Jul/Aug 2008  •   Fiction

Ten at a Time

by Joshua McComas

Cart-pushers do not get laid. It's just not going to happen. After an eight-hour day of wrangling shopping carts on the Wal-Mart parking lot, nothing could make me less attractive, except maybe if I were covered in feces or had a flesh-eating disease. Wal-Mart has made me a lost cause in the world of romance.

Early morning, I get ready for work by throwing on one of the many pairs of cargo shorts I own coated with brown and black mystery substances. I add a white t-shirt complete with yellow pit stains so thick the cloth is hardened. When I clock in, I'll complete the ensemble with an orange construction vest.

It's not dressing for success by any stretch of the imagination.

A lot of kids my age don't have to deal with this level of indignity. Mom and Dad supply their money. I, on the other hand, not only pay my own bills but try to help my parents out at the same time. This fact doesn't bother me that much. I'm glad to be of assistance. What pisses me off is the fact that Wal-Mart seems to be my only option for work. Don't think I haven't looked for another job. Fast food pays even less, and I haven't heard a word from any other place I've applied.

In regards to "getting laid," I think some clarifications need to be made. I am more than willing to wait for marriage for the act to occur. My problem is I don't think I have the potential to pull any decent girl, let alone one I would want to marry. It's probably safe to say a cart-pushing Casanova has never existed. What am I to do? Being bitter is my only option.

I walk to the back of the store to clock in. Matt is sitting in the floor, playing with his vest. It looks as childish as it sounds. An upside-down cross hangs from a chain around his neck. I guess he blames Christ for his lack of popularity. He doesn't work here to pay the bills. Sadly enough, I think the reason he hasn't quit is because we are his only friends.

He sighs and looks up at me. "'Sup?" he asks.

"Well, I'm here."

"Did you see how packed it is?"

"Yeah, this sucks."

I clock in, and Matt follows me outside. We wait until we step foot on the lot to put our vests on. There are no carts in either bay. We gather 30 together, and I push them into the grocery side as Matt guides. As I strain to get the line up the curb, I see Tommy, vest on, sitting on a bench next to the side entrance. That explains why there are no carts. He doesn't need this job, either. As a matter of fact, he's spent half of his work hours on that bench since he started. I guess he just figures he'll collect a paycheck for it until they finally fire him.

"It sucks today," he says. "It really started picking up around noon. I was pushing like 20 to catch up. That faggot Larry came out and bitched at me for pushing more than ten. So, I kept pushing ten at a time, and big fucking surprise, they keep running out of carts."

While I know we wouldn't have nearly as much work to do if Tommy hadn't been on the bench for the majority of the day, I still know where he's coming from in relation to Store Manager, Chief Dickhead, Larry Wilson.

"Fuck him," Matt says.

"Yeah," I agree. "Let's get some into the GM side." GM standing for "General Merchandise," as opposed to "Grocery."

During the hottest and coldest days of the year, we are out on this parking lot, having the same damn conversations and interactions over and over again. Often, when it is busy and carts are strewn all over the lot, I wonder why more customers don't just grab one of the 100 carts out here. The great majority of people will pass by the surplus of carts on the lot, walk into the store, and act confused and/or appalled when there are no carts awaiting them. At this point, we will roll into the empty bay, sweaty, wet, or covered in snot (depending on the season), to give them what they could have easily gotten on their own.

These same customers, when finished with their carts and heading home, do not push them into the corrals so we can gather them quicker. Exhibiting the same lazy attitude they had when they entered the store, they don't take the 30 seconds it would cost them to make our job a bit easier. Instead, they leave their carts in an empty parking space, or in the most inconsiderate cases, against another customer's vehicle. When this person discovers the cart against his or her vehicle, guess who they blame?

One busy day, a man was so pissed to find a cart against the side of his truck, he felt it necessary to inform us had we been somewhere else, he would have "whipped our little asses." I think that was the only time I've ever been able to see a plus side, however remote, to not being somewhere else.

For the next two hours, we push lines of 30 to 40 carts to each bay. One pushes at the back, one pulls in the middle, and one guides the front up the curb and into the bay. Business slows down just enough after this point to allow us to keep both bays fairly stocked. We're walking the lot, trying to decide the order in which we'll take our breaks, when I spot Megan's car. Tommy spots it next, followed by Matt.

Wal-Mart is basically the mall for my town, and I see a lot of people I know during the 40 hours a week I work when school isn't in session. These on-the-clock run-ins can cause quite a stir for my co-workers and me. An attractive girl from school will get out of her car, and all of us immediately start showing signs of agitation. Matt will bite his knuckles, a gesture we refer to as the "knuckle dance." Tommy will wait until the girl enters the store to inform us not only he suspects the girl is equally horny for him, but he has the perfect game plan to make it happen. Unfortunately for Tommy, this game plan always involves speaking to the girl in question, a feat he has rarely even attempted. I, on the other hand, will continue pushing carts, glancing at the girl from the corner of my eye in hopes she will notice me and say hello. Occasionally, she actually does say hello, at which point, I assume we are in love.

