Friday, August 1, 2008

Chapter 2: Grocery Store Practice

Ken Korczak: The grocery store worker practices selling groceries every day. That seems obvious, but it is not really obvious, and it’s not even obvious to the store owner him or herself.

How many times do you think the average grocery store owner simply thinks: “Hey, this is what I am doing today, I am working in my grocery store.” The fact is, almost no one thinks this way. The mind of the average grocery store worker is only vaguely aware of what he or she is doing. That’s neither a good thing, nor a bad thing. It’s just an observation.

What is the practice of the grocery store worker? They do all kinds of tasks. For example, they have to stock the shelves of the grocery store. This involves taking tin cans out of cardboard boxes and putting those tin cans onto shelves. Inside the tin cans are food substances. People buy food so they can eat it, and thus sustain their physical bodies.

For example, inside some tin cans are peas. In other cans you might find carrots, or beans, or mushrooms. No matter what kind food you can think of, most of it can be obtained in tin cans.

But consider lettuce. As far as I know, lettuce is never sold in cans. Lettuce is always sold fresh. It arrives at the grocery store just a short time after it was picked in a field. It has to be transported swiftly in cooled trucks so that it does not rot, rendering it unfit to eat. When lettuce is disconnected from the earth, it dies instantly, though it does not decay significantly for several days.

But, anyway, lettuce usually comes to the store in cardboard boxes. The tin cans also arrive in card board boxes. This involves another task, or practice, for the small grocery store owner. Very often, when a truck full of cardboard boxes containing food arrives at the store, the boxes are unloaded in a cooperative effort between the food truck driver and the grocery store owner.

What usually happens is, a long set or steel rollers are set up. These roller are extremely ingenious. They are perhaps 13 or 14 inches wide. They are constructed by taking two metal bars of steel which are parallel to each other. In between and connecting these metal bars are horizontal tubular pieces of steel. These tubular pieces skewer a set of little steel wheels. These little wheels are perhaps an inch wide and maybe 2.5 inches in diameter. They are made of solid metal except for the holes in their centers. They turn freely around their tubular horizontal host objects.

These steel roller construction are each about 6 or 8 feet in length. They are stored in a special place on the food truck. When the truck arrives at the grocery store, the truck driver takes out these sections of steel roller constructs and connects them together, end to end. They hook together real easily. Then, what the grocery store owner does is set up a series of box stacks using boxes which he already has on hand in his warehouse.

He sets up the boxes in such a way that so that the steel-wheel track can be placed on top of them, and so that the wheel tracks slopes down from an opening in the side of the truck. The slope leads into the insides of the grocery store, the back part of the grocery store, that is, where people do not come to shop. This part of the store is for employees only, although pretty much anyone can go back there without any problems -- in most cases.

Anyway, with the steel-wheel track set up and sloping down from the truck into the grocery store, all the truck driver has to do is pick up a box, set it down on the rollers, and the box will be attracted by the force of gravity, which is a fundamental “force” on planet earth -- although it is not well understood. (Gravity may not even be a “force” per se, but I won’t get into that).

The workings of gravity upon the box will cause it to roll down the slope of steel wheels. The store owner positions himself at the end of the steel-wheel track and catch the boxes before the force of gravity can cause the box to go crashing to the ground. When the store owner catches the box, he uses the muscles of his own body to counteract the effects of gravity until he sets the box down. Then the box just sticks to the earth -- more gravity.

It’s vitally important that the store owner catch the box, especially if it contains something fragile, such as glass jars of kosher dill pickles. In fact, sometimes tragic accidents happen.

More than once when I was a young man working in my dad’s grocery store I witnessed a box full of kosher dill pickles fall off the roller track before it reached the end where it could be caught. The result was that the glass jars inside the cardboard box smashed open, which further resulted in large amounts of pickle juice seeping through the cardboard box and running all over the floor. The entire warehouse was then filled with the pungent and pleasant smell of pickle juice. Yet, this was not a positive development, even if you really like the smell of pickle juice, like I do.

The problem is that these pickles have been rendered useless. They cannot be eaten because they will be contaminated with shards and splinters and bits of glass -- and if you ate glass, it would poke holes in your stomach and intestines, and this could lead to your physical death, and it would be an extremely painful death, as well.

And that means that the pickles could not be sold in the grocery store for money. Many grocery store owners would tell you that this is the whole purpose of what he is doing. He is selling food products to obtain money, but of course, this is a complete misunderstanding, which I won’t go into until later in these discussions.

Let me just say for now that -- and pay very close attention right now -- the incident of the shattered case of kosher dill pickles -- is every bit as significant as any other thing the grocery store worker is doing -- including the successful sale of kosher dill pickles that have not been shattered in a gravity-caused accident. But more on that later -- I promise.

