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Friday, December 09, 2011

LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET

Holy fuckballs, what a story I have for you…

As regular readers of this blog are aware, I have been unemployed for going on two years, and my unemployment benefits ran out on the day before Thanksgiving. Since then I’ve hustled and brooded and been a nervous, despairing wreck, wondering about what fate has in store for me, especially when considering my very limited financial resources. In short: I’m forty-six, jobless, living in New York City (specifically in Brooklyn’s Park Slope), and nothing is happening in terms of a bright light on the job horizon.

On Friday afternoon I received one of the freelance checks I’d been expecting and in no time at all most of it was spent on my rent and the bills that have been gathering moss, so, with weary heart, I went to the local supermarkets to pick up the fixings for a sandwich that would approximate the outstanding sausage and peppers delight I’d experienced just one day previous. (There’s no companionship or sex going on in my life at the moment thanks to there being no merry and horny female present, comic books have lately been mostly an enormous disappointment, there have been no movies that pique my interest, so I’ve occasionally been taking meager comfort in food.) I first stopped at the Key Food on 5th Avenue, the one just a stone’s throw from Flatbush Avenue, and snagged some of their excellent sweet Italian sausages, after which I walked up the street to the Associated market located around the corner from my humble abode to pick up the rest of what I needed.

Upon wandering the store’s aisles, zombie-like, I got on line at the checkout counter and found myself directly behind some random guy and a woman who was annoyingly holding up the proceedings by trying to explain to the cashier that two of the four items she’d brought up were not the right ones on the sales circular, so she wanted to replace them. She explained this to the cashier in the most convoluted and time-consuming manner humanly possible, and myself and the guy in front of me were both about ready to pull our hair out as this decidedly one-sided exchange dragged on. “Great,” I thought to myself, “not only am I about to spend most of the last of my pitiful funds, I have to wait behind this walking annoyance while doing so.” Presently, one of the store’s employees came over to me and steered me off of the non-moving line and had me stand at the far checkout aisle, right behind two mother with strollers who were unloading enough food onto the counter to feed all of the Occupy Wall Street crowd. That line was clearly not going to move either, so the staffer apologized for taking me off of my first position and promptly steered me back to where I was in the first place, and in the maybe twenty seconds that elapsed between my shifts in lines, three more people had gotten on line in front of me. So there I was, stuck with a choice of two lines, neither of which was making any kind of progress.

While stuck on line behind the lady who wanted to exchange her items that were not on the sales circular, my eyes began to glaze over and my mind focused on just how my life had suffered a slow and depressing reversal of fortune from the time when I first hit NYC as a wide-eyed college grad who’d landed a job at Marvel Comics — a dream job to one of my geekish ilk — through my being let go from that job thanks to the company’s Chapter 11 woes, on to my time at DC/Vertigo and the mishegoss endured there, followed by two years of unemployment before working at the barbecue joint and dealing with that place’s attendant issues, finally arriving at the dead end of my largely worthless job at the design ‘ho house and my subsequent unemployment in the wake of what was at the time its latest wave of brutal layoffs. I pondered how it could possibly be nearly two years — TWO YEARS — since that layoff and how my life had just lurched along as a shabby going-through-the-motions existence, and the more I considered all of that, the more morose and fed up with life I became.

Suddenly my death march down the dark corridor of memory was interrupted by a frantic-looking guy bearing a bottle of seltzer, and he looked at me with an expression of earnest need plastered across his face. He sheepishly said, “I’m sorry to be ‘that guy’ but can I please go ahead of you? I just have this one item…” After enduring the long lines and annoyance, I was irritated by his request, but I remembered the lessons learned as a wee lad at my mother’s side during many excursions to the market, and she always let people in this guy’s situation go ahead of her, simply because it was the polite and kind thing to do. A simple act of courtesy and kindness in this miserable world keeps us all civilized and all that, right? So I let the guy go ahead of me, for which he offered profuse thanks.

Then, as his one item was rung up, an alarm went off, a loud popping noise was heard (like a champagne cork) and the air around us was filled with balloons. Just as abruptly, the manager’s office door burst open and out flew a video cameraman, a crew member wielding a mike on a short boom, and a guy bearing one of those enormous simulated checks as seen in sweepstakes ads on TV and in magazines. Then a large, glad-handing guy breezed over and directly addressed the seltzer guy with, “Congratulations, sir! You are this store’s one-millionth customer…and you have just won FIFTY-THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!”

