I’ve been trying something new lately, wherein I set my alarm for the crisp, early hour of 7 a.m. in the vain hopes of getting up, being productive and an overall decent human being. The kind of person Ben Franklin, the surly statesman himself, would have been proud to call an American if he had seen me up… pretty close to the crack of dawn, excited to be healthy, wealthy and wise. I’m well aware that I need all the help I can get in this endeavor, so my alarm is set to the local Cincinnati rock station, because my reasoning was that if the magic of ROCK can’t get me moving, well then maybe I should just write the whole day off as a loss and forget the whole thing.
So far, all that’s happened is that I typically wake up briefly at 7 a.m., say something along the lines of “Ha ha, NOPE,” and fall back asleep while new rock softly floats across my room, barely loud enough to cover up the sound of Ben rolling over in his opulent, penny-lined grave. I’m assuming that’s what he did with all the pennies he saved, or whatever. That’s not the point.
This morning, my radio was caught between two stations, which happens when the weather starts to change. Usually I get stuck with a country music station out of West Virginia, which aside from making absolutely no sense puts me in a foul mood for most of the day. I blame the country music twang for this phenomenon, as I believe it messes with my inner…. rhythms… or something new age that we all probably don’t really have.
This morning, vaguely, through my sleep-induced stupor I heard a commercial for Giant Eagle, coming out of an unidentified radio station lodged somewhere in the cosmos. What once was an easy way to wake up in the morning has become a demon. A radio of regrets.
Here’s a handy little note of explanation for those of you who didn’t grow up in the northeast United States: Giant Eagle is a large chain of grocery stores that can be found across Pennsylvania and New York. It’s a strange thing, actually. While I grew up with Giant Eagles, I never once saw one of the IGAs or Krogers that dot Ohio. I was aware of Food Lions from vacations to Florida, though I knew that they would never venture into the north. The United States is divided by its loyalty to mysterious food chain empires.
When I was 15 years old, my parents decided, as many of them do with their children, that I should probably go become an honest to god adult. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, and much of my day-to-day activity involved me drinking hideous amounts of caffeine and playing video games long into the night. My parents, for some reason I still can’t figure out, felt that this was unhealthy and wanted me to be a working member of society.
I tried to explain that I was not being lazy; in fact I was working on a tribute to laziness. It was a work in progress, an avant garde piece of performance art that required me to spend all summer being a complete and utter waste of space. The fact that I didn’t, and still don’t know what avant garde means is completely irrelevant. My parents responded by telling me that if I didn’t earn money, I would probably starve to death. I think I probably called them fascists, or at the very least rolled my eyes at them. I mean, I was a teenager, after all.
So off I went to Giant Eagle to put in a resume, in part because they were willing to hire 15 year olds, but mostly because I could walk there, since I lacked the ability to drive. I was hired in the cautionary role of janitor, and then after two weeks I was filtered into the regular bagging crew. This was a treatment, I later learned, that only I was given, mainly because one of the store managers, Lou, was pissed that I was hired at all.
Giant Eagle… the thing about Giant Eagle is that it was the worst job I’ve ever had. It was a privately owned franchise, which I’m guessing had something to do with how gross the place was. Entire circles of hell lay behind the giant swinging doors leading back into the stockroom, and the smell from the dairy cooler was overwhelming. Once a year, the horrible mess of smashed, rotten and broken food items would be lovingly power washed out the back door, and if you listened closely, you could hear the garbage crusher calling for your blood.
This morning, as my radio drifted in and out of rock stations, my brain latched on to the Giant Eagle commercial and commenced a full-scale flashback, like a soldier returning from combat. “You have you get up,” My brain whispered softly to me. “Someone smashed a tomato on the wall of the smokers break room. You have to clean that up or Bonnie will make you tackle the hornet’s nest again.”
Somewhere between the smashed jar of mayonnaise fermenting in the parking lot and being insulted by an old woman as the “worst bagger ever” I began to realize all my coworkers had gone insane as a defense mechanism to help them cope with their new, horrible reality. It wasn’t that Giant Eagle demanded a lot out of me. It was, in all rights, a disgusting, boring, soul draining job dealing with the most unpleasant people imaginable. But the whole place was filled with a quiet desperation, each employee barely hanging on to their sanity. Even the most masculine, towering man monster would find themselves stuffed into a jaunty apron and stuck behind an aisle to bag groceries, realizing with a mounting horror that they were singing along with the Backstreet Boys song that played on loop on the overhead speakers.
There was no chance of promotion, for you were just a number. There is nothing of note to get you through the day, because every day was painstakingly scheduled out, chiseled in stone by ancient grocery store soothsayers long before time began. It was just you, the four songs on loop, and the rotted eldrich terrors that needed to be cleaned off the top of the freezers.
I didn’t even last a year. It was the first, and only, job I ever walked out of. I went on to become a dishwasher at a local sports bar/game room restaurant, where I was literally up to my elbows in half eaten food, and even that job was somehow more pleasant than working at Giant Eagle.
Luckily, I snapped out of the flashback before I went looking for my old convenience store apron, but it bugged me. There is no Giant Eagle within 150 miles of here, and every time I mention one my coworkers look at me like I’m quoting Lord of the Rings. The store I worked at was eventually shut down and then reopened in a new location, and since I have not heard news reports of people being poisoned, I’m guessing conditions have improved. I had assumed the stray radio signals were being pushed ahead of a massive storm system, but one glance at the weather channel showed the storm coming from the wrong direction. On the drive home from work one night, the same radio station was pushed out by an unidentified signal that played two Peter Seeger songs back-to-back. This was done, according to the soft-spoken deejay, to reward me. I’m… not sure what accomplishment would merit Peter Seeger as a reward.
The more I think of it, the more I’m realizing this isn’t an isolated incident. My radio is screwing with me. There have been some mornings where I have woken up to random screaming coming across the airwaves, and some when my radio has been tuned diligently to religious propaganda. It’s never one of those “Jesus loves you” sermons, either. It’s usually either fire and brimstone or a solid 20 minutes of someone just straight up reading Deuteronomy in a sing-song kind of voice. One morning I got Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher, and another was a soul crushing song about how no one loves country guys. Hell, I even woke up to a well-executed Rick Roll, and despite Mr. Astley’s promise that he is “never gonna give me up” I really wish he would.
Every now and then I’ll get a string of songs, which though a heavy layer of static, love to inform me that I am actually fucking everything up, and should stop it. It reminds me of my regrets and my failures, keeping me off guard and off balanced, and striking just as I wake up, when I am most vulnerable.
There’s no rhyme or reason to when these moments happen. My radio has become an obtuse oracle, speaking in riddles, reminding me of things best left forgotten and warning me to stop doing something.
From now on I’m just going to sleep until noon.