Bow Ties, Hot Dogs, and Clowns
Having just graduated high school, and finding myself wanting more money in my pocket than my parents afforded me through their kindness, I applied for a job at a local grocery store. Standing by the magazine rack that sat just before “lane three”, I spoke to who would become my first manager David, who took a chance and hired me even though I was referred by a friend that worked in the meat department. What I knew of work was what I knew in life, do what you are told. For a year, I did just that. I did what I was told, and fortunately, David and the management staff at that grocery store could be trusted with the responsibility that comes with telling people what to do.
There were friends from high school working there. There were older men and women who were looking forward to retirement working there. There were failed drag racers and architects that worked there as well. We were, though incredibly strange at times, a family in all the best ways a family can be defined. We used paper bags and never thought about the impact it had on the environment. We used price guns (label makers) for each item and wondered how in the world a bar code and scanner would ever work. We saw people we knew and people we had yet to meet shop in our store, but rarely did we see someone would not eventually get to know.
Though the only thing I told David (the manager) that I would not do was work in the meat department, I worked behind four large panes of glass, just behind the meat counter, for several months. It was in the back of the store and provided a vantage point to view most of the store. We could make funny gestures to the cashiers up front and we could cut up with the stock boys in the back of the store. We got to play music, which after the managers left, usually was provided via cassette and included albums from Van Halen, Dio, or Bob Dylan. The main work was cleaning up, and became a routine on the nights that I worked. If we worked past close, we were allowed to take off our bow tie.
Did I not mention the bow tie? It was a clip on. It was dark blue and polyester and could withstand hurricane winds and torrential downpours. And as much sense as it must have made in 1943, it was not what a recent graduate of high school would have chosen to wear anywhere but White Store grocery store. Our uniform allowed for blue jeans, but we were required to have a button down, white, collared shirt, and we had to wear this company provided bow tie. As ridiculous as that seemed at the time, the wearing of it did allow for some camaraderie and as long as we stuck together, it was not so demeaning.
In the meat department, there were three other men besides myself. Between the four of us, beef was ground, fresh fish was put out each day, and the prepackaged meat inventory stayed rotated and stocked. We joked around with the deli girls, and on Thursday nights, we were allowed to cook the “close to expire” product for a store wide meal after our department meeting. It was during one of these meetings that I became as red with embarrassment as I had ever been.
While checking inventory in the cases, a woman in her mid-thirties, asked innocently enough, if we had any footlong hot dogs. It was a question to which I did not have the answer, so I went to three people behind the glass to ask the question of them. One was an older man, one was the forty year old manager, and one was my friend. They had taken notice of the woman and her appearance. They saw me speaking with her and then my coming to them with a question. In an attempt to speed up the process, I asked them if we had “footlongs”. Immediately, the older man smiled the grin of a cat in childhood tale, the manager looked my way with an expression of surprise I remember to this day, and my friend found himself laughing. The response from the manager was a simple “no”, but the faces of my coworkers made it impossible for me to speak again to the woman without laughing.
She and I realized the humor. She more so than me, as I wanted to, at that moment, do anything but have that conversation. I was truly embarrassed, mostly at my inability to communicate without laughing. From time to time, the guys I worked with would make some comment about the situation just to see me turn red with embarrassment once again. Even now, though this article is specifically about the incident, it makes me a little sheepish. But I tell the story for two reasons.
The first reason is to show, that most of what we are embarrassed about is immediately humorous to someone with another point of view. Often, God may be the first one to laugh. Often, God may be the one laughing the hardest. When, eventually, we are able to find the humor in an embarrassing situation, it helps us detach from our experience and see life for the one big mess of overthinking and self-importance that it really is.
Secondly, it is told as a way to remind myself that as serious as all of this life seems to be, there are moments, that require nothing but laughter. We have heard that it is good for the soul. To some extent, I would argue that it is the soul, and only when we are laughing are we close to the heavens. Sometimes all we can do is laugh. What we do in between laughter will be reduced to laughter, once we consider the seriousness with which we pursued our “important” items. We cannot laugh for others, but always, we should be willing to laugh for ourselves.
Good laughter, that which is an involuntary response and sometimes uncontrollable is the best laughter. It is like a hiccup or a sneeze. Our bodies need to hiccup or sneeze for some reason known more by doctors than by me. Our souls need to laugh, the reasons for which we are unsure, but for the benefits known fully to us all. While some recommend gurus that teach this or that meditation, I recommend comedy specials. While some recommend methods of prayer and worship, I recommend joke books. And while we are constantly faced with wanting what we do not have, I recommend giggling with children, at the fact that we think if we have those things, we will be somehow satisfied. In the same way that our body is mostly water, and yet we do not think of our body as water, life may not be one big joke, but life is mostly humorous.
And just so you know I am serious. Just so you know how important this is. And just so you know the depths I am willing to go to in order to promote laughter. I will end with a question.
Have you seen that clown that hides from dumb people?