Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
About those fireworks...

Ellie Mae or may not...

Ellie Mae or may not...
In through the out gate...

Rattler relocation

Rattler relocation
Snakes are beautiful critters.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
"Let us bee happy in our work..."


Nothing says summer like zinnias.

Pink Yarrow and carnations

Pink Yarrow and carnations
Life on the farm

HappyDay Farms grows it better.

HappyDay Farms grows it better.
Home-grown by HeadSodBuster

Where the living is easy

Where the living is easy
Garlic drying, with our newly painted water tank in the background

July magic

July magic
Artichoke-strictly for ornamental purposes

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunrize Market

Sunrize Market

I began working for Sunrize (sic) Market, in the summer of 1965, as a bottle boy and Mark of all jobs.  I swept the alley behind the store, emptied the back room of all cardboard and trash and filled the milk-box if the box-boys were behind in their chores.  This occurred whenever it was busy, and at Sunrize Market, when it was busy, the customers took center stage.  I gathered in the shopping carts from out front, brought up big shopping bags, if the need had arisen, and ran a broom around the interior of the store, if there had been no box-boys available to do so.
 In the early days, getting rid of the cardboard meant that it was dumped in the big red ship that sailed on Mondays and Thursdays, along woith all of the other "trash."  Later, a similar bin was added to the repertoire for cardboard to be recycled.  It seems funny that recycling as a community concept, did not exist in La Puente, in 1965.
Sunrize Market was a veritable gold mine of industry for the O’Neill clan.  At one juncture in time, we actually had five of us “on staff.”  Augie’s favorite line used to be, “If it’s a Kennedy, vote for him; if it’s an O’Neill, hire him.”  My brother Brian was assistant manager, I was a box-boy/apprentice clerk, Matt and Tom were the bottle boys, and Noel was hired on by the butcher department.  Mama or Papa would bring in toddler Kevin, to pose in his tailored green, Sunrize apron, that mama had stitched for him.   All in the family. 

What does a bottle boy do?  Back in the day, most of the carbonated beverages came in heavy glass bottles, each designed to represent a particular company's soda pop or beer.  A sixteen ounce Royal Crown Soda bottle was light green, and had the gently encircling glass swaths that stretched from the neck to the base. 

Double Cola had concentric circles that allowed maximum grippage.  Double Cola was also sixteen ounces.  Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola came in twelve ounce sizes, and were therefore rarely seen in our house.  Eric used to favor the twenty-six ounce Pepsis, which cost twenty-six cents, all of the years we were growing up.  He used to talk me into riding up on my Stingray bicycle to buy him a twenty-sixer.
Back in those days, we paid three cents deposit on the smaller sized bottles, and a nickel apiece for the 26 ouncers.  Unlike now, where recycling occurs in various locales, we returned bottles to any store which sold them, for an immediate refund.  Generally you brought back the empties when you bought a new six-pack.  Often, however, folks would save up their empties and bring them all at once for their rightful refund.
There was a wooden bin on wheels, alongside the tiny post office which inhabited the very front left of Sunrize Market.  Into this bin were dumped all of the returned empties.  All was well until someone would bring in a whole cartload of empties, and then the bin would start to overfill.
My job was to come every day but Sunday, and take all of the bottles out to the “bottle room,” located in the alley behind the store.  I spent a lot of time in that “room,” which was nothing more than a section of chain linked fence, that was formed in such a way as to create an uncovered fenced-in section, about ten feet wide by twenty feet long.  Each of the four interior walls were lined from asphalt ground to as high as I could stack them, with wooden crates filled with their respective bottles.  
I had to organize them by company, so Seven-Up bottles went with Coca-Cola, and each according to its company.  When the driver for each firm brought replenishments for the store’s stock,  he would take the empties away from the bottle room.  I facilitated that process.
I made it work because I had big plans for my future at Sunrize Market.  As a bottle boy I earned one dollar an hour, and I never dared tell Augie, the manager, how many hours I really worked.  He would have had to find a new source of money to pay me, and he would have griped up a storm.
There were jobs, like filling the milk-box, that I loved to do, and would do for free, just to have access to the walk-in refrigerator.  It was such a grown-up thing to do.  I would fill all of the dairy products from behind the glass doors.  I would fill the soda pop and beer shelves too.  The interesting thing about being behind the glass doors, was that I could see the customers, and they could not see me.  This seemed very relevant at the time.
If I were famished, I could always bag a carton of cottage cheese, or yogurt, because the salesperson always gave us credit for returns.  It was our store policy, that if a customer brought something back, and was unhappy, we did everything possible to rectify the situation, including replacing the product.  
As it was, when I told him a had worked the previous six days, done all of the bottles, and the corresponding other jobs, the total would still be only five hours and thirty minutes.  So I would follow him around while he hit up various employees for “coffee money,” ostensibly to defray the cost of the amenities provided on a daily basis, until he had enough to cover my weekly wage.  Why didn’t I tell him my real number of hours?
There were many reasons, but the most important one was, that i harbored serious dreams about going to work at Sunrize, working under Augie Ramirez, the established manager, and generally cool guy.  Augie genuinely appreciated the O’Neill work ethic, hustle, and honesty; we were hardworking, clean-cut kids.
You had to be sixteen to go to work for the Retail Clerk’s Union, but you only had to be fourteen to be a bottle boy.  I needed a work permit, but that did not cost anything to acquire.  Mama facilitated that process because she had vested interests.  By the time the summer of 1966 came around, there were nine kids in our family, with Kevin having arrived in February of that year, and Papa’s annual seven thousand dollar salary was stretched pretty thin.
In our household, young men who went out and worked outside the home, brought their paychecks home to Mama, who appropriated all but fifteen percent, until such time, as it was determined that you were old enough to allow that percentage to increase, or you went above and beyond.  That might include the period of time that preceded my becoming a box-boy, when I took on the sweeping of the parking lot as well as my bottle-boy duties.

 This took place in the early morning period, just before it got light.  For this task it was deemed appropriate that brother Matt would be my assistant,  Matt would have been eight at this time, and his willingness to participate was a wonder indeed.  He was very amped to be able to work with a big boy, a fact that was not lost on me.  After trailing in the shadows of my older brothers myself, allowed to accompany them only on their say-so, I was thrilled to be able to guide Matt in this important endeavor.

 The gig lasted for three months, upon which time, I was elevated to the status of box-boy.  Matt was a very able assistant, willing to cover any part of the parking lot that I deemed necessary, and I was sorry that our time working together ended.  After I moved on, Matt carried on with seven-year-old Tom, until Augie had the unmitigated gall to hire a guy with a big machine that blew everything around, and eventually out of the parking lot.  Displaced by automation at the ripe old ages of seven and eight.  Is nothing sacred? 

 When I became a box-boy on September 11, 1967, I was allowed to keep twenty-five percent of my earnings.  I started out making $1.75 an hour working, maybe, twenty-four hours a week.  Out of the $42.00 I would have earned, say six or seven dollars were taken out for taxes, so I would end up with maybe nine dollars out of a thirty-six dollar paycheck.

For the most part, I would have been happy with that.  I was just starting my sophomore year at Bishop Amat High School, and I was beginning to recognize the connection between earning money, and outfitting myself in the style to which I aspired to appear.  Even nine dollars a week was an astronomical amount of money for a fifteen-year-old kid to be carrying around in his pocket.  
Though the Union required that you be sixteen to go to work, I had gone down to the Hall on my fifteenth birthday, and signed all of the papers for entry into the Union, paid the initiation fees, and never had to show proof of birth.  Augie, of course, would have known that.  Everyone was happy, so it became our little secret.
Sunrize was the hotbed of social intercourse for me.  I became aware that a small percentage of our clientele consisted of my age level girls, sent to the store by respective mothers, to acquire materials for dinner at home.  I began to keep my eyes peeled, and being in a position of some status, via my white shirt, tie, and air of competence, I soon attracted the notice of a nice selection of fair young damsels, with whom I formed healthy friendships. 