(pause for you to process this)

Yes, you read that right. The guy I had let cut the line in front of me with one measly item had just won FIFTY FUCKING GRAND, all because of my act of simple courtesy.

As the celebratory atmosphere began to spread and the sweepstakes officials shook the winner’s hand, the enormity of what happened poked me in the frontal lobe like a solid redwood truncheon. The understandably surprised winner reacted with “Awesome!!!” and welcomed the camera crew and sundry others with open arms.

The other shoppers who’d been on line behind me, some of whom were recognizable neighborhood locals and neighbors from the building next door to mine, at first stood there just as gobsmacked as I was, but they recovered more swiftly than I and began shouting statements along the lines of, “Oh, HELL no! That guy (indicating me) let the dude with the soda go in front of him, so he’s the real winner! This isn’t right!!!” As it all sank in, I said aloud, “This is a joke, right? Seriously, this has to be a joke…please tell me this is a joke…” My words were utterly ignored as the prize people began to usher the winner away for a photo op but before they could full get away, I centered myself and, with no yelling or cursing, announced to the camera in my most stentorian and serious voice, “People, here you see a prime example of exactly why being polite and considerate of others is pointless. I let this guy go ahead of me with his one item and now he’s fifty thousand dollars richer. I’m unemployed and struggling and I get zero. That it. I’m out!”

That only served to fan the flames of the onlookers’ outrage and they began hurling verbal abuse at the store’s manager, while I, feeling a galaxy-wide sense of complete and utter defeat, just waited for my groceries to be rung up. The cashier, who’s served me for years, saw how crushed I was and, looking like she was about to be physically ill, asked me “Are you okay?” to which I responded with “No, I’m most definitely not okay. I just want to take my groceries and go home…” That was certainly true. If I didn’t leave right then, I would have likely smashed my head repeatedly against the nearest wall in an expression of cosmic frustration. More shoppers came over and offered to tell the manager that the seltzer guy only won because I let him cut in front of me, but I had said my piece and was resigned to the simple fact that I had once again lost in the game of life and that again I’d unwittingly been drafted as a source of amusement for whatever cruel gods there may be.

Then a woman walked over and stated she’d witnessed what had happened and that she would try and have words with the manager and try to make things right, but again I stated my desperate desire to simply leave this death camp of my own personal existential mockery. She let that thought hang for a moment and then stated that I’d just been part of a taped “social experiment” and that her crew would pay for my groceries and hand me three-hundred dollars cash up front, so would I please step over here to sign some release forms?

Double-stunned, I followed her to the secluded aisle in back of the manager’s office and watched through what seemed to be someone else’s perception as she reached into her coat and produced a manila envelope positively bursting with crisp fifties. She counted out the aforementioned three hundred bucks and handed it to me, after which she asked me a number of questions as I filled out a release form and gave her my full contact information. “Well, we certainly didn’t expect the reaction we got of you,” she stated. “Were you angry as it was all happening?” I looked her square in the face and told her, “Lady, every word I said back there was true. I am unemployed, so when a guy I’d let go in front of me wins fifty G’s, you bet your sweet ass I was angry! I wanted to leave before I tore his fucking head off!!!” She laughed at that and then had me pose for two head shots, holding a piece of paper with my name written on it in strong-smelling marker and standing directly in front of the stacked maxi-pad display. She also made it clear that they needed all of my contact info in case they decided to use my footage for their show, in which case I will be paid at a professional actor’s rate. As we parted, she asked me not to talk to anyone local about all of this since they planned to spring the setup on other unsuspecting shoppers over what remained of the day. (I stuck to not posting about it until the market’s closing time, after which I felt it was kosher. Plus, I very much doubt they’d pull the same move in the same place the following day, so there you go.)

