Tops Never Stops

Before we discovered the gloriousness that is Wegmans we frequented Tops. It has been well noted already that during the Princeton Era Mike and I made at least a daily trek to Tops since it was so close. Another beacon to the hospital white walls of Tops was Matt’s long-time employ at Tops on Delaware.

Matt was one of the first employees to this branch of the Tops franchise. He had an interview in the trailer on the lot while the building was still being constructed. Some relative of Matt was involved so it was an easy position to acquire, not that cart-boy is an excessively hard job to get. Matt started work in Spring. His plan was to work until the first day of snow, and then quit. “Matt doesn’t work in the snow” was his mantra.

Months later the Matt was pushing carts when he was called into the office. The Tops lords had vision enough to see that Matt was more than a cart-boy. He was immediately reassigned to an inside position in the Butcher’s Block. At the close of his shift that day Matt stepped outside and gazed up into the sky. The first snowflakes of the season gently fell upon his brow. The gods had smiled upon our hero. He was not longer a cart boy. But you must pay the gods a price; Matt was still employed at Tops, or in an indirect way Ahol (the parent, and appropriately named, company of Tops).

Speaking of Ahol, the scuttlebutt is that the local mafia allowed Ahol to purchase Tops as long as they maintained control of the Tops Union. This is all hearsay, so if I wake up with the horse head in my dead tomorrow you will know the arm of the Buffalo mafia extends to the West Coast.

On our way to Comstock to waste time, we took great joy in visiting Matt during his work hours. This was particularly true when he was a lowly cart boy. On one of the rare occasions we had Sean with us we made such a trip for supplies. Sean was known for his fearless driving and his habit of stopping at Noco to “fill er up” with whatever change he had in his pocket. I was once a first-hand witness to his purchase of 32 cents worth of fuel. Today that is not enough for them to let you lift the nozzle.

We spoke to Matt on the way into Tops. He had just spent a considerable amount of time in the classic “stack a fuck-load of carts together from all across the parking lot” so he could push them all back at once. His cart-stack lot was near the Tops entrance, and when we returned from purchase of our supplies (Mountain Dew, pretzels, frozen burritos, etc.) we found Matt no where to be found. As we left Sean took the opportunity to drive his car into the cart-stack Matt had painstakingly constructed. He pushed the cart-stack to the far corner of the parking lot. At first he drove at a slow pack, until we saw Matt running at us, at which time Sean sped up. The exceedingly heavy cart-stack was left in the farthest corner. We sped of laughing. At least we gave Matt something to do for the last hour of his shift.

Once inside, Matt quickly rose to the rank of 95% Butcher. What is 95% Butcher? After a year of working primarily in the Butcher’s Block Matt observed that the only difference between an official Butcher and an experienced meat man, like himself, was knowing how to properly cut 5 specific meats. As there 5 meats are expensive, they did not let anyone slice them, nor were they purchased frequently enough for Matt to get enough practice. We all spurred him on to complete his training and have a viable skill. Eventually Matt was able to get in enough practice in two of these elusive meats, so he settled at 97% Butcher. As I conclude this section it strikes me that this post will burn a few of Matt’s bridges.

Matt was a valuable Tops associate for nearly seven years. He quit before hitting the seven year point because that would be when a part-time associate would be granted a 401k. While the rest of us saw this as an obvious fruit to grab, Matt saw this as a sign he had been defeated by the preverbal Man.

Continuing this HR showcase of Tops benefits we come to the period when Tops began selling Tops branded apparel. Tops management required employees to wear this apparel initially, no doubt to spur on the awaiting masses who couldn’t possibly hold back from spending thousands on Tops sweatshirts. The slap in the face was that associates were required to pay for these required textiles. What a joke.

Tops exposed us to several characters, and once again showcased the intelligence of the average person. The most memorable example of this was when Matt related some story of some random activity of our crew. “What does phallic mean?” interjected one of typical Tops zombies. Matt was befuddled that he did not know what phallic was? He now had is shift project. He left the blob with no better knowledge and spent the rest of him shift polling all his co-workers as the meaning of phallic. To his astonishment one one other employee knew the word. During his polling he even received commentary that phallic was not a common word many people would know. Matt left his shift to relate this happenstance to the rest of us. Until this incident we did not know it was possible to NOT know what phallic meant.

Matt mined a number of girlfriends out of seven year stint. I recall one who became a vegetarian because she was fat. Success! She lost weight. Unfortunately she was still not satisfied, so she pushed the envelope even more, and became vegan. This relationship did not last long.

