Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Three Pillars

The Three Pillars Salt Sugar Fat How the Food Giants Hooked Us By Michael Moss Toronto, Ont Canada Mclelland and Stewart 2013 450pp $32.99 ISBN 978-0-77-57003 It’s bad enough what the oil and pharmaceutical companies have done to us. Not to mention the banks. But to find, reading this book, that Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, the cigarette manufacturers, are now running a large part of the food business, it’s almost too much to believe. I guess it shouldn’t be. The same people who defended tobacco till the end are still selling their products in the same calculated, deceptive ways to maximize profits and the same Wall Street managers are telling them to do it. Their products are processed foods and they use every bit of sugar, salt and fat they need to find the public’s “bliss point”, hold it and keep it. The bliss point is combined with the convenience of instant food and snacks and is just too tempting to hurried parents. In a shocking exposure of the American and the worldwide food system, Michael Moss, a winner of the Pulitzer prize and a tenacious and serious writer, and even more important, a concerned father, exposes overwhelming evidence that most of the medical emergencies which America and the world have experienced in the past thirty years, (eg) the high blood pressure alarm, the obesity epidemic and the diabetes scare, are attributable to the nutrition of the population and its dependence upon processed food. There is a long list of types of cancer associated with processed food. ‘As food manufacturers knew very well and as I would find out by moving the reporting of this book from Madison to Washington, when it comes to nutrition, the role the government plays is less a matter of regulation than it is promotion of some of the industry practices deemed most threatening to the health of consumers.’ Michael Moss pp. 211 Salt, Sugar, Fat The government regulators who we think are taking care of us, aren’t. The processed food lobbyists financially outgun any of the pathetically funded regulatory agencies. Every time there is an attempt to legally cut back on the salt, sugar and fat in our diets, there is a serious pushback by the industries affected. The mayor of New York city was recently laughed at as a nanny for trying to regulate the sugar industry. Anyone who wants to limit or cut back seriously on the salt, sugar and fat in our diets is accused of being against capitalism. But this isn’t some wild eyed lefty conspiracy theorist spouting propaganda. It’s a well respected investigative reporter who can back up his claims with evidence. From many hours of interviews, court documents and documents obtained both with and without access to information requests, Michael Moss has carefully gone through the histories of the industries of salt, sugar and fat and told their stories. Many of the people in the industries were open about their participation. Several ex CEOs and presidents have recanted and very few use their own products. We’re talking about brands and products which are familiar to all of us, the most well known in the world. They do billions of dollars worth of business yearly. Brands and products like Kraft, General Foods, Nabisco, Tang, Kool-Aid, Coke, Pepsi, Twinkie, Jell-o, Dr Pepper, Campbell Soup, Snapple, 7-Up, Doritos, Maxwell House, Folger’s, Hamburger Helper, Pringles, Prego, Ragu, Pepperidge Farm, Oreo, Cadbury, Kellogg, Postum, Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes, Unilever, Nestle. There are many more. You get the idea. You’d have to be living under a rock for the past 30 years not to have used their products. Salt, Sugar, Fat cites the evidence and testimony of expert after expert who blame the health crisis and associated costs (billions of dollars) on the processed food industry. Lack of education and exercise are associated with poor nutrition but it is generally agreed that processed food is the big culprit. Big tobacco was eventually defeated in court when states got together and insisted that “You caused the medical crisis, you pay for it”. The book is divided into 14 chapters. 