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A Mentor’s Passing, Friday, September 1, 2017

25 years ago I took a 10k pay cut [1/3rd of my salary] to leave a low level management position at a private company and work as a grunt with a union outfit, just to get some peace of mind.

With no seniority, I was soon bumped when the chain lost the lease on a store. Cut from 48 to 35 hours, I was now only making half of what I had made and needed a part time job, of which I ended up receiving two from John Zigline, who had previously been a district manager for that chain and had moved to working as the GM for a small 3-store outfit for the same reason I had made my move, working conditions.

First asking me if I wanted a management job, as he admired the work I did on the dairy case at the Eastpoint Metro, he said he understood my reluctance and respected it and then offered me two side jobs, one setting up a store and training the assistant manager and another working with a goon who had the unsettling habit of beating up his assistants but was a very productive worker.

Weeks later, John, discovering that I rode the bus, when he saw me walking from one of his stores to the other. He pulled over and told me he would drive me between stores when he delivered the paperwork. He would speak to me of many thing during these drives, usually touching on the fact that most management types could not understand me and that I could use that to leverage better working conditions. At some point in every conversation he would look at me, smile softly and say something like, “You remind me of a guy, a guy from back in the day who never accepted promotions and taught me how to do all the little things I missed on the way up.”

John was a big, easygoing redheaded man, looking like a giant Irishman with a small, soft voice. He made it a policy of stopping and speaking with the clerks instead of marching by, grousing like most managers. His wife, Penny is a tiny redheaded elf of a woman. The last time I talked to John it was in 1998, when I was still working once a week at one of the stores and he was holding back tears over his grandson’s illness.

But I’d like to remember John at his best at the peak of his persuasive powers, as Ziggy.

Ziggy stopped into the store I worked at overnight for the chain as I finished up what was a four-man order, working overtime for free because the store manager was blackmailing me for working for Ziggy, threatening to rat me out to the Union and get me blackballed.

Ziggy told me he’d come back and give me a lift when I was done, halfway through a 20 hour work day as I was. That is when John the Lessser, the store manager, a man who had once worked for Ziggy, came over and told me to work faster and stop talking and Ziggy butted in:

“John, this guy is freighting more while he is talking to me and checking out your candy girl than you could have done after snorting a line of coke back in the day—I can’t believe you’re treating him this badly.”

I still recall Ziggy standing there with his price-checking clipboard, with a sadly soft smile on his face, pressing the board against his sky-blue windbreaker, towering over me and the Lesser John, who then snapped, “I could have you kicked out for checking prices!”

Ziggy smiled with grave sadness and said, “And that’s how you thank me for stepping in to help you out. Why, I was just driving by and saw something on your parking lot that I thought you’d want to know about.”

The Lesser John then took the bait, “Like what?”

“Ryder is on the lot—and he didn’t look to happy about the banner dipping in the breeze. He was gesturing with his hands at the banner and kicking his car tires.”

“Are you fucking serious, Ziggy?”

“Serious as a heart attack, John.”

[Ryder, the manger was a legendary savage CEO who used to cuss out managers like an Al Pacino character, even grabbing them by the collar and dragging one ear closer as he nearly frothed at the mouth. He was very nice to me, used to point at me and say, “That’s my fuckin’ hippie!” But the managers lived in dread of him. He used to call the Lesser John, “You Little Shit,” having a special animus for the only store manager out of 33 who was shorter than his Napoleonic self.]

The Lesser John then looked at me and my work, trying to calculate if he would get in any trouble for not assigning me help for a 12 pallet order, then snarked out loud, “Oh, fuck me!” and ran womanishly in his black dress shoes for the courtesy desk.

As he skipped like an animate gnome down the aisle, past the cashier assigned to work the front end candy, who was unsuccessfully trying to hide her hourglass figure under a smock, Ziggy shook his head sadly, “I must have missed something, something he needed. I trained him, never trained him to treat people like this—and he had it easy. I never assigned him to work with Jewish clientele or in a black store. He had the easy white stores, no reason for him to carry such bitterness.”

Then we heard the Lesser John bark into the intercom, “R alert! R alert!! All hands on deck!!!” and a muted and unproductive insanity ensued as the mostly aging clerks who had finally earned a morning shift berth began looking busy and the doll unpacking the candy stood up and began primping her hair, for the king of this retail kingdom was on his way…

I looked up at Ziggy and said, “You mean Ryder didn’t treat you like you still worked for the company and have you fix the banner?”

“Actually, I did fix the banner—a common courtesy among grocers. And Ryder, that asshole is already teeing off—somebody talked that fuckin’ nut into playing golf today. Can you believe that? Putting a club in his hand? He might end up killing someone!”

That was Ziggy, a man who taught me a lot.

I am very sad for Penny and her loss, but glad for him, that he’s free from the cage that closed around him in the end.

Rubbing Out Palefaces

Moral Minority Survival at the End of Caucasian Time Paperback

The Lies That Bind Us

The Foundational Falsehoods of the American Dream

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