William’s introduction to the rarified air and society of Palos Verdes continued for several months. The store did marvelously as one of the jewels in the crown of Little Price.
William had finally seen and met Mr. Otten on several occasions and had formed his own opinion quietly and that opinion conformed to the hearsay that he had gathered in the past, almost three years. Mr. Otten hadn’t indicated favor or disfavor toward William. The Division Manager was a force and martinet of his own making. His particular forte’ was an ability to dress down and humble any employee he happened to cross sabers with; through finite examination of cleanliness or order or correct Little Price standards concerning minutia. His harangue then morphed into ceaseless jibes delivered with a contorted facial expression of disapproval in open and close proximity to the employee and others nearby that suffered the fate of having fallen under his gaze.
William had found acceptance and managed to get across spates of his own humor among the employees; but hadn’t particularly impressed Mr. Farrell. There was no ill will or conflict between the two men; rather a sincere difference of viewpoints. Mr. Farrell felt that William didn’t take Little Price seriously enough and William felt that Mr. Farrell was a toadying sycophant that would go a fairly long way to simply stay in good stead in the eyes of upper Management. Mr. Farrell’s opinions on any new subject swayed with the attitudes and opinions of any of his superiors. Although; Mr. Farrell was a totally honest and fair minded and measured fellow. His flaw in William’s eyes was that he was an utter coward and William was also sure that Mr. Farrell possessed absolutely no personality or opinions of his own.
The one thing William was absolutely sure of was the fact that he would never be
a full Manager with Little Price; which gave him an edge in his dealings with all of the
various characters and personalities that frequented the store from the Main Office. He had marked time and learned the idiosyncrasies of the players in this microcosm and in reality was bored with the soft, fluffy existence that he should have been enjoying. The
truth was that he had conditioned himself to the boiling chaos that had been his world up until having been placed in this alternative universe.
There had been two Trainees that had received their indoctrinations in the store and moved on and the store was expecting another new one in just a few days. Also, the annual inventory of the store was scheduled, that bonuses for the year for the Manager and Assistant were based upon. The whole idea of a bonus was alien to William; he was content to get by on his wage and didn’t really expect very much at all. He had heard the
grousing over various prior years, concerning how store Managers were cheated. There was an average $500 available for Assistant Managers, which really wasn’t anything other than a dismissive slight acknowledgment of appreciation on the part of the company.
William had purchased a new car shortly after his transfer and had been making double payments to the Bank ever since. He actually had his first savings account, with a passively healthy balance. Since the basic policy of the company was to move Assistants and Thirds, baring disapproval of the store Manager or District Manager, at will and usually precisely near their second anniversary date in a given store. Will knew that in a very short time, he would be under the eye and scrutiny of the powers that be and that they would be fully expecting for William to be falling in line or face the wrath of return to the ghettos at some point down the line. He was not about to return to the ghetto.
The one aspect to William that he assumed, was that if he had a regular girlfriend that it would give leverage to the company and every superior that he dealt with. If he was married and had children, he was toast! They had him! They owned his soul and his
loyalty from hence forth. In reality, William simply had a very low opinion of women in general. His experiences had never given him cause to entertain love as a real or viable truth. There had been encounters; but nothing substantial and nothing that ever captured his commitment or loyalty. After all; he had been in the Navy and had a jaded opinion of the entire breed known as woman. His encounters and opinions of both the ghetto girls and these haughty and spoiled would be socialites did nothing to dissuade his evaluations.
He had become a passive hit and run artist although not a predator; rather simply feeding at the trough when he was hungry and then roaming on. There were certainly “nice” girls to be had; but they just weren’t on William’s radar screen. Also; there was that gnawing self doubt and self incrimination deep within his subconscious psychology. What really impacted every aspect was the damn free love, drugs and what may come tomorrow, lackadaisical attitude. Those factors combined with the newly found power of feminism that was advancing steadily upon a befuddled male populace. This wasn’t Dad’s world! The new self esteem that many women were exuding was simply disgusting to William’s countenance; although he could understand it and didn’t really mind it. In his mind the whole issue was simply a case of self delusion on the part of women. At his core, he was a take it or leave it, kind of guy. His testosterone level didn’t control him, he controlled it and if there was need, there certainly was a female available, somewhere, at some price.
