THE FIFTH COLUMN
Visiting Pick n Pay’s headquarters recently, I reminded myself not to bring up the missing apostrophe in the company’s logo and went in to meet with the head of the online shopping department to chat about a freelance project.
Walking through the multi-mezzanined building, I noticed posters with the words “Leading with Hope” and larger-than-life art depicting trolleys and fruit. Every bald man with grey hair I saw I imagined to be Raymond Ackerman. Raymonds approached from all sides exiting boardrooms and chatting to staff. A Raymond leaned against a wall; a Raymond entered the men’s room. In the coffee shop, a Raymond sat at a table reading the paper; another one fetched a cup from the barista.
Also in the coffee shop was a brightly lit piece of a Pick n Pay that appeared to have been lowered by crane into the building, tellers and all. Bunting announced the latest promotions and staff did their shopping in their lunch hour, buying food and refreshments presumably at a discount. The queue stood five-people deep, same as at a regular shop.
A man neatly dressed in chino trousers, leather lace-ups and a sleeveless muted grey jersey that covered both his vital organs and a whiter-than-white button-up shirt walked past me carrying a plate of lasagne. I envied the man deeply. Here he was, with access to a ready meal every day and Raymond Ackermans all around. A trusted worker of a parent company enjoying all the benefits of gainful employment.
Self-employed, and without a Pick n Pay in my house, I rarely have a steaming plate of lasagne for lunch. I don’t have a father figure like Raymond Ackerman to give me hope when there seems to be none. I don’t have undercover parking or the opportunity to visit, for good or bad, the second family I didn’t choose.
Most days, however, looking at it from my side of the fence, the idea of a parent company is somewhat jaded. We’ve stuck it to the man and are doing our own thing now, aren’t we? Cubicles have made way for noisy coffee shops; ties and high heels for soup stains and slippers, haven’t they? We don’t have to ask for leave, we take it!
But wouldn’t it be nice to go back? To walk on a vacuumed carpet every morning even though the vacuuming was done at the time of peak productivity. To get that leave application signed and then, poof, be gone. To come in late; call in sick; go home early. To forget the laptop at the office! Where are the days?
I botched the meeting, going on an inexplicable tirade against rusted mailboxes and other pitfalls of online shopping. I don’t expect to see the inside of Pick n Pay HQ again, or to meet the real Raymond Ackerman.
Following the visit, I’m going through another “lean time”, weathering yet another “economic downturn”. Life as an orphan has its ups and downs — ask Annie, then Oliver Twist — but, on balance, I think I’ll stick with it.
But wouldn’t it be nice to go back?