Monday, February 07, 2005

The graveyard shift

In January I worked at the Co-op Bookstore, where all the students get their textbooks. I worked five nights a week, 11 PM to 7 AM. Yeah. Circadian rhythm was off a bit, but the pay and the fact that it was temporary made it worthwhile.

My first experience working through the wee hours was as a stocker at a grocery store. See if I was telling this story out loud, you might think "Why would somebody pay him to be a stalker at a grocery store?" but since you're reading this, no mistake can be made. And isn't that a shame? At the time, I already had a job working at a movie theater but I had this conviction that I could work out a schedule balancing day and night shifts. The goal was to make as much money as possible during the summer before I went back to college. I lasted all of two weeks at the grocery store before succumbing to exhaustion, crushing boredom, and a nasty cold.

The first few nights were interesting in that it was really odd to arrive at 11 PM and work through the night when a huge majority of people were asleep, or at least enjoying themselves reading in bed or watching TV in bed or having sex on the washing machine. Upon being subjected to a terse interrogation by the shift leader, I was given the sobriquet "College Boy" which is how I was referred to by my fellow stockers for the rest of my time there. Further, while everyone else could bring a walkman to listen to while they worked, I had to pass through some bullshit probationary period. Such are the petty tyrants of the night-stocking world.

Having no tapes of my own to drown it out, I had to listen to the store's piped-in music. I don't think I've ever noticed the music at the grocery store when I'm shopping, and rightly so. The volume is low, the noise of the other shoppers covers it up, and I'm thinking about what groceries I need. However, when mindlessly stacking cans of baked beans in an empty store, the songs seep in.

The music was a two hour loop that never varied the two weeks I was there and so I repeatedly endured the excrutiating, mounting dread as Martika's "Toy Soldier" drew ever closer. Bad as the anticipation was, it was nothing compared to the sonic icepick-through-the-ear that is the actual song. Any relief I felt when the song faded out was mitigated by the fell knowledge that the song would come back to stab at me again, always to stab at me.

Where "Toy Soldiers" brought me to the depths of hell, there was a shining beacon of light that also repeated every two hours, Ray Charles performing "You Don't Know Me". Written by Cindy Sherman, the 2nd most famous person from Mexia, TX (#1 being Anna Nicole Smith), Ray Charles aching voice perfectly illuminates the devastatingly beautiful words of unrequited love. I'd previously heard the song at a time where I could sympathize, and it would destroy me. On the long nights of stocking, it was a welcome respite from the vile pap that oozed from the store's speakers. Like Elton John.

Nothing at all interesting happened at the grocery store unless you consider the cardboard box compacting machine or perfectly lining up cans on a shelf interesting. Then again, maybe there's a six year old boy with OCD reading this, so who am I to judge? Wait, I judge the parent(s) of that child awful. Don't they monitor his surfing? For chrissake I wrote about autoerotic asphyxiation a couple posts back!

Anyway, the stocker job was terrible. Exhaustion and sickness are good indicators that one should quit a second job. Plus there's the little thing where I was so tired I accepted a obviously counterfeited $20 bill at the theater and was useless to the Treasury Department agent that inteviewed me afterwards.

Working at the Co-op was much better. Better environment, better co-workers, and rather more interesting. Heaviest book? A guide to pharmaceuticals. Most boring cover of a book? Every engineering text. Silliest picture on a technical manual? Somebody's kitty.

The music was a cut above the grocery store, yet still rather repetitive. As there was no one else in the store, we could listen to what we wanted. Yet, we most often ended up listening to what the supervisor liked. The supervisor sure did like his classic rock. So most nights, it was the classic rock station KLBJ, and constant rotation of songs you've heard too many times interspersed with ads for strip clubs, helicopter pilot lessons, and hair loss potions (target audience anyone?).

If it wasn't for AC/DC, Hendrix, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Pearl Jam, the station's overnight playlist would be cut in half. I like Aerosmith's "Dream On", but not every night. Ditto for Hendrix's "Fire". Also, the world would be a better place if Robert Plant had never read Lord of the Rings. I hope to never again hear him wail about Mordor. Shudder. The ads were another level of torture. While at least the songs didn't repeat in the same night, the ads sure did. Yes, owner of Sugar's, I get it, your hamburgers have sweet buns. At a strip club. Ba-dum bump krshhhh. And don't try to sell me on helicopter pilot training by saying it's cheaper than college. Really?! It's cheaper than the University of Texas (@ $26,000), one of the best deals in the country? Apples and oranges dude.

While my supervisor likes classic rock, his true passion is for prog-metal. Stuff no one who isn't into this stuff knows. In that way, it's cool that he's sought out off-the-radar music. In another way, it's so cheesy I alternate between feeling awe/horror and incredulous/glee. The worst/best is Ayreon's The Human Equation. Just so incredible in it's power to simultaneously offend and amuse me. It consists of chugging metal guitar interspersed with shrieking metal guitar, keyboard flourishes, and operatic vocals telling the story about a man who get's in a car wreck and works through his emotions while comatose. Featuring crutchingly lame high school poetry. I beg of you, go to the website, listen to a clip. In the word's of Bart Simpson, "It's craptastic."

The job was temporary and I'm done with it, until the beginning of next semester. Maybe it will be good prepatory work when I work nights at the hospital. Hmm, pulling books for college kids all night preparing me for hours of sitting interrupted by people bleeding copiously from various body holes? Yeah probably not.

1 comment:

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