When Rudy arrived at Wigman's Grocery, the store was already open and teeming with customers since sunrise. Not that it mattered to Rudy, as he hadn't been assigned to help open the store for months. The mountain made an unobtrusive beeline to the back of the store, then clocked in. He pulled out his Wigman's Grocery baseball cap as he shoved his dufflebag into his locker. He put his cap on as he hurried to the loading dock of the stockroom. Rudy was needed for his special talents, after all.
Despite having been an athlete and a photojournalist, Rudy got his current job as a box boy by calling on a favor owed to him by the store's founder, Bernard Wigman Senior. Bernard Senior felt he owed Rudy dearly as Rudy was one of the few people who took the loving time to teach his beloved grandson how to be and stay a just and upstanding team player. In Rudy's case, he systematically literally beat the teenage pomposity out of Bernard III in high school wrestling and high school football. Six years ago, upon hearing the tragic situation of Rudy and his family, Senior and III were both eager to offer condolences and assistance. Thus, over the overridden protests of the staunchly anti-sentimentalist Bernard Junior, Rudy "The Monster" Kaplan was made "Wigman's Grocery's Number One Box Boy," a title Rudy held uncontested ever since.
In the crowded stockroom, Bernard III, the morning supervisor, warmly shook his Monster's hand, lurid memories of Boston crab holds and concussive tackles ever fresh in his mind.
"Let's get bananas on these bananas!" the supervisor laughed. If Rudy wasn't dead positive that he'd kill him, he would have punted Bernard for using that stale, old chestnut again. And again and again. But the Monster was too polite, and the morning's truckload of fruit wasn't going to unload itself, especially since the store's only working forklift had been out of commission and out of gas for the past six years.
The other workers swarmed and milled about, lending Rudy half-hearted assistance in the form of unpacking and carrying away the unloaded pallets while shooing away looky-loos. The other staff always marvelled over their #1 Box Boy's strength, despite witnessing semi-daily demonstrations for the past six years.
In the middle of toting his eighth pallet (loaded with muskmelon crates), Rudy stopped by the bakery department, and half-knelt down as he set the pallet onto the floor.
"What's the Monster doing?" a baker asked as she watched Rudy arch his back while reaching backwards.
"He's stretching," another baker explained. Neither baker noticed him staring longingly (upside-down) at a big display gondola freshly stacked with bags of freshly baked macarons.
Most of the staff originally sided with Junior in balking over what was obviously a shameless display of blatant nepotism. But, after witnessing the Monster Kaplan at work, coupled with fingering all of the money he saved them from spending on heavy machinery maintenance, they promptly welcomed their #1 Box Boy.
Now that Rudy finished surveying the bakery, he picked up his pallet of muskmelons and returned to his route to the fresh produce department. After unloading his eleventh pallet, he felt III slap him on his muscle-humped back.
"Take it easy there, Monster," Bernard III said as he patted his own, jiggling beerbelly. "Why don't you go on break now?"
"Thanks, B. See you after lunch?" Rudy smiled as he started back towards the lockers. Bernard III didn't answer. As far as he was concerned, III clocked out a long, long time ago when he stupidly hired his high school rival in the stupid hope of finally one-upping said rival. In fact, III even (secretly) figured that the Monster could do everyone's job, from his to Bert's in accounting and Angie's in the floral department, and still come out looking like Mr. Universe on steroids.
Wigman's #1 Box Boy decided that he'd spend his break catching up on mop duty. After he pulled on a pair of elbow-length rubber gloves, he wheeled his cleaning cart around the store, swabbing the floor here and there with his mop, trusting people not to notice that his mop bucket was empty of water. He made a wide and leisurely arc in the bakery, then headed to the ladies' restroom. Rudy set a plastic caution cone in front of the door before wheeling his cart inside. Now alone, Rudy dumped his mop bucket full of ill-gotten goodies onto the restroom counter. He never visited the employee lounge, let alone eat there. While the other staff appreciated his work at the store, they made sure he understood that they wouldn't be caught dead socializing with him. Of those staff who could be bothered to remember Rudy's past, the only reason they could think of over why The Monster Kaplan would come come crawling back to this urban podunk of a hometown just to beg his high school rival for a submenial job was a future-eating scandal. And they didn't want to taint themselves by mingling with a steroid-mutated scandal jockey. Other employees not in the know simply avoided mingling with a man who looked, smelled, and shed like a Siberian in summertime Tampa.
