When I was twenty, I made a terrible mistake and wound up working as a butcher’s assistant in Marlton, New Jersey. It was my firt time abover the Mason-Dixon Line. My friend Fran arranged something with the manager. I'd get paid under the table. The manager introduced me to Glen the Butcher. From the moment he opened his mouth, I already knew I hated him.
“So, what ’cha know ‘a, Noah?”
Glen the Butcher laughed. He was squat and round like a deer tick. The manager and I nodded like oh yea, that’s the stuff.
Glen the Butcher kept on. Glen the Butcher wheezed. Glen the Butcher hacked. Squishy coughs. He doubled over now, gave it all he got. He had purple veins on his head.
The coughing fit ended as quickly as it begun. He stood up with a lit cigarette dancing below his mustache.
“Come on then.” Glen the Butcher was on the move. A seductive finger of smoke lingered, pointing that ‘a way.
I met him at the swinging door. The walls around us were plywood, had a row of heavy white aprons with orange-pink stains hanging. “Now, all joking’s aside,” he said in a thick Jersey accent, “you never worked in a meat shop before, right?” I said I hadn’t. He stepped closer, still smoking. “Let me tell you’s something. People’s get fingers cut off ‘n hands chewed the fuck up in tha meat grinder all the time. All kinds of stupid shit happens ‘n here.”
I bowed my head, considering what kind stupid shit would happen to me.
“That said,” he continued. “I don’t want’s no silly shit going on like those fuckhead friends a’ yours over in tha deli.” I nodded, but he wasn’t quit finished.
“Now, I don’t know’s why they keep giving me people that don’t know nothing, but that’s what they do. So, from now on, your name isn’t No-ah. I’m gonna call you No-Nothin because that’s exactly what you know until I tell you what to know. You don’t do nothin. You don‘t know nothin -- Until I tells you. Got that?”
With this sparkling introduction out of the way, I slipped into one of the stiff cotton jackets. A blue insignia on the left breast read: Frank
The meat room air was cool, left a metallic taste in the back of my throat. Glen the Butcher showed me the meat grinder and meat locker. The meat locker was almost empty. Meat hooks hung from chains. They looked like Spanish question marks; sounded like wind chimes. I imagined Glen hanging from one, his legs kicking like a swimming pig.
For my first task, I stood at the business end of a bone saw catching meat in a plastic tub. The job was menial, and required complete attention. I kept my meat coat clean. Glen worked quickly, and to my surprise, quietly. But then someone rang the assistance bell. It drowned out the blood-splattered radio in the corner. It wasn’t so much a ring as a grinding clatter. The meat room became a Pavlovian experiment.
The bell did not make Glen the Butcher salivate, however. It made him curse, curse, curse. He stabbed his carving knife into the chopping block. He turned to the window overlooking the grocery store. An attractive housewife had rung. Glen stormed over in these black rubber boots and dropkicked the door.
“Today, a Marlton butcher was arrested after bludgeoned a woman to death with a T-bone steak. Details at eleven.”
That’s what I thought I would hear. But stepping onto the sales floor transformed Glen the Butcher. He greeted the woman, listened and reciprocated. He even engaged in light banter. He brought a twin-pack of steaks back into the meat room. The smile quickly melted. He was seething again, mumbling. Bits of his psychotic rant tangled with the music on the radio:
“…spoiled little bitch”
HOLD ON TO THAT FEELING
Glen the Butcher packaged two individual steaks, and brought them to the swinging door. Glen the Charmer walked onto the sales floor, placed a single steak in the woman‘s cart, and waved good-by.
After Glen the Butcher’s bi-polar escapade, I slipped on a kidney and dropped a tray of ground beef. I was scooping it into the pan when Glen the Butcher caught me. I thought he would unload a case of knives, but he just told me to run it back through the grinder.
I spent New Year’s Eve morning labeling 50 pounds of steak. But I entered the wrong code into the labeling machine. Top round sirloin was ringing in the New Year. It cost as much as pig rectum.
That afternoon, the real butcher’s assistant -- the person whom I’d replaced -- showed up. He was Glen the Butcher’s son. He hadn’t come to work in four days. He looked like hell.
Glen the Butcher looked at him as if he’d just pushed the bell. “Where ’da hell have you been?”
“I had some things to take care of,” said Butcher Jr. in a backwoods Jersey accent. “Who the hell is he?”
I’m the guy they pay under the table to pick up your slack. Surly Glen the Butcher would stick up for me.
“Who, this guy? He’s nobody. And neither is you. Now re-price this meat.”
Although Glen the Butcher had placed me in the same category as his drug addict son, I decided nobody was a step up from No-Nothin. I slacked off a bit after Butcher Jr. showed up. By the end of my shift, Frank’s meat coat was still spotless. However, before I left, in what felt like a gruesome rite of passage, Glen smeared his bloodied hand across my chest.
“There ‘ya go. Get some blood on ya. Now you’s a real butcher!”
I walked into the deli to see Fran, trying to pretend like I wasn’t swathed with blood. He couldn’t stop laughing. The straight-laced woman waiting for cold cuts looked apprehensive. Maybe she’d never seen a real butcher before.