1 to 6 make up Part One: Sugar, 7 to 11, Part 2, Fat, and Chapters 12 to 14 make up Part 3, Salt. There is an epilogue, a section for acknowledgements, a note on sources, other notes chapter by chapter, a selected bibliography and an index. One of the best anecdotes was about the gentleman who invented Cheez Whiz and bought some as he and his wife enjoyed their retirement in Florida. He didn’t like the taste of it, in fact, called it “axle grease”. After a long and serious investigation the company had to admit that he was right, there was actually no cheese or cheese products in the Cheez Whiz. It almost seemed normal, after reading how the companies targeted diabetics and bombarded young children with irresistible advertising, to read how Nestle, a giant headquartered in Switzerland and visited by Moss, fattens up the population so that hundreds of thousands need stomach surgery each year and only Nestle can provide the special drink they need while recovering. When the big processed food manufacturers need to, they fall back on the media strategies they know best, the ones which were so successful selling cigarettes for so long. The famous “mechanical tenderizers” which are suspected in the recent Alberta outbreak of salmonella poisoning are mentioned in the part of the book dealing with Oscar Mayer processed meats. The cereal business, baked goods, the cattle and dairy industries, they’re all present. All are complicit, if not guilty outright, in one of the biggest scandals the world has ever seen. Thank you, Michael Moss If you don’t like getting conned, deceived, fooled or manipulated, read this book. Hackwriters.com – Reviews section

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Bingo

We didn’t see it as a line drawn in the sand at first. Roy hired Eldon, Ruth’s nephew, just before the bingo started. Aunt Ruth saved him from returning to a life of petty crime and jail with a kitchen helper job. If Roy hadn’t fought with Ruth, his wife, who worked at his diner that night, things might have stayed quiet for a while longer. It was bound to explode, but maybe it could have been a little less volatile. And deadly. No one could ever figure out why Roy and Ruth were together. It wasn’t physical attraction. They fought constantly and enjoyed showing the other up in front of everyone. None of us at the counter could imagine them making love without grimacing. Roy had let himself go, sampled too many fries, drank too much beer. The diner had taken over his life. He even smelled greasy outside of the diner. Ruth was putting on the beef as well. She had a shrill voice that grated on everyone’s nerves. We only heard it peak when they were busy. Eldon hung around the back, chain smoking when he wasn’t scurrying around the kitchen following orders. He had a shaved head and some jailhouse tattoos on skinny, big veined arms. Geordie and I sat at the counter one morning and witnessed the birth of the bingo. We were waiting for Ruth to check the last of her lottery tickets. When she had counted up her losses, to hear her tell it, she served us our second coffees. There was a gathering of women at the table in the corner. It was unusual to see the female diner regulars sitting anywhere but at the counter next to us. They talked to each other and ignored us. It was the first meeting of their bingo committee. The women must have talked about it before, somewhere else. Roy brought the morning paper to the counter open at the picture of that day’s beauty. She was beautiful all right. Not wearing much either. Neither Geordie nor I had attempted relations with a woman for so long, it was as if we’d forgotten about sex. Roy had a way of leering at the pictures, every morning, which was probably similar to ours in our younger days. These days, when he did his little act, it was hard for us to watch. We didn’t think he was so attracted to the pictures, he was just doing it to get under Ruth’s skin. Geordie rolled his eyes at me and smiled at Roy. The licking of his chops and the quick glance down at his greasy apron were too much for customers who didn’t know Roy. One man, standing at the cash to pay, watched Roy ogle the picture and dirty dance to the kitchen, his big, old belly undulating beneath his apron. The man observed him as if he was watching a lunatic. He was wondering if Roy had cooked his ham and eggs. Gladys, Caroline and Linda were the three regulars sitting at the table. They had a pile of papers and looked like they knew what they were doing. Linda had already done most of the paperwork about licences and permits. Gladys was an old farm wife with a brood of kids, grown up and settled elsewhere. We heard one got into trouble and ended up in jail, but we kept our noses out of other peoples’ business. Gladys’ husband, Hubert, died a few years ago. She figured she did her part, putting up with him and his farmer ways and the kids were on their own. She was enjoying her freedom, doing her thing. Caroline’s driven the school bus ever since her husband died. She sounded like a rough, old trucker and drank everyone under the table on special occasions at the Legion. We suspected that there was a female part to her, aside from the obvious ones. She hadn’t lost a kid from the bus yet though. Geordie’s son, Cliff, a cop, told us that she was really a sweet old thing. He said the kids trusted her more than their parents and teachers. Linda had retired and moved here from out west. Nobody knew much about her. We couldn’t figure out her age. Roy