Organic Nazis

I was shopping in the bulk section of my local organic market — an area chain with human-scale storefronts, not one of those monsters like Whole Foods or Wild Oats — and the whiff from the herbs rack sent me tumbling back in time to the third shit job I had after college. Ford, then Carter, if you were around. There were a lot of shit jobs out there, especially if you were a literature major who couldn’t stand sitting still.

It was the dawn of a new age, as the voice-over says in the Babylon 5 titles, and organic food, herbs and the like were still mostly the province of people who parted their hair in the middle and wore sandals. Only the adventurous were popping things like saw palmetto for their prostates or doing “detox diets.” I was just coming to grips with the dissonance between the promise of medicine as I had read about it when younger — Alexander Fleming, Louis Pasteur — and the apparent helplessness, worse, disinterest, of contemporary doctors in the face of real, intractable problems that I ended up having to solve myself, armed with a copy of Adelle Davis and a GNC ad torn out of the Sunday paper.

(We’re not talking dandruff here, by the way; my issue was an IUD, the infamous Dalkon Shield, which had gone septic right up to my ovaries. After several rounds of antibiotics which did nothing but leave me allergic to penicillin, and a dungeon horror experience with a bunch of hmphing male GYNs who talked past me while shooting isotope-laced oil up my Fallopian tubes — they really hated it when I said “careful with that tenaculum” — I was ripe for the health counterculture, where I still dwell, really.)

So I went to work in the Herb Shop (gods! it sounded so full of tranquility and wisdom) of a natural-health combine that included a food store, restaurant, and book store, perched over the C & O canal at the gateway to DC’s Georgetown, which used to be funky — a patchwork of bars, repertory film theaters and bookshops, snooty clothes stores competing with holes in the wall where anyone could afford something. Sic transit gloria mundi.

The manager of the herb shop was named something like Suzy Hinky and she explained to me during my first interview that she was CELIBATE. (Thanks for sharing, I guess.) We were to be the entire staff of the herb shop, working out lunch breaks and the like between us.

The office reeked of valerian, a fantastically effective herb which will knock you out more soundly than Ambien or Valium. The only thing that has kept it from sweeping the market is that it smells like fermented sweat socks. There is nothing that can offset the aroma of valerian; you just have to smother it, and since we had it shipping in two pound paper parcels, we shoved it to the back of the office and hoped for the best. Also in the office was the picture of Meher Baba, to whom my new boss was apparently devoted. Her best girl friend, with whom she spent hours on the phone, was a Guru Maharaj Ji chick, but I guess they agreed to disagree.

I found that my new boss was increasingly scarce. She was fond of quoting Meher Baba’s “don’t worry, be happy” mantra at me when I asked where she had been in the two hours since she had told me she’d be back in the place. I mean, in two hours you can get to really need a pee.

Organic Nazis abounded in the milieu. People would come in and, finding me alone behind the counter, harangue me about their health and spiritual insights. A woman with an indeterminate Eastern European accent asked me, impertinently, if I was a vegetarian and as the answer at the time was no, I said no. “You shoult pee a fetchatarian!” she scolded me, thereby probably delaying my decision to stop eating meat for another five years. Druggies floated in to ask me if Golden Seal would really help you beat a piss test.

I leafed through the herbal manuals of John Christopher, apparently the go-to authority for this particular storefront. As best I could tell, according to Dr. Christopher, everyone who was sick had flouted the law of God in some way and ought to be content to accept a schedule of herbal remediation so joyless and life-devouring that I would have as soon cut my throat. He was big on colonics. So, I found, was my boss, and by the way I have known people who benefited massively from having their nether plumbing syringed out, but they were classy enough not to sit on the phone at work and tell their best gal pal, the Guru Maharaj Ji babe, about the wonderful enema they had that morning and the way their little dog frolicked with the enema equipment, in full earshot of the hired help.

One day the celibate Suzy Hinky left for a lunch engagement of some kind and came back around four-thirty in the afternoon, explaining that she had lost her shoes and had to go buy another pair and that was what held her up.

The next evening she was still not back when it was time to close the store, and I checked out, leaving the day’s receipts in a deposit bag at the register, along with my resignation.

I got a job modeling jewelry. In a velour body suit.


10 thoughts on “Organic Nazis

  1. Hilarious! Everyone needs at least one job from hell to build character. It’s the kooks who make organics both interesting and keep it from being mainstream. Our organic shop has a big poster in the window for the “Vegan Cat Diet.” Bet your cats would love that!

    • As long as it was taurine-reinforced they could probably get on with it. But you know, the best source of taurine, critical to cats’ nervous metabolism, is mouse brains.

      I don’t try to tinker with the balance of nature at levels primary to my own spot on the evolutionary tree. I just figure that I have the power to decide what species will supply my needs and at what price. The cats do what they are programmed to do. The day one of them wakes me up with a question about karma… well, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

  2. Oh my God, this is hilarious, and a little too familiar, since I live in the town where Suzy Hinky and everyone related to her finally went after being that way became passe. Except for here in Portland, where *everyone* is still exactly like that…and where the defining headline last year was the one about our openly gay mayor being hit by a bike while driving his Prius.

    • It only gets better if he was driving to the recycling center.


      The really sad thing about this situation is that Suzy Hinky was not just a navel-gazing flake; she was a mean, toxic person who enjoyed the way that her managerial role allowed her to vent belittling abuse, while doing very little to make her expectations clear and taking, Goddess knows, hardly any responsibility for holding up her end of the day to day operation. Just about everyone in a management position at this supposedly peace-and-love combine seemed to share her attitude: it resembled those ashrams and cult compounds you read about where the lowest-ranking inductees are treated like slaves and the people with influence get to enjoy being nasty to people who can’t talk back. There was a rickshaw that had to be used for moving large deliveries, for example, which I was expected to hump even the week that I had a sprained ankle tied up in an Ace bandage. If one objected to any of the strictures from above, the implicit reprimand was that one was not enough of a “believer” to be employed there.

      In this, Suzy and her posse were little different from my previous employer, a drunken, financially inept cheese-shop owner with ambitions to make a name for himself among the elite, or the ones that followed, a drunken, devious pair of high-paid Federal employees who exploited their little jewelry shop as a tax loss. In fact, in my entire life working for wages, I only enjoyed a year and a half under a supervisor with a conscience and character. In every other case, it appeared that the boss hat was sought by, or went to, the person most willing to diminish, demean, bully and demoralize others. Only in the case of the Organic Nazis, it was all being done under the pretext of creating a spiritual community, a wellness ethic, yada yada.

      I met people like this again in later life — in my local food co-op or “progressive” political groups — but I had the sense and leverage, by that time, to say Fuck You when it was appropriate. What they do to trusting people who really want to put their efforts into making a better world is a crime and not a small one.

  3. I had a job upholstering coffins when I was 18 – everyone else there had worked there as long as I’d been alive. That creeped me out more than the coffins.

    Suzy Hinky … ha! 🙂

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