During my tour of duty as a bagger at Ghetto Kroger, the store went through its fair share of baggers/cartgetters. Which, I could totally understand.
The hours were crummy. It really wasn’t that pretty to look at (the people and the store). And the pay wasn’t fantastic either.
But, it didn't bothered me. I was a happy, proud employee of Ghetto Kroger.
The hours were fine. I got a paycheck once a week, which was awesome.
Plus I was beginning to make some friends. Cute college-aged female cashier friends. Who, in turn, had parties where they would invite other cute college-aged female non-cashier friends. Which, to me and my friends, was even more important than making money.
And when the baggers would quit, they just wouldn't call in and say "I quit." More often than not, baggers would tell a manager to 'Fuck Off', then rant and rave, throw some sort of food product down the aisle. And then, finally, quit.
This one time, I was bagging groceries and this one bagger next to me, said "Fuck this shit", ripped off his Kroger smock, threw it to the ground and simply walked out of the store, mid-bag.
"Oh well," I thought. "More hours for me."
I was about four months into my bagging duties, when the store manager introduced me to a new bagger. His name was Jonas.
When I first met Jonas, my first impression was shock. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
It wasn’t his size (He was fairly Hobbit-like.)
It wasn’t his facial hair. (He had a beard.)
It wasn’t even the big mole sticking out of the side of his cheek. (Big and hairy.)
No, none of those things particularly bothered me about Jonas. In fact, upon meeting him, I thought he was a very warm, very personable type of fellow.
But, the biggest thing that shocked me about Jonas was his age. He was 50.
Upon his hiring, Jonas set the median age of baggers forward about 10 years. Maybe more.
Now I can understand retirees and older people looking for jobs at a stores such as Wal-Mart, Target and the like. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. Hey, it passes the time, it gets your joints rolling and it also puts some prescription money in your wallet.
There's not even a lot wrong with an older person working at Kroger. Nothing at all. Especially if you worked in a great part of town.
But, as I stood there shaking Jonas’ hand, I couldn’t help but wonder, "What the fuck happened?"
How does a 50-year old man, in the prime moneymaking years of his life, become a bagger? At Ghetto Kroger? In Columbus, Ohio?
My curiosiy was piqued. As the weeks passed, I began to glean some information from my co-workers about the man we came to know as Jonas.
As it turns out he had a couple jobs. One was a Kroger bagger. Another was a landlord of this crappy one-bedroom tenement house on High Street (near the Wendy’s on South Campus). And third, he was a night janitor of some sort.
In any event, a couple more weeks passed. It was Thanksgiving weekend. There was a hustle and bustle that I had not seen in some time at the store save the first of the month.
The Salvation Army guy was jingling his bells. Silent Night was blaring on the Muzak. Even the bums had a little kick in their step during the holiday season. Which begs the question, "Was there an egg nog-flavored Mad Dog 20/20 for the holidays?"
In fact, on this particular day, it was so busy that the store needed two cartgetters to work outside. Unimaginable at the time.
As luck would have it, Jonas and I were working the same shift outside. The perfect opportunity to strike up a discussion with the man who I was determined to never become.
After business finally died down, Jonas and I were hanging out on the poles…
Did I ever mention that the Ghetto Kroger had these immense concrete poles surrounding the entrance?
Oh yeah, in order to prevent cart thefts from bums and other hooligans, the Kroger management decided to put in these concrete poles, two feet apart, which prohibited carts from ever making it out to the parking lot.
When people would bring their loaded carts out of the store, it was our job to stay with the cart while the person pulled their car around and we loaded it up. Making it another plus of working at Ghetto Kroger. We never, ever had to run around and grab carts out of the parking lot. Plus, we made an occasional tip.
Anyhow, back to Jonas.
He lit up a cigarette. We were chilling out and enjoying our view of the parking light on Saturday night.
"So," I asked. "How was your Thanksgiving."
"Oh, it was nice," he said. "This year's helicopter ride was great."
I gave Jonas a queer stare. I couldn't resist.
"Oh, you were in a helicopter?"
"Oh yeah," he said as he took a drag from his cigarette. "Picked me and my wife up right here in the parking lot."
"Really?" I said. "That’s pretty interesting. I've never been in a helicopter."
"Oh, you'd love it," he said. "You can see everything for miles and miles."
After a moment of silence.
"So, where where'd you go?"