I was flummoxed by my ability to make simple conversation with the fairer gender.  In this environment, I learned the art of making small talk with girls, a skill necessary to be able to enjoy their company, because enjoy their company I did, and I wanted to continue to do so.  I was not a confident guy when I went to work at Sunrize, but my interactions with these sweet girls, and my assumption of the role of check-out clerk, soon led me to refine my social skills.

As a freshman the previous year, I had been more worried about scrimping and borrowing the dimes I needed to be able to feast on the newest sensation to hit my taste buds, the ice cream sandwich, to worry about making advances with the girls.  At Bishop Amat there was a row of vending machines that dispensed all of the necessities of life for teens to munch on, without any of the politically correct (not to mention nutritionally correct) guidelines to control the intake of sugar and caffeine.  These were the primary attractions to me at lunchtime, my freshman year of high school.
Now as a sophomore, I was able to lend out the dimes to my fellow students, as though there was an endless supply.  These were the days when a nickel bought you any of the wealth of candy bars, packaged candy, potato chips, Fritos, etc.  If you went to Sav-on Drugs Store, then you got them for three for a dime.  A pair of styling slacks at the local men’s clothing store cost twelve dollars.  My paychecks stretched pretty far, especially after I started working more than twenty-four hours.
Augie was the one who wrote out the schedule each week, and the one I had to impress at Sunrize.  I wore tennis shoes, and I never went anywhere at a walking pace; it was always a run, as long as I could do so, without running into the customers.  At least Augie was the one who directed the scheduling process.  My brother Brian might actually have done the transcribing of the names and hours, but it was at Augie’s direction.
Augie Ramirez was probably about forty when I started to work for him.  He was of Mexican descent, spoke Spanish fluently, and definitely had a charismatic personality.  He was not a physically imposing man, standing about five feet, ten inches tall, with jet-black hair, combed straight back, with the Brill-Cream sheen to it.  (“Brill Cream-a little dab’ll do you-they love to get their fingers in your hair...”) His face had a ruggedly handsome look, with his beard stubble perpetually threatening to break outside his face, a fact that he constantly addressed, by doing the five o’clock shaving thing back in the restroom, prior to a night over in The Pompei Pizzeria.

