It’s the beginning of a hot July morning, and I’m planted on the second-to-last row of an equally hot city bus. I ride on this same row twice a day, five days a week, every week. I’m sitting, eyes half shut, glaring through the window while the bus hits the usual stops and passes the same featureless strip malls lining the city street. Many of my fellow commuters seem to be stuck in the same cycle of systemic servitude, riding this bus on a permanent schedule. I’ve never spoken to any of the familiar riders, though I feel a sense of camaraderie with any other sucker trapped in this infinity with me. Having this sort of common plight with another is all you can hold onto when your debt to the god damn hourly wage has held you in its grasp for the past 49 years. The bus is plugging along, and I’m shooting stares out the window at this crummy part of town, when up comes some fresh-looking younger man in a shiny, recent-years BMW, trying to maneuver through traffic. The guy gets stuck right behind the massive tube-on-wheels I’m currently in. I’m not sure what a man that clean with a car that nice is doing in this part of town, but I know his stay won’t last long. Anyone in a car like that doesn’t wait behind any city bus, and he quickly juts the front of his racer onto the next lane over, punches the gas, and speeds through the coming intersection and on out of my sight. I imagine living a life like that for just a second, but stop before it begins to hurt. I get off at my stop, which is five blocks from my place of employment. At the age of 68, five blocks of walking is far from doable, especially before eight hours of standing. Twice a day for four years I’ve walked down those same damn five blocks. I’m not sure if the walk has gotten harder or easier. It just seems to depend on the day. I put in my five blocks of free service and crest the patch of lawn separating the sidewalk from the black, tarry parking lot. I walk across the lot and notice the empty spaces, knowing that it won’t be long until each one of them is occupied with a piece of bittersweet job-security. Before I make it to the automatic doors, I notice a stack of grocery carts already lined up in the designated corral and emphatically wince, knowing how my time will be spent today. Next to the overfilled cart-run, I see that upmarket BMW from before and take a second to ponder the reason it is there. I pass through the opening doors, hearing the usual squeak of the glass across the track and smelling that god-awful whiff of grocery store. I go to clock in and pull my wallet out of my pocket to grab my keycard. Arthritis has started its entangling creep through my hands, and I can’t get my fingers to grip the card out of my wallet for the life of me. I tried carrying my last card loosely in my pocket, but it fell out somehow, and my manager made a big fuss about getting me a new one. This is just how it’s going to be. Eventually, I tease the card out, slide it in the reader, just to have to force the card right back in the wallet again. I get it securely in its pocket and head to end of the nearest check-stand. After sorting through my first cartful of products, I remember something that brings a sharp pang of emotion to my otherwise lifeless gut. It’s an emotion that’ll carry me through the end of this shift: The Seattle Mariners are playing the San Francisco Giants tonight, and in a rare treat, the game will be on television. I love baseball, and the Mariners have quite a fun team this year. I’ve seen their game highlights dozens of times already this season and have been itching to watch them play a game. They have an exciting third basemen with a flashy glove and a budding juggernaut of a bat who is not even old enough to buy himself a beer. I forget about the game for a minute, as the monotony of this job often causes me to zone out. You know, becoming a grocery bagger wasn’t my goal in life. As a kid, I wanted to go to college and get a big, highfalutin job, maybe in finance or something. I wanted to work downtown and have my own office just like any other teenage kid with an inflated imagination. Throughout my childhood, I never knew my dad, and my mom wasn’t exactly a beacon of hope and stability. She was never too invested in my situation, leaving me often to fend for myself in my schooling and my life. I did alright in my classes, thinking it was the ticket out of the tough situation I had been born into. It went that way until about my 17th birthday, when I made the dumb mistake of getting caught by a cop with a sack of pot while I was outside of some fancy restaurant in an expensive neighborhood. That cop didn’t take it lightly, and neither did the legal system. Those guys threw the damn book at me. Meanwhile, my mother abandoned me through the entire thing. I know there wasn’t much she could’ve done, but a little support would’ve gone a long way for a young kid like me. I got jail time and wasn’t released even a day early, despite being on my best behavior. And, through the whole thing, I had no idea what kind of life awaited me on the other side. I got out to find that my mom had up and moved. She was the transient type, although she usually took me with her. I think she took that incident as a doorway to a life without a son. My first weeks of, well, 'relative freedom' were spent in desperation. Desperate to find myself a job and a steady supply of food, I spent several nights sleeping on city and park benches. At the time, I thought that was going to be my life forever. I finally ended up finding work at a local car wash. It wasn’t much, but