"Oh, we went to my father-in-law’s property," he said non-chalantly. "Yeah, he’s got a 300-acre spread up there in Powell."
Then he told me a fantastical story.
After being picked up by a helicopter in the Ghetto Kroger parking lot on Thanksgiving day, he and his wife were whisked away to Powell, Ohio, where they landed in a grassy field next to a choo-choo train. (Yes, he used the word choo-choo train).
They hopped on the train, they we're taken on a ride through this scenic land filled with elephants, lions and zebras.
Finally, they arrived at his father-in-law’s mansion, which Jonas said was "about 50 rooms, 35 baths, with two indoor pools and a basketball court."
That's when I thought of the popular kid's comic book Richie Rich. I pictured the young poor little rich boy, the robot maid Irona, the perfect butler Cadbury and Professor Keenbean welcoming Jonas, the Hobbit-like bagger, at the doorsteps of Rich mansion.
"After we ate dinner, those guys would go and watch football on the big-screen TV," Jonas continued. "But you know what I like to do when I go out there?"
I shook my head.
"I like to go to the tiger den and roll around with the bengal tigers."
(I don't think I'll ever hear that sentence uttered again in my entire life.)
"Bengal tigers?" I asked.
"White bengal tigers," he added.
"White bengal tigers?" I asked.
"Oh sure, he's got a pen of three white bengal tigers."
"Like Siegfried and Roy?"
"Yeah," he said. "Matter of fact, I think they used to be Siggerd and Rays."
Just a brief footnote. The thing that surprised me about this lie was that Jonas was so intense and so colorful in his story that I began to think that he actually believed all of this happened in his mind.
Because, and just for the record, I knew exactly were Jonas was on Thanksgiving Day. He was working an eight-hour shift at the Ghetto Kroger. How did I know? I checked the schedule before I left and there it was, marked in red:
Jonas 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
To be certain, I also asked the manager if any helicopters landed in the parking lot on Thanksgiving Day. His answer: "Not that I know of".
But, I didn’t call him out on his lie. What was the point? To me, it was more fun and interesting listening the lying ramblings of a 50-year old crazy bagger then freezing my ass off alone in a half-empty parking lot on Saturday night.
But, I couldn't just let Jonas off the hook.
"So, what are you doing here?"
He took another drag then exhaled. Then he pulled off his ball cap, scratched his head then looked my way and squinted.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Well," I said. "I’m curious what you’re doing here? At Kroger. When your father-in-law could probably get you a great job doing something for him."
After a couple seconds passed. He flicked his cigarette to the ground, stepped on the butt and looked me straight in the eye.
"Pride," he said.
He must have noticed my unenthused look.
"Listen, when you quit or get another job somewhere, I’ll be head bagger," he said. "Then, I’ll move up to cashier. And, in a couple years, I’ll be store manager. The skies the limit after that."
Ironically, right at that moment, the store manager came out. "Jonas, we're getting backed up in here," he yelled. "We need you to bag some groceries. Eimer you stay out here."
"Sure thing boss," Jonas yelled as he pulled off his yellow, cartgetting smock and headed back into the store. But, before entering, he turned around to face me.
"See there," he said pointing toward the store manager. "That’s why I’m not asking my father-in-law for a job. Pride."
As Jonas sauntered back into the Kroger store and began bagging groceries, the only thing that crossed my mind was:
"Wow! I’m head bagger!"
Jonas' stories were legendary to some people around the store. He would lie to anyone about anything on any given day. I wish I had some more examples. Alas, the beer and drugs have erased some of my memory.
Perhaps someone reading this post can give us another Jonas story to enjoy.
However, a couple years after I left Ghetto Kroger, one of my buddies told me that Jonas was bagging groceries during a busy Saturday morning, when this pretty sorority girl walked into his bagging lane.
As she was organizing her purse and getting ready to leave, Jonas suddenly blurted out, "I can’t help it. I just gotta give you a kiss."
He proceeded to grab her and plant a big, wet sloppy kiss on her lips. I heard he even stuck out his tongue.
(Hey, if you're going out on a limb, why not jump?)
Sadly, it was the kiss of death for old Jonas. He was immediately fired from his two-year job as head bagger.
Which leads me to wonder who's the head bagger of Ghetto Kroger right now?
Other Stories from Ghetto Kroger:
Story #1: Intro
Story #2: Magic
Story #3: Big Head
Story #4: Goldilocks