SignsBy Reno J. Romero
April 25, 2011
Into the Fire
By the time you’ve reached my age you’ve probably worked a few jobs in your time. I’ve had my share and started working at an early age. When I was in 7th grade my father was my employer (a mean fucker who didn’t tolerate showing up late to the job site or laziness) and gave me five bucks a week to pick up and bag our dogs’ shit. Three different size dogs. Three different size shits. It was a wholesome positive experience that had to be completed immediately upon waking up.
“Son, did you pick up the turds today?”
“Ok. If I go outside I better not find stacks of dog crap peppering my backyard.”
Years later I worked for May Company in the domestics department. I knew nothing about sheets or shams or towels. But it was a gig and it gave me money to buy weed and Jack in the Box’s famous dog meat tacos. The woman that hired me was the most beautiful thing I ever saw in my eighteen years of existence. I loved her with all my heart and wanted to marry her and give her multiple babies. To this day I can see her beauty strolling by. Light brown hair, green eyeballs, nice full lips. And the kicker: she always wore dresses. I love women in dresses. Did then. Do now.
I worked for Kmart for three months. My boss was a career slob and flaunted a giant bushy mustache. It was hideous. But he didn’t care what anyone thought about the melting Baby Ruth that rested on his lip. He was putting it out there like if it was the thing to do. I gave him my two-week notice when I realized the job sucked.
“This is great company to grow with,” Mr. Baby Ruth told me with raised eyebrows. “Are you sure you want to resign?”
Smell Like Roses
I also worked for Stater Bros. as a box boy. I worked with a checker named Danny who farted on purpose while checking out customers. His favorite victims were old people and teenagers. He’d look at me and smile when they came to his check stand. I knew what was coming and would already be laughing. It was on. He’d be scanning bread, milk, bacon, then: brrrrrr. I’d laugh so hard that tears would stream down my face. I don’t think I ever laughed so hard in my entire life. It was the foulest most hilarious thing I ever witnessed. Fucking Danny.
I Want Your Sex
I worked for JCPenney in the shoe department. I worked with this sultry brunette who was pure sex and nothing else. My first day on the job she climbed up on a ladder and gave me a peek at her girl bits and the bottom of her perfect ass. She was a scandalous she-devil and a man eater. Before I left the job we banged each other on the sandy banks of the Mojave River. There was another lady who worked with us that was missing a few teeth out of her grill. When she smiled she resembled a house with broken windows. She was fired for stealing some stringy lingerie. Which was weird because she was the last thing you’d want to see in a g-string.
I worked in the restaurant business for many years. I worked every job from dishwasher to manager. All the jobs were unfulfilling, unmeaningful, shitty, and fully pathetic. I pissed away a lot of good years serving booze and burgers to thousands of starving assholes. I hated all of them and myself.
Give em’ the Ax
I once worked as a school teacher at a dysfunctional school full of dreadful kids who smoked cigarettes and weed, wrote on the walls, popped Ritalin, and hated life. I saw two teachers carried out of their classrooms due to nervous breakdowns. The whole staff wanted to wire the place with dynamite and blow it to hell. I still have nightmares of those little bastards tying me up and chopping me into little pieces.
“Ok, we stabbed Mrs. Blonde Bitch thirty-one times, stole all her jewelry, and littered her forehead with spit wads. She won’t be crying on Principal Dicklicker’s shoulder anymore. Ok, so what so we do with Mr. Romero?”
“Chop his Mesicun ass up!”
One job I’ve never had (but one that I oddly find interesting) is a sign holder. I doubt that sign holder is the technical job description. It’s probably something like advertising consultant or existential messenger. Anyhow, you’ve seen these people hanging around. They’re the ones that stand on sidewalks or street corners holding signs for businesses. I live close to a main drag that’s lined with these people hustling business. Pizza. Nail joints. Oil and lube. Jewelry. Furniture. Taxes.