took a long look at her rear end and legs when she wore shorts in the summer, licked his lips, rolled his eyes and attempted some pelvic thrusts beneath his big, round apron. We saw Ruth catch Roy in his act. She got that angry glare on her face and wouldn’t speak to him for the rest of the morning. It wasn’t as if Ruth was jealous, every sign pointed to her not caring what Roy did. She laughed at him when he made a mistake with the orders and enjoyed telling everyone at the counter, especially Linda, about her husband’s latest screw up. It was more like she didn’t want competition from Linda. If she only knew: there was no competition, Linda was much better looking and younger. Some mornings, Linda watched, with a steady stare, Roy do his act with the morning paper. While Geordie and I were cringing with embarrassment, Gladys and Caroline chatted. They had seen Roy do his thing so often, they didn’t even notice. Roy took Linda’s stare as a sign of interest. Ruth saw how foolish Roy looked. Linda, Gladys and Caroline were like peas in a pod when you gave them a coffee and a place to sit. The bingo really fired them up. They were gung ho to get started. Ruth got involved in the bingo, too. Anything Linda did, she criticized or tried to do one better. Even though the others had done all the work, she insisted on being consulted about everything. Ruth had been at the diner for years and here was this newcomer organizing a bingo. Everyone knew bingos didn’t work around here, there was no support. Ruth figured that everyone around her was poor. But she had no trouble sleeping at night when she took their tips. She thought that the world was doomed. We couldn’t argue with her there, but she didn’t have to be so gloomy about everything, every time she opened her mouth. We had to survive, somehow. Laughter seemed better than complaints nobody listened to. The regulars at the diner found Linda to be someone new and interesting. She had strong opinions but she was happy just to fit in with the others. Ruth knew that she, herself, wasn’t interesting enough to hold the attention of the regulars without the coffee pot in her hand. She repeated each new piece of gossip so that it was old by the end of the day. It drove Roy and the regulars crazy. Geordie and I sensed Ruth’s smouldering jealousy over Linda’s popularity, but it was none of our business. We played cards, euchre, on Tuesday nights, at the Legion. There were four tables of four, sometimes five. It was an excuse to drink while we played. They showed up on a Tuesday night when we were just getting started. Linda led them straight into the Legion with the bingo machine, sheets of cards, change box and everything. Geordie and I were about to protest, when Jack appeared. Jack Lawson was the president of the Legion. He approved of the bingo, a potential money maker and told us so. We had to move our card game to the other room. We were upset by this interruption of our routine and did our share of grousing when we went to pick up our next rounds at the bar. The euchre games lost a little charm when speakers droned, “Under the B, fifteen” or “under the N, thirty five”, in the background. At first, there were a lot of sudden attacks of deafness at our tables. The players raised their voices to speak over the bingo noise. Gradually, it calmed down. There was less interference once we got used to it. Jack came to sit down at our table later. He told us that he had refused to cover the bingo losses if they didn’t have a good turnout. He’d back them, once they showed a profit. It was business, pure and simple. We realized, after talking with Jack, that having a money maker around was a good thing. Ruth was there from the start. From the sound of it, the next morning at the diner, she did everything she could to disrupt the proceedings. Relations were frosty between Ruth and Linda. The bingo had been a modest success in spite of Ruth’s interference. She was mad, Linda quietly triumphant. Roy loved it. Geordie and I ate our usual breakfasts listening to the women at the counter. They were attacking Ruth that day. She had crossed the line at the bingo. We had an extra cup of coffee and read the paper twice so we could listen to them tear down Ruth. I don’t think that there’s much doubt anymore, about the notion that women are more vicious than men. After we heard what they had to say about Ruth, there was no doubt for us. They’d smile and change the subject when Ruth approached with the coffee pot. They made small talk with her while she topped up their cups. When she was out of earshot, they resumed the attack. Sounded to us like Ruth had ruffled a few feathers by being a little too bossy at the bingo. It was the second Tuesday night bingo at the Legion. There were five tables for our euchre game. The bingo organizers, led by Linda, all carrying