I’m a vampire. That’s a condition, not a job description. So being a vampire doesn’t pay the bills. My day job takes care of that. And yes, I did say “day job.” Forget what you’ve read or seen in movies. All crap…including the sunlight and bursting into flames thing. Intentional misdirection. Some of the credit goes to me, but we’ll talk about that later. Back to my day job.
I bag groceries at the U.S. Military Commissary in Wiesbaden, Germany. I know it sounds special ops but a commissary’s like a supermarket run by the American government for service people and their families stationed over here in Europe. Here’s a quick job description: I stuff groceries into bags and then load those bags on wire carts. From there, I roll the assorted wet and dry foodstuffs to customers’ cars where I load everything. Usually in the trunk, but sometimes in the backseat. Exciting, huh? And here’s the best part: I do it all for tips.
My being a vampire, you might think I use special mind control to inflate those tips. I don’t. Mostly because there’s no such thing. Well, probably only because there’s no such thing. So no matter how hard I bore into someone’s thoughts with my frighteningly sexy glare, I only see a forehead. Believe me, I’ve tried.
If cliché-type vampire mind-control did exist? My cover would evaporate. I mean, who could be trusted with that kind of horsepower? Not me. At least my odds of getting a second date would soar. So for lack of mind control I make sure to pack all the cold items together in the same sack and I’m extra careful with the eggs. I also brush my teeth and wear deodorant.
It’s a trade secret. I’m not talking about the toothpaste and deodorant. Duh, that’s common hygiene. And the vampire stuff? We’ll cover that in a few seconds. Eggs. That’s the trade secret. Always fuss over the eggs. Drawing the customer’s attention to that little carton and frees your other hand to load the rest quicker and with far less care. Same sleight of hand used for magic tricks. Fondle someone’s eggs and it doesn’t matter if you bounce the other groceries into the trunk. And chances are, your tip goes up.
Maybe I do know a mind trick or two.
You might also think my centuries make me super brainy. As far as language skills, I can question your family tree in several dead tongues. So what. And even though I grew up within a long walk of Wiesbaden, my fluency in the original language of the Germanic tribes doesn’t help. Almost nothing’s the same. I could ask someone, “How about we take the horses to Mainz and burn some Romans?” They’d just smile and point at Bus 75. About the third stop down the line I’d realize I wanted Bus 57. At least the walk back is usually nice.
And while we’re bursting stereotypic bubbles: You might think being a vampire makes me incredibly handsome. You’d be wrong. Being ME is what makes me incredibly handsome. If you don’t believe me, reread the previous sentence until you do. Let’s establish a ground rule. I’ll not waste my time telling you something that isn’t true; nor will I drone on attempting to convince you of anything. We made it past my biggest secret with no bumps so let’s just agree with each other that when we say yes we mean yes, when we say no we mean no.
Except the incredibly handsome part. Perhaps a slight overstatement. Would you believe credibly cute?
So why me? Well, despite hauling someone else’s 16-roll special’s worth of butt paper for hire, I’ll bet my life’s more interesting than whoever you read that last book about. And if you think you might top me with a story of your own, send me a manuscript and I promise to give it a whirl. I may find your life sufficiently compelling to plan a visit of the late night “you invite me across the threshold variety.” How’s that sound?
Enough about you.
Friday night. Almost closing time. A shadow camped across checkout lane seven as I stooped to load the last of three cases of diet cola onto my cart. Perhaps a thick cloud in front of the sun, though my instincts said the sun played no part in this eclipse. Mostly because I was inside the commissary.
That handy fact didn’t end my astral challenges because I glanced up into two giant half-moons restrained by neon orange spandex. My eyes stopped for a moment on the epicenter of an anatomical Grand Canyon of a butt and I knew that somewhere a 60’s-style groovy Bedouin might offer a reward for the return of a stolen tent.
The view up top didn’t improve, but then how could I expect it would? A thin pink halter-top that stood as much chance of holding back its charges as a damp strand of toilet paper would at restraining two blimps in a banzai dive for planet stomach. She spoke.
“I’m parked in the lot outside.”
Good thing. Because the magic ramp leading to the roof disappears at dark.
It’s wise to remember I work for tips. Maybe I’m not super-brainy, but I am living proof that some measure of wisdom can seed in the most fallow ground. But then maybe I’m talking conditioning more than wisdom.
The witty exchange reached an awkward lull. I glanced at Pops, our cashier, for support. I mean, I was about to risk my life rolling through the valley of the shadow of death—Commissary parking lot—for a tip a naked Mumbai street beggar would throw back. Did I mention this particular mastodon was an infamous cheapskate?
Pops rolled his eyes and turned to ring up the next in line.
I thrive on that sort of encouragement.
The bagging gang has a name for each regular customer. We call this one Super Rumble. She headed for the door and I followed behind. One benefit of my job is that everyone else in the store or the parking lot knows you’re just the hired help. Not a boyfriend and definitely not a husband. I mean, this chick had a body that a few centuries earlier would have made a stalker out of Rubens.
Sometimes the gang debated on what made her decide on 7 cents a bag…and nothing for boxes. Boxes tend to weigh more than bags. So where’s the logic? And diet cola, BTW. Freakin’ DIET? Simple math told me I was hoofing it for 63 cents. Perfect. Good thing for me I can out-pull a bull rhino. Good thing for her I don’t prefer feeding on humans. Emphasis on the word prefer.
Despite the tell-tale wire cart that only baggers are allowed to handle, I still I rolled far enough behind Super Rumble that nobody would think we were, you know, a couple. I may cart maxi pads for donations, but I still have my pride. So the bags made it safely into the car and I received my pittance. Oh, one thing to note: Super Rumble handed me a whole dollar bill. Miracle of miracles! Hallelujah! I felt like twerking my cart. Until I noticed Super Rumble staring at me with her bored, expectant look.
“Well, do you have change for that or not?”
She did the shape-shifting thing and shoehorned herself into the front seat of her car. With nothing to weight me down—like maybe a fair tip—I headed back to the bullpen. That’s where the baggers on my team line up for their turn. One or two steps and I heard the driver’s door on the car beside me creak. I was just thinking how the lousy tip would put a knife right through my Friday night when I felt cold steel slide into my back and puncture my left lung.