As I gathered my groceries, the staff of the market all came over and laughed as they apologized for setting up one of their regular customers, but I had free groceries and three-hundred bucks in hand, so I was far from mad any more. Then the seltzer guy came over, hugged me, and wished me the best, also stating that he hoped they used my footage because of the unexpected nature of my response. (I’m betting they expected the big, leather-clad black guy to flip out and act the fool in a stereotypical display of the kind of ghetto histrionics that appall/delight viewers, but what they got was obviously something they did not expect at all.) When I walked out, I ran into the film crew and they laughed their asses off as they high-fived me.

It wasn’t until I returned to my apartment that I remembered seeing notices up around the Associated yesterday, notices warning people not to park in front of the place because there was to be a film shoot there the following day. I didn’t pay much attention to them yesterday because the neighborhood is constantly the site of independent film shoots, Hollywood shoots, and frequent episodes of LAW & ORDER: SVU, and as a result of all of that I never give such notices a second thought, so I was the perfect mark for the show’s purposes.

Still quite stunned, I called a few friends and related this story, much to their amazement, and my old friend Jim Browski clued me in to the fact that the show in question is most probably something called WHAT WOULD YOU DO?, a reality show that places unsuspecting citizens in trying situations and lets the camera roll to see how they handle whatever predicament they find themselves in. I don’t have cable, so I’d never heard of the show, but I assure you I’ll let you all know if they decide to air this lunacy.

48 comments:

David said...

Around paragraph 8 I nearly sent you $300, I was feeling so bad.

Da Nator said...

HOLY WTFBALLS!!!

I hope posting the story will be alright.

AND I still think you should get extra for emotional trauma. Even if it gets aired and you get SAG rates, is that going to make nearly fiddy thou or make up for the aneurysm you nearly had? What if you'd just pulled out a gun and ate it? That is an effed-up joke in this economy...

So, uh... happy $300 and a story?

Admin said...

Freaking classic!

Admin said...

Awesomeness.

OthelloNYC said...

Wow, I probably would have been arrested for assault at that juncture...

Tars Tarkas said...

Wow, this is crazy!

Anonymous said...

Jesus Fucking Christ. That is so mean. I wish I could hug you right now Bunche. -- Pia

Tim said...

Alls well that ends well! Still I was rooting for them giving you the 50 G's!!

Amber Love said...

Oh thank God! When I got to the $50k part I turned to mother and made her brace herself while read the rest aloud. She asked why your autobiography isn't published. Love you & congrats.

Jennifer Vandestienne said...

I was really trying to figure this Mystery out yesterday & I assure you- I didn't even come close! I agree with Da Nator Re trauma damages...
Great story, tho'!

Edward Lazellari said...

HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!!!!!!!!
Bunche, I was so depressed for you as I was reading the part about when the guy was getting your $50,000 that i had to get up and walk away from the computer before finishing the rest of the story. I'm happy I returned to finish reading it and that it turned out your act of kindness really did reward you in the end. An uplifting story in the end, but a brutally hard read in the middle for anyone that loves you and feels for you.

nando67 said...

This is freaking awesome, Steve!!!! I was totally laughing at this story and then sad at your financial plight. I know the show, What Would You Do as I watch it with my 9-year old daughter often. She loves it! I Can't wait to see it when it airs. YOU HAVE TO TELL US WHEN IT DOES!

CrystaljDesign said...

I feel like it goes without saying... but only you Bunche, only you. Congrats on the 3 Hundo and keep pounding the pavement for something worthwhile. You're a rare gift, whether the world realizes it yet or not!

Anonymous said...

OMG, I just farted.

Jimmy Palmiotti said...

When amanda told me, my stomach felt like it had a tumor...but I knew something was up since she seemed not so upset. That said, will be a wonderful night of T.V. if they have the balls to air a sequence of a "non-angry" black man. lol.

Either way, they should have let you fill up 2 shopping carts of roast beef and take them as payment with another grand. If only you knew in advance...you could have faked a heart attack and sued them. oh well...go play the fucking lottery this week, will you.

and anyone out there, give this brilliant fuck a job already. Eveyone needs a good writer.

BuddyWeb said...

Is that an actual, real story, Bunche?

Buncheman (pop culture ronin) said...

@BuddyWeb, yes, this actually happened to me on Friday afternoon. When it comes to being mind-fucked with money while I'm hideously unemployed and living at damned near poverty level, I would not bullshit you.