To people like us, a simple greeting from the opposite sex is the equivalent to a normal guy's make-out session. If we were to have a full conversation, it would be like having two hands up her shirt.

Megan walks by, and without fail, Matt does the knuckle dance. She's too far away to notice me, or at least that's what I'll tell myself.

"Me and Megan were in art class last semester," Tommy starts. "And she kept leaning in really close." This can only go somewhere annoying. He would be a busy man if he could have half of the female encounters he claims he could.

"You were painting on the same mural," I stop him.

"Shut up. She wanted it. Next semester, I'm gonna be like, 'Hey, why don't we get together sometime... and do it?' Next thing you know, the T-Man's gonna be getting it on."

I chuckle a bit and retort, "Gross."

"But seriously, she's always really nice to me, and we talk a lot."

"You talk when you're working on group projects."

"Well, that's because it's the only time I see her."

"You just saw her!"

"Jealous much?" he asks, and I just give up.

A few minutes later, we've grabbed a line of 20 carts and are halfway up the curb when Larry walks out the side door. We all know what's coming when we get the carts into the bay.

Larry looks at me and asks, "Do you want to be able to walk when you're thirty?"

I consider saying, "Absolutely not!" but settle for a dull, aggravated, "Yeah."

"Well you're going to kill your knees pushing that many carts. We've told you guys a thousand times to split up and push ten at a time. Now, I don't want to come out here and see this again. Is that understood?"

We don't really answer. I just turn to Matt and let him know I'll take the GM side. He agrees to take the grocery side. When Larry goes back in, Tommy agrees to take his break.

Twenty minutes go by as I push ten carts at a time, making no progress in filling up the bay. Tommy comes back out, and I go to take my break. I've worked up quite a thirst from it all, so I get a Diet Coke from the machine. When I open it, soda spews over the top like a volcano. As if I am trying to look like a moron, I walk bow-legged to keep from stepping in the trail I'm leaving behind. I look like I'm pretending to ride a horse. Just my luck, Megan spots me as she's leaving the store.

"Hey," she snickers as I quickly stop the pony walk and get soda on my crotch.

I don't say anything. I just wave, feeling in this little moment, with my pony dance and wet crotch, I have blown any chance of ever getting to be with her, as if I had a chance to begin with. Much to my surprise, she stops. "How's your summer been?" she asks.

"You're looking at it," I answer frankly.

"That sucks," she giggles. "We should party sometime when you get a day off."

You have got to be shitting me! I've never really partied, but I'm more than willing to start. "Yeah, that'd be fun," I agree.

"Let me give you my number," Megan says, reaching into her purse.

I could do the knuckle dance myself right now. I'm going to tell Tommy to shove that mural up his ass!

"Mark Adams, you have a telephone call at the service desk," the loudspeaker sounds.


"Well, sounds like you're busy, and I can't seem to find a pen," Megan says. "But I'm sure I'll see you here sometime."

"Yeah," I agree. Of course she will. I'm always fucking here.

"See ya'!" she says and walks on.

I walk to the service desk to take the call, pissed off I'd been interrupted. Not in the mood to talk, I pick up the phone.

"Mark," Mom utters.

"Yeah," I sigh, exhausted from the anxious thoughts in my head.

"Listen, do you have enough money for gas until you get paid again?"

"Yeah, I just filled up."

"How much money do you have right now?"

"A little over $200." I wish she would get to the point.

"Well," she sighs, "the mortgage company just called. I need to pay them $800 by tomorrow. They're threatening to take the house."

"Okay, yeah, I can give it to you when I get home."

"Thanks, hon'," she says, "I'll pay you back as soon as I get the chance."

"Don't worry about it. I'll see you when I get home."

I'm feeling light-headed, and my hands are slightly trembling. I sit down in the break room and revisit the questions I've pondered so many times before. Why couldn't I have been born into some better conditions? Why can't I find a job other than Wal-Mart cart-pushing? Why can't I get to enjoy an entire summer vacation without having to work? The answer lies in another question: "Who gives a shit?" I decide I really need to quit whining.

I just want to hurry up and finish the workday so I can get the money to Mom. That would clear at least one thing from my head. I walk back to the lot, and the door-greeter lets me know both bays are nearly empty. Matt informs me he's going to take his break. He does the knuckle dance as a female customer passes him on the way in. I can't even feign laughter. Tommy is sitting on the bench again, looking as absent-minded as ever.

I've got a lot of work to do. My first instinct is to gather as many carts as possible and push them all at once. Then again, I think I'll just push ten at a time. The bays are empty, but I don't have to answer for that. It's Wal-Mart's policy. Let them deal with it. The best I can do is to accomplish the most I can under the conditions they've set. Whether it works or not is out of my hands. I'm starting to see a lot of things that way.