Matt also met the same girl that absconded with Matt and James in the infamous “I’ll never set foot in a gay bar” story that was the first post on this blog.

An experienced Matt sat in the Tops atrium enjoying his mandatory earned break. A frantic woman ran up, “There is a used condom over there!” “Really? Where?” The woman took Matt half-way across the parking lot to what was absolutely confirmed as a under condom, still filled with a “rush of excess fluids.”

Matt concluded his inspection and headed back, but to the dismay of the woman, he did not return with any cleaning equipment. Matt, instead, plopped himself back on the atrium bench. “Aren’t you going to clean that us?” she explained. “Lady, I’m on my break.”

The bulk of Matt’s time at Tops had him stationed in the Butcher’s Block, or as we more affectionately referred to it – the Meat department. Matt divulged two secrets of the Meat department. One; they kept a small Igloo cooler ready to go at someone, ironically usually one of the professional butchers, cut off a finger and was rushed to the hospital, finger piece encased in the Igloo cooler, to have it sewn back on. The success rate was quite high. Two; the Meat department kept an open bowl into which they threw any scraps, be they on the floor or wherever, into this bowl. When the bowl was full, then they ground up the scraps and sold it under the label of “meat”. Funnily enough, years before, during the Goodyear era, I had spied one of these and bought it for the label humor.

Matt enjoyed a time where he was double employed. His second job, the more prestigious one, was the all powerful Mighty Taco on Sheridan and NFB. Mighty Taco gives you a week to study the menu before taking a test. You have to know all menu items, and their component’s with amounts from memory. Matt passed and became a Mighty Taco employee. We gave him a goal of finding out what the beef was, as he felt Mighty Taco was superior to Taco Bell in every aspect, except the beef. Since this was sacrilege we was to solve the mystery now that he had access.

Matt soon grew to dislike the manager. She ruled with an iron fist, holding weekly meetings that Matt was 2 minutes late for once. She fired him for this. Matt suspects that he was really fired because he was telling the other employees how the manager had terrible skills, and was a bitch to boot. He did not notice until too late that she was in the building, and overheard, walking in on his conversation just at the end of Matt’s tirade. He never solved the “Riddle of Beef.”

Like the recent rash of professional athletes that pretend to retire, Matt too had an encore tour at Tops. I made a visit to him once during this tour. He was working the night shift stocking the frozen foods isles. Like the athlete that plays one more season when he should have walked away, it was sad to see Matt, the once lord of part-time associates, reduced to a zero visibility position.

Another of our crowd spent some time employed at Tops, Chester. He gleefully gave us reports as to his rapid rise to the “Express Lane”, giving us tips as to how he became one of these best of the best. He switched sides from making bewildered fun of the Tops cashiers who wore rubber thimbles to wearing one himself.

Having been a Tops associate for such a long time, Matt was well versed with the employee handbook. There was a statute of limitations on anything you did of five years. The exact day the limit was us, he spilled the beans of what he had done to his co-worked in the back of the store, as he was leaving for his shift. It took Matt 2 minutes to walk our the front of the store, and by then the news had traveled faster than his ironically unmeaty legs could carry him. An example of just how efficient the Tops grapevine is.

What was Matt’s hidden crime? Back when he was still a cart-boy he abandoned his post, walked across the street, and saw a movie at the old Super Saver Cinema. When the movie was over he walked back across the street and took his break.

Saving You More?

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Get Me A Salami Sandwich

This is a tale of woe for Larry. It came ot pass one day that Louis, Larry, and I were all at his dirty, little apartment above the ODS store on Elmwood. Louis and I got up to make a usual trip to the corner Wilson Farms for provisions. We offered to get Larry something. Larry, as per his M.O., asked for a lot and provided very little in the way of funds. Larry requested a salami sandwich and 1lb. of potato salad form the Wilson Farms miniscule deli. He was also parched, so he requested a large orange juice. The grand total he provided for this feast? $3. This did not even cover a 1/4lb. of potato salad. We purchased a load of bread (the only thing we returned with, exactly as requested) and a Slim Jim; but it was a LARGE Slim Jim. To say the least Larry was not amused. He took out two pieces of bread and held them together in sandwich fashion, shaking furiously in the air, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?! HAVE AN AIR SANDWICH! HMMM! YUM!” Louis and I were bent over laughing.