Like with any job, I’ve noticed that some people seem to enjoy their jobs more than others. Some folks just stand there like zombies. They lazily sway the sign back and forth and frown at the passing cars. There’s this one guy who works for a local strip club that I’ve passed by dozens of times. You would think the dude would have some fire, flash, zeal, considering that he’s peddling pussy. You know? But no. He’s dead on his ass and just holds the sign still, sucks on his bottom lip, and stares off in the distance. He’s probably on dope.
Then there is this dude that works for a mattress company. He kicks ass. He gets down. He flips the sign high in the air and catches it. He spins and twirls the sign in an advertising blur. He points at cars and dances. Then he does this one trick where he straddles the sign and acts like it’s a motorcycle. Oh, yeah. He revs it up and then takes off. I’ve never seen anything like it. No one has. He’s the King! The King of the Sign Holders!
One day I had enough. I’d seen enough. I had to interview this guy. It was a must! I pulled in the parking lot and proposed my idea. I’d interview him, take his picture, and give him the fine stage that is The Nervous Breakdown. He’d answer great insightful questions. He’d shine. He’d ride his mattress sign off into the damn sunset. But no. No! The guy couldn’t string along a simple sentence. He was dull, uninspired, and half-dead. He was cross-eyed and smelled like lamb chops. I didn’t understand. I was mystified. Where did all that sign-flinging talent go? What happened to the motorcycle man? I was defeated. I had wonderful inquiring questions such as:
- Have you ever gotten laid from this gig?
- What kind of motorcycle is your sign?
- Do you go to parties and tell people what a bad fucker you are, that you’re The King of the Sign Holders?
- Have you ever considered giving lessons to potential sign holders?
- What do you think of Gene Simmons’ hair?
But it wasn’t to be. Like so many other things in my life. Like becoming a palm reader. Like kissing Anna Hernandez on her cherry-colored lips. But I’ll carry on. After all, summer is right around the bend and I have a handful of new books to devour.
Dead @ ‘existential messenger’. Those questions were awesome, you should have just made up the answers, or find some other sign holder who isn’t so fuck-addled.
Good morning. Yeah, you know I DID contemplate answering the Qs myself, but I have such a foul mouth and have been writing for TNB for so long it would have been a bust. I think I’ll try and find a new sign holder. There’s this one black girl that dances her ass off and does the whole pointing thing at the cars. She’s awesome and knows how to shake her ass. I’ll check it out. I jog by her from time to time. Take care.
I love Farting Danny so much. So much. People and moments like that make those kinds of jobs bearable. My favorite moment in my years at Trader Joe’s happened before the store opened. Our shift got there to stock the place at 5 a.m. The music above us was cranked up, and that old “Loving You” song was playing. On the part after Minnie Riperton sings all the “lalalalala” stuff, where she hits the high F#, the entire warehouse-sized building full of people tried hit the note, like fifty guys and girls, spontaneously screeching “AH-AH-AH-AH-AHHHHH!” at the top of our lungs. A collective F# scream rose above the aisles, and only on that part. Nobody knew anyone else was going to sing it, as nobody could see anyone else, yet everyone fully committed. It was awesome because nobody acknowledged what had just happened and kept stocking. I love weird, random, goofy shit like that.
I also spent years in the restaurant business, fast food clerking, food waitressing and cocktail waitressing (worst), and hated every second of it. Hungry people are often mean people. Drunk people are often assholes. I would rather do retail again than food, and retail really sucks.
I’m glad the kids didn’t chop you up. Jesus.
And I agree with SAA above: find a coherent sign holder. That interview must happen! xoxo.
Hey! Oh, lord, Danny. I’m telling you Tawni this was the most hilarious thing I EVER witnessed. I’m laughing now and have told the story a million times. I mean, the dude pulled this act all the time. It was like a hobby or a passion or a fetish of his. It was something. Or, hell, he was just looking for a good laugh. Oh, and we laughed. For the nine months we worked with each other he farted right in the faces of old folk and teens. Can you believe this shit? Damn! Ha!
