Monday, September 05, 2005

Raoul Clementine Higuera

One suburban spring not long ago, a probationary bag-boy named Raoul Clementine Higuera fell in love with the assistant manager. Her name was Julie Strider. She had dark hair, blue eyes and could chat with anyone. Raoul liked to imagine her writing his eulogy in sixty years or so.
"It is very little that I need from Julie." He would tell himself as he bagged the groceries. "Just three things really: A first kiss, a eulogy and whatever comes between."

Raoul loved her; it was a basic fact, accepted without consideration. When a customer says "Paper" you put the groceries into a paper bag, "Plastic" into plastic, and Raoul loves Julie. But his love was foolish--Assistant Managers don't love probationary bag-boys back; not if they want to make General Manager. And Julie Strider wanted to make General Manager; she wanted it very much.

****************************

Raoul Clementine Higuera turned twenty that spring. It was also the year he graduated high school, receiving the diploma no one thought him capable of. He'd inched along with nonchalant determination, oblivious to the well-intentioned advice that always seemed to include the acronym: GED. And though his tassel may have been the only one to scrape a five o'clock shadow, he had every bit the right to nail it proudly to a wall.

Raoul wasn't supposed to approach the microphone that day in the school auditorium but he did anyway.
"Good afternoon." He pleasantly wished a thousand smirking eyes. "Better late than never I think." He glanced up and through the ceiling. "Más vale tarde que nunca." He repeated in case his grandmother happened to be listening. "I thank you for your congratulations." (Raoul tended to give people the benefit of the doubt.) "I am proud. I must go to the supermarket now. I earn money there and I love a woman who works there. Today is a good day for me, I hope it is for you. Good-Bye."

A sharp popping sound came from the speakers as Raoul walked off stage, the result of the Assistant Principal's urgent whisper to the audio technician to "pull the goddamn plug!" But the audio tech had some trouble figuring out which plug it was, and Raoul didn't talk that long.

(Twenty minutes later, the valedictorian would silently deliver her opening remarks to a giggling crowd as the tech frantically tried to remember where to reinsert the lead.)

****************************

Over the next few months, Raoul's skill as a grocery bagger became common knowledge--and his amorous sorrow, legendary. Customers who weren't even in his line would turn to their checker.
"That bag-boy over there," They'd say. "The tall, swarthy one with blazing hands that always seem to group colds with colds and nary a chip bag smushed..." (Pointed look at whichever bagger happened to be working the end of their conveyer.) "...What lament could possibly cause such astounding pain?"

"Oh, you mean Clementine?"
The checker would glance at Raoul. "Poor fool is in love with the Assistant Manager."
The customers would sigh knowingly and swipe their ATM cards.

****************************

In most grocery stores you'll find the unofficial position of Checker/Bagger. It is usually held by either those that management doubts will make good checkers but have bagged for so long they deserve an occasional chance, or former checkers who erred once too often. Checker/Baggers are frequently cruel and desperate people, especially to Baggers. Their other responsibility is to operate the I.D. badge machine. It was a particularly nasty Checker/Bagger who upon learning Raoul's middle name was Clementine, permanently attached it to his chest. But the joke was on that Checker/Bagger, for there happens to be something incredibly appealing, even if only subconsciously, about an attractive Latin man named Clementine, and Raoul was no worse, and probably much better off for the switch.

****************************

In great numbers, customers began choosing the register line featuring Raoul at its end. An ever-fracturing heart had not prevented him from becoming a truly magnificent grocery bagger--probably the best the world has ever seen. The secret to Raoul's skill was simple: He imagined every item had been purchased by his love, Julie Strider. Naturally she would want all the cleaning products in one bag--it made them simpler to put away at home. Smush even one of Julie's chips? Never! That would make her a little bit sad tomorrow.

Autumn suddenly appeared (as it likes to do) and Raoul began attending classes at the local university when not scheduled at the market. Of course he wasn't enrolled--that costs quite a bit more than a bag-boy makes. But he did attend. The great myth is that it costs many thousands of dollars to get a good college education. It does not; that simply isn't true. It only costs many thousands of dollars to prove you've received it.

Raoul had hoped to find a class that specifically taught people how to get Assistant Managers to fall in love with them, but apparently universities feature no such class. Throughout his long life, Raoul would often reflect with a rueful smile, on his naivety those early tweed days.

Raoul's last day at the supermarket was a Wednesday in mid-December. His eyes flicked open in the pre-dawn gloom, a full hour and a half before his alarm clock was set to ring. He'd been having a vivid dream about a weeping owl. Raoul had never put much stock or study into dream interpretation, but even a skeptic knows there's something significant, and probably quite ominous about a weeping owl dream.

His unease grew throughout the morning and by the time the bus dropped him off, he had prepared himself for the worst: A pink slip in his staff-room locker. An 'Under New Management' banner above the automatic door. Just a crater where the supermarket used to be.

But Raoul hadn't set the dread-scale high enough and his first glimpse of the sparkling band on Julie's finger nearly killed him.