sheets of cards, got there early. Ruth was still working with Roy back at the diner. The games went well for us. Geordie and I were cleaning up. There was a good crowd for the bingo in the other room. The buzz of their chatter subsided as Linda, the caller, started each new game. When there was a winner, Gladys called back the numbers to Linda and Caroline paid. We heard the first disturbance after a lot of cheering from the bingo side, figured somebody had won the jackpot. Geordie was returning to our table with the quarts when a loud bang froze everyone. It was the sound of a gun. The Legion is full of old soldiers and hunters. The old soldiers hit the deck, the hunters jumped to see what was going on. “Hey, stop right there” We heard the female voice clearly. I peeked around Geordie, who was also hiding under the table soaked in beer and saw Linda fire the gun. We heard the body drop and screams. I saw Linda stand up, put the revolver down on the table and walk toward the body. Silence at the euchre tables broke into excited whispers. “Holdup. Robbery” The words bounced around the room. “Mask” Ruth arrived at this point, glanced at us rising from the wet floor and kept going into the bingo room, a worried expression on her face. There were more than a few legionnaires regurgitating their beer when they saw the mess that Linda had made. She must have hit a blood vessel when she shot him. There was blood on the hysterical women sitting at the table beside the body, a mess on the floor. The guy was still masked. Jack Lawson pulled the sticky balaclava up far enough on the guy’s head to reveal Eldon’s face. There was no breath left in him. They tried to revive him while we waited for the ambulance but there was no hope. Eldon had tried to rob the bingo at gun point. He fired his weapon once into the air. He was leaving with the cash when Linda stood up and told him to stop. She pointed her gun at him, he pointed his at her, and that was it, she fired. It didn’t make Linda feel any better when it was discovered that he was using a harmless starter pistol. It looked real enough, one cop who knew Geordie confided. Ruth blanched when she saw Eldon’s face. She stared at Linda, looked at the body on the floor and sat down. The next morning, the diner was buzzing about the happenings at the Legion. Linda arrived late. She had been talking to police, reporters and her lawyer. There would be an autopsy and a trial. With so many witnesses to the attempted robbery, she would be cleared of the charges. Linda entered the diner like a conquering hero. We applauded her. Eldon didn’t have any family, except for Ruth, in the east. She shipped the body to Vancouver. It only took a day of her time. She was back at work that week. It came out later, through the press, that Linda was a retired cop. She had worked undercover for years and carried a licenced weapon all the time. Nobody knew it, but she went to target practice at the shooting range on the weekends. She had seen all of their hard work go for naught when that boy scooped up their bingo money. When he pointed his gun at her, it was instinctive to shoot. She didn’t think about killing him. It was cut and dried with Linda. She regretted Eldon’s death, but he was the bad guy. Geordie and I were treated to a visit, by Cliff, one night at the Legion. He let it slip, as we watched the hockey game, that Ruth was being investigated. None of the cops thought that even Eldon was dumb enough to risk everything for the small amount of money at the bingo. They figured he was put up to it by his aunt. They didn’t know why, what her motivation was, but they thought she was behind it. One thing for sure, Cliff told us, without Ruth’s confession, they couldn’t prove it. Ruth paid particular attention to Linda after that bingo. She served her first among the counter people, her coffee cup was always full. It was impossible for Linda not to know that Ruth was suspected by the cops. Roy wore a hunted look, like he was confused, not sure where he stood. He checked out the morning paper in the kitchen. We heard that Ruth had left the diner on the night of the bingo, in a huff, after a big fight with Roy. Maybe it was enough to push her over the line. Maybe her jealousy and anger caused her to put the kid up to it, to make Linda look bad. Unfortunate for young Eldon, her dead nephew. Geordie and I watched and listened. We knew that Ruth knew that Linda knew. Ruth attended the bingos but she didn’t boss anyone around any more. Linda watched Ruth fill our cups at the counter and listened to her repeat tidbits of gossip. We saw their eyes, Linda’s steady gaze, Ruth’s furtive glances, meet. That was when we saw it as a line drawn in the sand.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Work

