The West End Invasion

October 12, 2016 at 10:40 am (Cussed Dumbers)

Step Right Up...

Step Right Up…

It was the best-kept secret in the history of Master P’s stores. It wasn’t until the day before the actual announcement that I learned the location of the new store. It’s in the West End, on the tip of the Pink Zone in what used to be called Vaseline Alley. Yup, we are now running a convenience store in the middle of Portland’s version of the Castro District.

Oh, there’s more to the location than that. Once the home of all things homo, the Pink Zone has spread across the city, leaving only Scandal’s and a couple other low-key establishments. In a tribute to Portland’s acceptance of the different, they aren’t thought of so much as gay bars, but just good old-fashioned neighborhood bars. It’s about time.

The West End was once an extension of skid row, filled with chicken-wire hotels and dive bars. The mentally ill would wander the streets, spilling out of said cheap hotels. I spent a lot of time in that neighborhood when Meg and I were close. Over the years, the loonies wandered away, the bums moved to the Eastbank Esplanade, and Fred Armisen bought an apartment in a giant eco-building on 12th & Washington. Soon the yuppie storefronts came along. (“Cacao!” anyone? $9 for hot chocolate.) Between the Portlandia BS and the filming of Grimm, the neighborhood was recognized as another gem in the oyster. (“Fuck you, neighboring Pearl!”)

All of a sudden, everyone in the neighborhood is rich, and a cheeseburger costs $15. Ask my ex-wife, who took me to Lardo. I bet she’s still complaining.

With all the DINKs (double income, no kids) milling about, Master P saw an opportunity and ran with it…

Tin Roof Counter

Tin Roof Counter

I have worked in many a convenience store. It’s always fun to learn a new system, and it feels like you’re in someone else’s bedroom. By the time I worked this store, most of the personal effects had been removed. Grinder goes apoplectic when he sees cartoons, rubber chickens or anything “non-professional” in his line of sight. God forbid he finds a cartoon on the cash register. “Why is this here? This has nothing to do with why we are here, does it?” “Gee boss, sorry for trying to brighten the mood. And can I have my rubber chicken back? It was a gift…”

The counter, with its galvanized steel melding into a ’70s flower-power print, had plenty of personality. So much, in fact, that Southie and Art East were trying to build a new counter from an Ikea kit. Despite Ikea’s every attempt to foil them with illegible instructions from another kit, they worked most of it out. The project was left half-finished to be completed in the morning. I left everything the way they did.

There was minimal foot traffic, mostly people looking for inexpensive cigarettes. The previous store’s owner marked his cigarettes ten cents above cost. Sure, he sold a lot of cigarettes, but you have to sell ten packs to make a dollar. Master P marks his up $1.50 per pack; that’s fourteen assholes you don’t have to deal with, and someone will always be lazy and pay the price.

And in a neighborhood where “money is no object”? You should charge up the ass.

With expense comes privilege. Sure, it should be quality. Sure, I should be nice to you. But if you want your ass kissed that’s $20 in the bathroom next door. I tired quickly of white girls with faux-gay accents barking orders at me while they try to impress their embarrassed gay friends. (I was tipped twice by well-meaning dudes apologizing for their Muff’s behavior.) I’m used to assholes, just not freshly-scented ones.

stark-st-ovenArt East told me about the basement, specifically don’t go down there without a flashlight. “It’s an old coal-burner, with a fire pit. There’s no light down there, and the fire pit is right at the bottom of the stairs. So don’t fall in.”

He attached a flash photo. I could not wait to investigate, but I would do that on a day less occupied. It was good to know, though, in case I needed to hide a corpse.

As the night wore on, so did my patience. This was a lot like working at the Mothership, customerwise. Lots of smiles, fake ones. Lots of entitlement. I saw a couple faces I recognized, which led to the inevitable, “Wow, do you work in every one of these kinda stores?”

“Probably, by the time I retire.” I had “applied” at this store numerous times in the ’80s when drawing unemployment, because I knew it was privately owned and odds are the three people working there would remain working there. About every ten years I would venture in to buy a 40 oz of Olde English 800. When our liquor license clears, I am going to buy one last forty from there. Someone will drink it for me.

And after selling, two of the three employees have been hired on by Master P. They will stay on, working their same shifts. The third guy, the owner, is retiring at 70. The rest of us will fill in; it will eventually be 24 hours. Because cocaine never sleeps, and cottonmouth occurs. Step right up! We got your Red Bull!

