Grocery Store Musician
Peter reads the poem he is quoted in
Lights go out, mice
from under the freezers
scurry into Peter’s story:
Boss joined in. You should have
been there! Hundreds
of tiny heads
caved by every employee
working in concert.
Our store stays open
for the lunch crush.
No one might have known,
the mice thrived quietly,
a temporary outage
where there should be a moral.
Peter, our trumpeter,
a California transplant,
sunny and religious,
used to worry he’d be
trampled by stacks
of milk in an earthquake.
[Peter, you worked in a grocery store?]
I did, yes. I worked in Trader Joe’s for ten years of my life.
[And you’re a musician?]
I am a musician, yes. I play trumpet and do it semi-professionally. Well, I guess professionally is the right word. I get paid for it, so I guess that means I’m a professional, right?
[(Interviewer chuckles.) I mean, as best a professional can be, right?]
[Interviewee chuckles]. Right.
[Can you tell me what’s the difference between selling trumpets and milk?]
You have to work a lot harder. People don’t need trumpets to live, but milk is somewhat important to survive. Or at least some kind of food. So food sells itself, but trumpets don’t do that, for sure.
[I mean, I suppose we could get into a long metaphorical discussion about what it means to need something to live.]
Well that’s absolutely true. I mean I might need the trumpet to live, but you know, in the end, probably not.
It’s interesting, what we— you know— doing what I do, and the way that I, not justify, but the way I look at what I do is I am giving the gift of music to people. You know, what our store specializes in is lessons and renting like instruments for school band programs, which is exactly what— how I started.
My teacher in grad school always talked about the relationship that fishermen have with the sea versus people who just go out on a boat or sail recreationally. People— they both love the ocean, but the person who fishes for a living understands the ocean so much better then, and has a deeper love, but also a fear and a respect for the ocean than somebody who just sails on the weekend or whatever or just does
it infrequently. Never, doesn’t have— it doesn’t exist for them.
There’s a— not a love-hate, but a respect I guess there, for it. I guess as a professional musician that’s how you come to realize what music is, I think.
Yeah absolutely, definitely. The people I really like, my favorite customers are the ones who come in and have been playing for a while and they’re looking for their first like— good instrument. And that’s the people that I— that’s the customers that I like most because I can find the instrument that can turn them into the next you know— the next great trumpet player, the next great saxophone player, the next great clarinet player [baby crying in background], you know that one instrument could propel them on their way to greatness if— if the right things happen. So that’s kind of fun to think about as well.
Jeff? Wow. I honestly can’t remember.
[Gosh, I was really hoping, I had hoped that you two would have had a chance to talk— about music.]
I don’t know that we ever did. Yeah, I couldn’t even tell you. You know, it’s— it’s funny, I was thinking about this, before, when I knew we were going to be talking and— and stuff and I was like, you know, that part of my life, not to sound dismissive or whatever, but it’s just like so— it seems so long ago, it’s not that long ago, you know, it’s like four or five years, but like, I don’t know. I guess it was, I guess I’ve just kind of put it away. Do you know what I mean? And I— I, you know, I think about things every once in a while, like every time I go to Trader Joe’s out here I bag my own groceries just because [interviewer laughs] it frustrates me when other people do it, so—
[Yeah, me too.]
But— but yeah, it’s so cliché but that’s— that— Trader Joe’s feels like a lifetime away, you know like it just seems so, so far.
But the thing about, like, where we were at was that was all we had. We didn’t have— I mean you, you know, you had your poetry and I had my music and we could be perfectionists in that. And I still am, as I assume that you still are. But, you know, the other— the other things in life— yeah, maybe not. I don’t know. It’s— but— but back then, that was all we had. That was our vocation. That’s what we were doing. So we had to be perfect in that, right? I don’t know.
Oh yeah—I can’t believe you didn’t bring up what the mice are all about.
[I mean please just jump in if— if you want to tell the story of the mice—]
So Trader Joe’s, in Silver Spring, MD, during the winter would have a mice infestation. And it would manifest itself in— you know, finding droppings all over the place, under the shelves especially, and it escalated to the point where customers were seeing mice scurrying across the floor. So I guess we finally decided that this needed to be dealt with because there was [sic] too many complaints— And they were even in the milk box, do you remember that? They were in the milk box. Like the coldest place, or one of the coldest places in the store. They were hanging out in the milk box. I couldn’t believe that. So anyways, so one night –
[Did you see them shelving any milk?]
Yeah— one night they tore a bunch of— they put all of the product in grocery carts and tore a bunch of shelving down and then found out that they weren’t under the shelves, they were actually underneath the freezers, in the freezer aisle, and so— we moved— we moved a freezer, you know, like an upright freezer unit, and there was just this whole— and I mean just hundreds of mice. It looked like the floor was moving with mice. And here are all of these— there’s this— there’s a bunch of Trader Joe’s employees, and this exterminator. And he’s like— we’re all like well what are you gonna do?— and he’s like “kill ‘em.” So we were literally like crushing their heads under our boots and then like vacuuming them up with like a Shop-Vac and it was the most horrifying thing. It was just hundreds of dead mice vacuumed up into this thing. And then we didn’t have a mice problem anymore. Like, just— just no mice left. It was— it was pretty incredible. So yeah, yep. That’s— that’s the mice story at Silver Spring Trader Joe’s. Hopefully it’s not, it never was again.