Nasty Olde Sauce

To quote the wisdom that occasionally escaped Knaus’s tightly lacquered coif, “There is nothing more pathetic than two guys trying to cook”. I believe the phase was first uttered in the dorms the time he cut the bottom off a 3 liter Mountain Dew bottle to serve as a bowl for his Chef Boy-ar-dee lunch, and had the sides melt into his beefaroni. He ate it anyway. In this case, however, it applies to the single most ill considered cooking experiment that took place in the kitchen of that grand old place. Before delving into the tale of the Nasty Old Sauce, it behooves me to lay out the environs of our cookery and the noble tradition we were upholding.

Upon first moving in to Comstock and attempts were still being made for the four of us to coalesce as cohesive unit, we adopted a short lived policy of taking turns each week to plan and cook a ‘family’ dinner that all would enjoy. I recall Knaus uncharacteristically volunteering for the first week and serving a remarkably decent pot roast with scalloped potatoes. It was a hard act to follow, but my week came next and garlic linguine was served to the hungry group. The wheels came off this tradition when we realized Jason was next in the queue, and having now spent close to a month in his unwashed presence, found ample reason to find new and creative excuses each week to avoid being forced, through the thin veil of feigned politeness that still existed, to sit down and eat something he had touched. Thus it died a quiet and unmourned death before the first snows began to fall.

Within the first 3 months of occupancy, cooking became a risky occupation full of deadly hazards. The invisible deliverers of ptomaine, salmonella, botulism, and possibly even Ebola lurked on every filthy, sticky surface. Over the sink hung a carefully constructed chart outlining the divvied up duties of each mate, although the schedule came to a grinding halt in early September. Diagnostics of the situation pinpointed the exact location where it was written ‘Week 3, Jason – kitchen’, and there remained locked and unmoving forevermore. In his defence, the author of every stain steadfastly insisted the kitchen was clean and felt no further action was required. From time to time, Aaron’s frustration would inspire him to do the dishes, or I, tired of having to pry a stuck cat off the fly trap floor, would get on my hand and knees and scrub. The effects generally lasted only until Jason grew hungry again.

Although it caused the vein in my forehead to throb with pulsating agony, Jason’s attempts at cooked cried out to be born witness to. Two particular instances stand out in my mind. The first was ‘Opening Day Lasagna’ and sticks out as it occurred immediately following one of my rare floor scrubs. It was our first spring in the house and I arrived home in good spirits given the delightful change in weather. I found Jason, also in a delightful mood, busy in the kitchen. My spirits immediately drooped. He gleefully informed me that each spring, on baseballs opening day, he had a tradition of making lasagna – one of the more complex of the pasta dishes. At the moment of my entry he was busily laying overcooked flat noodles across the bottom of a large ungreased pan. Looking past this at the stove, I observed a large pot boiling over on to the red hot electric burner, creating intense popping and steam. On the adjacent burner, also visibly red hot, he had a pan full to the brim of sauce, also boiling and spitting blobs of red over every surface within 5 feet, including the back of Jason’s white shirt and a curious cat. This was not going to end well, but I withheld immediately violently ending his capacity to continue.

Standing out of reach of the explosive sauce, I resolved at least to hinder his efforts though my presence as the floor, table and stove were already ruined once again. His method of bringing the noodles from the pot to the pan was to fish them out with a wooden spoon and carry them over with grubby fingers. I was able, though distraction and fridge entries, to cause him to drop 5 or 6 of the noodles on the floor where they would be beset by the perpetually starving cat. Rather than sacrifice one morsel to process, he elected to shoo away the hissing beast and add to his creation. His addition of the ricotta was fairly uneventful only dropping one huge spoonful on the table, again to the delight of the sauce covered cat. This was scooped up with fingers and added to the mess inside the pan. The sauce was more enjoyable as Jason had used the pot we had with no handle insulation and succeeded in burning his hand and spilling a generous portion of the sauce on the stove and floor. Where it hit the red hot burner, it began to bubble and burn, filling the kitchen with smoke and profanities.

Using only the thinnest layer of sauce possible, Jason managed to assemble all layers, leaving only half of the top layer sauce-less. The shredded mozzarella was dumped in the center of the top and spread about with the tips of his grime encrusted fingernails. During this process I enjoyed myself heckling him as he grew more and more frustrated. Finally, and to my relief, he banned me from partaking in the end result. I knew at that moment that I must redouble my efforts to aggravate him further for fear he would rescind.

