SPOTLIGHT: No Refunds: poems and cartoons from your local supermarket

a slow death for moral reasons

a 10- or 12-hour shift at the shop, being pushed around by your entitled neighbours for a wage that you can’t possibly survive on, you can get dangerously apolitical. at such times, it helps to consider all the kids with cancer, and the NHS workers who work so very hard to cure, or at least ease their pain – also for an unliveable wage. by comparison, you’ll feel so fat and ungrateful that you’ll just man up and get on with it.

but sometimes, after a particularly brutal shift,
even that doesn’t shake the blues. it’s like: why do I have to compare myself to terminally ill children, and the underappreciated public servants who watch over them, just to feel normal, you know? aren’t I just being manipulated by this collective Stockholm syndrome of a society into keeping my head down?

and now you’re really down the rabbit hole …

and you can either wait until you’re too tired to be angry, and go back to feeling guilty enough to keep on contributing, or you can hold onto the anger, and then what?

well, you end up contributing anyway, by abusing alcohol or drugs or your partner or shooting up a school. for this unoriginal lashing out will merely reinforce the status quo: selling headlines, fuelling religious coping mechanisms and birthing messed up fringe groups that ironically reinforce people’s lethargic embrace of the status quo. so I suppose, in the end, it all comes down to one simple question:

how quickly do we want to drag each other down?

and you conclude: maybe tomorrow’s shift will be less brutal:
maybe your neighbours will treat you like a human being
and maybe the minimum wage will be proportionate to inflation. maybe.

and you’d tell yourself “don’t hold your breath” but you then realise you are doing just that already, for some reason –

and it’s like

the boss messed up again.
he ordered too many tins of ravioli.
they won’t all fit on the shelf
and there isn’t enough room in the warehouse.

but it’s ok, because then he has
another one of his great ideas:
let’s stack them in a pyramid! he says.
you voice your safety concerns.
but it’s retro! he says. it’s like shops used to do!
people will like it!

so you’re making a pyramid out of the ravioli tins
when a kid runs into it
and they all come tumbling down
on his head
and he starts wailing
rolling around among the tins
and the townsfolk gather round to watch
as the mother who was outside having a smoke
comes running in,
saying she’s going to sue …

the boss, he takes you into the back office
to sign a disciplinary form.
but it was your idea, you remind him.
nah, don’t worry about it, he says.
it’s just standard procedure,
you know, for everyone involved?
so you sign it.

and for a while it’s ok.
as bosses go, he wasn’t bad.
you were almost sort of friends,
at least in the workplace:
all you had to do
was laugh at his bad jokes
and nod along to his political opinions
and he’d let you have fag breaks
and put you to work in the warehouse
so you wouldn’t have to be on the shop floor as much.

then one day
he invited you to his wedding
but you had to politely decline:
you don’t like social functions.

after that
the fag breaks stopped.
then you were back on the shop floor.
then your hours went down.
they went down so much,
you had to apply for a job in another shop.

and when you asked for a reference
he wouldn’t give you one:
honestly, he said,
you’re just not a team player.

so the other place wouldn’t take you on
and you had to move into
that mouldy house share
on the corner,
where the middle-aged drunk woman
whose name you never learned
offered to pay your rent
in exchange for company
and the guy who lived in the closet
slipped very specific porn under your door
without being asked

and you had to conclude that
well, he did you a favour
even if he didn’t mean to.

an ironic fucker, with running mascara.
the dreaded kinship you reluctantly concede
between you and the wanker in the closet.
revenge, it’s
basically like everything else:
you take it
where you can get it.
like he did.

because & him

aisle 8:
I’m stacking shelves
and he comes up to me and he says: the cinema?
so I tell him: keep going straight down this street and when
you get to the end, take a left. when you get to a roundabout
take another left and keep going. when you pass a bridge
on your right, you’re going the right way, it’ll be straight ahead.
you sure? he says.
yeah, I say.
you sure you’re sure?
yeah, I say.
cos I don’t wanna go all the way there, he says,
and find out you’ve lied.
why would I lie?
to make him my victim? why would I want him to be my victim?
because I work in a shop? and therefore I’m bitter?
this assumption speaks volumes about him and only him:
HIS snobbery and HIS persecution complex.
but whatever.
I’m not lying, sir, I reassure him.
yeah, well, he says, walking away. we’ll see …
hope you have a safe journey, sir, I smile and wave,
as my nose grows
all the way down aisle 8,
tripping you
and your children

collective Stockholm syndrome

the boss who does fuck all,
while the rest of us run around like blue-arsed flies
so he can keep doing fuck all.

his favourite work colleague,
who barely skates along, knowing the rest of us
will pick up his slack.

the lodger who blares revenge porn at all hours
and answers the door naked and bloodied,
scaring the landlady away on rent day.

the landlady, who puts your rent up, because
the other lodger isn’t paying up.

the council, who don’t care that the landlady
sends her son over
in the early hours
to get that extra rent, because
they’re the council, and they’re as disaffected as we
who elect and pay them
to accuse us of being scroungers.

we shit our own beds:
when billions of cowards unite, no one is united:
we can’t outnumber each other:
mirrors, reflecting each other’s bad sides, smashing:
history doesn’t actually repeat,
but just sort of remains static.
there’s no such thing as history

and yet?
we repeat.

your madness as customers/ Is to stand by and watch/and our madness as shopworkers is to take this shit/and simply respond with/“next, please.”

In this timely collection, Paul Tanner gives voice to those working to stock and sell items from the shelves. Entitled consumers complain about prices and masks, workers grin, bear it, with the humble grim humor afforded by minimum wage. Well crafted, well told, Tanner has placed himself in the line of those writing on work worth checking out.

Author, John Stickney


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