A very disheveled young man of about 24 years wondered into the store, wearing a
white shirt and in dire need of a haircut. His pants were neat and clean; but just didn’t fit his frame in some manner. He walked up to William and asked if he was Ron Farrell?
“No, I’m William Morgan, the Assistant Manager and you’ve got to be our new Trainee!”
“Yes, my name is Bob Parkinson and I’ve been assigned here and I was told to come in to begin training today.”
“Welcome Mr. Parkinson, you are in the right place! I’ll take you to the office. Mr. Farrell is here and is undoubtedly waiting to greet you as well.”
In a stuttering fashion Bob thanked William and hesitantly followed while trying to stuff his shirt down into his trousers and smooth out any wrinkles of bulging cloth. As William stepped aside and allowed Bob to be in front on the steps leading up to the office, he noticed small specks of dandruff on Bob’s hairline and collar of his shirt. The collar was also awry, displaying a portion of his tie in back. William thought about mentioning it and then thought better of it, since it would only serve to make Bob more nervous and conscientious than he obviously already was.
William introduced Bob to Ron and then excused himself back to his perch at the podium. He thought to himself how this poor young guy didn’t stand a prayer and what Jackie would say and subtly intimate in his own fashion after he met Bob.
Ron personally escorted Mr. Parkinson around and did his best to put both Bob and the employees at ease. There were those instantaneous evaluations already being formed and Ron was sincerely attempting to allay any inappropriate assumptions or possible facial expression that would disclose disapproval. There was awkwardness about Bob that couldn’t be overlooked. He obviously had a very low opinion of himself in this setting, which he simply couldn’t hide. Some of the employees recognized it and did their best to make Bob feel welcome, while others made as short of an introduction as they felt they could escape with. Ron even stepped behind Bob and with a flourish and a passive joke, straightened and dusted Bob’s back without giving away anything.
After Bob’s first complete week and days off he called in sick on the first day of the
second week; which didn’t bode well for his future. He had already had auditing errors from the few change calls that he had answered and his initial first night checkout from his assigned drawer in the ice department had come up over about six dollars. There were certain members of the store staff, instigated and encouraged by Jackie that had already begun treating Bob as a pariah. He had already taken to smoking outside on his breaks which had brought down a few cries of insolent disgust on the part of females coming into the store and Bob had adjusted that after the first incident by walking all the way around to the back alley of the store for his breaks.
William had followed the lead of Ron and did his best to be friendly and supportive; but it seemed a hopeless case. In one long conversation he had discovered that Bob was just fresh out of the Navy and that he had been a Boatswain’s Mate on a Destroyer in the South Pacific. He had a wife that he had married in the Philippines and from what William could gather she was a bit of a shrew. Bob would come to work agitated and displaying occasional slap marks on one side of his face. On two occasions during his first month Bob had come in highly distraught and almost on the verge of tears that he fought off bravely. That just placed William a bit more in Bob’s corner; because he understood what had probably happened, even though he couldn’t pry or do anything that Bob might perceive as talking down to him or about his wife.
On one occasion Bob had begun to confide in William about his problems and his total lack of understanding of why his wife had turned against him so. He intimated that he suspected her of cheating; but couldn’t bring himself to believe it.
Bob was totally distracted most of the time and on edge frequently; but held it all in.
His conversations occasionally with William would start in the middle of a thought or at the end. William did his best to listen without taking a position that would hurt Bob’s feelings and at the same time tried to filter up to Ron and down to the two Thirds what he
was gathering from Bob’s comments and abbreviated conversations. That was difficult as well; because he wanted to maintain any confidence that Bob had placed with him.
At the end of Bob’s first month and evaluation he had received barely passing marks.
William wanted and attempted to suggest to Bob that the two meet at some bar down the hill and away from Palos Verdes. Bob made excuses that really summed up that his wife
kept him on a very short leash and he had to account for every dime that he was earning. There had always been a harsh rivalry and opposition in the Navy between gum shoe sailors and the rates that had it much easier. That put a wrinkle into the equation as well.