We were driving around Kanata. Tension was building for Belinda as the end of my unemployment benefits approached. There was a similarity between Belinda with a thirty four year career, one federal government job, and me, whose longest job had been two years: work meant the same thing to both of us, money to pay the bills. Being without a job was unknown to her, familiar to me. My employment was on our minds. Belinda pointed out the ‘Hiring - Part Time’ sign in front of the grocery store at Kanata Centrum. I had never worked in a grocery store but in one of those damn grand gestures, I pulled into the parking lot and ran in to get an application. These gestures were made in mild anger. They were meant to go along with Belinda, to demonstrate that I was doing everything she suggested. She thought she knew how I should conduct myself better than I. She is often wrong but that doesn’t bother her at all. It was just another whim for her, a help wanted sign seen through the window of a moving car. Belinda’s been in management for many years and I have worked for very few places with good management. Most big companies, in my experience, have terrible management with no self respect or ethics. Morality doesn’t even enter into it. She and I have a fundamental disagreement. One advantage of living with a person who is in management is the opportunity to look at things through management’s eyes. Over a long, painful process, I learned to ask Belinda’s advice. She had heard there was a union at this store, that the jobs probably paid ten dollars an hour minimum. All of my life I’ve had self appointed experts telling me what to do about work. Like her, most of them have never had to do the jobs I have. I appreciated their concern but seldom found a job because of their help. I’ve often thought that stocking shelves, arranging vegetables, wouldn’t be bad work, but it was hard to believe that you could get ten bucks an hour for it. I dropped off the application at the Kanata Centrum store. Belinda couldn’t let it go. She was using guilt to motivate me. She knew that I wanted to work, but resented the fact that I was taking the time to try to find a decent job. This seemed to indicate that I was lazy and that I didn’t want to work. The next step in that reasoning is that all unemployed people should happily stampede Macdonald’s to take the jobs there. I was sending Belinda off at five - thirty in the dark every morning. She was squeezing every ounce of guilt out of it. Iris, from the grocery chain, called. She said that they had my application and asked if I would be available for an interview. She said that it was a union shop, that the starting pay was a few cents over minimum wage per hour. Their policy was that they only hired part time workers for a maximum of twenty-four hours per week. When I shopped at our grocery store in the next few days, I watched the staff out of the corner of my eye. The vegetable department didn’t look too bad. The shelf stocking and pricing looked downright pleasant compared to many of the jobs I’ve had. Inside, warm and dry, radio music drifting through the store, nice smells, downright pleasant. It wasn’t until I emerged into the parking lot in the driving rain that I stepped aside for the older guy pushing a line of shopping carts in the door. He had a wet, red face. I realized that this was probably where you started in a grocery store. You were the guy pushing carts around. What would former school mates and friends think, if they saw me pushing carts around a grocery store parking lot? When I told Belinda about my revelation, she started calling me “Bubbles”. I found the store in the mall on March Road and parked in the lot. I didn’t really want to work for a company which automatically enrolled me in a union but paid minimum wage to start. I watched a young guy with a stubble cut pushing some shopping carts toward the store. It was time for the interview. My attitude toward all paid work was the same. I figured most jobs were possible for me to learn. I had proved that to myself travelling around the world. “If they can do it, I can do it” had worked so far. I found the customer service desk, waited while a woman behind the counter used a phone to call someone on the p.a. system. I notice several white haired men in grocery store uniforms. The lady phoned Iris and directed me back into the lobby where there was a park bench. She told me to take a seat, Iris would be right down. How many people did you see sitting on those benches inside the automatic doors at the grocery store? I sat for a moment, got up to check out the bulletin board. Next to it was a board showing snapshot sized photos of the management team with their names and titles. There, at the top, was Eddy Laval, Assistant Manager. I knew Eddy and his older brother, Frankie, when they were kids at the rink where I worked in high school. They were rink rats