My parents celebrated my fifteenth birthday by prodding
me into applying for a job at a dumpy discount grocery
store along Routes 11&15, just south of the town of
Selinsgrove. My neighbor Patricia, who worked there on
the weekends, put the idea into their heads while I was
playing cards with her younger sister, Selma. My
parents figured I could offset my constant requests for
extra spending money by pulling my weight as a bagboy
or stocking the store shelves. The following Saturday,
Mom happily waited in the car as I went inside to apply.
After making me wait for fifteen minutes, the owner
finally approached me. He walked with his neck and
head hunched slightly as if attempting to maneuver down
a low mineshaft. Sizing me up, the cantankerous owner
asked me how much I could carry even before I had
properly introduced myself. Though it was painfully
apparent that I had the defined muscle tone of a wooden
shovel handle, I decided to lie.
“Fifty pounds,” I claimed while puffing out my sleek chest
in the hopes of appearing larger.
“Fifty? Doubtful. Ya look like ya could lift barely twelve,”
he commented dismissively. “How old are ya?”
“Can’t drive here then.”
“Well, my mom will drop me off. I live a couple of houses
down from Patricia,” I added, satisfied with the well-timed
“Can’t run the meat slicer, neither.”
“I could learn,” I offered, trying to appear eager in order to
appeal to his rather severe work ethic.
“What? Ya need ta be eighteen ta run the meat slicer.
State law!” he barked, annoyed at my blatant stupidity.
“Ya could lose a hand! Bleed all over my equipment, ya
would! Would have a bloody stump the rest of your life.
Worse still, I could be fined! Certainly don’t need that!
Ya think I need that?”
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled. There just seemed to be no way
of easily appeasing the man.
“Right. Suppose ya can sweep up. You like sweepin’?”
While I was pretty sure that no one liked sweeping, I told
him that I had swept out our two-car garage on
numerous occasions and was quite efficient at it.
“Garage? This look like a garage to ya?”
I, of course, knew he wanted me to take a moment to
glance around at the store, maybe even offer a couple of
polite comments on the overall cleanliness of the
buckled ivory linoleum before realizing that there were
neither cars nor mechanics within my sight.
“No,” I replied, forcing myself to maintain eye contact
with the argumentative old crackpot.
“Right. This is a grocery store. Needs ta be cleaner than
a garage. People buy food here.”
“Right,” I sweetly concurred. I remained stupidly
optimistic that there might still be a chance to cultivate
some semblance of a relationship during the interview.
“I need someone who can stock the shelves, clean the
windows, and sweep up. I also need someone ta help
take out the moldy meats from the display case but not
the cheeses. Ya hear me? Not the cheeses. They don’t
need ta be thrown out—we’ll just trim off the moldy
parts. Good as new.”
“When could ya work, then?”
“Saturdays and Sundays mostly. Though I could
probably work some evenings too if I get my homework
“Sundays?” he scoffed.
“For Christ’s sake! The store ain’t open Sundays.
Sunday’s the Lord’s day. Ya can’t work on
Sundays—it’s in the Bible. And football’s on.”
“Oh, yeah… the Lord’s day. Right. Sorry,” I cautiously
I hated myself for groveling before such a chafed
hemorrhoid of a man. I briefly imagined him being the
welcoming committee at the gates of Heaven wearing a
crisp pair of white overalls and a glowing Ford cap. His
loathsome disposition would certainly confuse many
good souls, causing some to perhaps reconsider their
fate, opting instead for a long plummet off the nearest
cloud. I, in particular, would rather risk my eternity
somewhere in the spacious suburbs of purgatory.
“Uh-huh. Now, who’s your preacher?”
“… … …eh?”
The silence was excruciating. My forehead wrinkled into
a sloppy array of deeply furrowed lines resembling the
churning ripples of ocean waves. My stunned expression
was compounded by the fact that he had rendered me
momentarily speechless with his question. Surprisingly,
the feeling was not dissimilar to being sucker-punched in
the testicles by a wayward toddler.
My eyes narrowed as I scrambled to muster an
“I asked ‘bout your preacher. His name? Ya do know his
A scant four minutes into the interview and this
unreasonably gruff curmudgeon completely blind-sided
me with this line of inquiry—as if that was an appropriate
or relevant question to pose to a teenager in a part-time
Breaking through my bewilderment, I choked out the
name, “Timothy. Buh… Brother Timothy.”
“Timothy? An’ what’s his last name?”
“Shit,” I hissed under a protracted exhale. My gaze
pitched downward into my lap as if the elusive name was
going to suddenly appear within the mustard-yellow
denim stitching of my Wranglers. I know I had heard my
parents mention it a few times in the past year. We even
went trick-or-treating at Timothy’s house last Halloween.
So why can’t I remember?
My voice cracked as I desperately stammered for the
name. “Logginbush? Lockenbrach? Leven… something?”
After my brazen, scorching failure, I confessed that I did
not know. Instead of understanding my anguish or
showing me a shred of compassion, he balked at me,
pondering aloud my obvious stupidity the way a wine
tester might convey the robust merits of a vintage merlot.
“How can ya not know your pastor’s name? Everyone
sure as shit knows his pastor’s name. What’s wrong
Just as his scrutiny showed no signs of easing, it
occurred to me that his question had absolutely no
bearing on my job qualifications. While I managed to
remain calm up to this point, I certainly was not going to
allow this talking rectum to belittle me anymore,
especially because I felt I had been unfairly expected to
justify my very existence since my arrival.
“I don’t know his name because we’re supposed to call
him ‘Brother Timothy.’ All the other Sunday school kids
call him ‘Brother Timothy.’ Even my dad calls him
‘Brother Timothy.’ My pastor’s name is Brother Timothy!”
The owner’s right eyebrow rose slightly as he stared
down at me. It was mutually understood that no further
discussion was required. While the possibility existed
that this entire experience was some sort of test which
allowed him to judge a potential employee’s personality
and overall level of submissiveness, I rejected that theory
figuring that the real test was simply not allowing the
man’s contemptible disposition to hamper my good
nature. For that, I failed. Completely.
As I exited the store, I wondered how Patricia got the
job. While, admittedly, she might have been more
forgiving than I had been, I instead chalked her
employment up to the fact that she was young, petite,
and had nice boobs.
When I climbed back into the car, I shamefully broke the
news to Mom. Thinking I had somehow sabotaged the
interview, she was more than a little upset with me. I
knew I couldn’t allay her disappointment, so I didn’t
bother telling her about the intolerable antics of the
hateful old bastard.