In his sixth week, Bob had finally gagged Ron to the point that he wrote him up and had called for an interview at the Main Office. Following that, Bob was on notice that any further discrepancies or misconduct would have the harshest repercussions.
On the following Thursday William had intentionally come to work about an hour early, simply to get into a conversation with Ron about Bob.
“Ron, I don’t understand why we can’t get Bob transferred to a different store for the remainder of his training period. He is driving from San Pedro all the way up here, his car is a heap and what little he is learning here has absolutely nothing to do with what he’ll face when he gets down the hill in his first store.”
“You are assuming that he’s going to make it through training and that’s a huge assumption on your part. He’ll be lucky to get through the next couple weeks. He’s doomed and not by my decision, simply by his own actions and inability to catch on to things.”
“Well, he could be offered a chance to step down to stocking and a future chance at a later date to make another attempt at management. This guy is hurting and I know he is
basically a lost cause, I don’t think it would be that far of a stretch to allow him to keep working and give him time to adjust. Not to mention a different atmosphere to train in.
I’m not saying you haven’t been fair or tolerant. You have. I’m saying the guy needs a break. He needs somebody in his corner.”
“And who might that be Mr. Morgan?”
“I’ve tried and I’ve played on the fact we were both Navy; but he’s got some problems, basically from his marriage and from trying to readjust to all of this so quickly after service. He was never in trouble in the Navy and from what I gather not much of a drinker. He should have re-enlisted; but his wife encouraged him to leave, probably because she simply wanted a free ride to the States and citizenship.”
“Now she’s playing him for a sucker and looking to trade up.”
“That’s a terrible assumption to make.”
“Well, it may be terrible; but I think it’s right on the money. You were never in service and you just don’t understand how it works in those fleet ports and the elements that are the only available substitute for love.”
“I don’t want to go on with this conversation. It’s not an appropriate conversation for either of us. I’ve personally asked Bob to let me introduce him to my Reverend and asked him to consider some counseling in my church. Apparently his wife is a staunch Catholic girl, which makes that simply out of the question. I suggested he seek their guidance as well; but it fell on deaf ears and as far as I’m concerned I can do no more. As to his performance or any possible transfer, it is simply out of the question. He makes it or breaks it.”
“I understand; but would you do me a favor and put him on the closing shift parallel with me, this coming week?”
“I won’t because it is not what’s best for Little Price and he is supposed to be learning day procedures, at this point in the first place. He’s on his own.”
“Well, then could I trade one or two days with you, so I can work with him on days.”
“You’re setting him up for failure; knowingly and wittingly. He rates better than that; he was on swift boats up the Mei Cong before his time on the Destroyer, while you were setting fat and happy back here; I might point up!”
“That may be so; but that war is over and we got the worst of it; more than likely because of guys like him. I don’t berate his service or his bravery or his willingness to serve God and country. That doesn’t buy him a free ride now.”
William sat silent for a few moments and then excused himself before he really lost his temper with one last admonishment. “I hope you can live with your decision!”
No more than William had started to the front of the store, when he saw Mr. Otten marching in. He looked at Bob who was in the ice cream department directly in view of
“You are one slovenly excuse for a Trainee, Mr. Parkinson! How long have you been with us? You should know that the sides of the ice cream cartons are to be paddled down
so that we get all the good and proper number of scoops from each carton. You do know that, don’t you? Furthermore; I saw that you didn’t wash your hands when you first came up to take care of my customer. Why?”
Bob tried to fumble through an attempted explanation and defense.
“I was just here and had started back and saw this last customer coming up and came back in. I washed my hands just before I left the first time and had just turned around.”
Otten glared at Bob in disdain and utter obvious assuredness that Bob was telling a lie.
“I’ll be talking with you again.”
Bob shriveled at the glance and promised threat and didn’t say anything more.
“Mr. Morgan, has this person been in this store very long?”
“About six weeks. He…..”
“Six weeks! That’s very interesting. What has he been taught?”
“He is on the training course as laid out and he’s getting by.”
“Getting by? I would like to know how?”
“Mr. Otten, he is doing his best and he is rough; but he’s making progress and he’ll do fine with just a little extra help.”
