1970: A Different Kind of Wax Job

It’s kind of creepy the way I keep hearing my dad’s voice. It’s like an episode from The Night Gallery: I’ll be walking along minding my own business when I heard the spectral voice of my long-dead father:

“I can’t believe people will pay that much for a Hershey Bar!”

 Oh, did I mention that this always happens when I am standing in front of the candy rack in the check-out aisle at the grocery store – and that my dad’s comments are coming from my mouth? I am just as bewildered at a Hershey Bar selling for more than fifty cents as Dad was at one that sold for more than a nickel. Inflation is a constant part of life, with the only variable being the relative amounts we’re complaining about.

…but I do remember when $20.00 was enough money to keep a teen-aged boy in comics, records and the occasional date over a two week period – which was very convenient because that’s what I made with my part-time job in the fall of 1970. Every two weeks Donny (now just “Don”) and I would sweep, mop and wax the floors to the Big K supermarket for twenty bucks.

I’d worked at Big K as a bagboy/stocker two year earlier, but Don was currently employed there part time and I imagine that combined experience at the store gave the owner Kearlee confidence to let us work unsupervised every other Sunday evening. I’d show up at 6:00 PM (Don would already be there having just finished his regular shift) and we went to work just as soon as the regular crew locked up and left. I was surprised at that trust when I started the job and to be honest at first we both periodically checked the front door expecting to see Kearlee or his mother Madge peering through the glass to check on us.

…but again, they trusted us to do a good job – and we did our best to do so. We’d start by lifting all the separate bins, boxes and racks up on top of various counter-tops and platforms scattered around the store. Once the floor was cleared we’d sweep then mop the place after which we’d take a short break and have a snack while the floors dried. Part of the compensation package had been the consumption of one (1) candy bar and one (1) can of soda but as the weeks went by we began to interpret that particular term of our oral contract. I don’t think I would have ever tried YooHoo chocolate beverage or those tiny pickled ears of corn had I not grown tired of all that Seven-Up and Snickers I knocked down while waiting for those floors to dry

As it took between fifteen and twenty minutes for the floor to dry we each had to pick a suitable perch to spend that interval; Don would sit on the check-out counter listening to football scores on the radio, but my favorite spot was over by the periodicals where I would look through the comics and paperbacks. I would also take the opportunity to educate myself on current trends in men’s fashion, European automotive trends and sophisticated humor by “reading just the articles” in one particular large glossy magazine, the one with the cover we’d scan for

  • a hidden bunny logo
  • the number of stars in the “P”

Then it was time to wax – and if you’re ever looking for a good forearm workout I would suggest waxing a floor. It’s hard enough putting the wax down (a process more like scrubbing than mopping) but running a buffer entailed more wishing than actually controlling. I’ve had more luck getting another man’s dog to fetch for me than I have getting a power buffer to go where I want it to go. There’s a definite art to running a buffer; if you conscientiously tilt the handle up and down while varying speed you can use the circular motion of the brush to move the device either left or right with a minimum of effort.

…at least that’s what the book says, because I never mastered that particular art. Along the baseboards of each aisle you could find bump and scuff marks left as the buffer repeatedly outsmarted me and slammed left and right much harder than desired.  I always made sure I had an applicator bottle of liquid black shoe polish handy, so I could conceal the worst skids.

Waiting after the wax application took even longer than the post-mopping delay – in fact we spent more time on the job waiting than we did actually working. Unfortunately, the old proverb about “idle hands” and “mischief” proved to be all too true. I don’t know if it was fumes from the wax or just being awake too late at night – that second waiting period was when we were most likely to get into trouble.

Every week we’d try to think up of something new, but the post-wax follies usually fell into one of three categories:

  1. Midnight tag: turning all the lights out then trying to get the drop on each other while sneaking up and down the aisles
  2. Pranks calls: We’d dial the 262 Soldotna prefix then dial the second of four numbers at random. Even though jokes were pretty tame (do you have Prince Albert in a can?) it was still a safer activity back in those pre-caller ID times.
  3. Racing: Getting the shopping carts rolling down the aisles as fast as possible, sometimes while standing/leaning like a dog musher over the handrail but often sitting in the basket itself using a broom to push off.

Category 3 almost proved to be our undoing – by early October racing each other in the carts had gotten kind of stale, so in the spirit of all teen-age boys everywhere we went looking for something larger and faster, which in our case was the dolly used to move cases of canned goods  around the store, It was a thick platform mounted on heavy-duty solid rubber wheels with an upright fixed handle at one end. It measured about six feet long by three feet wide…and it was heavy. Between the weight of the dolly and the ball-bearing wheel mounts it moved very easily; if you pushed it with a running start and hopped on you could also get it going pretty fast.

It had been a particularly long night and by the time we were done it was after midnight when we decided to conduct time-trials with the dolly. Don made the first run and was miffed when I beat his time by several seconds, so we decided on a second heat. Again Don went first and made good time but evidently he was not going to leave anything to chance: I started my second run in good order and was looking to beat Don’s time again when he yelled “MADGE IS AT THE DOOR!” and without a second’s hesitation I rolled over the right side of the cart, knocking over a stack of canned goods while the cart careened to the left into a row of shopping carts, knocking them over.

A bit of explanation is in order: Madge was the owner’s mother and part-owner of the store. To say that she was stern and demanding was an understatement; she is the only person ever to boo Captain Bligh in the movie Mutiny on the Bounty, not for being the villain but for not being strict enough with the crew in the first place. She was an iron lady and kind of scary – which is what Don was counting on when he spuriously called out her name, knowing that whatever reaction I had would be strong enough to ruin my chances for beating his time with the dolly.

He hadn’t planned on quite as strong a reaction and now we had a mess on our hands – in addition to stacking the cans back up and pushing the carts back into line we had big black skids from the dolly’s wheels to remove and sticky syrup to clean up from a broken jar we hadn’t noticed at first. We did our best at cleaning the mess up, but it was extremely late, and we were both tuckered out. When we finished putting the cleaning equipment away and locked up we were both very uneasy…and wondering what jobs we could find when we inevitably got fired over this escapade.

Monday was Don’s regular day off so when I showed up at the store after football practice he was just as much in the dark as I was regarding Kearlee’s mood. We shuffled up to the checkout counter where he was working and mumbled something about the floors while doing our best to avoid eye-contact. Kearlee opened the register with a >DING<, handed us each a twenty-dollar bill and said, “Hang around a minute – I want to talk to you two about the floors.”

We stepped over to the side, alone with our thoughts for what turned out to be a very brief moment when Kearlee stepped over as well and started to speak

“I noticed something different about the floors when I came in this morning”

(Communal inward groan).

“Yep – I don’t think I’ve ever seen you two fellers do a better job on these floors. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do a better job for that matter. Good job the two of you!”

It was at that moment that I learned it was actually possible to get a Charlie horse in your face. I had been so prepared for a verbal blast that think I pulled a cheek muscle changing expressions so quickly. We nodded thanks and quickly left the store, rolling our eyes and mouthing comments to each other, not daring to actually speak for fear of laughing hysterically.

The guardian angel that watched over us that night continued to do so until December when the store closed and moved to a newer and larger location a mile or two down the Spur highway. Unfortunately, my job didn’t move with the store; The change in layout and size required the use of a waxing machine and Kearlee decided to introduce one of his  sons to the business by taking care of the floors. I was OK with that – I would soon be working construction and making a lot more money, but I was always thankful the mopping & waxing job came about when it did. It  kept me in records and dates for most of my senior year – and provided one of the best laughs in my life.



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