My first job was working in the seafood dept at the Kroger around the corner from my house. I had just graduated high school and would be starting college in the fall. The manager of the meat dept. was an old friend of my parents, and my mom called him and arranged the job. They were technically required to post all jobs, so there was a sign in the window for approximately 15 minutes to meet this wicket. Miss Lauree taught me to cook catfish nuggets for Friday samples and to eat them with hot sauce, which I still do to this day. Years later my particular wife tried to inform me that lemon juice was better, a “fact” overwhich we are not united.
At some point the seafood budget got reduced and I got moved to the meat department. Since I was in school (at least nominally) I worked evening shifts. 2 of us would come in at 3, day shift would leave at 5. We stocked the open coolers on the floor, wrapped whatever day shift left us, and sold deli meat at the counter. At 9 we shut down the front end at cleaned the bandsaws and knives and whatnot. At 10 we clocked out and went home… Except when I worked with Marvell, then we were done at 9:30.
I was frequently rolling out carts to restock coolers, and then something else would come up and I’d leave the cart on the floor while I went and took care of the emergent work. One day Marvell said to me:
“Shad I want to thank you.”
“Everytime I go to do something, I find that it’s already half done.”
“Well then Vell I need to thank you. I’m always starting jobs, and when I come back to them I find them already finished.”
When we were cleaning up he would put on a mixed tape and whenever Wild Cherry came in with their seminal piece he would shout and cheer for me as I hosed the “meat sawdust” down the floor drains. He would often tell me “Shad, you my nigga.” To which I would reply “thank you.” After months of this we had this exchange:
“Shad, you mah nigga. You know that?”
“Yeah, thanks… Marvell can I ask you a question?”
“Are you my nigga?”
… the palpable silence stretched for several seconds. With no smile or humor in his voice he said:
“Yes. But NEVER. Say that. Again.”
Several years later I was waiting tables at Perkins. There was a cook named Terrence who overtime began to greet me with “What’sup my nigga.”
To which I would reply “Wassup Brutha.”
I note with some pride that this was not his universal greeting. One had to earn the title of ‘my nigga.’