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Almost Mandatory Irony

“How old are you?” asked Little Joe Natoli

over the sizzle from stoves—taller by almost

mandatory irony than his father,

eponymous owner of Generous Joe’s.

Behind, laughing and jabbering line cooks

shimmied and stirred herbs into skillets.

I had stepped in when I saw the HELP WANTED sign.

“Eighteen.” Joe’s trim-brown-bearded face grinned

as he flicked an application onto the counter.

"Rupert Hello Deli" by Chris Schieman, Public Domain

"Rupert Hello Deli" by Chris Schieman, Public Domain

Without word after a week, I resorted

to Nick Buck’s upstairs office in Co-op.

All I recall from that interview:

a Redskins schedule for the coming fall

hung on some wall, Nick’s short portly frame

and scraggly beard with no mustache,

his question, “You listed nature

as one of your hobbies. What do you do?”

That’s how I started a summer standing alone

thirty hours a week in emblemed apron

on Co-op’s curb, guarding full carts for those who

circled back in cars and dumping the groceries

into trunks and back seats, or hauling them

to parking spots. I couldn’t leave the lot,

but once I delivered bags to the single-story

apartments beyond for our blonde bombshell cashier.

"21s tMay 2015 Morrison's Supermarket, Chorley" by John Dickinson, Public Domain

"21s tMay 2015 Morrison's Supermarket, Chorley" by John Dickinson, Public Domain

“You starting here?” During my second week,

sure enough, Big Joe Natoli shuffled to the store;

his heavy square eyeglasses vanguarded his head’s

earthward slump, his hair thoroughly smoky save

the black in his ears. I nodded. “How much they pay you?”

Just over a dollar an hour more than

minimum wage, but I still lived with my folks—

all for college. “You should have come to me,”

Joe chided and smiled: “I pay almost twice that.”

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