Friday, January 27, 2006

Tales of the Coop Crazies

When we first moved here, we joined our local food coop against the warnings of our many friends. They all told us that the coop was chock full of nuts who took everything way too seriously and, well, militantly. But SP and I, being two young, crazy, soy product-loving kids (not to mention poor and unemployed), decided that joining the coop would be the best way to save money while saving the earth and fighting the corporate powers that be at the big supermarket chains. "What do our friends know," said we. "They are letting their jaded yuppy outlooks and conveniences cloud their judgments about this wonderful opportunity. Ha Ha! We are so very smart - and unjaded!"

We remained members for a few years and did all of our shopping there. It is the type of coop where you have to work once a month in order to maintain membership; you can't just pay a fee and skip the work one month. We went on leave last year in part because I was going to grad school, working 3 part time teaching jobs, and trying to get pregnant. That last one should be of no consequence to our coop membership, but I was depressed from the whole not being pregnant thing and didn't want to have to do one more thing on the weekends that would get in the way of my crying fits, you know?

Anyway, I willingly cycled through many different jobs while at the coop: produce stocking, produce inventory, bulk stocking, grocery stocking, box breakdown, grocery item pricing, picking out the rotten produce from the aisles, frozen food inventory (that was a cold one!), answering phones in the office, and the mack daddy of coop jobs - checkout. The final job I had before I left was maintenance, which mostly boils down to cleaning toilets and mopping floors. I didn't really mind that one, especially given the fact that the shift was an hour shorter than any other shift, and SP and I were both doing it. And we were good workers, too. Man, did we get things clean! So many people stand around chit-chatting while they should be doing their jobs, but not SP and me. Thanks to that good old Germanic "work is the only way you will be able to develop even an ounce of self-respect" ethic, we did our jobs and we did 'em well. But. Working there was another thing on my over-crowded "to do" list, and it turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back. Well, that's part of the story. The other part has to do with some of the less kind and perhaps less sane members of the coop, or as I like to call them, the Coop Crazies.

I should have known that something was just not right that first year, when a shopper (and co-member) came up to me while I was stocking lettuce and said, "I feel like you should be stocking that lettuce a lot more effectively." "Oh?" I said, startled by this weird criticism at a pre-coffee 8AM Sunday morning shift. "Yes. You see, the lettuce can't breathe the way you are stocking it. Now do it this way. See, now it is breathing. You have to think about these things when you're in charge of stocking the lettuce." Dumbfounded, I stood there long after she left holding a head of lettuce at eye level, wondering where its lungs or gills might be found. Now see, that was the good part of doing maintenance: most people there don't have the nerve to criticize your toilet-cleaning skills because, well, you're basically washing away particles of other people's shit, and being guilty liberal types who are willing to hire others to clean their toilets but will never talk about the fact that someone else is cleaning their toilet, they leave you alone. But I digress.

Many little signs that things were amiss would follow. Like the time that SP was helping stock some free-range chicken, and his assigned partner just stood there watching him, at which point he asked her if she could help. She responded, "I just feel like I can't work with the poultry." Now here's the thing. Either you want to or don't want to, and that's fine. But you can't feel this. Not wanting to stock poultry, or even not being able to stock poultry, is not a feeling. And why did you accept this job if you knew you did not want to touch chicken? Another similar thing I remember: Once when I was breaking down boxes and the squad leader came by with a man whom he said would be joining me. "That's great," I said cheerfully, "cuz there sure are a lot of boxes here!" Once the leader was gone, I asked the guy if he knew how to stack the broken down boxes so they would be ready for recycling. He nodded and grunted, not making eye contact. Okay, not a social guy, so what. Not all of us have to be Chatty Cathys, no problem. Well, a couple minutes later, he came up to me and murmured, "Excuse me, but I feel like I can really handle this job alone." Again with the feeling. "That's okay," I chirped, "because this is what they asked me to do today, so if you don't mind I'm just gonna continue here till the end of my shift." "Umm, well, the thing is that this is my job, so I really just feel like I need to do this job and maybe you can see what else there is to do. See, this is my job, so I just think I should be able to do my job." "But you were late," I said, much less cheerfully. "This. is. my. job." Okay, nutcase, I think I'll go before you get all boxcutter crazy on me.

And you would be surprised at how many fights there were among all those peace-loving, hemp-wearing folk! Most of the scuffles had to do with the politics of standing in line, cart ownership, and cart parking. The worst one I ever saw was when I was working the express check-out. There was a short line of people. Somehow one woman thought that she should be in front of another woman who had a young child with her. The one with the child quietly explained that she had been there first. I really don't know who was right, by the way. Well, the aggressive one kept pecking at the other until her voice was quite loud and she was saying things like, "What are you teaching your poor child? She's going to be so lost in this world. What are you teaching this child about conflict-resolution? You are not fit to be a member of this coop! I'm going to report you! You are violating the rules of this coop!" Of course, we were all paying attention to what was going on but trying to seem like we were oblivious to it. I made the mistake, though, of catching the crazy gal's eye, at which point she hollered to me, "You were sitting there this whole time. You saw her cut in front of me, right?" "I didn't see what happened," I replied. "Nonsense! I'm reporting both of you to the coop! The rules of the coop say that members must be repsonsible for other members! That is what makes it cooperative! And you're not following those rules!" Ayayayay! And that, my friends, is a big reason I filed for separation from the coop. You see, I didn't have time for the pain, regardless of the fact that tofu was 50 cents less than at your average store.

So guess what? We rejoined! Turns out that if you have or adopt a child, you get 12 months where you don't have to work. And if you have two babies, that's 24 months. Well, I mean between the two parents, you have to split this amount of time off. So that means with twins neither SP nor I have to work for a year. And being that we can save a lot of money and need to since we're living on one salary right now which will almost inevitably put us in the red each month, and being that we like organic shit, and being that we don't have to work with the Coop Crazies for a whole year, we're taking the plunge. Besides, how else are we going to get our weekly drama fix now that we're boring homebound parents? It's almost as good as going to the movies, y'all!

end note
I shouldn't have to say this, gentle readers, but just in case you were offended: It is probably only a very small percentage of coop members who are loop-t-loop. All the rest are wonderful, upstanding, deeply thinking, diversity-loving, organic-eating, baby-wearing, puppy-nuturing, plant-watering citizens of the world. Okay now?


Blogger Bill Norris said...

Those people are insane. Insane I tell you.

I always thought the extra money spent in a regular store was a fair price to not have to deal with the co-op crap.

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Liza said...

Ah, the co-op crazies. I'd forgotten about them.

Years and years ago, I lived in a co-op house. My absolute favorite fight in the house involved heat. Winter came early and hard that year, and the member with her own electric heater kept refusing to vote to turn on the heat.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous bri said...

Woo-hoo! No work and cheap food! I would put up with the crazies for a year for that.

But otherwise... you know my feelings about that place. Seeing as how we ARE the aforementioned yuppies.

2:01 PM  
Blogger lagiulia said...

You are 2 of the mentioned yuppies, but if you recall we weren't hanging out much that first year. So there are other yuppier yuppies I was thinking of when I wrote that.

2:17 PM  

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