Catch up here – Part one – Introducing The Players
Several years passed. I was twenty-six and I’d left the city. I was in a grocery store in my new little town of 30,000 doing my Frito gig. I was the Frito Girl. I drove a route truck and I was pissed off.
I was standing in the chip aisle of a grocery store and I saw the new Tortilla Chip guy wanted to have a little tango. Another newbie to break in, what a tiresome bother.
Here’s a crash course in “grocery store” for people who don’t know. Shelf space in a grocery store is highly sought after. It’s whored out by the foot by the various chains and every inch of it is prized. My space is my space and the next guys, is the next guys. If you want to start a fight you crowd your stuff into the other sales rep’s space.
On this day I was already in a cranky mood for no reason I can recall. I came in the store and found someone’s one shit in my space. Like George Carlin says: “My stuff is my stuff, and their stuff is their shit. Move your shit, so I can put my stuff…” I smashed the bags of tortilla chips.
I smashed some of them anyway and this was by design. It’s the professional way to handle this kind of situation. So said my boss with twenty-seven years in the business.
He’d shown me the ropes around defending my space against anyone encroaching and putting their shit where my stuff is supposed to be. He said, you want to assert yourself right away to send a clear message to the competition. You’re intending to use all the space your company has paid for and there will be consequences if anyone wants to play games.
But there’s some finesse involved. You have to smash to an appropriate degree. You can’t overdo it or you risk starting a chip war. Those can get ugly and they’re anathema to the goal. When smashing the competing product you want to leave notice but be subtle enough you can blame a shopper if confronted.
“Who? Me? Someone’s kid must have done that? Damned kids.” Like that. And it needs to be defensible. You never know when the other sales rep may go whining to the store manager who is hip to these kinds of things. If you’re a psycho with a razor knife and greasy potato chip crumbs spread over three aisles, then you’re gonna be in trouble.
Instead you want the manager to say something like “Stay in your own space and you won’t have to clean up next time”, before he or she walks away leaving your foe defeated. This is how it’s done in the country where I worked. City folk may be more civilized, I really don’t know.
But anyway, here comes the Donut Man. The vendors all knew each other of course. I was the Frito Girl, he was the Donut Man and having heard me growling he came over to chat. He indicated the tortilla chips I just smashed.
“That’s the new guy. He’s comin’ out of the city,” he said. “Probably thinks he’s some kind of a hotshot eh, Elsa? You know how those city boys are. He’s working the tortillas on the back-end too and he was looking for you. He was asking about the Frito Man,” he said with a chuckle. I seethed.
“So he’s looking for trouble you mean? Is he trying to piss me off? Did you tell him I wasn’t a man?” This was back in the old days when Frito girls were rare as hen’s teeth.
“No. I figured you’d tell him quick enough and I thought I’d watch.” He laughed. “He’s out there in the parking lot right now I think. You can probably catch him.”
Was he egging me on? Of course he was but I didn’t mind. I’m an entertainer and the Donut Man liked my show.
“Yeah, he’s out there. He’s got the white trailer. Looks brand new. Are you gonna go kick his ass?”
Well, yeah. I probably would kick his ass. I was going to do something that’s for sure. I thought I might have a little PMS. This occurred to me but in whatever case, I sprinted out to the parking lot. I wanted to catch this guy before this turned into a real problem. Because if he was already done in this store it meant he was leading me. He was ahead of me on the route and the last thing I needed was him pulling this stunt in each store down the road. If he did that I was going to have a very bad day and I was already not exactly happy as it was. I decided to take care of this immediately.
I took off and Donut Man followed. He wasn’t kidding. He really did plan to watch and it was fine with me. Give him something to talk about the rest of the day.
I spotted the guy across the parking lot of the store, he was closing the back doors to his trailer. There was no one around, it was about 7AM in the small town when I yelled at him across the parking lot from the front of the store. I yelled loud too, the only way I know how to yell, being Italian and all.
“HEY! YOU! HEY YOU, TORTILLA! HOLD UP THERE! JUST A MINUTE! I’M THE FRITO MAN AND I WANNA TALK TO YOU!”
He turned around, looking embarrassed. “Me?” he asked, pointing to himself.
I marched over to him, no hi, no nothing. “What the hell are you doing in my space?” I asked, looking at him as if he must be one dreaming son-of-a-bitch to think he could pull this.
“I’m not in your space,” he said.
“Then it’s a mistake. This is my first day down here,” he said. “I probably looked at the schematic wrong. Why don’t we go back in and you can show me…”
Uh oh. The boy was sane and I was embarrassed. “Er. Okay. Sorry I yelled. Let’s go then, I’ll show you.” We headed into the store.
“Hey, are you Elsa?” he asked, talking as we walked.
“Yeah, I’m Elsa. How’d you know? I thought you thought I was a man. That’s what the Donut Man said.” I said, still feeling a little cagey.
“Oh, I was asking for the Frito Man, that’s why. I didn’t know this was your store. I thought you worked towns x,y and z.”
“Yeah, I did. I used to. This is a new route. How did you know that?”
He laughed. “Everyone knows about you.”
I was surprised. He told me he was advised in the city to go to the country and “find Elsa”. Oh really? I was flattered and I decided I liked the guy.
“Yep. I heard that there was a woman down here named, Elsa, and that she was running the show.”
Now that was a little thick. I looked over at him with one eye squinted but I couldn’t tell if he was fucking with me or not and I liked it. I nodded to acknowledge his prowess and laughed a little. He smiled and squinted back at me and it made me laugh. This is the kind of guy I like. One who jerks my chain.
“I didn’t know you were such a hothead though. Jesus. No one told me that. Someone should have warned me,” he said, pulling his hands up, mock cowering.
“Yeah, well I’m in bad mood today. I think it’s my period actually. I crushed your chips, Tortilla. I did crush some of your chips,” I said, confessing.
“Punch first, ask questions later?” He laughed and then coughed. “How bad is it? Did you rip them open or just crush them lightly?”
“Some of both,” I said. “Crush, mash, twist…”
“I see. You don’t screw around much do you? Can I buy you a cup of coffee…?”
Tortilla would come from the city a couple times a week and we became friendly as peers. We were both single when most people doing our jobs weren’t. We also shared a sense of humor.
A year passed and I married. Tortilla continued to treat me the same way post my wedding when others did not. This raised his stock even more. Six months passed and he asked me in earnest what it was like to be married. He wanted to know if I liked it and so forth. It seems he was contemplating proposing to some gal. I encouraged him.
A few more months passed and he did become happily engaged. His fiance would ride his route with him now and then but I never met her. Bad timing, we just didn’t collide. After missing each other several times we made specific plans to hook up on the route. We’d meet on Wednesday in Safeway, at 7:30 am.
I was in the Safeway working a junky little waste-of-my-time chip rack by the deli when I saw them come in. Boy, she was cute. That’s what I thought even though I could barely see her. I needed glasses for distance but I didn’t know it yet. I couldn’t really see across the store.
Tortilla waved from the front and headed in the other direction toward his product at the back-end. His gal pal approached me on her own, I noted her independence and I liked her already. She came closer but I still couldn’t see.
“Elsa, is that you? It is! I thought it might be you when, Tortilla said your name. It’s me. Do you recognize me? Mary Ann?”
My jaw dropped. “Mary Ann? Well, I do now.”
It all came together in my head all at once. Tortilla said she had two dead husbands. We’d joked about it! Would he be corpse number three? He also said she was highly cute. Oh man. Tortilla told me she’d made him promise not to die. The symphony that played in in my head at that moment was astounding.
“How are you?” I asked. It was the first time I’d actually spoken to her directly, in a personal way.
“I’m good. I’m getting married,” she said smiling. She really was pretty. Even prettier than she used to be and I didn’t know what to say. “Tortilla told me you got married. Do you ever talk to Lover Boy?” she asked.
I gulped and had a little nervous laugh. “Yes, I’m married and no. I’ve not talked to Lover Boy since…”
“Do you know what happened with him?” she asked.
“No. No, I don’t.”
“Well, I do”, she said smiling. “He and Cruella got married.”
“Yes. They did. Can you believe it? Everyone was surprised. They got married…hmm…it was about two years after you left. But it was a mistake. It didn’t work out. They only stayed married for about a year.”
“Yes. Cruella thought he married her for her money. Can you believe that?”
“Yes I can. He always was interested in her money. I figured they’d wind up together because of that.”
“Really?” She looked completely surprised. “You could tell that about him? I thought he was a really nice guy but after what I’ve heard from Cruella I’ve changed my mind about that. I heard what you did. You walked out on him and no one knew why. Everybody talked about that for a long time. Is that why you did it? Because you sensed this about him?”
“Yeah. I went to see Bo Diddley. I wanted to see Bo Diddley that day and he’s not Lover Boy’s type. I figured if I stayed with him I would never get to see, Bo Diddley,” I said, smiling lopsidedly.
She looked at me carefully. “And you were happier without him?”
“Right,” I nodded with a chuckle. “Yes, I was. I am, I mean. Yes, I was done with him, I’d had enough.”
She smiled as if something made sense and I noted how authentically nice she was. And she looked very peaceful. I could see Tortilla’s hand in this. She looked truly happy and I had a warm feeling for her.
“Well Cruella feels the same way,” she said. “She’s happier without him too but you knew that, huh? You knew he wanted her money?”
“Well, yeah. He was always interested in her money. Eventually I decided to just get out of the way so he could have it.”
“I’ll have to tell her that. I have a new job but I still talk to her now and then. She’s still doing the same as always. She has trouble with men. She sure had a lot of trouble with Lover Boy. You’re very lucky you got out. He turned out to be not that nice a person, Elsa. He got a good deal of her money you know.”
Hmm. She thought Cruella was a victim. I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything.
“Well, I’m glad I got to meet you again. I’m going to go help my fiancé,” she said, smiling wide on the word, “fiancé”. “Do you ever come to the city? If you do, you should drop by and see Tortilla and I. Maybe we can go out or something. He doesn’t have a lot of friends. I’s just the way he is. I think it’s because he’s from the East Coast but he thinks the world of you, Elsa. He likes you a lot.”
I couldn’t believe what she just said. I was flattered re: Tortilla, but I vividly recalled what happened last time I was out with Mary Ann! I would never tempt fate by going out with her and a husband again. I smiled and thanked her for the invitation.
“I like him too. He’s a great man. He’s a lot of fun and he’s in love with you. Congratulations.”
“Thanks. It’s really good to see you again,” she said. She paused and I thought she was sincere. “Life is really interesting isn’t it?” she said with a twinkling eye.
“Yeah, good to see you and I appreciate the update,” I said with a snort. “And life is interesting all right.” I smiled and looked her in the eye to say good bye because I didn’t imagine I’d see her again.
“I’ll tell Cruella you said hello. I hope I see you again, Elsa.”
I smiled and nodded and she excused herself. She turned and left to go help Tortilla. Mary Ann the enigma, I haven’t seen her since.
Soon after this, Tortilla sold his route. I never saw him again either. He was great and she’d surely paid her dues. My guess is he helped her raise her kids and they’re still together.