Cigarettes Cheaper: life lessons in the line of duty


In 1995 I worked for an enterprise called, Cheaper: a gas station, grocery /liquor store establishment.
I was one of two woman employed there with six men. The company was a chain. Cheaper isn’t around any longer. Either they changed their name or a company called Tower Mart bought them out; because all the former Cheaper locations are now Tower Mart.

I was 24 years old when I interviewed and was subsequently hired by Cheaper. I completed a pre-employment drug test during the hiring process. The drug test was a hair test and the company sent a person to my home to collect the hair sample. I considered the entire process very peculiar.

I don’t think the drug test was completed because when I was 24 years old I smoked marijuana like the dickens. Although, I hadn’t smoked for approximately six weeks before submitting to drug testing; the gentleman who was sent to gather the hair sample told me the company preferred hair tests because it shows what a person has had in their system for six to eight months.

I worked at the Cheaper located on the corner of Madison Avenue and Jackson street in Sacramento, California. The manager there was, Robbie. Robbie was a six foot tall, balding, olive skinned man who had zero teeth and walked with a limp.
I see Robbie every now and again. He works at a local post office, wears a wig and false teeth.

I worked with a man named Dan. Dan was a bigot. He called me “BB,” which stood for black bitch; he called my friend names like Nancy or Susan because he is gay. In addition to being a bigot, Dan was also a chauvinist…which isn’t shocking. Chauvinism and bigotry often go hand in hand.

One co-worker named Sid worked in the freezer; yet was always sweating. I was naive then and didn’t know much about drugs (except Maryjane). I learned Sid was in the freezer for hours, sweating, because he was high on amphetamines.

John was an interesting bloke. White male in his late 30s. John was married to a Latina woman and they had seven children. He was handsome as long as he wasn’t talking. The things he said were off-putting and so were his six or seven missing teeth.
Teeth: a theme in the area where I worked. There were droves of people with missing teeth; missing limbs; many gays and lesbians and drug users/abusers.
John flirted with everyone and had sex with them too. Or rather he told tales about the way he seduced female customers.
His sex tales appeared to be non-fiction; evidenced by the way certain lady customers looked for him and by the way his girthy wife came in looking for him; called looking for him and made a scene in the store once or twice having to be subdued by our armed security guard.
John didn’t bother me much. He teased me a little here and there.

I worked with a man named Tom who was a very short (Danny DeVito); older white male in his early fifties. Tom was preoccupied with large breasts and perhaps pretending to be heterosexual. Tom was not a nice person. He was mean spirited. The type of mean exhibited by people who are miserable with themselves and therefore strove to make others miserable.

I met a good friend of mine while working at Cheaper. George, a larger than life Italian (gay) stallion. We had a lot of fun working and endured Dan’s abuse together. We are still friends and see each other regularly.

I rarely saw Maria, my female cohort. Maria was a plump, five foot tall woman in her late forties. She was quiet and jittery.

And then there was Harland.
Harland liked to fondle me when I was tasked to stock shelves. He’d put his arm around my shoulder and rest his hand on my breast. Usually my right breast. The first time I thought his hand landed on my breast by accident.
Harland was a married white male who was six ft three and in his late 60’s. I initially gave him the benefit of doubt; but found he would lurk (only God knows where) waiting for me to stock shelves. Once I stepped from behind my cash register and entered one of the aisles, Harland would swoop upon me like a hawk.

At that age, 24, I suspected there were consequences to snitching. I told my boss, Robbie on him. My boss appeared stressed by my disclosure, but said he would talk to Harland.

This is where I learned, as a WOMAN, sometimes standing up for HERSELF yields additional battles; leads to questioning HERSELF and affects HER core. It also leads to HER having to decide whether SHE is worth the fight.

Several days after telling my manager about Harland;I received a call on my day off. From that call I learned my supervisor, Robbie,had been transferred to a different location and replaced by Tom. It was Tom who phoned me on my day off to say, “It seems like you don’t want to work here anymore. So you don’t need to come in anymore.”
When I asked him to explain, he just repeated the same two sentences in a stepford/robotic manner.

I called headquarters. The person who answered the phone knew me and spoke to me as if he’d known me; like he’s been watching me for years. It was alarming and creepy.
I was speaking to one of the owners. The man pretty much reiterated what the new manager, Tom, relayed. In a nutshell. I was being fired. I wanted him to come out and say I was fired but he would not. The onus was placed on me. I was the one who didn’t want to work there anymore. The sense I got was: they had a zero tolerance policy for snitching…on pervs.

I saw Harland numerous times after cheaper released me. Usually in other grocery stores. My impulse was to evade him (obviously). Sometimes I couldn’t escape him and he’d approach me to say hello. I would just look at him. I couldn’t get away from him. He would block my path. The first time I ran into him; he smiled and said,”It’s ok. I understand. I’m not mad at you.” I knew he was referring to my reporting him for touching me inappropriately.
In that moment I understood he was a predator and wondered how many victims he’d accumulated during his lifetime.

After being released from Cheaper, I retained a lawyer. Eighteen months later I stopped fighting. It’s exhausting to fight when you are the one wronged.

Every time I don’t stand up for myself I think about where I would be if people never took a stand; if there was never a civil rights movement; if I could not vote; if I couldn’t marry who I wanted…
Ironically, as a social worker, I take a stand, advocate and help others routinely.

I worked for cheaper nearly three years. It was an eye opening experience. While working there I was called “nigger” for the first time in my life(to my face) by a mentally Ill woman who looked like she escaped an institution. She looked wild!! She appeared to be in her thirties and was in the store with her mother who apologized for her daughter, explaining,”She was raped by a black man.”
Cheaper was packed during this woman’s outburst. The wild woman ran up to me, pointed her finger in my face and screamed “NIGGER!!” as loud as she could, several times, until her mother approached wrapping her arms around her daughter to calm her.
The wild woman dropped to the ground and started crying. All eyes were on me. I saw a black man in line and wondered why the wild woman included me in her rage and not him. Either way; chin up and back to work I went.

Also, while working at cheaper I had been hit on by many, many, many people. One evening I was in an aisle and a woman approached me from behind. She violated the law of personal space as I felt her enormous breasts upon my back. She whispered, lips brushing against my ear,”Let me just fuck you one time.” I turned slowly to face her. Slow and steady to avoid provoking an attack; and said,”No thank you.”

There was another woman who came in nightly; and nightly she invited me to come over for a cocktail (minus the cock) after work.

The men were very complimentary. One day a man told me,”You’re awful pretty for a colored girl. Usually they have big lips and look like monkeys.” I thanked him. The customers always right.

Life. You may as well prevail; the lessons aren’t going to stop.



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