Love the Minnie story. I could hear it now. I worked those early morning shifts before the store opened. Hell, at Stater Bros. One time I came out of the back room the floor dudes were waxing right in front of the doors and before I knew it i was on my back. I must have knocked out for a bit because before I knew it two faces were looking down at me: “Reno. Dude. Are you Ok?”
Jobs are the best in these moments and I can write novels of the shit I saw. Especially working in the fucking restaurant business. Fuck that business. Fuck the people that came in. And fuck me. What a waste of time. Shit.
Ok, Tawni, thank you kindly for reading and leaving a great comment. Hope you and your family are doing swell.
P.S. Every time I glance at your bio at the end of a piece, it makes me crave sweet tea. Sweet tea is glorious.
Sweet tea is addicting. I drank vats of that delicious stuff. I’m sure it was the cause for my divorce. Or at least part of the reason. Sheesh. What do you do?
Eat, Drink, and Remarry,
Excellent read to start my day–thank you. I also love Farting Danny and so many other parts of this. I felt hooked from the start–reading you is like shooting whiskey, bracing, maybe a little harsh, but then so smooth. Great little details that make each section come alive–Baby Ruth mustache, house with broken windows, sign straddling–yes!
In conclusion, I think you’d make an awesome palm reader. And I’d wear a dress when I would come to have my palm read.
Hey, what a pleasant surprise. How are you? Well, hopefully you’re not working in a stinky backyard or waiting tables dropping off flat Dr. Pepper and country-fried steaks…
Danny. Oh, gawd. Like I wrote Tawni this dude was relentless. The most hysterical relentless I ever witnessed. I will take Danny and his foul shenanigans to my grave. Which won’t be too bad because I figure even at 65 it’ll still put a smile on my face.
That’s not too shabby. Smiles are good for the soul.
Thank you very much for the kind remarks. If I ever find myself reading palms I’ll let you know. And you’ll be in a dress? Hell, in that case I might look into it today.
Have a great day, Jen, and thanks again.
Personal favorite sign holder in my neck of the woods: The guy who wears a Ms Liberty costume for a tax place. He wears that costume with pride and moves all over the place as traffic passes him by.
hello. oh, i know that tax place and have seen these fuckers from CA to NV. it seems to me that they’re all dudes, right? which is weird. hell, the ladies don’t wanna play a lady! but the dudes have no problem. i have one animated dude that works around four miles from me across from a carl’s jr. too funny. ok, sheree, thanks for reading.
OMG! We have a guy like that, too! He always stands on one the busiest streets on the westbank of NOLA. I love when the wind catches the headpiece bc his juggling of sign and costume is only half as funny as his mouth. Cursing and spitting and yelling at everyone and everything. Too funny.
Sometimes people ask me
what kind of stuff I like to read
& I say “I like to read
writers who know
how to watch & listen
& write it down.”
that’s exactly what you do, sir.
Now: I know you were thinking
that I would be thinking
that as much as I like Tesla
I never liked “Signs” & I think
it ruined their legacy because
Modern Day Cowboy was
bad-ass and then the whole
Signs/What You Give/Love Song –
while enjoyable in their own time and way –
were sort of more Black Crowish/Extreme
circa More Than Words sounding
instead of the early stuffs Ratt-esque
Into the Fire!
Hello, sir. Thanks for reading. As always: thanks.
Now: I totally agree with you. Modern Day Cowboy was and is a rocking tune. The solo is, uh, KILLER. I was never a Tesla fan and I truly don’t know why. They had good music (from what I can remember) and the singer had a great smoky voice. And I’ve always said that if I can’t stomach the singer I can’t listen to the band regardless of how good they are. This is why I can’t listen to Metallica. At least not their newer stuff (minus the “black” album) because as soon as James opens his yap I cringe.
I’m down with early Ratt and saw them in Vegas a couple of years back.
I’m down with Dokken (love Lynch) and saw then 100x.
Take care, 11. come out West already.
Unchain the Night,
Modern Day Cowboy always
reminded me of a little left
of Ratt’s Wanted Man.
That being said, I listened
to Love Song today
& totally loved it.