I smiled a mile wide when Master P and the Mrs P came through the door. She used to run the plasma center I donated at, which was located for a short time a block away from the new store. I showed her my scar, (Five hundred times!”) and thanked them. Their family has been feeding mine for over four decades.

vaseline-alley

When it came time to close, I fumbled through. It was a weird hybrid, the closing procedure. I was using a different alarm system, and I assumed I’d set it right when I left. I put the garbage cans outside, made sure the coffee maker was turned off. I put a fresh filter in the holder because apparently that’s a big thing with the morning person, could take up to half a day to put that coffee filter in the holder but whatever…

I realized after setting the alarm and looking inside that I’d forgotten to turn the lights off. Just as well, people can get used to having the lights on. (I didn’t forget to turn off the OPEN sign, though. That was lights out fifteen minutes early.) I walked down to the Nightclub Store, to hide my work stuff until my shift on Thursday. Marcus Annoius and Siriusly were standing outside the door, smoking. Antknee was inside, looking sheepish.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Antknee locked the keys in the office, so Grinder is on the way.”

“Did you know about The Thing That Doesn’t Exist?” I began walking to the hiding spot, where we have an office key hidden, so we don’t have to wake up a boss in the middle of the night to come down and unlock the office.

“Uh, if you mean the hidden key? Eva found it, and gave it to Art East.”

“Oh, man…”

At that moment, Grinder walked in. He looked at Marcus, who pointed at Antknee. “You woke me, my two dogs and my partner, in the middle of the night, to come down here because you can’t put a key in your pocket. Next time you are in the office, PUT YOUR KEY IN YOUR POCKET.” He went back and unlocked the office. As he left, he stopped and said, “And there’s no more backup key. You will have to call the beeper from now on.”

It amazes me how we can have a key that sits in a drawer 24/7, but to have a copy of that key sitting next to it, slightly further back in an unidentifiable spot, is a security risk? Most of the time common sense wins at Master P’s. All I can figure is they must get paid $50 every time they have to come down and unlock the office.

And if that’s the case, stop your bitchin’.

I should remind myself that most of the employees at Master P’s are resistant to change. We get into habits so we can sleepwalk through our shifts. (My thing was the radio. Music appreciation time. Take me away to my special place as the cussed-dumbers drone on…)

The walk was nice, I caught my usual last-bus-before the last bus. It was a pleasant way to end the work week, and I slept well. When I awoke, there was a text from Southie:

“We at the West End Store treat it like a second home, and we are family here.” <– Despite my irritation, I had to smile at how quickly gay lexicon was sneaking into his vocabulary. "The alarm wasn't set, the floor wasn't tended to. We need to bring our A-Game when integrating our two teams."

A wave of hostility came over me. You drop me into a store, cold, give me codes and say good luck, then nitpick me for not getting everything perfect? Oh, well. I have got a thing or two to say about that! I pulled out my phone, stared at the screen for a second, and took a deep breath. Calm… behaving like I'm teaching my puppy. When I get my bowels in an uproar, we just take a minute, calm down, think about it…

Southie was working with Grinder, Art East and Master P, doing a construction project while managing product inventory and soothing a distraught new co-worker who apparently takes everything way too personally. He probably typed the message in front of her, because his lecture wasn't really a lecture. (If Southie were truly irritated with me he'd be cussing and threatening to kick my ass, etc. He's not shy about letting me know he's displeased.) So I typed contritely, "Sorry for the mess. I didn't do the floors because I knew you were in the middle of a project that you'd be finishing first thing, and I didn't want to misplace anything and cause confusion. (Ikea is already taking care of that!) As to alarm, I typed in that code, and waited two minutes before leaving. All I heard was one long continuous tone, no bells. Sorry." I hit send, and hoped that would smoooth things over…

He texted right back, "It's fine, I just want us all to work together as a team. Enjoy your days off."

And so I will. I'm avoiding work for a day or two. Maybe absence will make the heart grow fonder. Right now people are getting on my nerves.

I need to take my own advice, and not take everything so seriously. And yet I do, because underneath the humor I do want to exceed. Master P is sitting on a gold mine, and we are the prospectors.

Step right up, DINKs, and don’t forget your wallet.

2 Comments

  1. Jeff said,

    Great Post!… I loved the artwork if in fact that is a painting. Be happy in your new Diggs.

  2. beastard said,

    That indeed is a painting by Art East. It was done over a decade ago; there’s now a big tree in the middle of the painting.

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