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.