Beast from the East,
11: that’s an interesting observation and a damn good one. I never thought of that but I like it. The “Love Song” is a great tune and I’m sure many a heavy metal baby was conceived while those guitars strummed in the background. On that same note I believe that Barry White’s cuts spawned millions of babies. Thoughts, 11?
Hmm. That would totally get into
a whole sort of sociological
cross-section of metal chicks –
who usually at least got down to the free clinic
and scored some birth control pills –
& a sort of inner city Quiet Storm demographic
that perhaps did not have the resources and access
that middle class metal chicks had.
and that discussion sounds like no fun.
So basically your point is this:
What music puts metal chicks
in the mood? Actually, I think
it’s more stuff like Bathroom Wall by Faster Pussycat
or Sex Action by LA Guns
or Night Train by GnR
or even Smooth Up by the Bulletboys.
Or maybe Whitesnake.
I saw a thing the other day that said
don’t write what you know
write what you like.
Write what you want to read.
I don’t know how we’d get a book deal
but the kind of book we’d write
is the kind I’d like to read.
Yeah, let’s skip the heavy stare into this musical question. Let’s play it shallow. Let’s get down to the cheap nitty gritty…
Smooth Up! Yeah, that tune got some dudes (and chicks for that matter) some booty.
Whitesnake! No doubt. There’s gobs of material for nookie.
Wait! I didn’t see any Dio or Maiden? You mean to tell me that “I Speed at Night” or “The Trooper” won’t get you the goods? Huh? Heh. Yeah, that’s how come you didn’t mention them. No humping, sure. But a kick down of some bud no doubt.
Here I Go Again,
Once again you’ve pulled me in with your great stories Jess. I’ll be laughing throughout the day thinking of the manager w/the Baby Ruth stuck on his mustache. I love a little bb Ruth now & then. Mmmmm!
Hey, very cool to see you roaming around these boards. Well, I’m glad I put a smile on your face. I believe we shared many laughs in the past and I look forward for many in the future. You’re a true friend and I love you for it. Saw a pic of your baby girl. Wow. Beautiful. Time flies that’s all I can say. Okay, Nick, keep rocking. See you soon.
I’m so depressed that you didn’t get a good interview. Those were the best questions ever. No hyperbole.
There’s this girl – she must be in her late teens – who holds a sign for a shitty Chinese buffet place way up on the intersection of Hooker and Crystal Meth. She has a mowhawk and wears hipster pants and black Chuck Taylors with stars on them. She dances like a motherfucker while holding this sign and listening to her iPod. She dances like she just shimmied into work after an all night rave. She dances like she’s advertising for Apple, not Wong King’s. She makes me happy.
And dude – what is it about those dog meat tacos? They’re foul. Yet, I still eat them about once a year. Crazy.
Fun stuff, Captain Romero.
“intersection of Hooker and Crystal Meth” HA!!
Ah. I see you know this street…
yeah, NOL, knows that street all too well. NOL? care to tell us about it?
watch it, sucker!
Never, Breesy. Wait! Are you saying that you really don’t want to tell us? Boo.
what a fun piece, reno. you inspire me to steal your idea and write my own. 🙂
there’s a kid who holds the mattress sign near my apartment. he’s of the dull type, just sort of jerking the sign up and down haphazardly. whenever he’s there, i can’t help but feel bad for him and think, What a boring job.
How are you? i hope this note finds you rocking and rolling. Hey: steal it. Do one better. I’m sure you can. You’re a great writer. So you have a dead-ass peddling mattresses? Yup. I’ve seen them. I think the only way you can do that job is to be stoned or something. I dunno. Thanks.
‘There’s this girl – she must be in her late teens – who holds a sign for a shitty Chinese buffet place way up on the intersection of Hooker and Crystal Meth. She has a mowhawk and wears hipster pants and black Chuck Taylors with stars on them. She dances like a motherfucker while holding this sign and listening to her iPod. She dances like she just shimmied into work after an all night rave. She dances like she’s advertising for Apple, not Wong King’s. She makes me happy.’