“He’ll make it without any extra help, or he won’t! See to it!”
That was the end of the exchange for the day; but not the end of Mr. Otten’s new focus.
The next day, Bob called in and said he couldn’t come to work; because his wife and he had to go to the Doctor’s office. That instigated a call from Ron to Personnel and in turn that brought Mr. Otten back into the store on Bob’s next scheduled day.
The outcome of the second exchange between Bob and Mr. Otten had gone terribly awry. Mr. Otten had audited Bob’s cash fund and found it over by one dollar and fifty cents. You would have thought God Himself had shaken the Earth! In a short conversation with Ron, Mr. Otten said that he would be back the following day and he expected Bob to be available for an interview at length.
Bob was waiting in his car early the next morning; but Mr. Otten had entered with Ron at 8:00 a.m., leaving Bob waiting until 9:00 a.m., when the store actually opened. The conversation was short and one sided. The result; before Bob had a chance to mount any defense on his own behalf was that he was fired. From the reports from the day crew Mr. Otten and a member of Little Price Security had escorted Bob out of the store. There was a conversation in the parking lot and one of the girls that was just coming to work saw Bob crying as he got into his car.
When Mr. Otten came back in, he confided to Ron that Bob had tried to excuse his actions by saying his wife had left him.
“If you see that young man around here, call the police and have him escorted out of the shopping center and if possible, see if they won’t run him in.”
When William came to work and heard the story, his head dropped and he fell silent.
He went through the day’s duties with clenched jaws and an obviously subdued countenance.
The next morning Ron was met by two Detectives in the parking lot and they went in with Ron and delivered the news and ask some questions. Bob had gone home and killed himself. His wife had moved out, according to the neighbors a week or so before and they assumed Bob was simply despondent over that alone. They had no idea that he had also lost his job.
When William came in for his night shift Ron was waiting for him in the office and had obviously been crying. “You were right! I could have given him a break. I could have tried to get him transferred or made him come with me to my church.”
William thought at first that this was an inordinate reaction. He knew that Ron held deep beliefs and was sensitive to some things; but this was so far out of the ordinary and beyond all reasonable reaction. Then William was told.
William slumped down in the chair across from the desk and just said one thing. “Holy fuckin’ shit!”
Ron braced and grimaced at William’s language and then refocused on the circumstances and decided to overlook William’s epithet.
“I hope that old fart comes in here today or when I’m on duty. I have a few things I want to discuss with him. If he says one word, I’ll turn him inside out! He’s meat for my table and he’ll find out what it’s like to fuck with me! I’m no God damn pushover and that’s why he doesn’t know how to handle me. He’ll find out in one New York minute what wrath is! That God damn son of a bitch and his whores can all burn in Hell for me!”
Ron tried to let it all pass and allow William to vent for a couple minutes; but was wincing and glancing at the far wall immediately over the Pharmacy and giving a pleading look in hopes that William would regain his composure. Ron was beginning to anger and was defensive simultaneously. He wanted to swell up at William while suffering his own pangs of guilt.
“Mr. Morgan, you best get out your cash box and take your position and duties or this could escalate where you don’t want it to go.”
“I’ll get my box and I’ll go up front; I don’t want to talk to you or anybody else I don’t have to. I would suggest, you take the afternoon off. I won’t do anything out of line, I need my job; but it’s best if we don’t talk for awhile. You might want to go see your Reverend and do a little confessing; and for everybody’s sake, you might want to give Otten a call and tell him to stay the fuck away from me! That old bull; might just lose his nuts if he doesn’t!”
Ron was almost in tears and tucked his chin into his chest; but didn’t say anything further. About twenty minutes later Ron walked directly past William and said he was going home for the day.
William didn’t respond and just watched as Ron tried his best to make a joke with the stock boy at the liquor counter on his way out. That comment really made no sense; because everyone in the store knew Bob had been fired; but didn’t know about the suicide. Some were feeling guilty and some were simply despondent and some were elated, thinking they had been certified in their superior evaluations and comments about Bob.
Mr. Otten was conspicuously absent without leave from the Palos Verdes store and nothing was mentioned further for the next two months; after the story was in the newspaper and all the employees had time to rethink recent history.