His features made me think of the actor, Vic Morrow, and his manly approach to things (today we would refer to it as machismo) reflected his cultural upbringing.  Augie had little respect for women and the sanctity of marriage.  He was the ultimate male chauvinist pig, only back then, he was simply a hunter.  It was ridiculous and Augie was insatiable.  He pursued anything in a skirt, and the more so if she worked for him.  Only Martha was immune to his advances, but that was only because she was in her sixties, and had all she could do to keep her customers from abandoning ship on her check-stand.
I could box Martha’s customers’ groceries, while at the same time taking care of Belva, or Linda, or whomever.  Martha was a pain because she was so slow, but she made me look good, because I could cover more than one check-stand. 
Augie was the consummate entertainer.  If a good customer (always of the female variety) happened to come through his check-stand, and the time was right, he would smile benignly at her, and ask if she’d like her milk in a bag.  When she said yes, which she always would have, he would carefully open the quart, and pour the contents into a bag, thereby alarming all of the other customers in the line.
Another Augieism was to beam at his victim, while asking if she would like her eggs scrambled.  Having received the expected affirmation, Augie would then orchestrate the slamming down of the dozen eggs on the formica checkout counter, certainly shattering every one of the dozen eggs, place the carton gingerly in the appropriately sized bag, while delivering the package to the customer.  The rest of the people in line would stare in amazement.  All was in good fun, and all done with an air of showmanship which permeated Augie’s world.
If I were lucky enough to get the 9-5 shift on a Saturday, I would get off work at the same time as Augie, and he would invariably invite me to stop next door at Pompei Pizza for a meal on him.  For me, at age fifteen and upward, that meant a large pizza and a meatball sandwich.  Augie might munch something during the hours he was there, but his specialty was drinking beer.  He ordered it by the pitcher, and would unquestionably have been happy to include me, but the management ran the typical tight ship, so I never did drink beer in that establishment.  Augie did, though, frequently tipping the salt shaker over, and sprinkling a little into his glass, causing a tremendous stream of bubbles to ascend to the surface oif the glass.  That was Augie, always stirring it up.
When I returned from my military experience, Augie refused to hire me back part-time, demanding instead that I return full-time because that was the role I had fulfilled before my induction.  I wanted to go back to Cal Poly, Pomona, and did not want to work full time.  Augie’s stubbornness cost him big-time, because I called his bluff, and went back to school on the GI Bill, and my path was irretrievably altered from that point onward.
One of the benefits of working in the bottle room, was the fact that often enough, bottles would be taken in by mistake (Hello, Martha) that we did not stock.  Therefore, we had no way to move them down the path.  When these oddballs accumulated to the point where I had trouble maneuvering around them, I would go to Augie and inform him of this development.  
The first time was the best experience, because there was a prodigious back-up of non-Sunrize refundable bottles, and it was not a problem that could be solved without a set of wheels.  What I ended up doing was appealing to my oldest brother Eric, who has always had a good head for bargains, and enlisting his aid in driving me around to the various local markets, to exchange our cache of bottles for cash. 
It turned out to be a family affair, as it was deemed appropriate to have Brian and Noel join us.  We took stock of what was available, and piled as much as we could into our 1953 Plymouth sedan, the one that required a quart of Raylube oil, every time you ever drove it.  If that seems extreme, just know that all those years we drove it, Raylube oil sold for two for a quarter.  Yes, you could buy a quart of low grade oil for twelve and a half cents in the sixties.
It would take us a good chunk of time to circumnavigate the neighborhood, judiciously selecting the stores and the appropriate bottles to be returned at each.  This would require some reconnaissance, usually on the part of Brian, who had the best memory.  Noel, of course, would do the deed itself, smiling engagingly, while collecting the loot.  Eric was the designated driver, and I was the designated punching bag, metaphorically speaking.  I was allowed to accompany them, only because i was the source of the loot.  They had to tolerate the mouth that drove many to despair.  They didn’t call me the Babe, or Clowny, for nothing.
The end of the adventure would net us maybe twenty-eight bucks, which would be divided amongst us evenly, after setting aside a portion for gas.  This was a venture which did not include a cut for Mama, thus making it all the more lucrative.  And Augie was the only one with the power to release the bottles into our hands for appropriate dispersal.

Originally, he may have envisioned a cut for himself, but after seeing the lengths we went through to convert them to cash, he probably figured he’d lose us as a means of disposing an unwanted commodity, if he didn’t play his cards right.
Working at Sunrize was everything I had hoped it would be, at least as a fifteen and sixteen year-old.  One drawback was that the dress code was inflexible, and was rigidly enforced.  We were required to wear white shirts and ties, and there was no variation on that theme.  When Dale Nelson began to sport dress shirts that were not white, it stirred the pot.  He would still appear impeccably dressed, but not in the regulation white, and it drove Augie nuts. 

Then there were whitewalls, as in the proper way to wear your hair.  It would be safe to say that fireworks on July Fourth, paled in comparison to the fireworks that Augie (and occasionally Brian) could create, when either might notice that I was letting my “sideburns hang in there,” a decidedly hedonistic act, that never went unaddressed. 