He popped the pan in the oven, looked around the room, and satisfied that all work was done, tromped off to his bedroom to relax, leaving red sock prints on the floor where he had stepped in the spillings. Both burners were left on and glowing, neither heating anything but the room. The cat hungrily licked sauce and ricotta off the floor in what would be the best cleaning it would receive for the next few months. The sink was overflowing with far more preparatory dishes than needed to make even a banquet hall full of lasagna. I shook my head and walked away.

The next instance was just as comical. I was in my room and heard Jason swearing in the kitchen and telling the cat how he didn’t appreciate her interference. He sounded pretty upset, so I knew this would probably be good and came down. As per his usual MO of cooking everything at the hottest temperature possible, presumably for expediting, he had the burner on red hot with a boiling pot of water roiling and spitting at him. “I think it’s done Jason”, I offered helpfully. “No it’s not! I’m making stuffing and Malice keeps getting in the way.” Malice was always interested when we cooked as the original 8 oz box of Whiskas had run out our first week and was replaced on an increasingly infrequent basis. In any case, he seemed frazzled and with my calm demeanor and commentary only adding to it, I elected to stay.

“You sure that’s enough water? Looks like a lot of it boiled away or spilled out already.” He harrumphed and added a full fresh cup full from the sink. He opened the box of Stove Top knock off sold at the L&T, removed the foil pouch and began pulling on the sides with all his might to open it. Jason, for all his vaunted weakness, preferred the brute force method to finesse, which later made for excellent pranking. Predictably, the bag tore asunder, spilling bread crumbs about the kitchen floor which last saw the light of mop many moons ago. “Dammit!” Then, without recalibrating the water amount for the reduced amount of crumbs, he dumped them into the pot. He crunched about on the spillings in his foul socks as he continued his preparations. Stirring, he realized his error with the water and stooped down to floor to scoop up some of the spillings.

“You aren’t going to add those to the pot are you? Some girl Dan brought over yorked in that very spot not a week ago today, plus you already stepped on half of them.” He looked over, glowering at me though the fine greasy strands of hair before his beady eyes. “No! I’m just cleaning up.” This gave me the perfect opportunity to point out each and every crumb he missed under the table, by the sink, and as far away as the bathroom entrance. He scurried about in abject irritation, eyeing his pot with every handful found with longing to add them and thwarted only by my presence and sarcasm. His stuffing in the mean time had become a watery bread soup that was beginning to char on the bottom. “Wow. That looks like bread soup. Guess you should have taken out some water, huh?” His head snapped back, affixing me with a glare of pure hatred and for one instant I wondered if he had grown the stones to whip the pot at my head. He turned back and removed the pot, setting on the table, and leaving the burner to glow.

After pouring the bread soup into a bowl, he decided that with the reduced amount, his meal should be supplemented and began making one of his trademark PB&J sandwiches. Still self conscious of my observation, he fumbled with the jelly removing it from the fridge and let it fall to the floor where it cracked open and spilled. “Man, you’re just not having much luck today are you?” He didn’t reply and after removing the largest piece of glass blocking his access, appeared to be scooping up a portion with his knife. “I don’t know if I would do that. Could be invisible glass slivers in there.” He threw down the knife, got up and finished making a PB and no J sandwich. He gathered sandwich and the bowl and headed to the living room. “Aren’t you going to clean that up” By now his whole head had gone bright red and replied though clenched teeth, “I’ll do it later, Mike”.

“OK, but if the cat licks up glass, I bet Paul won’t be too happy at all.” He froze in place. Tales of Knaus’s capacity for over the top, nuclear level revenge had circulated around the house enough. Slamming his food down on what passed for a coffee table, he returned to clean the jelly, sticking himself with glass shards and turning his hands a sticky purple. The stain left to remain in place on the linoleum for several more months. “Dammit! Malice!” The cat had taken the opportunity of his distraction to start on the bread soup, although that was not enough to prevent him from eating it anyway. Fully entertained, I retired to my room.

But I digress… The tale of the nasty olde sauce represents one of the more harmless, yet most poorly conceived notions that can only be described as pure Comstockery. It began late one evening as the snow flew, funds were low across the board, and Aaron and I simultaneously acknowledged that we were hungry. Rummaging though the kitchen we found naught but bits and scrapings of this and that, plus spaghetti. As we both knew in our heart of hearts that our cooking ability far exceeded that of Jason or Knaus, and neither of them had perished having made the attempt, we could give them a lesson in nouveau cuisine. Our vehicle would be the spaghetti and upon it we would craft a sauce so flavorful and delicate that the mere smell would drive the other two wild with desire to eat some of it; a request we would deny, except maybe Knaus.

