Doing Hard Time



A brutal shift at the home improvement – something like seven people called off, I was told – there were no cashiers so all the customers on a Saturday were forced to line up at the self-checkout and, of course, manpower on the floor was sparse. Needless to say, seeing as the plumbing department, as opposed to, say, the electrical department, was busy (as usual) I couldn’t quite keep up at times. Customer service suffers. And I was called to the office to discuss such facts as our department getting a zero rating on the website. Here I’d thought I might be getting disciplined or fired but, well, yes, I get it, the folks probably waited around for ten minutes and with nobody servicing them, left, disgusted. But I don’t know for certain what happened or didn’t. The boss just said we were losing ground on previous satisfaction scores, that I was doing very well with customers but we need to do our best to do this and that, yadda, blah. She gave me another handful of “Win $500 by Completing a Survey…” tickets, extolling the priority of getting customers to rate me a “ten.” “I want to see your name on these.” And all that.

I had managed to unload my tickets the day before with a soft sell technique: “By the way, we’re being asked to offer these…” – I hand the ticket to them with an air of cheerful indifference – “you can win five hundred dollars if you fill out a survey…” Last night, I’d dolled out a few more. Except the critical last two hours of the night where I’m wiping down fixtures per the Covid policy, baling cardboard, trying to tidy the aisles then somehow find the time, in between the last customers, to put away all the damn returns – a whole shopping cart full! – I get called to the parking lot with only one or two other employees to help haul in all the carts. I’ve endured this hell before when the so-called “loaders” called off work and the rest of us with plenty of other shit to do had to bring in seemingly every single goddamn shopping cart, flat cart, H-cart, drywall cart, garden center cart, baby stroller and what have you from the vast acreage of asphalt. Ugh. So, same thing last night. And it ended up, after the two customer service folks left to get the store closed, with me being the only one out there, trying my best to shove and pull and haul anything wheeled back into or at least within the vicinity of the store. Double ugh. But mission accomplished, “thanks so much for your help, Keith…,” yeah, no problem.

Sweaty, breathless, glad to be back in the air conditioning, I begin again on the returns, hoping to get most of it done in the thirty minutes I had left in the shift. Except I’d just started, it seemed, when the manager on duty (MOD), which happens to be my future boss, comes over the intercom, “Anyone from the day shift come to the front, we’re leaving!” It’s only 10:15 pm. And me there with a full cart of returns. The guys will hate me tomorrow. But what else to do? Perhaps the word will get out that we all got crushed with call-offs and cart retrieval and they’ll understand I didn’t blow off the returns, I don’t know. I headed up to the front and the MOD says, “Keith, you got a shout-out!” and shows me the internet post, ostensibly inspired by one of those “Win $500″ tickets. “I’ll send it to so-and-so” – our boss – “she’ll be so happy!”

Little victories? Hardly. I’m glad I had my compression sleeve on my elbow all shift – hauling carts is a strain for this old man. I was otherwise a sweaty, burnt out shell of a human trudging out to my truck. I got home, headed upstairs with the wife, beer in hand, and tried to do some reading but really only managed to listen to the music. Downstairs for another beer, crack open another book and the last thing I recall is setting down the beer on the nightstand, three-quarters drank, and then lights out. It’s not my style to leave a man behind, as we used to say in college at the bar, but the age, the mileage and the working what seems like two jobs in one – authorpreneurship and the home improvement – had apparently consumed all the energy, that’s all.

Segue to this morning – a day off and I don’t go in until 5 pm tomorrow, so it’s like a day and a half off! – and I’m checking my book stats and lo, a U.K. paperback sale, hooray! – there’s my sale for July, the streak of selling at least a book a month continues! Now that’s a little victory. Even if I must admit that it still feels like a big victory whenever I connect with a potential reader.

The search term on Amazon, according to the campaign report, was “Jodi Taylor,” an author I’d added to my keyword targets last month after noticing her Doing Time novel, #1 in the Time Police series, a playful, humorous third-person-omniscient meets first-person YA style story that arrived in 2019. She has many books, several series and her new one, Hard Time (Time Police #2) already has ten reviews (4.5 stars) and it isn’t even released until next year! Here’s to advance reader copies, I suppose. That, and having an obviously well-deserved platform.

Somebody on Goodreads asked her about her take on religion as it seems she avoids the topic in her books and she admitted she indeed works to keep anything to do with it out of the novels and if it does slip in it doesn’t make it past the editing. Oh well, that’s my job anyway, the mythology that is. I’d placed Doing Time on my to-read list a while back but I was compelled to browse the Look Inside option on Amazon because her new one, which I can’t peruse yet, has a cover that struck me: The Giza pyramids, the Sphinx and the eye of Horus!

Well, well! So that here we are, tackling time travel sci-fi and the idea that the future is the past in our own ways, almost exactly parallel in time as writers. Though I suspect I may be able to claim precedent as the first draft of Time Crime was completed in 2015 and I doubt Jodi took five years to get her manuscript to market. Time detectives, then, versus time police. From the opening lines of Doing Time:

A long time ago in the future, the secret of time travel became known to all. Everyone seized the opportunity – and the world nearly ended. There will always be idiots who want to change history.

Nicely done. And you get the idea. Meanwhile, it’s curious to me that while we both approach things tongue-in-cheek and toss around similar themes, our results or, more accurately perhaps, our emphasis (to say nothing of styles) are so decidedly different. Then again not. Similarly dissimilar, if that’s possible? Anyway, come on in, the water’s fine, there’s plenty of room for us all here in the time-travel genre. I have the sense that I ought to reach out to her, we’ll see.

In any case, congratulations Jodi on your impressive oeuvre, your impressive platform and your upcoming Time Police #2 release. I can only aspire to such heights. Nevertheless, what fun that your work has served as a thread, however slender, to my own! It’s like encountering a member of my tribe, even if it’s only in my head. Here’s to like-minded dissimilarity. Or something. And here’s hoping Jodi’s reader is not disappointed with Time Crime.