So we had many emotional confrontations about the status of my hair and or sideburns.  On one particular occasion, Brian incurred my wrath for an interminable period of time (probably, a week) by pointing out to Papa, one day while he was in the store, that my hair needed cutting.  Papa went ballistic, right in front of customers, mortifying me, and ensuring that I went next door for a $1.50 men’s haircut.  This barber shop had finally replaced the head-shaving that regularly occurred up until I started bringing money into the house.  That action transferred a kid from little kid status, to the ranks of wage-earner.
I remember the famous back-room “tripping incident” that occurred during one of these confrontations.  Augie was ragging on me yet once again, and we were having it out in the back-room of Sunrize, when he totally lost it, and gave me a hard enough shove directly against my chest, that I fell back heavily on the slick cement surface.
Scrambling agilely to my feet, I pointed at him and said, remarkably quietly, and with just the perfect tone, “That was a mistake, Pal.”  (Me calling Augie, Pal?) “I am going straight to the Union, and you are going to be in a world of hurt.”
Augie was probably shocked to hear Pooh-Bear spewing such nonsense, but he recovered quickly enough to exclaim, “What are you talking about?  You tripped.  It was as clear as day.”
“Yeah, well we’ll see who they believe and who they don’t.  You made a big mistake, Augie, and now you’re going to have to pay.”

Unfortunately, Augie knew the situation all too well.  He knew Robert and Pauline all too well.  He knew the economic struggle they dealt with, and he knew about the financial arrangement between parents and kids in our household.  He knew he was in no danger from me.
“But, Mama.  The dude shoved me.  Is that OK?”
“No, of course, it’s not.  But if you wouldn’t provoke him, he wouldn’t get mad at you.”
"It’s not my fault he wants us to wear white sidewalls.  Do you have any idea how ridiculous that looks?  I am a laughingstock amongst my friends.”
“Oh, I don’t know.  Both John and Glen wear their hair pretty short-yours is no different from theirs.”
"Well, John and Glen are not my only friends.  Meanwhile, what are you going to do about Augie shoving me?”
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  I’m going to suggest that you get a haircut, and stop antagonizing him.”
“Mama, whose side are you on?  Don’t you even care that your own son is being abused by this miscreant?”  I loved to inject a little drama into my absurdly boring life.
“Don’t be ridiculous.  You’ll be lucky if I don’t tell all of this to your father.  He would not appreciate your attitude.”
“But he would approve of Augie shoving me?  What if I went to the Union?  I’ll bet they’d listen to me.  That’s why I pay dues, to keep mean managers from knocking me down.”  I was getting completely into my role, as poor abused Dickensian character.
“You are not going to go to the Union.  You will do nothing to jeopadize your job, young man.  And if you keep testing the waters with your hair and your sideburns, you’ll find yourself grounded, and there will be no more Friday night sports events.”
“Oh my goodness.  (We dared not use the name of the Lord in vain, or in any other venue.  It just wasn’t done.  To this day, it just isn’t done.)
And that’s the way it was settled, in-house.  Another time Augie entered into the household political scene was the summer Papa and Mama planned the annual camping expedition down to Baja, at this time, and Augie refused to let Brian go.  At least that was Augie’s plan.  
But Papa was incensed, and went straight up to Augie in the produce aisle and said, “When Papa goes on vacation, everyone goes on vacation.” 
All Augie said was, “When are you leaving, and when are you getting back?”
As I mentioned, Augie was a womanizer.  How did I know that?  I knew it first because Belva used to complain about it to me. Belva was from Oklahoma, and she was thirty-three years old with at least a couplle of school-aged kids, and a hot-blooded Italian husband, who would have come down to Sunrize Market, and kicked Augie’s backside from there to the Pompei Pizzeria, and back again, if he knew about Augie's harassment.  She had big hair and a nicely proportioned body, for an oder woman

 Augie hounded her, and she complained bitterly to me.  She hated Augie’s advances, feared her husband’s anger, and was forced to endure it, because she needed the loot.  So she turned to me, a seventeen-year-old, to share her frustration.  I was dazed and dazzled by her confiding in me, and I felt as grown-up as I had ever felt.  This was at the same time as the famous Big Sur incident, which featured me courting a young lady, whose boyfriend was pressuring her to go all the way.
I was the ultimate confidant, willing to listen to all, without judgment, and unconditionally happy to side with the victims, against Augie.  I say victims, because Belva was not the only target, just the first that I knew of.  Later came Linda.
Linda was not married, and therefore, technically available.  She was also twenty-three years old, six years my senior, and for that reason, unattainable.  She was not beautiful, but she had one of the most appealing faces I ever met.  (Annie has the most appealing face)  She had a countrified look, with freckles, and a thin, somewhat angular face.  When she smiled, the light poured out of her eyes in a cascading flow of warmth and friendliness.  I was in love with Linda.
When she began to tell me about Augie, and the disgusting things he would say to her, it made my blood boil.  Between Augie’s indiscretions, and Walt Cousineau’s brother’s actions toward the gal I liked, I formed a very negative view of the male species‘ attempts to gain entrance where entrance needed to be denied.
I couldn’t go home and tell anyone what was going on, because it fell into the realm of unmentionable subjects.  By not mentioning these things, they simply did not exist.  That extended frequently to all matters, religious in nature, but that is a different narrative, one which will have to come from a different source than me.  
Meanwhile, Augie continued to fascinate/repulse me.  All of my older brothers had contact with Augie.  For one summer, Noel and I used to routinely pick up Augie’s ’64 T-bird and bring it home for a wash and wax job, for which we were paid handsomely.  We even did his mint-quality ’56 Chevy.   Augie had style; no one could deny it.

I learned a lot about life and the grocery business, woking for Sunrize Market.  The four oldest of us boys, went out to Augie’s home several times to shoot pool, in his upstairs den, just big enough to squeeze in a top-quality pool table, at which we played some lively games.  Of course, Augie was a good player, squinting down his Pall Mall, to line up his shot.
His wife was a very pretty Mexican woman, who deferred to Augie, and kept his house immaculate. She entered my peripheral view very seldom during the five years I worked at Sunrize.  I mention her more to complete the picture of this man and his penchant for pursuing the skirts.   It had everything to do with Augie, and seemingly nothing to do with the reality of his circumstances.
Beginning as a box-boy, I worked my way up the ladder, paying the one hundred thirty dollar fee to become an apprentice clerk.  Now my salary began to climb precipitously.  While still a senior, I was making $5.75 an hour.  On the holidays we were open, if I worked an eight-hour shift, I would make triple time, which amounted to $46.00 for one day, a fact that I made sure circulated amongst my friends at school.  
I had also been able to connive my way to 33.3% of my paychecks by the time I started at Cal Poly, in September, of 1970.  It was a different era, and though I argued about the final percentage, I never argued about the validity of the arrangement.  That’s just the way it was.
I remember the store being built, probably about 1960, or so, because we passed the site on the way to Sunday mass, at the newly opened Saint Matha’s Catholic church.  I also remember visiting the store in 1982, when Annie, ten-month-old Casey and I drove down for Auntie Anne’s 75th birthday party. The store was deserted, with long stretches of the paper goods aisle, bare or with one brand of paper towels, stretching six feet across a sparsely stocked shelf.  Hard times for Sunrize Market.  Hard times for Augie.  Years down the line, Brian succinctly reported to us, that Augie had been murdered in his home town by an unknown assailant.  
Though saddened by the news, I was not surprised.  I only wondered why it took so long for some enraged husband/boyfriend to finally get wind of his nasty antics, and settle the score in an old fashioned manner, as befitted the crass behavior of the offender.
Augie’s boorish behavior notwithstanding, Sunrize Market remains the stamping grounds in which I made my public debut.  It remains firmly entrenched in my mind as a mecca for industry, one which allowed a small boy to forge an existence made of hard work and social intercourse, the value of which would extend into my own life in an endless wave of experience and memories. 

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