a fist behind him as he wound up to punch me.

The punch never came. Both managers somehow manhandled me away from him and conspicuously put themselves between us. Gone was the cocky teenager in me, I was in shock. I was told to get back to Seasonal, and I went, quite fast.

Back in Seasonal, the crowd grew each time I told the story of what had just happened to me in Receiving. This was not the bragging of a teenage boy, this was the shell-shocked ramblings of somebody who has just come back from war. I had two buttons left on my shirt. The top one and the bottom one. I then noticed that the pocket was missing. He had somehow ripped that right off too.

In that state I had no idea of how much time had passed when I was told by my department manager to report to the Store Manager’s office. With my friend. When we got there we found that the Usual Suspects had been rounded up. There were five of us in all, all troublemakers. It had been discovered that the fuses were missing.

I don’t recall where in the order of things I was called in for my interrogation. That’s exactly what it was. The first thing I was told to do was empty my pockets. I had had some time to regain some of my composure, and this order was an insult. Did he really think I was such an amateur that I’d have the incriminating fuses on me? I emptied my pockets, and satisfied, he moved right along.

“I know you had something to do with this. If you admit it now, we won’t fire you. If we have to fire you, you’ll have trouble getting a job for the rest of your life.”

Now, as a teenager I had no other job experience, and I didn’t know that what he was saying was a bluff. I really wondered if I’d ever get a job again if I was fired. One thing my criminal past in Florida had taught me, though, was that you never buckled under the pressure. You stuck to your story and hoped that they were bluffing.

I proclaimed my innocence again, but was met with silence. More silence. And more. Silence is an effective sales technique. When met with an uncomfortable silence, many people will blurt something out just to fill it, often something they didn’t want to say. It also works well in interrogations. However, I’d seen this before and was not impressed. I said nothing, the best way to beat this game.

What came next was unbelievable to me. I was told that I was to investigate the crime and find out who had stolen the fuses. I would find myself pleasantly rewarded. As I left I saw one kid named Steve who looked like he was about to go to his death. Bah, Provincials.

After work, as all of the underage Caldors employees gathered together behind the store to drink beer (because we were cool) many stories were told about different aspects of the Great Ticket Machine Debacle. I think the attack by Big Al topped them all. And I had the shirt to prove it. There may have been some talk of how I fought him off myself, pinning him to the ground as the managers cowered. I might have implied that a sword fight occurred also. I’m just going to blame the beer.

Overall, I was thrilled at the results, but there was one problem. I couldn’t tell anybody. I suspected I was not the only one who the Store Manager attempted to recruit as a Stool Pigeon, and it was too risky to talk. To do so might put my entire job future in jeopardy. So I had to content myself with the war stories I could tell, and leave the others until now, when I’m certain that the Statute of Limitations for Ticket Machine Vandalism has expired. I’m still a smartass, though.