Waerloga69 said...

Wow...I was feeling really bad for you right in the middle of that story. Glad it had a mostly happy ending. Good luck on getting it aired! And better luck on finding work, man.

Hal Bumble said...

Jiminy Freakin' Christmas! Your fortitude & restraint is astonishing. If my ticker had survived long enough I am fairly certain that I would have behaved badly. Well played, sir! I agree, you need to go buy a lotto ticket ASAP before this streak is over.

frosen said...

Steve:

More thany anything else, this piece is brilliant. It should be published. I'd send it to New York Magazine.

Boy do I know how you feel! So many, many times, that's been me in the market without any money, for much of the past two years, it's been similar for me. What we have in common is that reality TV has entered our lives.

fredrosen.com

Stephen Knight said...

Hang tough, Buncheman. There's a buttload of stuff a guy with your talent can do to earn some income...I'll fire some suggestions your way if you're innerested.

John A. said...

DUDE! I live in Red Hook I am 48 and I was A Hasbro Sculptor,I have been unemployed for nearly three years,unemployment long since gone, and the only differnce to our stories is that my girlfriend is my life preserver (after my condo burnt down just to add insult to injury) and has had to deal with my pathetic freelance jobs for longer than most people would after my settlement money ran out.with such a similiar story to yours when I read this I almost lost it to a burst of rage for the injustice of it all. I am Glad it turned out that you got some coin out of it all even though, that is a shitty thing to do to anyone just for a show! Good luck I hope something comes around for you.

wolfy said...

I am blown away by this story Steve, completely blown away.

Hang in there, keep writing, keep the faith, you are too talented to not be noticed and hired soon.

Glenn Greenberg said...

Holy crap, what a post!

Bunche, after what they put you through, they should have let you go through the store for a half hour and then paid for everything you could fit in a shopping cart.

Howard Rappaport said...

That is BANANAS.

The Nerdy Bird said...

Dear god, man. Thank goodness this had the ending it did or else I was gonna have to storm someone's castle. Glad you got compensated for your emotional turmoil at least.

George said...

Hi, Steve--

Happy to hear that you got $300, happier still that you did not either collapse or ragefully stomp the interloper.

Keep writing! this is a great blog!

Todd Kalif

Borislav Высоцкий said...

Здравствуйте! I read story that make sad and also laugh. I take class english so thankyou I use storys for practice. This one best and you write for magazine?

Borislav Высоцкий (Vysotsky)

CNNfan said...

"Excuse me! We're shooting, do you mind?!?!", she screamed at me, some LAW & ORDER crew member.

To which I replied, "Yes Mam! I do mind!!!" as I threw my arms up and stormed right across the set, moving past the actors on the sidewalk.

"Like everyone should just bide their time, at 9am, and be late for work, while they shoot a scene." I thought to myself.

Scott said...

Dude, got here from Chez' place. Excellent restraint! Sorry bout the job situation (me, too). Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

Are you sure this is a What Would You Do episode? Because that's a really good show about ethics and this would be very unethical if it was them. Here is the website so you can see what kinds of shows they do and it's not this sort of prank: http://abcnews.go.com/WhatWouldYouDo/

Melissa said...

"(I’m betting they expected the big, leather-clad black guy to flip out and act the fool in a stereotypical display of the kind of ghetto histrionics that appall/delight viewers, but what they got was obviously something they did not expect at all.)"

I've seen "What Would You Do," and ghetto histrionics is absolutely not what they show or what they were expecting.

Anonymous said...

An unemployed Black man for the past two years ?


Brother, these are the Obama days. You're not even trying!

pm317 said...

Wow, your writing reads like a Guy de Maupassant!
So they will make a lot more money feeding off of your 'predicament'. I hope they give you a good chunk if they air your video. If they don't then just $300 is not enough for what they deliberately put you through.

EBL said...

Beyond being completely manipulated and abused, I was (as a reader) relieved that the guy in front of you did not get the $50K. I assume had you refused to let him cut the line, then he would have been the winner immediately after you had gotten your stuff paid for.

I think your reaction was perfect and well spoken. I hope you get a job soon and this nightmare period of your life is over soon.