the tips were good. I worked my ass off at that job, living in a motel, until I saved enough money to rent myself a room. Getting a place to call my own was the dopamine-rush of a century. I vowed, right then and there, that my life would be different from then on. I would make something of myself. Little did I know at the time that that’s not how any of this worked. Nearly five decades later, I only managed to upgrade that single rented room to a rented one-bedroom apartment in a poorly-maintained complex with thin walls, loud neighbors, and a near-to-constant patrol of cops roaming the parking lot. I’ve worked 40-60 hour weeks my entire life, and never have I been able to afford my own car. Not even a beater. I bag groceries at that check-stand for as long as I possibly can, hoping to delay the inevitable. My manager walks over and asks me the dreaded question. She wants me to go out and bring in those stacked-up grocery carts lined up in the corral. The question comes quicker than I think it would, but I nod and head out there anyway. It’s probably better that I’m bringing them in now, because by noon that bastard July sun will be radiating off the black-asphalted parking lot and turning the whole thing into its own patch of Mojave desert. As I walk out, I begin to mentally prepare myself and my body for the physical overload coming my way. Carts or not, my body hurts from head-to-god-damn-toe these days. I get it, I agreed to bringing in the carts when I got the job, and by damn, I will continue to do so. But I ache and I’m tired, and I’m not sure how many more carts I have left in me. I finish bringing them in and head in to the break room to get some water and try to settle down my usual bout of post-cart wheezing. I’m standing there catching my breath when my manager comes in with a man I recognize instantly. It’s the hot-shot BMW driver, and he’s in my grocery-store’s break room. The reason for his being here hits me pretty fast: He’s some corporate bigwig making sure us worker ants are running a tight ship or however a guy like that would phrase it. My manager starts the conversation out telling me I’m needed at the check-stands and gives me the oh-so-friendly reminder that right now isn’t my designated break time. I can’t come up with much of an answer for her, and she continues to introduce me to the big boss man. I don’t make the effort to even register his name. He gives me some prepared speech thanking me for my hard-work but then immediately goes on to give me the usual diatribe about company time being valuable and how this company expects its employees to use it wisely and all that. I hear him loud and clear and exit the break room to go take my rightful spot back at the end of the grocery line, putting objects in bags. I push through each of my eight hours with the Seattle Mariners on my mind. My shift ends, and I walk the five blocks back to the bus stop. My knees are weak, my ankles are aching, my calves are throbbing, my hands and arms are trembling, and my stomach is growling. It’s my daily routine. However, none of it occupies my mind more than those excellent Seattle Mariners. I make it to the bus and take my usual seat, anticipating the game and a warm meal. I get in through the door - after what may have been the longest bus ride of my life - and turn the television on, trudging over to the cupboard to pull out a can of Campbell’s bean and bacon soup. I set it to heat up in the microwave while I change out of my green apron and worn black pants. I love relaxing by the television, and my 19-inch TV with basic digital cable is the only luxury I’ve ever really owned. Indeed, when I upgraded my old tube set a few years back to this nice high-def flat-screen, I felt like I had finally become a man. The microwave beeps, and I grab my soup. The time has come. I’m in my comfortable clothes, and the game is starting. I relax into my recliner, eyes fixed to the pre-game analysis. Interleague play tonight; I’ve always been an American League man myself, and I hate the damn San Francisco Giants and would love to see them get smacked. The game starts as my anticipation reaches its climax. I eat my soup while I watch but make sure it’s finished by the end of the first inning so I can maintain my focus on the game. The two teams are in a real dogfight. I’m glued to my television as the innings pass by, but by about the fourth one I start to not feel like myself. The constant pain in my body sharpens and my focus wavers. I ignore the pain. It gets to be the top of the 6th inning and the game is tied, 2-2. It’s a good one. The Mariners get a couple guys on base, and the Giants pull their starting pitcher. That young power-bat, third baseman is up after the commercial. My excitement grows. Suddenly, I get tired. And I mean really tired. This tiredness progresses into exhaustion and I start to lose control of my eyelids. They’re too heavy. I can’t keep them open. They close as the commentator recites the paid sponsors. The last thing I remember is the flickering, orange-black glow of the inside of my eyelids. Quickly, my eyes shoot open, and it takes me a minute to remember where I am. I notice some cheap infomercial blasting on my set and realize I’m still on my recliner. Oh god, the game. Grown-man tears start to well in my eyes. I try to remember if the Mariners are on TV again soon, but nothing comes to mind. That was it. That was my game. I look back down at my watch again and do the math. I have work in four hours. The tears rush down along the wrinkles on my weathered, pale face. I have work in four hours.