I have a friend named Dawn. She has been my friend for nearly 25 years. We met while working in jewelry store, called “RJ Walker” (not the real name). I was 20 and Dawn was 18. I had taken a semester off from college and Dawn was working to prepare to move to California, in a creepy van, with her then-boyfriend, Ryan.
This jewelry store wasn’t normal. This could be the understatement of the year. It might be the understatement of the century. Let me try to explain.
The jewelry itself, predominantly, was sterling silver. The owners bought in bulk, therefore getting exceptionally low prices. Even with their mark-up, the retail prices were very reasonable. Earrings ranged from $7 to $50, with most being in the lower range- $7 to $20. They were perfect for birthday presents – one kid to give to another. Plus the store provided free gift wrapping. And the selection was CRAZY. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of earrings to pick from. They also had bracelets, necklaces, charms, rings, crystals (yeah, it was the 90’s).
The store also had an “Estate Jewelry” section. Dawn and I were not allowed anywhere near the estate jewelry cases. Only the owners and the store manager, Liz Hooper Lesbian Lover, were allowed to go into those cases. While I’m sure the pieces were fairly priced, our grubby little paws were not permitted to touch those cases.
The stuff of my nightmares
Because they had such a huge selection, the jewelry cases were packed with stuff. And it all had to be straightened and arranged, and straightened, and polished, and straightened and the tags fixed and straightened… you get the picture. The bulk of the day, we would straighten the cases. And then around 2pm, the rush would start.
May I help you?
The store would fill up with people browsing. Then they would buy and we would write up the sales slip by hand, box and wrap the item and send them on their merry way. The customers LOVED the store.
Behind the scenes, it was an asylum.
The owners were a married couple, Ray and Jan Neurotic (again, not their real last name. I got the last name by opening the dictionary at random and pointing to a word. No joke, that’s the word I picked at random.). They were both nerdy and unattractive. My guess is they were probably around 40. They seemed old to me, but in truth, they could have been in their mid to late 30s. Jan could have been very pretty if she used a little make-up and wore some non-circa 1973- librarian clothing. She had long, straight, red hair. She always wore it pulled back severely in a tight bun. She had beautiful, alabaster skin… but she had a huge, unsightly, hairy, annoying growth… his name was Ray, her husband.
Ray and Jan were making a fraking bundle with this store, the customers loved them… but if you worked for them, it was a whole different story.
Jan was nice, actually. I always felt like, maybe, she had been tricked into marrying Ray. Like, maybe she lost a bet or had been sold into some type of white, hairy slavery. Jan had a few little quirks, but she did snicker, under her breath at Ray, which was always amusing. Jan was not nearly as self-important as Ray. I think she hated the customers, she didn’t voice it as much as Ray.
The physical sight of Ray could be daunting. He was a tall man, and was on the enormous side. Ray resembles something out of a 70’s horror p*rn film. He is Ron Jeremy-esque, only not as sexy, and hair-free.
That’s right, I’m the SEXY one
Ray had a white man’s afro, a full moustache and beard. And when I say full, I am talking about Grizzly Adams-full.
Ray looked like Grizzly Adams. Well-Grizzly Adams if he had fought a bear for a ham sandwich. Ray, also, wore wrap-around mirrored Oakley sunglasses.
I’m so cool
Some guys could get away with wrap-around mirrored Oakley sunglasses. Ray is not one of them.
He was always dressed in a suit and wore an “interesting” tie. In fact, customers would comment on his tie, to which he would reply “Oh, I decided to tie one on!” Har Har Har Har. Har.
Let’s tie one on, shall we?
Ok, the first time, maybe it is slightly funny. Slightly. But after hearing it every day, at least 4 times per day… I’m over it. I wanted to “tie one on” to his throat and pull tight.
Ray is great. Just ask him, he’ll tell you. Ray believes he is, absolutely, the smartest person in the room…and by “room,” I mean universe. He knew more about everything than anyone.
Vizzini stole his line from Ray’s mindset “Have you ever heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates? MORONS!!”
Ray believed he was, certainly, better than Dawn and me, but also better than the people who shopped in his store. As soon as the store emptied out, he would nitpick, criticize and laugh at each customer that he felt was not as perfect as he was- which was all of them.
• Whoa. She needs some plastic surgery.
• Whoa. She should stop getting plastic surgery.
• She should spend more money on her wardrobe, especially if she wants to keep that husband of hers.
• She should STOP spending so much on jewelry, especially if she wants to keep that husband of hers.
