Beer, Peanuts, and everything else about the Stadium Experience. Except the game.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Nemesis and Enemies

  • Marlins: 3
  • Phillies: 2
  • Sold: 6 cases of beer
Essayist Chuck Klosterman has done good work to delineate the difference between one's Nemesis, who is a respected counterpart and rival, and one's Enemy -- who deserves nothing but contempt. Everyone should identify theirs, he says, but you have to know how:

You kind of like your nemesis, despite the fact that you despise him. If your nemesis invited you out for cocktails, you would accept the offer. If he died, you would attend his funeral and—privately—you might shed a tear over his passing. But you would never have drinks with your archenemy, unless you were attempting to spike his gin with hemlock.

Tonight, I have properly identified both of mine at Philly's ballpark. This recognition came at the end of a rough and disappointing Friday night, one that leaves me wondering if, despite the continued string of sellouts here, the economy is in fact leading people to tighten the purse strings. If half of life is showing up, these people are doing mostly just that first half, based on their drinking and my recent sales totals.

My nemesis, I have decided, is another vendor I'll call J.P.* He's from Baltimore and spends most of his time working the O's games, but he'll catch a ride from time to time** and show up in Philly. And when he's in Philly, he's working out of my room and selling the same swill as me: Coors Light. Which means that we're fighting over the same customers, and my numbers go down. Significantly. This is enough to ruin my mood from the get-go; when I see his name on the list of arrivals, the scales fall from my eyes and I strap in for a bumpy night.

There are other Coors vendors, of course -- Teo and Alex, good guys both -- but they don't pound the steps quite the way I do so they don't impact me as much. But J.P. can keep up, no doubt. He's burly, and steady when he's working, and has no problem climbing to the extra dollars in the upper reaches. I can usually outsell him, but not always; every now and then he'll match or beat me, and exult over it, and it will crawl under my skin and steam me and absolutely ruin my attitude. Since I respect him but hate seeing him at the ballpark for all the reasons outlined above, I consider him my vending nemesis. Even though he outmaneuvered me by a case tonight, I raise my bottle of Coors to him.

Tonight I also realized exactly who my vending enemies are. My enemies aren't the alcohol awareness employees, who could have my job terminated in a heartbeat for a single lapse in judgment. They are not the upper managers of the concessionaire, who tonight further restricted my profitability by announcing via memo that "vendors will be permitted to begin selling no earlier than 20 minutes prior to game time." My enemies are not the obviously underage kids, who put me in jeopardy by ordering, then claiming they forgot their ID's when I actually employ good judgment and ask for it. Each of these groups are properly performing in their respective roles as crowd-control employees, a profit-seeking corporate interest, and boundary-testing teenagers.

No, my enemies are the loutish, heckling mooks that populate the cheap seats where I work. I had to deal with a small pack of them this game, and I was ready to draw blood. Started when the girl in their group asked how much, then fucked with me in offering $2.25 instead. I did the right thing: threw the bucket back up on my shoulder and raced away from them. But they were driven by some law of the jungle, and they took the non-response as a sign of submission. So when I hit the next row they were shouting over, "Number 78! Yer a bum! You suck, number 78!" And again when I hit the next row after that. And from the row on the other side, and again when I climbed the stairs and they heard me from up there. I couldn't even escape by changing levels.

I was already having a bad night; my nemesis J.P. had showed up and was showing me up, already a case ahead. On top of it, I'd spilled my bucket of ice down a set of steps, evoking a humiliating collective "Ooooohhh!" from the audience. Now I had this to contend with. I was in no mood for a witty response*** or playful back and forth, so departing seemed the better part of valor. Now they had in me found their mark, someone to take their frustrations out on (with the Phillies down 3-0 with no relief in sight, I could have gotten away with, "You might want to focus out there -- your team apparently needs you."). They were big, jowly, beer-bellied bullies, and I realized they were picking on me because I couldn't fight back. There's a big difference between being ejected and losing your ticket, and ejected and losing your job.

Eventually I gave in to the goading. By the time they'd moved to the standing room only and were still heaping abuse on me, I broke and walked right over to them. "All right, how many you want?"

"I don't want none a that shit beer!" said mook number one.

"Oh, yeah? Well why'd you call me over here, jackass?"

Mook number two pipes up. "Hey, you shut up, asshole!"

"Why the hell am I the asshole?"

"Because you called him a jackass!"

Obviously, I was stooping to conquer. And not even really succeeding at that. I cut my end of this blather short when I saw, right over their shoulders,**** that this exchange was drawing the interest of a blue-shirted security team member, and remembered that whatever the provocation, calling a patron a 'jackass' probably isn't part of the employees' protocol. I walked right over to him and told him it was fine, those guys are just giving me a hard time. Then I left again.

That security guard must have talked to them, because the next time I passed they said nothing at all to me. My enemies had been silenced, until another group shows up, at whatever next time I should suffer the misfortune. I realize now that alongside an identified Nemesis and a roster of Enemies, that the security people make for some serious Allies.

*This alias isn't far from his real name, and anyone who knows either of us as vendors will probably be able to guess who it is even without the hint.

**J.P. doesn't have a car, and so relies on rides from other vendors to travel north to Philly or south to D.C. This is a helpful situation for me, he being left to the tender mercies of other traveling vendors, and I'm always quizzing these third-party ride-sharers on their vending plans, with my main interest in the potential of my nemesis' arrival a secret to no-one. Earlier this season, I myself gave him a ride, just two days after he showed up and outsold me, and it burned me, even though he covered the tolls and part of the gas. He doesn't ask for rides from me anymore.

***Dealing with heckler is an art that I've done only some work in mastering; it's tough to come up with the cutting retort that will stop them cold. Sometimes I've addressed the crowd and gotten them to boo the transgressors; "Looks like you're not making yourselves any friends around here," I'll say. This is particularly satisfying. It's definitely better than what I thought of for the girl in this situation: Pause. "What? Oh, sorry, I was confused -- I thought that was your price." Best that I didn't go that far, or who knows what else would have happened.

****Ceasing and desisting from confrontation after seeing an authority figure over my opponents' shoulder this way reminded me, almost to a tee, of the time in 7th grade when Stuart White -- a disturbed childhood provacateur I'd known since kindergarten -- threw my library book across the room at the beginning of history class (I'd thrown his clarinet down the hill on the way to class, but still), prompting me to violently throttle him right there by my desk. It was sweetly satisfying for about two seconds, until I saw the grim face of the otherwise kindly Mr. Link registering surprise and disappointment and I let him go, too late to avoid the reprimand.

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