Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Time With Che

NOTE: This is a work of fiction: I have never actually worked in a supermarket.*
Working nights at a 24-hour grocery/superstore is a great way to experience a broad range of humanity. There are the midnight stoners with their ungodly bouts of the munchies. There are the drunks who come in looking for booze because all the bars have closed. There are travelers who are having car trouble, or maybe just need some place to freshen up. There are the old veterans and middle-aged ladies in their nightgowns and slippers who like to shop when there are no crowds. There are also bored teens with nothing better to do - especially on Friday & Saturday nights.

One Saturday night/early Sunday morning, we were cleaning up the shelves in the book department when a hausfrau in a lime-green muu-muu approached us.

"My son wants that new book about some wizard or something ... I dunno. Whole thing smacks of Satanism to me. Is that book safe? Or should I get him a Batman comic, or something?"

I started to respond, "Well ma'am, we don't carry comic books - most grocery stores don't anymore. As far as the book goes, I doubt there's any real danger of-"

That's when Che rose to his feet and silenced me with a wave of his hand. He stood there with that middle-distance-looking stare of his, like he was posing for a heroic movie poster or something, and said, "I am not Christ or a philanthropist, old lady, I am all the contrary of a Christ ... I fight for the things I believe in, with all the weapons at my disposal and try to leave the other man dead so that I don't get nailed to a cross or any other place."

The woman just walked away.

Then there was that time when we were both on break - we were eating a late dinner, and out of the blue Terri (a lovely girl on whom I had a crush at the time, and was planning to ask out later that night) rushed into the break-room in a huff.

"If that creep Frank hits on me one more time, I swear, I'm going to file a lawsuit!"

Frank was the late-shift manager. He was an old married guy, but he had a reputation for hitting on the ladies who worked register. As he was also in charge of hiring them, he made sure they were all attractive.

I walked over to Terri, gave a her pat on the back and said, "I wouldn't blame you if you did. That guy's a total creep. You know, if-"

Then Che interjected: "Along the way, I had the opportunity to pass through the dominions of the United Fruit, convincing me once again of just how terrible these capitalist octopuses are. I have sworn before a picture of the old and mourned comrade Stalin that I won't rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated."

Terri and I just looked at him for a minute.

"OK, Che," I said. "Thanks for that."

Turning back to Terri, I said, "You know, I bet I could get Joe to give up some security tapes as proof of what Frank's been doing. You're not the first to complain, you know. In fact-"

And there was Che, again. He had climbed up on one of the break-room tables. He raised a fist, which knocked one of the drop-ceiling tiles out.

"If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine."

"Huh. You know, Che, you actually sorta made sense that time."

Poor Terri was lost and confused. She leaned on my chest while I patted her back. This was working out better than I'd hoped!

"It's OK, Terri. You wanna grab a cup of coffee with me after work? I bet we can figure out a way to get that guy good."

"Calica keeps cursing the filth and, whenever he treads on one of the innumerable turds lining the streets, he looks at his dirty shoes instead of at the sky or a cathedral outlined in space. He does not smell the intangible and evocative matter of which Cuzco is made, but only the odor of stew and excrement. It's a question of temperament"

Terri pulled away from me, disgusted by Che's inappropriate description.

"You know what?" Terri slowly backed towards the door. "It's OK. I'm going to talk to my mom in the morning. Thanks."

And she left.

"Not cool, Che!" I whirled on him. "You know I like Terri! What the hell was all that talk of poop in the streets? Who's Calica, anyway? And what the hell's wrong with you, man?"

He jumped down off the table, put an arm around my shoulders, and said, "The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall."

He gave me a hug and kissed me on both cheeks. I followed him, light-headed and confused, as he walked through the stockroom and out the back door. He hopped on his motorcycle, and winked at me as he kick-started it.

"If they attack, we shall fight to the end. If the rockets had remained, we would have used them all and directed them against the very heart of the United States, including New York, in our defense against aggression. But we haven’t got them, so we shall fight with what we’ve got."

"Umm ... yeah," I replied. I gave him a small wave. "See you, er ... Comrade?"

He drove off down the alleyway behind Beacon Street, and that was the last we ever saw of him.

*Also, Che Guevara is dead.