By the way, and as much as I loathe digressions, I should explain that kosher dill pickles are a kind of food product that are prepared according to very exacting precepts as developed by the Jewish faith. Many Jews will eat only kosher food products so that they can not only remain healthy, but also please their God. I am no expert on the Jewish faith, but I assume that the methodology of kosher food preparation were somehow revealed to the Jewish people by their God -- and their God did this as a way to protect his people from any harm that might come from food that is not prepared in the proper way -- that is -- the kosher way.

But even though some foods are kosher -- as are many variety of dill pickles -- you do not have to be a Jew to eat them and enjoy them. If you are a Catholic, Buddhist, or even an atheist, you can eat and enjoy kosher dill pickles. The Jewish people do not mind of non-Jewish people eat their kinds of kosher prepared foods. The grocery store owner also does not have to be Jewish in order to sell food products prepared by Jews. For example, my dad was a Catholic, and he not only sold kosher dill pickles, he also ate them. I eat them all the time and I am not a Jew.

Finally, not all Jews eat only kosher foods. Some Jews will east non-kosher foods.

But now let’s get back to the specific practice of unloading a food truck.

Once the cardboard boxes of food reach the grocer at the end of the roller track, the grocer usually stacks the boxes up in piles that tend to be about 5 feet high. Then, another store employee uses a device called a “dolly” to pick up the stacks of boxes. A dolly is another device that makes the resistance of gravity easier. I won’t describe the dolly in detail here, but perhaps I will later. The employee then transports the boxes into the front part of the grocery store.

Now let me ask you a question. How often do you think the grocery store owner or worker is thinking while unloading food boxes from the food truck:

“Hey, the force of gravity is moving these boxes along a track of steel rollers, and that energy is totally free of charge -- that is -- gravity moves things without people having to pay some money to some other people to make it happen! We can also use gravity to help us do things without there being any exchange of money being involved!”

I’m willing to bet that almost no grocery store owner has thoughts like this, and even if they do, they do not pay attention to such thoughts.

And a further question must be asked: “Does the store owner think at all about what he is doing -- even though the practice of grocery store work is the central element in his or her daily life?”

Again, the answer is: “Not very much.” The fact is, tasks like sending boxes down a roller track is done sort of “automatically.” Some part of the human brain is handling the task, and paying some attention to it, but for the more part, the grocery store owner is doing very, very little thinking about the boxes of food rolling into the store and from off the truck. The store owner does not think: “Here comes another box! It's rolling on some steel wheels!”

Sometimes, he may be thinking, “Here comes a box of pork & beans. That goes in aisle 4." But even this thought is vague. Again, it’s almost automatic.

So by now you may be wondering, what the hell is my point? Well, what I am talking about here is the practice of running a grocery store. When you run a grocery store, you perform dozens of different tasks every day. It does not matter which task you are practicing at any given moment. In the grand scheme of things, it does not matter whether you are performing them very well, or very poorly, or in just an average way. The important thing is that you are doing this practice, and in performing the task of a grocery store owner, you are being a grocery store owner.

Strictly speaking, for a grocery store owner, there is no other practice than this practice. There is no other way of life than this life -- remember -- for the grocery store owner. When you are owning and operating a grocery store, that is what you are doing. That is your life. if you are not doing that, then just what the hell are you doing? You might tell yourself, “Well I’m only doing this until something better comes along.” Ha! Ha! Come on, don’t bullshit yourself! If you are working in a grocery store today, then that is what you are doing today, and that is what you are.

Does this means that when you are not practicing your grocery store tasks, you are not a grocer? Well, let’s say you are at a cocktail party and someone asks you what you do for a living. You would naturally answer, “I'm a grocer.” So there you are, drinking a glass of iced vodka at a party, not even inside your grocery store at the moment, and what do you naturally call yourself? You call yourself a grocer.

But you might say, “Okay, I’m a grocer, but I am also a father, an American citizen, a husband, a party goer, a member of the Elks clubs, and so on.” You might also say, “Okay, I’m a grocer, but I’m not just a grocer. I am many things!”

What the hell are you? Who the hell are you? What you really seem to be saying that there is a kind of “blank self” that can be made to be anything you want it to be at any moment -- now your are an Elk Brother, now you are a grocer, now your are a Catholic. All of these identities are like planets orbiting around a central “sun” which you consider to be the “I“, that is, you.

Then you might say, “Well, what’s wrong with that?” Well, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, I’m just telling you to take a look at this whole issue and perhaps contemplate it once and a while. If you don’t want to do that, I don’t care.

So this is where I will end it for today. As always, I leave with you today’s exercise:

“When you are in your grocery store, pay close attention to what you are doing, no matter what it is you are doing.”


No comments: