By Attila Zønn
Freddie was a suited up guy, maybe mid-forties, pleasant enough and he led me to Lorenzo, the shipper.
“This is David,” Freddie said. “Our new stock boy.”
I sensed Lorenzo’s disregard when Freddie introduced me because he didn’t look at me, but kept his eyes on Freddie.
“Do you know how to count?” Lorenzo said when we were alone. I thought that was an odd question. I hesitated. His eyes bore down on me—the eyes of an assassin.
“Okay,” he said. “I feel you are nervous. Don’t be nervous. I am a guy just like you. I am not the boss. But if you fuck me up, I’m gonna fuck you up big time.”
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s get to work.”
My job was to prepare product for deliveries onto refrigerated vans. I’d have a clipboard with a list of product and as I selected the product, I would tick them off my list.
He took me into a massive refrigerated room and showed me how everything was clearly labeled. “Just match the name on the list with the name of the product, make sure the quantities, have everything portioned to load, and then call me. Easy.”
Inside this refrigerator was a steel door and above it the words The Vault.
“What’s in there?” I said.
“Don’t worry about in there,” he said. “You’re not ready for what’s in there.”
He handed me a clipboard. “There is no hurry for you today,” he said. “Today you get familiar with everything. Any questions, see me. Don’t be shy.” He turned away, walked a few steps then turned back.
“I’m gonna say this,” he said, and raised his hands. “The guy who have this job before you was a thief. He steal wheels of cheese and tubes of salami. I catch him walking out with salamis under his sweater. I’m just saying.”
“I won’t steal any salamis,” I said.
“Bravo,” he said and tapped my arm. “Buon lavoro.” He left me to work.
I maneuvered along the aisles of this oversized refrigerator. The smells were pleasant, pungent, cheesy. I hadn’t slept the night before, thinking of my new job, what I would do and the people I’d meet, but now having lifted the veil off the unknown, I felt buoyant. After a few minutes, caught up in trying to correlate the names on my list with the product on the shelves, I felt a tap on my back. I turned, and there was a short, chubby guy in a black suit standing there. He had an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth.
“Hey,” he said. “So you’re the new kid. I didn’t know we needed new people in here, but then nobody talks to me anymore, so every day’s full of surprises. Where you from?”
“Scarborough,” I said.
“No, I mean your ancestry. You’re some kind of Italian, aren’t you? Where your people from?”
“Sicily, I guess. At least my father is.”
“Holy shit!” His eyes widened, he looked around and shouted, “Hey guys! We got a see-shee-liano over here! Watch your backs and count the silverware!” I didn’t understand why he did that. We were the only ones in the fridge.
He laughed and tapped me on the arm. “Just kidding, kid.”
“Are you Sicilian?” I said.
“No fuckin’ way!” He stepped back. “Hey kid, we just met, and it’s too early in the morning for insults.”
Who was this moron?
“I got to go to work,” I said and turned my back on him. That was that, I thought.
He tapped me on the back.
“You ain’t all Sicilian though, are you?” he said. “I detect some mangia-cake in you. Are you?”
“Am I what?”
“Are you a mangia-cake wop?”
I didn’t know how to answer that.
“Your old man’s Sicilian, what’s your mother?”
He rolled his eyes. “No one is just Canadian. We all came from somewhere—originally. If not us then our grand-people. Even the Indians came from China.”
“Irish-English.” Done. I just wanted to go back to work.
“Irish-English? Ho–ly shit! That’s a conflicted mix, my friend. She must be a conflicted woman.”
The door at the other end of the fridge opened and Lorenzo stood there staring at us.
“Who are you?” I said.
The guy staggered back and put a hand on his chest. “Who am I?”
“Lorenzo, tell this kid who I am.”
“You are Ludovico,” Lorenzo said.
“I know I’m Ludovico. But who am I?”
“You are Ludovico Fiorini.”
Ludovico snapped a hard stare on Lorenzo. I felt tension between the two.
“Yeah?” Ludovico said.
Lorenzo shrugged. “I think so.”
Ludovico stared hard. “You want to be that way?”
“It’s the only way to be,” Lorenzo said.
Ludovico scowled. He pointed a finger and said, “Fuck you too Lorenzo, and the blind donkey you rode in on! I’m sick of this!” He did a quick pivot and walked away from us, out of the fridge.
“David, we must get back to work.”
“Who is that guy?”
“He is the other owner,” Lorenzo said. He chuckled. “You know what he want me to say?”
I shook my head.
“He want me to say he is the boss. But he is the boss of shit. Federico is the boss. Ludovico is a buffone. You know buffone?”
“That’s right. A big clown. Now, back to work.”
Later, as I pushed a dolly along the aisles, correlating and selecting, I heard, “Walker!”
Ludovico was back.
“Your last name is Walker?” he said. “You told me your old man is Sicilian. What the hell kind of Sicilian name is Walker?”
“It’s not,” I said.
“Then how come a Sicilian has an Anglo name like that?”
“My grandfather changed it when he came to Canada.”
“It was after the war, and nobody would give him a job because of his Italian surname.”
“Oh,” he said, and appeared sympathetic. “I heard about that stuff. What was it?”
He smiled. “No offense, but I’d change my name too if it was Vaccaro. You know what it means?”
“No, it’s not that glorious. It means cow herder. Where he was from, they didn’t ride horses when herding cows. They walked behind them with a big stick and tapped them on the ass when they wanted them to move. So, all Vaccaro’s spent their days looking at a cow’s ass.”
“Okay,” I said, and turned my back on him. He came around to face me.
“You can’t be a Walker around here,” he said. “It’s not ethnically pure among all us wops. So…from now on…” He postured a stance of contemplation and rubbed his chin. After some thought, he smiled and said, “From now on, you’re…Walkeretti. Yeah! Walkeretti.”
Lorenzo appeared at the other end of the refrigerator. Ludovico scowled. Under his breath he said, “Asshole,” then, “Catch you later, Walkeretti.”
And so began my foray into the armpit that was Riviera Imports, with all its orderly dysfunction, and my life with Ludovico — “Call me Ludy”.
I liked my job. I liked my clipboard. I liked ticking things off on my clipboard. Time flew by. Product was ready to load. I went to find Lorenzo.
He stood talking to an Asian guy in the loading area.
They saw me approach. “I’m done,” I said and handed Lorenzo the clipboard. He looked at his watch.
The other guy with him, I’d later learn, was Gino Chang. “Jesus,” Gino said. “It took the last guy three days to get this job straight.” I smiled. Lorenzo stared at me, his face stone cold. The coffee truck sounded outside.
“Let’s get a coffee,” he said and we walked out the back door. There was a very tall red haired lady in a gray pant suit at the head of the line. She had a nice figure. She was at least a head taller than us, and she seemed transfixed on the coffee truck driver.
“Mannaggia,” Lorenzo said. “Every day is the same thing.” He said something, in German it sounded like, which made the red haired woman snap her head back at him. Her lips were set in a snarl and her eyes narrowed. Then she was gone into the building with her coffee and sandwich.
“Hey, Lorenzo,” the coffee truck driver said. “How’s it going?”
Lorenzo sighed. “I was born in the wrong time,” he said. The coffee truck driver laughed. Lorenzo turned to me. “You drink espresso?” I nodded. “Three espresso, Sammy, please. Make one a double.”
As Sammy poured the coffees, Lorenzo said, “Sammy, you gonna propose to that woman? I think she love you very much.” Sammy smiled. “My wife wouldn’t like the competition,” he said. “One woman’s enough for me anyhow.”
“Sometimes none is better,” Lorenzo said.
Sammy shrugged. “I like having someone there when I get home,” he said.
“Get a dog,” Lorenzo said. “It will always be happy to see you.”
We took our espressos and strolled towards the back door. As the coffee truck pulled away, Lorenzo grabbed my arm. “You see?” he said, and nodded towards the field behind the building.
There was Ludovico, in the tall grass, trying to catch a butterfly.
“Buffone,” Lorenzo said.
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2019