“I’m Ringing People Up”
by Christopher Gangemi
From behind the counter, I keep an eye on the people. Baskets hanging from their forearms, they’re busy harvesting, hunting, and gathering, 2012 style. During this lull, I pull a roll of paper towels from a shelf and spritz the scanner.
The last person I “rung out” was visibly irritated when their Kombucha didn’t scan and I’ve found, despite everything I thought I knew about myself, that I like to make people happy.
A decade ago when I moved to the Hamptons, I was a successful stock trader. I didn’t think I’d get poor here. I felt safe. So much wealth surrounding me, somehow it would keep me afloat. But the robots took over the market and they spun my head.
It’s spinning still, as I look up to greet Agata, the floor manager.
She’s carrying two pieces of paper and she’s not smiling. Her English is passable, but combined with my poor hearing, we’ve had some early communication trouble.
“Chris, what are these?”
“I’m not sure, what are they?”
“Chris, they are invoices. They are your responsibility to put away. I tell you now, but next time, I talk to the boss. You understand?”
In the meantime, a customer is peeking over her shoulder to witness this scolding. The customer is an old friend of mine, a real estate broker. When we first met I was trading and making well over $200,000 a year. He recently sold a house in Sagaponack for over $10 million. I’m tempted to say that our paths have diverged, but here we are, involved in a transaction.
As Agata walks away he shakes his head and looks me in the eyes, “Dude, what are you DOING here?”
The answer is simple, I’m ringing people up.
A year after graduating from school, I drove across country. I was proud of my Ivy League education and I had one of those college stickers plastered to the back window of my car. But something strange came over me as I sped through Nebraska.
The road was empty that morning as I left the campground. It hadn’t rained, but the asphalt was dark with dew and the sky was deep blue. I drove a straight line through empty fields and came to a small rise where a black and white cow stood chewing grass on the side of the road.
I had passed many cows on the first week of my trip, but the rise allowed the black and white of the cow to be seen against the clean sky. I stopped the car and stood in the road looking at the cow chew.
Such clean lines. Beautiful separation. True simplicity.
Wind hit me and I felt some sort of ecstatic release. I screamed into the wind. I don’t know where the scream came from. I opened the back door of the car, reached in, ripped my college sticker off the back window and sped away.
I felt like no one I knew.
I wanted to be new.
So back in the Sag Harbor grocery store, I guess the extended answer to my friend’s question is that I’m ripping the old stickers that defined me from the vehicle that dropped me off in this spot. My position isn’t easily explained, but it’s true. This hasn’t been easy. Quite the opposite. In the last 3 weeks since I’ve started this job I’ve often felt humiliated, embarrassed, and sometimes angry at myself.
My wife understands. She’s my guide.
She says that not many people could do what I’m doing.
She says the hardest part is over.
She says this is a beginning.
She says I’m not a check out boy.
She says I’m just a baby.
She says I’m terrifying.