A Homoerotic Essay About Working In A Supermarket

In the summer of 2005, there were no hot dogs in a Super Fresh in suburban Philadelphia that had not been touched by an eighteen-year-old who really liked penises. That is to say I am gay. That is to say I was the one in charge of putting the hot dogs on the hot dog shelf.

I was paid $7.25/hr. I touched plastic wrapped around collagen casing wrapped around mechanically separated turkey as I listened to Hoobastank’s “The Reason.”

There’s a rule, in supermarkets. At least in the one I was working in. It was on a laminated poster at the bottom of a concrete staircase which led to the meat freezer. The staircase always smelled like raw meat and the steady, indubitable march of space-time.

The rule is GAT. Greet, Anticipate, Take. The idea is to become not only the customer’s purveyor of essential amino acids but his consigliere, whispering “endive” to him before he knows what endives really are. Walking to what he desires and trusting that he will follow you, you aproned queen. Nibbling his ear and whispering “it’s me, babie” as he gazes at a pack of Jennie-O Jumbo Turkey Franks.

On a Wednesday morning in July, there was a GAT huddle at the bottom of the staircase. Patricia Dooley, a Bakery Associate, had failed to anticipate a customer’s desire for Kosher Sourdough Rye. When the customer mentioned wanting to get “something for Shabbat,” Dooley flicked her wrist toward the cannoli.

The customer was actually plainclothes Senior Customer Service Manager Marjorie Prelutski, and the exchange was captured in Prelutski’s typed notes. The notes arrived at the bakery department in an envelope sealed with a “we-will-SO-fire-you-babe” kiss and Prelutski’s signature.

The huddle happened at 6:45 a.m. My boss, the head of the meat and seafood department and a former male model named Joey whose 80s-era headshot was pinned to a corkboard next to the meat grinder, stood on a stool at the bottom of the staircase. He put his fists in the air and shouted the letters G, A, and T as we shouted them back at him. He told us how to anticipate a customer’s desire based on their body language. Neck-scratching means they want to spend money. I noticed that he had very large deltoids and a high degree of symmetry in the obtuse angles of his Adam’s apple.

This made me think of how he could do the hot dogs so much faster than me. When it was near closing time and I had not yet stocked the Ball Park Franks, he’d touch my shoulder and I would step aside and he would dig his hands into the box of hot dogs and pick them up two by two, like they were baby animals that he was coddling but also urging to go out and do the best they can.

Dooley was given a yellow cake on her last day at Super Fresh. At the end of her shift, she told me — as I gripped five thick Hebrew Nationals — that she couldn’t “fucking wait to get out of this shithole.”

Then Joey came by and quizzed me on the location of various dried pulses. We role-played GAT into the night. It was twenty minutes to closing. He asked me where the navy beans were, and I told him they were at the end of aisle six, on the right. He raised his left eyebrow. I said, “Do you want me to take you there?”

Sometimes late at night, I look up at my bedroom ceiling and imagine an eternity of people GATting one another in all the aisles of all the cities and nation-states across the Earth. A woman in a produce section in Tibet who runs around in circles carrying two cantaloupes, greeting everyone and judging via their countenance if they are there for cantaloupe, and if they are, giving them that cantaloupe as fast as she possibly fucking can.

“Would you like me to take you there?”

“Yes, sir. I would like that.”

And then the slow walk to the navy beans. Passing the applesauce and the tenderloin, heart aflutter, asking myself a thousand times, “Will he want the navy beans? In my heart of hearts, I just don’t know if he will want the navy beans.” And Hoobastank’s “The Reason” is playing again, and no one seems to care. No one seems to care at all.

Fuck me by the navy beans. I will GAT you all night. I will GAT you here, in a 50,000 square foot box in a suburb at 9:40 p.m., as we wear our white aprons around our pectoral muscles because we work in a supermarket which might be the most important job of all the jobs, the giving of life-sustaining organic compounds to the people who need them. I will GAT you until we’re knee-deep in dried pulses at the end of aisle six, on the right, and both of us earn perfect scores from corporate because they see how much unending unperishable GAT-infused love we have for one another, not just for our beautiful customers who only want something to put in their mouths. I will GAT you until you’re breathless. I will GAT the world, in fact. I will GAT you to anything, or anywhere, or any any.

I’m sorry I never told you that.

I left the supermarket on a Tuesday at 3 p.m. I wrapped my hands around my last Hebrew National and left my apron hanging on a hook by the side of the hot dog shelf. TC mark

This post was originally published on The Toast.

featured image — Steven Depolo

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