The Time I Was So Tired I Accidentally Got a Job at Penzey’s

What a weird way to get a jar of cinnamon and nutmeg
What a weird way to get a jar of cinnamon and nutmeg Photo by Jef Rouner
In October 2020, I was contracted by two different news outlets to cover the first day of early voting in Houston. Both companies wanted me there the second the polls opened so I could stand in front of people in line and ask them how excited they were.

My enthusiasm for the money notwithstanding, I was not excited. It had nothing to do with democracy (big fan). It was that I was running on three hours of sleep. My wife is a nurse in the medical center who couldn’t drive then thanks to a lingering shoulder injury. So normally, I would go to bed at midnight or one, get up at 4:30 a.m., drive her to work, eat about a thousand calories worth of kolaches on the way home, and then fall into a blessed, sausage-and-Benadryl-fueled coma until noon.

That wasn’t an option for this assignment. There was no point in going home just to come immediately back. So, I just sat in the parking lot of the Kroger on West Gray waiting for the camera crews to show up and thinking seriously about peeing in a nearby set of bushes because I am a poor bladder planner.

Eventually, I got the job done by mid-morning and could head home to the northwest side. Since I was in town and Thanksgiving was coming up, my wife texted to ask if I would pick up some apple pie spice from Penzey’s in the Heights on the way home. It was nominally on the way, so I didn’t have any real excuse for saying no.

I showed up outside the store right before they opened and sat on the curb. By this point, the sun was refracting through my bleary eyes like a drunken kaleidoscope and I had lost half of my vocabulary as my remaining brain cells went on strike until their demands for sleep were met. I still had a nice shirt on, but felt and probably looked like a corpse.

A woman pulled into the parking lot and unlocked the door. I stumbled after her, trying to hold the words “apple,” “pie,” and “spice” in the right order in my mind. Before I could ask, she said, “Oh good! You’re early!”

I agreed it was good I was early with no clue why. Then I managed to say “apple pie spice” on my first try.

“Even better,” she said. “I can show you what to do.”

She handed me the spice, and I waited on the customer side of the counter. She said, “No no no,” and pushed me around to the employee side.

“Now type in your name.”

I thought this was a very strange way to do contactless business, but okay. I did.

“That’s weird,” she said.

“Sorry, it’s German,” I replied.

“Okay, now scan your spice.”

I did. The register beeped approvingly. Go me!

“Now hit the button for employee discount.”

I did, thinking this was my lucky day.

“Just don’t do this for anyone else,” she said, laughing. Then it finally broke through my brain fog.

“Who do you think I am?” I asked.

She looked hard at me, and then she appeared horrified.

“Oh my God, I thought you were the new employee! You look just like him. I was training you!”

She could have put a broom in my hand that morning and I probably would have swept the entire store convinced it was some new COVID-buying ritual. For just a brief second, I thought about how nice it would be to work in a cool spice store where I would probably never get weird emails from angry conspiracy theorists again. I look cute in an apron. Clearly, I was a better employee than my apparently tardy doppelgänger.

Instead, I just said I was a journalist and asked if I could please buy my jar of spice because I want to go to bed now, mommy. She handed it to me and told me it was on the house. Technically, I think that counts as wages, so that’s how I worked at Penzey’s for a quarter of an hour completely by accident. I hope Other Me enjoyed the job as much as I did.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner