Monday, February 07, 2005

“My friend doesn’t work there anymore. You remember my friend who's from Ethiopia too? He quit his job. $80,000 and he just quit.” I ask why his friend left my company, was it the stress? Did he have a better offer? And Taye replies “He didn’t like his manager.”

Taye has checked out my groceries at Safeway for more than 20 years. We became friends when the original store was across the street from its present location. He’s seen my groceries go from the kinds of groceries people buy when they are newlywed and on a tight budget, to the kind of groceries people buy when they have a new baby on the way, to our current rather haphazard collection of healthy and junk, chosen with more concern for taste than cost. He scans the feminine protection products without blinking an eye, teases me about how hard I’m having to work to get the large items out from the shelf under the cart so he can scan them, asks me if the kids are too old to grocery shop now. Asparagus, oatmeal, muffin mix, TP rolls by on the belt.

Some years ago when he decided he wasn't using his professional skills, Taye quit his job and moved to Fresno. I don’t quite know what he was doing there, but we were crushed to find he was gone and convinced the Safeway manager to forward on a card and a picture of the kids telling him we missed him. About a year and a half later, he was back at a different Safeway, then finally back again at our neighborhood store. My kids have always hugged Taye when we shopped. Taye adores them, my god he’s seen them more often than my own parents have. But they don’t go with me as often anymore, especially since the divorce, and he is obviously sad when I arrive at the counter without them. Today he reminds me of how we sent him the picture in Fresno, how much they have grown since then. I wonder if he realizes that the feminine protection products are for my daughter now. I laugh with him about her looking 15 and we both pause, realizing time is slipping away from us. On a recent shopping trip he sent me home with a blue stuffed dog for the kids, to let them know he was thinking of them. I thanked him and gave him the hug that the younger kids could have been relied on for weekly in the past. Taye is a bachelor, I would guess he’s in his mid 50’s now, and I have to wonder how many hugs he gets. Some days if I have a lot of groceries, he tells me a little about his past in Ethiopia, about the Israeli airlift of Jews from Ethiopia, about the persecution which he fled. He is thoughtful and well spoken, and at one time ran a career center at the local college, but my attempts to find him a job at my company stalled and there was a year or so when it was a bit awkward, him asking if we were hiring again, me explaining about the layoffs, but feeling guilty there wasn’t more I could do to help him get out of Safeway. I know he likes his job well enough, but I also know how much more he could do, wishes he could do.

Taye continues his explanation about his friend’s decision. “I guess lots of people quit because they don’t like their manager. He gave up his salary of $80,000 because of it.” I ask, “So Taye, do you like your manager?” Immediately I realize this is not the most tactful question to ask in front of the bagger, and no matter how noisy the area is, maybe his manager could overhear. I quickly withdraw the question, but he chuckles and answers anyhow.
“Sure I think my manager is good. I don’t always agree with him. But when I don’t, I just keep my mouth shut and do my work.”

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