• Could you imagine waking up next to THAT every morning. (oddly, not said to his own reflection.)
• Maybe she should lay off the Baskin Robbins.
• She should shop down the street at that OTHER jewelry store.
• That guy is an idiot.
• Go have another drink.
• Ha! He can’t afford to shop here.
• Honey, stick with The Food Emporium.
It was endless.
Normally, I love that crap. However, these were the people who were supporting him. These were the people who, time after time, patronized his store. There were the people that paid for him to have a home and clothing. These were the people that laughed at his stupid jokes. These were the people who kept him in ham sandwiches. In my opinion, thinking something shitty and inappropriate is one thing, but saying it out loud is something entirely different.
Don’t get me wrong, both are BAD, but he was saying it in front of employees… employees who did not, as it turns out, sign a privacy or non-disclosure agreement. In my opinion it was irresponsible and frankly, it was just a shitty thing to do.
Dawn and I worked in the shop from 8 to 6, Monday through Friday. The pay, at the time, was GREAT. The Minimum Wage in 1991 was $4.25. We made $8 per hour. Which would have been great, except a considerable portion of my salary went to pay for the parking tickets I would get- literally EVERY DAY.
The town had parking meters, and even though I would feed the meter every two hours, they would ticket me because my car was in the lot for longer than two hours. So thanks Gottrocksville, CT- I’m sure my parking tickets put a new wing on the Town Hall. Jerks.
Ray and Jan had a few rules.
1) No perfume in the store (if you had perfume on, Jan would stand over you while you scrubbed off)
2) You could not leave the store for your lunch break – this way, if they got busy, they could SNATCH you, mid-bite, from your soggy, stale sandwich at any moment.
3) Conversation in the store was prohibited. Ray, Jan and Liz Hooper Lesbian Lover could talk to one another, and they could talk at us, but Dawn and I were not permitted to speak to one another, unless it was jewelry related.
To clarify, Liz Hooper Lesbian Lover- phonetically, must be pronounced:
Liz Hooooooooooooooper Lessssssssssssssbian Lovvvvvvvvvvvvah.
Are we clear?
We had a radio in the store. And the station we listened to played the same two songs over and over and over. Whitney Houston’s Star Spangled Banner and Gloria Estefan “Coming out of the Dark.”
I‘m coming out of the dark
Gloria had just recovered from her bus accident and had to have a steel rod put into her spine. Despite Dawn and my unwavering love and concern for the health of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine- we heard that song so often we wished she had died.
Ray and Jan did not anticipate a friendship developing between Dawn and me. Dawn and I developed an entire language of talking with our eyes. Their No-Talking Rule only drove Dawn and I closer together. Every evening after work, we would regroup in the parking lot out back, and rehash the ridiculousness of the day.
Each day would start with Ray sending one of us (usually me) to a local Deli to get his lunch. The Deli was about ½ a mile away and the sandwiches were pricey. Like $6 or $7 (in 1991) Keep in mind, the time is 8:30am… and I’m ordering his LUNCH. Even the best sandwich is not so tasty sitting for 4 hours in a musty, hot back room of a jewelry store/ asylum. Every day, I’d take the lunch order. Jan would get varying meats- sometimes turkey, sometimes ham, sometimes tuna… Liz Hooper Lesbian Lover would eat nothing but celery sticks and Dawn may or may not order a sandwich. Ray would always order the same thing: HAM. Every. Cotton. Picking. Day.
It’s what’s for lunch…every day
Me: Ray, what do you want for lunch?
Ray: Hmmmmmm, Ham. On a hard roll. Actually, double ham- they never put enough on there, swiss and…Oh, I’ll go crazy, have them put a little chutney on there too.
(Not for nothing, but a typical Deli usually puts a TON of meat on any sandwich. But Ray realllly, loves his ham.)
I realize this isn’t Ham, but you get the point.
And then Ray would peel off a $20 from his fat bill-fold and place it on the counter in front of me.
He never handed it to me, he just laid it on the glass counter. He had plenty of $20’s in the bill fold and I have to say, monetarily speaking, Ray was generous and he would often treat us to lunch, which was nice. Of course, he was such a colossal douche that when he bought you a sandwich, you felt it was well-earned.
Every day, Ham. Monday? Ham. Tuesday? Ham. Wednesday? Ham. Thursday? Ham. Friday? Here is a shock, Ham.
One day, I saw a glimmer of hope. Change was on the horizon.
Me: Ray, what do you want for lunch?