Rudy surveyed his goodies, an heirloom tomato, a carton of grapefruit sherbet, a box of macarons, a rainbow trout, and his prize of prizes, a really fatty cut of steak that the store butcher thought she threw out. He clutched his steak with both gloved hands and rammed it into his waiting mouth. Rudy knew the real reason why the other employees shunned him: they were sore he never had the stomach to join them in their gossip. After all, he felt it was a fair trade if he let them believe whatever they wanted to believe about him if they never bothered him about discretely using the store as his personal pantry as revenge for being paid less than minimum wage. He gobbled up his tomato, tore into his trout, slurped on his sherbet, and wolfed down a big handful of macarons. He looked up from the sink to meet the shocked gaze of an elderly lady in a purple mumu. Her mouth hung open in apparent horror over seeing a man in the ladies' restroom. Rudy hurriedly tossed his uneaten treasures into the trashcan.
"It's not what you think, ma'am!" he apologetically sputtered. "I was just examining produce!" And then his sideburns miraculously bloomed into mighty, snow-colored muttonchops right before the elderly lady's eyes. He quickly realized that the old woman was now officially beyond calming or reasoning, what with the way she was inhaling. Rudy braced for the worst as he clutched his baseball cap as the silver-haired banshee began imitating an air raid siren.
Wigman's Grocery's ladies' restroom filled up with managers, looky-loo clerks, and the balding, mustachioed afternoon supervisor, Bernard Wigman Junior. Now that she was safe, the banshee leaned into the beanpole arms of Dougal Bixby, Wigman's Grocery's #2 Box Boy.
"Oh, my stars! This pervert monster was doing some satanic masturbation ritual right before my very eyes!" Dougal pulled out a handkerchief for her while some of the managers began shooting Rudy and each other asking glares. "He was using a fish and potions and cookies and blood! See? Look at him! Look! He's turning into a monster right before our very eyes!"
Managers and clerks, even Dougal, all started sharing a dirty laugh. Rudy felt his hackles crackling through the skin of his spine, creeping up out from the back of his shirt collar to merge with the back of his shaggy scalp. Everyone went respectfully mute the moment Junior gave everyone his fish-eyed glower of doom.
"Ma'am," Supervisor Junior began. "Wigman's Grocery has no rules or policies barring employees from performing their work-related duties in restrooms of opposite genders."
Supervisor Junior sighed, and all of the assembled employees stiffed into more appropriately somber and solemn expressions.
"But, but he's, he's...!" the old lady continued protesting.
"Mr. Bixby, please escort the nice lady to the customer service lobby and give her a $15 giftcard."
The supervisor sighed again, and everyone promptly took their cue to follow Dougal and the old lady out of the ladies' restroom. Junior tugged on his mustache as he turned to Rudy.
"Mr. Kaplan, you know you're late for your shift at the coffee bar, right?"
"I... I can explain, Mr. Wigman! I... I can pay for the giftcard, too!" Box Boy #1 stammered.
"Mr. Kaplan, you know you're late for your shift at the coffee bar, right?"
"Oh, uh, yes, sir!" Rudy anxiously wheeled his cart out.
"And Mr. Kaplan," the afternoon supervisor continued.
"Yes, sir?" The mountain paused.
"The time you enjoy your bonus on company time, please remember to take the time to lock the door so we hopefully won't get another PR disaster like we did today, okay?"
If it were up to Junior, he would have fired that Charles Atlas hairball a long time ago. In fact, if it were up to him, he would have fired the hairball, Bixby, his own miserable son, and everyone else, everyone else, a long, long time ago. But that would require defying the wishes of the store's executive director, and defying the executive director would, in turn, require defying his father's dying plea that Junior never defy the executive director. If Bernard Wigman Junior never found it within his heart of hearts to defy his father during the 54-something years he knew him, he wasn't going to bother trying now, either.