We began with a pot, sturdy and true. To that pot we added the following secret ingredients: ketchup, mustard, relish, soy sauce, Chavetta’s sauce, horseradish, packets of duck sauce, sugar, brown sugar, beer, coffee, milk, Mountain Dew, peanut butter, jelly, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper, basil, tarragon, curry, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, baking soda, maple syrup, honey, and parmesan cheese. We felt it was still missing something to give it that certain something to truly bring out the bouquet of flavor. We found a packet of tofu miso soup Paul had been schlepping around since freshman year, three years prior and added it. At that moment, however, Paul came down the stairs to complain about the smell and caught us in the act. He was outraged that we took a pack of his prized soup and lodged a bitter complaint about that and the pungent aroma wafting up the stairway. Our claim of inspired cheffery was difficult to make stick just yet, but we did feel some decent amount of simmering would change things.

Simmer we did, until our hunger grew strong and we ourselves could take the smell no longer. The sauce, however, had failed to reduce to the thick consistency we desired. Having heard of this old chef’s trick before, I knew to add flour as a thickening agent. We did, although in too liberal a dose and now had a pot full of rancid brownish paste. With great foreboding and resolution, we cooked up some aldente spaghetti, topped it with ice cream scoop size balls of what was now officially dubbed Nasty Olde Sauce. Knaus and Jason had both gathered at the dining room table, not in drooling hunger as we had imagined, but to lay wager on whether we would actually try it and how long it would take us to vomit upon ingestion. The dishes grew cold as we cajoled each other into taking the first bite and finally decided the simultaneous ingestion was best. Our brows dappled with cold sweat, we closed our eyes and each took a bite.

Not only was it worse than I imagined it could be and the smell indicated; it was far worse. The overpowering competitive flavors hit my palate like a train wreck. The consistency was like dog shit and stuck to your tongue and teeth like wet slimy mortar, releasing new waves of horrendous cloying rancidness every passing second. I spit it back on to the plate and shoved it forcefully from me. “You know, it’s really not that bad”, Aaron remarked scooping up his second forkful. I had forgotten that his perpetual congestion had left him without a sense of smell or taste for the most part, sparing him from the obscenities on our plates. Jason was the next to elect to try, and for the first and I believe only time, he and Aaron were in agreement. I happily passed him my plate. Knaus, the wisest of us in this particular instance, passed with wrinkled nose. To his disgusting credit, Aaron finished that entire plate where even Jason faltered, overcome by the putrid miasma in the end.

Our plan was to save a jar for posterity, perhaps to inflict it upon an unwise and inebriated guest, but alas, it disappeared from the fridge some month or so later. My theory has always been that Aaron, in a fit of hunger, or just plain longing for the taste, greedily polished the rest of it off one dark and lonely night while the rest of us slept, dreaming uneasy dreams.

What is it?

While living at Princeton Wolf and I found a smashed brownie in the couch. It was totally mangled but still in the plastic wrapper. We had to do something with it. Louis was in grad school at the time for Chemistry, perhaps he could analyze it for us? We sent it to him with no return address. One day Louis was in town and tells us he opens his mail and “What’s this?!”

Another food related visit for Louis was when Mike and I drove to Louis’s home in DC. When Louis answered the door he was greeted by a 2l of Mountain Dew.

Just recently I found the elusive Cream Horn and I had to send it to Louis. I sent it Priority Mail, which is a flat envelope so I had to smash it. I await Louis’s retaliation.

Diet Fads

Being a big proponent of no-activity Louis has developed and self-tested several diet fads over the years. Here are some highlights.

“Chew Gum” Diet
Back when we were very young Louis calculated that if he started chewing gum, with no other changes in diet and exercise, he would loose 5lbs in a year.
Longevity: zero (never implemented)
Results: failure

“Rinse Day” Diet
Louis, as was myself at the time, is a massive ingester of Mountain Dew. He decided to declare one day a week as a “rinse day”, meaning he would not put any “toxins” in his body. Basically he would not drink any Mountain Dew on Sundays.
Longevity: one week
Results: failure – Louis could not resist the sweet lure of the Dew Siren for more than a single day

“Bring a Bottle of Water to Work and Stop Eating Before I Get Sick” Diet
The name says it all.
Longevity: 12-18 months
Results: to date Louis has told 22lbs.