Safe with the Gaping Maw

tale of termination by bill dollar

Recently, at CALA supermarket in San Francisco, I came to the check-out with a quart of buttermilk for myself, and an expensive bottle of ale for a friend, and the young woman at the cash register charged me only for the buttermilk. The boy who was bagging scoped what she did, and we all three caught each other's eye, and nobody said anything, but the girl smiled slightly, and then I said "Thankyoubye" and left, feeling great from the experience. I'm sure they enjoyed the joke, too.

Ten years ago I worked as a clerk in a very popular health food store in San Francisco, stocking shelves, minding the produce and occasionally tending the cash register. The place was very successful, doing in excess of a million dollars worth of business annually when worked there. The owner was a very driven, "Type A" kind of guy, who showed great single-mindedness in pursuit of the bucks. I didn't care for him much. He was a sleaze who chased the female employees.

The longer I worked in this place, the more I took to a practice which some European intellectuals have (I believe) called "self-reduction," that is, using my place in the system to subvert the system. Friends of mine, friends of friends, and anyone who looked like their food budget was a major concern got fabulous discounts. Fabulous discounts. During the time I worked in that store I made a hobby out of doing that type of thing. I know it always made me feel great.

Other people who worked there engaged in the same sort of thing, to one degree or another, and certainly everyone took food for themselves, the boss expected it. Despite all this, the store continued to be very profitable. There was a concrete drop safe in the back of the store, with a slot in it through which the cashiers were to drop, at the end of their shifts, the envelopes containing their cash register tape, cash and checks. Sometimes the take from a particular shift would be so massive the cashiers would have problems jamming the wads of cash through the narrow slot. A couple of them found it very frustrating to have to do this after a tiring shift, and they complained of it. So the boss widened the slot in the concrete with a cold chisel and hammer. A short while later, it was widened again (thick wads of cash) so that a young boy could get his hand and forearm in there easily. Once, when was in the back of the store getting high with a friend, my friend scoped the drop safe with the gaping maw, and he started listing ways I could fish the cash back out, but I never did use any of them. I certainly wish I had.

Somebody else took the initiative. One morning they came up a thousand dollars short (the tape was there, the cash was not) and the proverbial shit hit the fan. Management's solution to this thorny problem was to get everybody to take a lie detector test, or else they could take a walk. Within a day or two the lie detector test guys showed up, and all the employees had to be there, too, or else.

There were two lie detector test guys, and they came in two customized vans with lie detectors inside. No waiting! I said no way was going to take that lie detector test. The straw boss (a guy I actually liked) said fine, get lost, and by the way that proves to me that you took the thousand bucks. Well that got me steamed. It was a total Catch-22 ! So I decided, since I was going to be fired anyway, that I would take that test, and confess to all my little crimes (which I thought might actually be fun) and exonerate myself of that one big crime. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!!! I don't really want to go into too much detail about my ordeal in the customized van. It was horrid, naturally. sat in this plush chair wired up to this machine like a laboratory animal, while this Marcus Welby android asked me questions and studied the readings on his machine. He started with some really dumb questions, I guess to make sure his machine was working, and then he started asking me questions about the store, and what did there, and I told only the truth, which was certainly enough to get me fired, make no mistake. Then he asked me point blank, did take the thousand? and I told him point blank, "No." And he said well the machine says you are lying, so he asked me again, and I told the truth again, and he said well the machine says you're lying again, as far as I'm concerned you did it. So he fingered me. Hey, Kafka ain't in it!

So I left the place in shame and disgrace, with everybody secretly respecting me for being a bad dude (ha-ha, just kidding) because the lie detector test guy said did it. I'm sure that everybody who asked about my sudden disappearance from the store got the same story. It occurs to me as I write this (reflecting back on that sordid affair for this first time in quite a few years) that I might actually have sued them for defamation of character and won, because the guy who did it (ex-boyfriend of one of the cashiers, I think) came forward, not to confess, but to brag about it to the boss's face (good for him!). This was about a month later, too late for them to make a case, guess. Anyway the young buck just couldn't resist bragging about what he did. I really do wish it had been me. Oh well, at least there is in this story a moral for us all, which is: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, CONSENT TO TAKE A LIE DETECTOR TEST, FOR ANY REASON! LIE DETECTOR TESTS LIE!!!

Thank you.

--by Bill Dollar