Ha! Now, THAT’S one hell of a passage. Shit. What can I say? I think you just wrote your own story. She dances like a motherfucker! A shitty Chinese buffet!
I’m telling you, Gloria, these fuckers are quite a sight. And you know what? It seems like I’ve just noticed these people a few years ago, but when I did notice them they’ve become kinda like my entertainment. Like they’re one of my favorite TV shows. Fuck, I’ve waved and smiled at them! Why not! I want to be part of the show. I’m a greedy asshole that way! I want MINE! Give it to MEEEEE!
Okay, Gloria, thanks for the great comment. You got me laughing and I love to laugh. Dances like a motherfucker! Ha!
I don’t know what it is about those damn tacos. But I’ve had around 2,000 in my day. Weird.
This makes me think of a sign guy I saw about 2 weeks ago. My boys and I were headed to Audubon Zoo and we came to the busy intersection of Magazine and Napoleon. (This corner is always jam packed full of assholes in Mercedes and BMWs just trying to get home from work, all the while screaming into their phones and chain smoking.)
I hear a honk. Then another. I look up and see the best sign guy I’ve ever seen in my life. He was a tall, slim black man in his early 20’s. I have no idea what the sign said because honestly, I didn’t care. He had ear buds in and was dancing. And I mean, DANCING! Up and down, booty shakin’, james brown, michael jackson, janet, whoever…he was all of them, all rolled into one. Sweat was dripping off his face and he just kept smiling one the most beautiful smiles I’ve ever seen. Pure happiness and joy. I just sat there, mesmerized until finally I said, “we should just skip the zoo and hang out with that guy all day!” I got crazy looks from both my boys but I was serious.
Hours later on our way home, we passed him again. There was no change. He was there, in all his sweaty glory, dancing for the world. I was exhausted from my day but his energy impressed me. I smiled and waved and he flashed those white teeth in my direction and waved back without ever missing a beat.
Thinking back, I’d LOVE to know what he was listening to so I can make a work out playlist….
I’m telling you that these guys are the show. If you live on a busy street I’m sure you can run into dozens of these people doing their thing. I can see this dude getting down. There’s this black chick that I used to pass on my run. After a while she recognized me and when she saw me coming on her she’d smile and point at me and start shaking her ass in front of my face. I’d bust up. She knew she had an audience in me and played it up. She was cute. I haven’t seen her in a while though. She probably moved on to bigger and better things. Perhaps some dancing troupe picked her up and now she’s on tour. Who knows.
OK, NOL, you have yourself a great day. See you around, Breesy…
have a nice day. 🙂
How many championship rings does Kobe have? Right. YOU have a nice day, dawlin’. Muah 2x.
I like how we can talk about b-ball like we really care about it. With that being said, I still hate Kobe, I want the Hornets to win, and I’m hoping Phil Jackson gets what he deserves for all the shitty things he said about NOLA.
Is it football season, yet? I’m having withdrawls. Let me get a “WhoDat, Baby!”
You’re right. I confess. I’m a lifelong Laker fan, but do I care THAT much? No. At one time I did, but one time I did. It was around 35 years ago. That’s way back that way, NOL. Way. I heard Phil talked some mess about NOLA but didn’t hear what he actually said. Anyhow: who cares.
You just made my whole day with your enthusiastic whodat.
I don’t think I’m gonna watch any of the games. I don’t really care. Moose only cares about football and MMA fighting. I’ve always been jealous of the fuckers that like baseball, hockey, etc. They get to watch and cheer for shit all year round. Bastards. But not me. MMA saved my sorry ass. I live for the fall. And Chinese food. And nappers. And books. So, NOL, you go root for your damn Hornets. See if I care. Keep me posted. You know where to find me. I’m under a rock painted green. Cheers.