Dan said...

This like an episode from "Married With Children" many years ago.

EBL said...

You are also a very good writer.

RHJunior said...

Well, best example of "all's well that ends well." You made some unexpected money, and you might make a little more-- especially if they reuse the footage anywhere.

Abu said...

Basically the staff selected you right?, which means they thought "hang about, we know and like this guy, let's let him have 300 bucks and free groceries"

Them's good people

soubriquet said...

Am I the only person it occurs to that had you not been pushed out of that line into another, then back, then you'd have been finished and out of the store before all the bells and whistles, so somebody after you would have been the centre of all that ruckus?
Which leads me to muse on randomness, and whether that was random, or was the 'store employee' and the slow customers a manipulation to get the pre-chosen mark, you, into the right place to be humiliated?

What a pity you didn't sue the bastards for submitting you to a stressful and humiliating experience, instead of signing their disclaimer.

( recent story,"A consumer court in India awarded Jennifer Robinson 50,000 rupees ($968) in damages from Jet Airways, according to the report, less than the nearly 2.6-million rupees she sought. Ms. Robinson, who works at the High Commission of Canada in India, was on a flight from Bangkok to Delhi in 2009 when she was refused a "rum drink" due to her gender, according to a court order cited by the BBC. In the order, Delhi District Consumer Forum president C.K. Chaturvedi said that the refusal was not only discriminatory but a deliberate insult in front of the other passengers.").
Now, I'd say being refused a drink with rum in it on a flight falls far short of an experience that will scar you for life,
Whereas the stunt to which you were exposed could turn you into a crazed loon who jealously guard in line no matter what desperate story the "I have only one item and..." guy weaves.

Resist it. Remain magnanimous, it's the better way to be. Poor, but good. Rather than rich and grabby.

Anonymous said...

I'm positive I've seen ABC's "What Would you Do?" show an episode just like this....it took place in a Stew Leonard's.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with some of you people?
Maybe he was "targeted" for this project. In which case, if they hadn't done so, He wouldn't even have the $300 he received. He can whine like a baby about being embarrassed or upset, and try to throw a tantrum to get more--- or he can thank God he was put in a place to get a windfall he desperately needed.

halojones-fan said...

You idiot, why'd you sign anything? You just signed a release letting them make money FOREVER off of video and pictures of you and you won't see a DIME. And you can't sue them for it either.

The first thing to learn about dealing with emotional experiences is to not sign anything.

waywuwei said...

Welcome to the American Spectacle!

Fred Haynes said...

Wow.... That story put me through a mine field of emotions. I thank God it ended the way that it did. God bless you Bunche, and I'll keep an ear out for any writing work or anything that I can find for you. In the meantime, I'll post a link to your vault on my facebook page and blog and tell everyone I know to check it out. For some of you that know Bunche, maybe you can do the same. I'm sure we can help him. Stay strong we'll pray for you.

PiercingMetal Ken said...

Wowza. Just wowza what a tale but at least it was not true how the kind act got someone other than you 50K. Please keep us readers posted if this will be shown anywhere.

Ahmed said...

Hi Buncheman, I read your blog from a different site, i know you are all thinking this will be on What would you do, but it really is for an Ally bank commercial. I shouldnt be telling you this but that what it was really for. It was not a plot to target you per say, but they just wanted to get lots of different people to see what would work best for the commercial. I am related to the owner and i probably know you if i saw you. Sorry for everything you experienced during that day and i just came across your blog. and i must say you are a really talented writer. I work in real estate and let me know if your interested in working as a real estate agent. If you are ever in our store again, tell alex or one of the cashiers to give you my card and give me a call. I still admire your politeness and if only people were more like you.

Buncheman (pop culture ronin) said...

Thanks, Ahmed. I bear the store no ill will whatsoever and I love the staff of the place, so no worries there. And I found out about the Allied Bank thing a few days later via another blog, namely FUCKED IN PARK SLOPE. You can read what they had to say about this at http://www.fuckedinparkslope.com/home/commercial-shoot-invades-park-slope-with-mean-sociological-e.html and make sure to read the reader comments.

And thanks for the offer. I'm giving it thought but I'm waiting to hear back from two jobs I applied for first.