I've written about working at Fred's before.  Working there provided many experiences of the sort that makes one realize that one never wants to work at such a place again – that an education is definitely the thing for you no matter what the end result turns out to be.  Besides the previously blogged experience with knife scars, gunshot wound scars, and winos, I also had to clean up human urine, human turds, dirty diapers, and one old pair of shoes that someone exchanged for a shoplifted pair.

At various times, I worked with other people that the manager hired.  They never stayed long which is pretty typical of jobs like that.  I stayed a long time because the manager was my uncle and it was difficult to quit and have to tell the truth:  that the job majorly sucked.  Plus, I liked making money and was pretty reliable that way.  I was raised by a family that taught (among other things) that when you had a job, you went to it every day.  As basic as that sounds, not everybody was raised that way.

Wilpurt was one such guy.  He was about the closest thing to an idiot that I have ever personally encountered.  He was a black guy, about my height but much heavier (OK, he was fat) with a perpetually blank expression.  He shuffled about doing whatever the manager ordered him to do but was evidently incapable of doing anything on his own initiative.  I guess he had no initiative or he might have used it.

When I was first introduced, I thought his name was "Wilbur" but after accidently seeing his pay stub once, I discovered that it was one of many invented-on-the-spot names that I observed in my life.  The best one was when I was doing work-study at the University of Arkansas financial aid office.  I found a file folder containing the records of someone named "Lympidzotica Ebony Viscosity".  That one wins the prize for originality – compared to that, "Wilpurt" was positively ordinary.

He would often stand with the broom in hand, gazing about him in an absent-minded sort of way; occasionally giving a half-hearted sweep with no regard to any trash in particular.  One afternoon, I noticed him talking with a woman about his age (I suppose she was about his age – his age was hard to ascertain).  I didn't catch the conversation but about the time I walked past, I heard her say:

"OK, see you tonight then."

Always looking for common ground and something to talk about, I said:

"Hey!  Got a date tonight?"

He said:

"Yeah, I guess you could say that."

So I said:

"So, where you going?  Dinner?  Movie?"

I figured that maybe I could help recommend a restaurant or a review of the two movies that were available in town that week.  He smiled and informed me that my idea of a date and his were two completely different things.  He proceeded to explain that a white boy's idea of a date differed dramatically from his (and presumeably other black guy's) idea of a date.  When I asked what he meant exactly he described his agenda.

"Well, I'll go over where she stay, give her fi' dollahs, then I just lean 'er up agains' de' car, open up my draws… you know  … "

He looked at me with his eyebrows up as if to suggest that he didn't need to explain further.  He was right:  he didn't need to explain further – I got the picture.

So I suppose I could add to my list of interesting characters that I have met:  prostitute.  This is not something that I was ever interesting in knowing.  Sort of like the other guy we hired upon occasion:  Mo.

Mo was a roughneck that we hired occasionally for a few hours at a time to do heavy lifting.  If we needed a truck unloaded, we hired Mo to come help me.  He would typically berate me for either not doing things fast enough or not lifting enough weight.  He was one of those guys who always smelled of liquor.  He was missing quite a few teeth too.  I paid him little heed; he was often seen shuffling along in the bad part of town doing nothing in particular.  He must at least have had a phone though; otherwise, I don't see how the manager could have contacted him to get him up there to help us.

At any rate, one day he decided to make some friendly conversation:

"Hey!  You ever had the clap?"

I was so dumbfounded that I said nothing; wondering if he could have possibly been talking to me.  Perhaps we was talking to the truck driver.  But no he repeated his question directly to me.  It was an easy question to answer:


"Well then, you ain't never had no pussy!  If you ain't had the clap, you ain't never had no pussy!  HEY!  AIN'T THAT RIGHT?"

This last sentence was directed at the truck driver.  The driver had what I consider the best answer I'd ever heard to a question like that:

"I don't know.  I don't get out much what with my job driving this truck and my other job pastoring a little church back home."

That pretty much shut down the conversation.  Mo muttered one more profanity under his alcohol-tinged breath and said no more.  I don't remember him working for us any more after that until I quit.

As much as I had hoped that I would move up in the world after graduating from high school, I didn't really move up too much.  My first job after my freshman year was working at the Ouachita County Hospital.  I figured that it sort of went with my pre-med degree program even though I ended up working in the supply room so far from anything medical that I may as well have not been at a hospital at all.  One afternoon, I moved a handcart with 800 pounds of laundry detergent on it.  Yes, I counted it up.  The woman in charge of the stock room was a lesbian who lived with the head nurse so I saw a lot of them both.  One afternoon the head nurse said to me: 

"I need you to run to WalMart for me.  Get me a small ice chest.  Stop by the admin office and get some petty cash – tell them I sent you."

That was back when you could do that sort of thing I guess.  Ever curious, I expressed curiosity as to what would go into it.

"Fetus."  was her one-word reply.

My eyebrows went up.  She elaborated:

"Well… a fetus and placenta."

That was the last time I asked any questions.

In spite of that fun, I returned the next summer for more work.  Unfortunately, they didn't really need anybody but they liked me pretty well so they made some work.  Again, unfortunately, the most sympathetic person was the laundry manager and it was she that offered me a job.  When I showed up, she explained that this job was pretty much just make-work since I needed the money and everyone wanted to help me out.  I appreciate that sort of thing but the best she could do was put me on laundry pick-up duty.  I knew that pride was to take a beating the first day when she explained who I would be working for.

"I'm going to take you to meet Frank.  Now, don't be afraid – Frank's OK."

This got my attention.

"Frank's a little retarded." 

This was followed by a firm statement delivered with her best head-forward, hands-on-hips, in-my-face body language:

"But he's a good man!"

I allowed as to how I was sure that he was.  And of course, he was a very good man.  We got along famously – he was indeed one of the nicest people I have ever met.  But I couldn't get over the irony:  here I was an honor student in a pre-med program and I was working for a retarded guy.  I was truly at the bottom of the food chain. 

Actually, I wasn't.  At the very bottom was a man named Alma Hunter.  He was a very nice, very old black man.  He had seen it all and done it all and now wanted only a quiet moment to enjoy a cigar in some lonely corner in back of the hospital.  He was the guy they called when things got so totally gross-out nasty that battlefield medics wanted to gag.  I knew things were going to be ugly once when the manager asked me to go up to D-wing, gave me the room number, and told me to wait for Alma. 

"Don't go in and don't touch anything. Just let Alma handle it and then bring whatever it is back down here.  Frank will load it."

It was bad all right.  Somebody had vented their body from both ends and I had never seen such a mess.  I looked away.  Along came Alma and calmly loaded it all up into my cart.  In typical understated fashion, he uttered a rare comment:

"It's kinda filthy."

I guess it's good to work with a large spectrum of people.  Gives you perspective.  At least that's what I say after having been forced to do it.  But I often wonder what it would be like to be one of those people who always have it easy.