1. Melting Baby Ruth was also my boss circa 1989 when I worked at a shopping mall bookstore, believing, at age 16, that this career move would help me get published one day. Selling books, publishing a book…see? A natural stepping stone. My boss moonlighted at a department store as an undercover security guard, and the only thing better than his moustache was the voice he used while recounting stories of “take downs”–the stories that all ended with his shouting, “STOP! SEARS SECURITY!” before tackling a dude in the parking lot and liberating him of his stolen radio or boosted motor oil.
2. Have you seen the Flight of the Conchords sketch about the sign wielders? AWESOME.
OMG! I can see the security guard right now! Funny, these co-worker stories. I’m telling you people are fucking heeelarious. And the sketch? Funny. OK, Amanda, I’m wearing jeans and button long-sleeve shirt (blue) and heading to work. Sub. Math class. What the fuck do I know about math? That it’s spelled with four letters? That’s about it. Or in your case: that’s aboat it. Heh. (Don’t slap me.)
Hey! It’s pronounced “aboot”, not “aboat”. Don’t worry–I’ll teach you Canadian when you visit…
Ha! I caught that right after I sent it. Well, c’mon Amanda-poo, there has to be SOMEONE out there that says “aboat.” Perhaps after some Jaeger Bombs…
Reno, you dirty S.O.B.! It’s been a while, eh? Well, I can tell you one good thing that came out of that crappy restaurant business—B. Head, and me of course. (I guess that’s two things, but who’s counting?)
Pretty soon, a guy or gal is going to earn just as much holding a sign as he or she will for teaching. Sad but true in this day and age I suppose. Take good care of yourself my friend.
I met gobs of good people fighting the good fight in the restaurant biz. You being one of them no doubt.
Listen to this: your ugly prediction already exists. Mr. Motorcycle could put together enough words to tell me that they paid him $15 bucks an hour! So yes, it’s possible that you can make more than my ass as a lame educator. Who’s the smart one now? Well, apparently, it’s not me. Hey, hey.
Thanks for reading, Lyons. See you around rockstar.
God, I’d love it if that was their official title. So regal.
Keep those questions on hand. One day you might find the right existential messenger.
Existential anything always sounds regal dontcha think? You bet. Thanks for reading, sir.
“What kind of motorcycle is your sign?”
Ha Ha Ha Ha!
That seems like a logical Q, right?
Thanks for reading.
Reno, you have a keen eye for detail and a great talent to paint a picture with your words. Funny words at that! I dig it, a lot!
I have a co-worker who always lets you know he needs to make a bowel movement in the most creative of ways:
“Hey, Sim, I need to drop the kids off at the pool. Watch my tables, will ya?”
“I need to send a fax. Be a sweetie and take my drinks to table six!”
“I need to go so badly! I’m sporting a turtle head!”
He drives us crazy with it, but it’s funny none-the-less.
Ha! That’s some good, uh, shit.
Heh. That’s too funny. I like this dude. Sick bastard, but I like him nonetheless. Nice touch. You wanna hear the nastiest saying? Here it goes.
“Sim, I gotta blow some mud. It might be a long one so bear with me. Thanks.”
I’m so bummed that your sign holder didn’t deliver the goods* with some folksy surfer-lite wisdom about taking life day by day and living in the moment. Maybe you just haven’t met the right one. I had never seen those cats before moving to CA. Some of those dudes take their sign shaking to a high art form- especially when they rock out the earphones and only half pay attention to their grooves.
Work stories are deeply satisfying. We’ve all been there (I’m hoping), and there’s something about being on the other side of a shitty job that feels right- like you paid your dues, you emerged with a few stories to tell, and you learned nothing from the experience other than the fact that shitty jobs exist.
I’ve had my share. Lord, have I had my share…
Anyway, where’s the bit about Metallica?
*Have you heard and do you enjoy the Skid Row cover of “Delivering the Goods,” with Halford sharing vocals? I dig the hell out of it. There. I said it.
There’s a dude over here named Akmal who works at a local service station. He’s five foot eight or something, and greets every customer with a booming ‘Hello again sir!’ (or ma’am), a wave of the hand, and a grin like you’re walking in with ten million bucks for him.
He’s got a Facebook group someone started in his honour.
He totally deserves it.