Normal History Vol. 301: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 30-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

On Sundays at work it’s my turn to do Product Knowledge at the morning huddle. Sometimes I talk about pots and pans, sometimes food. Recently I held up a bag of sesame seeds, pointing out that they have high levels of both iron and calcium, which is utterly uninteresting at out store because nutrition is not what we’re about. At all. It’s all cookies, cakes and pies … and duck fat. It’s actually been pretty weird coming from the fitness industry to gourmet food.

This past Sunday I spoke about Dr. Bronner’s soap, which is new to us and somehow we’re selling it for $12.49 when other stores in the area (large and small) are selling it for between $9.99 and $10.99. So I asked, “What’s the protocol when customers ask why our prices are that much higher?”

A very nice older lady (a longtime friend of the owner’s) slowly explained the concept of buying in bulk for cheaper and that’s how … blah blah blah … I had to interrupt her because she was cutting into my performance time with her boring answer. I wasn’t finished with the fucking soap, which, you may recall, has all that religious mumbo-jumbo all over its label. With my fingertips lightly pressed to my chest, I addressed the 15 staff members assembled with a straight face. “As you may or may not need to know, I myself am an atheist, so it’s all crazy talk to me.”

No one reacted. OK, maybe one or two people chuckled.

The store manager said he’d take my question about overpricing to the Operations Manager. I had time for one more shot before we all headed off to our various functions.

“Maybe customers expect to pay more when they come to our store!”

No one disagreed.

At the end of the day, another nice lady offered me a ride home. Very nice of her—plus, we get a chance to talk a bit about work. Once settled in her car, I asked how she liked my Product Knowledge segment and she said, “Were you raised atheist?” To which I did a sort of double-take because being raised atheist is simply a matter of not being dragged off to church or being told strange and implausible stories about someone named God and his kid Jesus. Being an atheist is normal.

“My mother was more into nature,” I said. “How the seasons impact plants and animals and … ” 
”So … ” the nice lady interrupted, looking at me over the top of her glasses. “More like Native people.” And for the life of me, I felt she was on the cusp of calling me a heathen. 
”Well,” I said. “She did have black hair and she was adopted and she doesn’t know her ethnicity and some people are convinced that I’m indigenous to South or Central America … ”

By then it was time to get out of the car. In the darkness I walked across the orange maple leaves to my doorway. With each step, I reconnected with who I am when I’m alone. I saw my reflection in the glass of the door. Hat, coat, scarf, glasses. I am not a downtrodden middle-aged lady who runs around a store for eight hours serving the general public. The next day I wrote an email to the Operations Manager asking to be laid off after Christmas. That didn’t go over well at all. She said that no, she would not lay me off, which reminded me of the punch line of the only joke I know.

“Mary,” the boss says to his employee. “I have to lay you or Jack off.” 
And Mary says, “Can you jack off? I have a bus to catch.”

Now I’m not at all sure where things are at. I feel like a snake-oil soap salesman trapped within a community of very nice cake-decorating church-goers.

“Taking The Back Stairs” from Water Cuts My Hands (K, 1991; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):