like I was at their age. I had seen Eddy, years ago, stocking shelves at a grocery store. He must have stayed with the company all this time to become an assistant manager. Iris arrived while I was looking up at Eddy’s smiling mug, his tie befitting his position. Iris was an attractive young woman, polite and friendly.. To make conversation, to skate over the first few painful moments, I indicated the picture, explained that I knew Eddy when he was a little kid. We climbed the stairs to the offices. Iris asked what Eddy was like when I knew him. I told her that Eddy and Frankie were good kids, quiet, nice guys. At the top of the stairs, Iris opened a door, we stepped into an office with a big window looking out over the store. Iris stopped. “He says he knew you when you were a little kid” She spoke to the two people sitting at the table with lunch bags and newspapers. Eddy looked up from the paper with a worried frown. He had white and grey patches in his hair and moustache. He wore a look of bored exhaustion. Seeing me didn’t seem to help. His expression remained blank as he sort of nodded or blinked in recognition. I’m not sure if he said “Yeah” or “Hey” or just grunted. I didn’t notice him jumping across the table to pump my hand, welcoming me to the family. Then again, the way he looked, I didn’t hold it against him. Maybe he was trying to do me a favour. Sensing embarrassment, I followed Iris into another room. “But he was a good kid though” I managed. It was directed at the young guy, another stubble cut, who sat across the table from Eddy smirking at him. Iris remarked that she guessed Eddy wasn’t the same as when I knew him. She pointed me to one of two chairs in a tiny, cubbyhole office. She was probably twenty years younger than I, Eddy, ten years younger. I couldn’t remember the last boss I had who was older than me. A slim, white haired woman in a business suit sat at the only desk in the room sorting through piles of job applications. She smiled pleasantly, three feet away. “I’ll be quiet” “OK” I smiled. Iris got her papers ready. She wanted to ask me a series of questions. I indicated that I was ready. She asked me why I applied for the job. I appreciated Iris’ manner, it wasn’t intimidating or judgemental. I felt I could be sincere with her, but I couldn’t just laugh out loud. I glanced at the white haired lady. She gave me a reassuring look with a twinkle in her eye which meant that all three of us knew how stupid that question was. “I was looking for a job” Relief swept over us all. Iris went on to the next question. “Think back, to other jobs where you’ve had a conflict with someone, say a customer, over something. How have you resolved it?” I’m past being too honest in job interviews. For my jobs they wanted to hear you say the right things. I told her I’d never had a problem with a customer. It wasn’t a big lie. The next question was about multi - tasking. How would I cope with a lot of things to do at once. I had no answer so I referred to the last job. As it was outlined in my resume, a yardman in an oil terminal has a million responsibilities. I glanced at the lady with the white hair who was beginning to look more like a management type. She had the piles of applications all over the desk but the shuffling quieted when I gave my answers. Thank goodness it wasn’t a big, important job. I still couldn’t believe that they were going to these lengths for a buggy man. The final question was, even Iris admitted, a little strange. “Think of a product, any product from any store, which you bought and you’ve found it’s the greatest. Tell me about it. Explain why it’s so great” I was getting the feeling that the other woman was actually in charge here. Even if I graduated to sorting tomatoes I wouldn’t need to know anything like this. I wondered if they had me mixed up with a management candidate. All three of us knew that these were Human Resource questions which had to be asked because they were on the list which Iris was consulting. She was taking notes too. She was probably an ex cashier with a degree training to be a Human Resources person. Good for her. Someone in the human resources department had decided that these questions were necessary so that these jobs wouldn’t be squandered on just anyone. The only thing I could think of was my water barrel. It was a great acquisition. I recommended it to anyone with an eavestrough. Iris said she had an eavestrough. I did a double take when Iris straightened her papers and told me that I would be contacted in the future if I advanced to the next level. Another level, I thought. I left after shaking hands, saying polite thank yous. I was glad that Eddy wasn’t in the next room. Maybe I banned him from the rink for a week, but I couldn’t remember doing it. He and Frankie were good natured, dedicated rink rats. I know they