“Jimmy, you’re needed in the meat department. Jimmy, you are needed in the meat department.”
I was finishing up some Christmas shopping Saturday when I heard the lady’s voice over the loud speaker. Normally those incessant Wal-Mart interruptions sort of go in one ear and out the other, but this one was different. Something about the extraordinary urgency in her voice caught my attention.
It was very clear that the meat department really needed Jimmy and she really felt as though he needed to know it.
Maybe Jimmy had been having a tough time lately. Maybe he had spent so many years lost in the sameness of getting up every morning, putting on his white butcher apron and driving to Wal-Mart that he’d somehow forgotten why it was he fell in love with chopping up dead animals in the first place.
It appeared to me that Jimmy was having an identity crisis and Wal-Mart Announcement Lady knew it.
Some months ago they’d both had to work late one night, him typing up those small, white meat labels and her doing microphone checks. He made some comment about liking the way she said, “Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers,” and she responded by telling him the speed with which he wrapped family packs of chicken legs was astonishing. As he walked her to her car that evening, they each realized a life long friendship had been born.
But lately things had been different with Jimmy. In the interest of saving consumers .0001 penny per every fourteen pounds of chicken, Wal-Mart had purchased a bulk chicken leg wrapping machine made in Taiwan.
Of course anybody knows things made in Taiwan are faster than human hands and over time Jimmy came to the emasculating conclusion that he had been out done by a machine. His joy in his job began to fade and on this particular Saturday, it had all come to a head.
He had thrown down his red-stained apron and burst through the white, swinging doors of the meat department determined to find a place where he was still relevant; a place where he had value.
Would it be cosmetics? Housewares? The regularity aisle? Jimmy didn’t know. He just knew he needed a change and he needed it now.
Wal-Mart Announcement Lady was frantic. Where had Jimmy gone? What was going to become of him? He was meant to butcher animals and she knew it. The passionate way he used to talk about the differences in a rump roast and an arm roast while they were making love was powerful for her. Somehow she had to make him see he was born to butcher.
After dutifully calling attention to the 2 for 1 sale on plastic unisex shoes, she realized what had to be done. Under the guise of checking the pronunciation of the word, “loin” so that she might accurately proclaim a sale on pork, Wal-Mart Announcement Lady slyly made her way to the Taiwanese Super Max Leg Wrapper 7000 and quickly dropped something from her blue shirt in the machine.
In seconds, her American flag pin made from safety pins and red, white and blue beads had permanently halted what nine-hundred underpaid Taiwanese children had taken a full ten minutes to make.
Her first loud speaker call to Jimmy had gone unanswered. “Jimmy, you’re needed in the meat department. Jimmy, you are needed in meat department.” It wasn’t that he didn’t hear her. He always heard the voice of the love of his life. This time though, as he demonstrated to an elderly woman how to prevent Wicked Red lip balm from getting on her teeth, he chose to ignore her call.
He was moving on and there was nothing she could say that would make him change his mind.
Undaunted, she tried again. “Jimmy, return to the meat department right away, please. Jimmy to the meat department.” This announcement carried even more urgency than before. I was sure the chicken legs were stacking up back there and if someone couldn’t convince Jimmy to return to the place that had so undervalued him, big trouble was on the horizon.
Oblivious to the drama that unwrapped poultry was causing on the other side of the store, Jimmy tried to find some joy in arranging boxes of laxatives in a festive Christmas tree shape. “Who needs meat?” he said to himself. “I’m a laxative stacker now and I love it.”
But try as he might, he knew the short lived excitement his new career promised could never hold a candle to the bliss of meat packing. The smell of the cellophane, the freezing temperatures, the feel of a crisp, white apron first thing in the morning. His heart sank and a lump filled his throat. What had he done?
Just as he was about to place the last box at the very top of the tree that would keep his friends and neighbors regular during the holidays, he heard it.
“Jimmy! The meat department is waiting,” Wal-Mart Announcement Lady gave one last, anguished cry to her lover. “Jimmy! Return to the meat department.”
As tears filled his eyes, Jimmy dropped the Ex-Lax right where he stood and ran as quickly as he could back to the place where he knew he had always belonged. I looked for him to run past where I stood between the balloons and the bags of bubble wrap, but I never saw him. For a moment, I wondered if he made it. Was he OK? Were chicken legs once again being wrapped with love and a sense of purpose for low, low prices?
“Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers. For the next ten minutes, receive an extra 10% discount off our already low prices on tiny, green army men by the gallon. And as always, thank you for shopping at your hometown Wal-Mart.”
No Wal-Mart Announcement Lady. Thank you.
Copyright © 2004-2007, Sherri Bailey
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