Ray: Hmmmmmmm. Hmmmmmmm. Today, I am going to have a hard roll, with egg salad.
Dawn and I both looked at each other… WHAT?!?! Egg Salad?!?! Wow. I’m pretty sure Egg Salad is the 6th sign of the Apocalypse.
Oh yes, it’s right there in the Bible- “And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets and an Egg Salad Sandwich.”
Look it up.
I grabbed the money and the order and started to leave and Ray stopped me “Oh Rachel…. Can you have them put some Ham on the side of that sandwich?”
I replied “Right. Side of ham.”
(Yeah, there was a girl that worked there on the weekends named Rachel. Rather than learn our names, Ray just called both of us Rachel.)
When I was hired, we did not review the roles and responsibilities associated with fetching Ray’s lunch. I did, however, assume a reasonable level of responsibility in insuring Ray did, indeed, receive lunch each day. Before I would leave the Deli, I would check to make sure I had the entire order. Any idiot knows not to poke a hungry wookie, so I always checked the bag to make sure Ray’s sandwich was there. I knew it was Ray’s because it was four times the size of every other sandwich. Ok, maybe not four, but it was noticeably larger because 3 pounds of ham tends to take up extra space.
The sandwiches were wrapped in white butcher paper, secured with a piece of masking tape. Because they were wrapped in opaque paper, I could not, visually, check the sandwich to insure the meat was correct. Well I could, but I would have had to un-tape the parcel, remove the paper and inspect the sandwich. I was a good employee, but even I wasn’t going examine a ham sandwich in the alley between Pongetti’s Flooring and the Texaco station. Net/Net, I had to place a modicum of trust in the Deli Dude, I believe his name was Scott, to make the order correctly.
One day, I returned to the store, with two sandwiches and, what I thought to be, Ray’s whole suckling pig…on a hard roll…with a little chutney.
At Ray’s designated feeding time, ham was dumped into his trough… and there was a problem. His ham was, in fact, chicken. You thought Apollo 13 presented a problem???
Ray bounded up the stairs, with the sandwich in paw “Rachel! I ordered a HAM sandwich. This is a CHICKEN sandwich.” shoving the sandwich in my face, chicken remnants clinging to his beard and his “interesting tie.”
He asked me if I checked the sandwich.
I told him, Yes, I checked that I received a sandwich FOR him.
“Why, Rachel, did you not check to make sure you bought me the correct sandwich.” Ray spat.
I stood there looking at him. “I assumed the correct sandwich was put in the bag.” I replied.
As soon as it was out of my mouth, I new it was a mistake. I ASSUMED. And you know what happens when you assume, right?
Apparently, Ray thought I should be standing over the guy making the sandwich so I could guarantee he made the sandwich WITH HAM. Because that wouldn’t be weird for anyone involved.
I wanted to tell Ray to get his own goddamned sandwich and to stop being such an ungrateful jerk. Plus- eating ham every day can’t be good for you. Ever consider a salad you big, hairy oaf?!?! I, however, kept silent.
Ray turned away from me. I thought, perhaps, he might be taking a moment to collect himself, we were, after all, talking about a SANDWICH. I didn’t steal from him. I didn’t crash his car. Nope. Ray was looking for a weapon.
Ray’s weapon of choice
Ray picked up the adding machine and threw it at me. Thankfully, Ray has the throwing skills of a sightless, armless baboon. The adding machine hit the counter and shattered into multiple small pieces. He grabbed his chicken sandwich and stormed downstairs.
I looked around. Jan had her head down, straightening a jewelry case. Liz Hooper Lesbian Lover assumed the same stance a few cases down. Only Dawn looked at me. She smiled her toothy grin, brought her fist up to her chest and quickly mimed “jacking off” in my direction.
Excuse me, do you mind if I wax my porpoise
I proceeded to drag the cumbersome, ancient Electrolux vacuum out of the closet and clean up the pieces of the adding machine- biting the inside of my cheek to suppress my smile and laughter. Thank goodness we had Gloria Estefan to drown out my little snickers.
I fantasized, across town, Stan Brooks, CPA opens his lunch bag and finds a Ham Sandwich instead of his usual Chicken. In my mind he does not yell. He does not pout. He does not hurl electronic mathematical aids in anger. He puts his feet on his desk and says “Cool. I haven’t had Ham in a long time. But who the fuck put chutney on this thing????”
I learned two things from that episode. 1) Ray is spoiled child and 2) I had found a true friend in Dawn.
~TO BE CONTINUED~