coached little kids’ teams. Never any trouble that I could remember. Iris called again a few days later. She wanted to know if I was available for an interview at the Kanata store I had applied to. Of course I was. I mentioned Eddy’s non response at the interview. She laughed it off, said they didn’t pay much attention to Eddy, he was probably “in a mood”. When the day came, I parked in the lot. An older guy with a goatee pushed long lines of carts toward the door. He wore a hood against the wind but no gloves. I’d wear gloves if I was doing that. I followed a cashier toward the upstairs offices. I shook hands with a pleasant chap wearing a brown shirt and tie, no jacket, Mr. Fisher. His back was to the picture window which looked out over the store. I tried to be pleasant and interested, but he knew that I didn’t understand the system. I couldn’t figure out what Iris was talking about when she explained the part time, permanent, job status. In a nutshell, the only obstacle that he had with hiring me, on the spot, was availability. I had emphasized that my availability was wide open, nights, weekends, anything except graveyards. Iris had checked this twice. I thought that it was an advantage. It wasn’t. If you really wanted a full time job, it would take years there, so you would probably leave. It was a disadvantage to be too available. Mr. Fisher emphasized that they only hired permanent part time employees, not temporary. When you signed on, they paid for training and orientation, you committed yourself to certain shifts. If you wanted to change those shifts to nights or weekends for another job, you couldn’t. All the other workers in the store had seniority, students needed nights and weekends. You were responsible for your shifts, out of a job if you didn’t do them. He made it clear that it was the union who forced you to sign the commitment to your designated shifts. After a year’s worth of hours, the employees get some benefits. He said he needed people in the produce department from now till Christmas from six a.m. to noon. It would probably take two years for me to qualify for the benefits which sounded like they were designed to attract single mothers. Mr. Fisher had middle management hair and glasses. He steepled his fingers, read from the notes Iris had written on my application. “It says here you’ve haven’t dealt much with customers. Here, what we do with customers is make their shopping experience the best it can be” We both knew he could say nothing else. I wanted to look out of the big window behind him but kept remembering the interview tips I’d seen: books, magazines and newspaper columns all advised the interviewee to give good eye contact. The fact that Mr. Fisher was being nice while reeling off the cliches, made me feel better. The trouble was, we were in a serious discussion about a minimum wage job, maximum twenty four hours a week, minus union dues and taxes. He told me that he had no problem hiring me if I was willing to go along with the conditions. I had repeated to Iris several times that I was looking for a full time job. That didn’t seem to faze her. She said that, if I got one, I could still come in on weekends. I admitted to Mr. Fisher that I probably wouldn’t be able to continue the shifts which I took at the beginning when I got another job. He made it clear that the company didn’t want to pay for orientation and training only to lose the employee as had happened with one girl last week. I could see his point. He wanted a definite commitment. I couldn’t give him one. Even if I could do the job, I couldn’t live on the money. We shook hands. I rose to leave. There was a tiredness behind his pleasant smile. Probably, aside from the money, the buggy men and produce clerks were feeling better than this guy. Doing what he did all day must have been exhausting. He said he had a few more people to interview. Later Belinda told me that I should have lied and taken the twenty four hours a week for the moment. I don’t think even she believed that. I left the store after picking up a green pepper and some pita bread. I felt relief and gave a cheery nod to the stubble cut pushing carts past my truck. He looked miserable, hood up. That evening, I stepped outside to say goodbye to Belinda and her girlfriend as they left for the Bingo. She looked up at me from the driver’s window of her Mazda. She said I looked tired, no, depressed. “You don’t turn down a buggy man job, every day” I smiled. They drove off, laughing. The grand gesture was a waste of time. Belinda had long forgotten that she started it when we were driving past the grocery store in Kanata Centrum. I turned on the kitchen radio. A news break interrupted the drive home radio show: drivers, warehouse people and some cashiers were on strike at another local grocery chain. The issue: part time workers.