Raoul had known she was seeing someone. Hell, the entire store knew. Every day at five to five a burly young man would roar up in his detailed black truck, slot it lengthwise across two handicapped spots and torture the parking lot with loud, Pearl Jam derivative. The sonic injustice would continue for however long it took Julie to clock out, hang her company vest and happily stride to the passenger door.

It hadn't concerned Raoul Clementine Higuera. Girls date boys and the reverse; it's what happens. The glory of a first kiss through to a eulogy isn't dependent on the girl having never dated an asshole. But this sudden escalation to marriage commitment... well, this Raoul found himself wholly unprepared for.

He removed his apron and draped it across the gumball machine. Then he walked back through the automatic doors and didn't stop until he hit the interstate. The young man known to thousands of grocery shoppers as Clementine, the greatest, saddest bag-boy in the world, was never seen in that town again.

The End

13 Comments:

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Ghost Dog said...

Unfortunately for her career, Julie was knocked up and later dumped by the idiot in the black truck. She never made General Manager, and is herself bagging groceries at a Safeway in Oregon.

At least, I hope so, for Raoul's sake.

 
At 8:26 PM, Blogger Faceless Henchwoman said...

The asshole, of course, died horribly when the volume knob on his car radio broke off in his hand as he was turning it up, and it didn't stop turning up until his bones were liquified by Pearl Jam dirivitive.

Julie named the child Raoul. Since everyone knew the bag-boy as Clementine, no one knows why.

 
At 9:09 PM, Blogger Ari said...

Cheers to the two excellent endings above me here.

No less than 3 phrases in this tale caused me mirthful giggling. Between that and the being brought to tears by the naked heartlessness of Julie, it's been quite a ride, Latty, so I'm off to bed.

I can only hope that no weeping owls will torment my slumber.

 
At 8:28 AM, Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

I can never sigh knowingly when I swipe my Visa card, for I know it is not going to work.

Great observation on getting a higher education without enrolling, Mr. Flint.

 
At 9:02 AM, Blogger Dave Morris said...

To this day you can find Clementine in a small apartment in Blue Eye, Arkansas, in a meth haze, penis wrapped in a familiar pastic bag with loop handles, masturbating furiously to "Live On Two Legs" on perpetual repeat.

 
At 11:04 AM, Blogger tabitha jane said...

is this tale about raoul in any way related to the song "you are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry Clementine"?

 
At 11:07 AM, Blogger slarrow said...

The tears flow, Latigo. The tears flow.

I echo Old Hoss' admiration for an excellent point made about education. I would only add that sometimes the thousands of dollars proves not the possession of a good education but the ability to sleep sitting up in class and scraping by on somebody's else notes for the final exam. Sadly, this usually prepares one quite well for middle management.

But Dave Morris is a cruel liar. That's because there ARE no small apartments in Blue Eye, Arkansas. It's just too small to accomodate such edifices. He must be thinking of Green Forest.

(so says slarrow from the ozarks.)

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger Blog ho said...

bravo.

we had a retard bagger at our last store, but he had downs and didn't really like girls, and .. no suicide. but other than that i'd swear you wrote his story.

 
At 4:00 PM, Blogger MJ said...

Wait.... so did Julie make GM??

 
At 5:17 PM, Blogger Cindy-Lou said...

I'm feeling the pain, Latigo.

 
At 7:11 PM, Blogger Amandarama said...

Best. Story. Ever.

 
At 11:31 PM, Blogger Latigo Flint said...

You know Ghost Dog, I actually don't know what happened to Julie Strider. I rather like your take. I'm going with it.

This, of course, is nothing short of genius Faceless. There is a slim chance I'm going to find you, kill you, and update my original post with this as the end, hoping no one remembers where it came from. (I want you to know this is quite a complement, even though it does involve your murder.)

I am very glad you enjoyed it Ari. (Colds with colds and the pointed look... that was one of them, wasn't it? I'm not a needy, desperate complement fisher... I just play one on the internets.) All the best to you--here's a dreamcatcher made of woven mouse tails to distract the owls.

Thank you Old Hoss. I'm not certain it's mine in all honesty. It seems too insightful... and lacks all trace of nonsense and hydrophobia. I'm pretty sure I read it somewhere.

Actually Dave, I'm quite sure you're wrong there. Don't ask me why.

I don't know Tabitha Jane. I don't know who gave Raoul that middle name. Both stories make my soul ache. They have that in common if nothing else.

Well said Slarrow from the Ozarks. I hope you don't speak from experience... I rather think you don't. (Hey, speaking of Ozarks--did I ever tell you about the time I read 'Where the Red Fern Grows'? No? Probably just as well... I tend to splort snot-bubble-tears just thinking about it.)

There was no suicide in this story Ho... But other than that, I'd swear I wrote it too.

MJ: Julie named the child Raoul. Since everyone knew the bag-boy as Clementine, no one knows why.

Life is pain Cindy-Lou... anyone is says different is selling something.

Thank you Amandarama. "Best. Story. Ever... written by Latigo Flint that didn't involve hydrophobia and yogurt-dementia." is of course what you meant to say, yes?

 
At 9:23 PM, Blogger Lightning Bug's Butt said...

That was something else, Latigo. You weave a tale like an orator.

You're equal parts Steven Crane and Steven King.

And just a dash of Steve Erkel.

 

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