My First Job

My first job was at Alpha Beta
grocery on the big slow turn
of State Street in Santa Barbara
away from the tourist area
and the beach and historical
center where the courthouse
presided near the tallest
building in that low-profile
town, the old Granada Theater
and away from the Old Mission
just north where the hills rise
and away to the middle-class
west to San Roque a stretched-out
strand of motels and eateries
and chiropractors and lemon-lime
trees everywhere which made
me wonder who picked and ate
all those bright citrus
fruits because none
were ever on the ground.

At that bend in the main highway
through boutiques and history
through tradition and change
at the juncture where shade
met sun where leisure slipped
into commerce was one of the first
huge supermarkets unfrilled
and a bit cheaper with a huge
parking lot flat and big
as a neighborhood afternoons
and saturdays as busy as
the art shows along east beach
as artless as a garage sale or
a war protest.

My buddy David and I were
baggers mastering the finesse
and onslaught of cans and meat
of cottage cheese and rice-a-roni
two-handing a week’s worth
of meals and bathroom goods
before there were plastic bags
into paper pulled out of racks
and popped open in the air
with a flair colored by grins
and small-talk with customers
before they paid and we took
their carts precisely packed out
to their car sending them home
happy they were done.

The faceless bosses liked us
and their nameless supervisors
nimbly gave us opportunities
to grow into the eye-opening
assignments of working the dock
unloading trucks and mopping
the messes in the back room and
stocking and building aisle-end
displays of whatever deals were
being pushed by the corporate office
that week.

If you were good and promising
you could become a cashier punching
the noisy buttons on the registers
with the right hand while
the left grabbed and price-read
and shoved each item down
the slant at the poor boys
who took your bagger jobs.
There was a union in those days
and the going wage was something
like $2.60 per hour to start
but you had to be willing
to work all the hours the bosses
economically gave you, it was
back-breaking and meaningless
and good for a first job
I guess.

As the Vietnam war grew
from a skirmish and advising
the gooks in the south to kill
the gooks in the north, to death
coming home in body bags
and the evening news, I stood
silent during lunch hours at the
public corner at the library near
the high school with accountants
and lawyers in suits and long-hairs
so that people driving by could
see a crowd with signs as they
drove on to the Alpha Beta
for frozen fruit pies on special.

That was fifty years ago
I’ve had other jobs since
I worked at a one-man market
on Anacapa and Figueroa then
at the Deli on De La Vina where
the owner ragged on the hippies
who were disrespectful he said
of the flag. I got into produce
putting myself through college
trimming lettuce and culling
anything with brown spots
and stacking lemons and limes
so they wouldn’t fall on the floor
and making signs saying ‘SPECIAL’
with a price and a border
in red, white and blue.

Now I am too old to work
says the economy although
I could and would like to, but
what people have learned and know
seems to get culled out
not appreciated or paid for.
There is another war oh wait
more than one dragging on.
No draft so there’s no protest
people shopping like no tomorrow
is going to hit them in the chest
like yesterday was just a dream
no lessons and no sorrow
no hopes of seeming more than
being mentioned only in passing.
If we have jobs we can’t complain
and if we don’t we don’t count.

I look backward then forward.
On this side grand architecture
along with a sense of identity
on the edge of the endless ocean
where walking was like chastity
where integrity took and paid nothing.
On the other side new billboards
all the way through the suburban
sunny blandness of Goleta
pull in park pull out your card
more shoes than you can use
wine stores cheap as pop
groceries you don’t cook
lemons from Chile
and limes from Australia
where where you are has no were
and what was is offshore.
There’s a bend in my road
between the old and the new
still can’t navigate or get
around it.

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About mrsorenson

all over the place
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