Tales from Adolescence: New Year’s at Jewel with Stoner Kelly

You know you’re in the Chicago suburbs when you’re at Jewel.

I don’t remember when I met Stoner Kelly. Jewel was full of colorful characters and I recall there were some silly nicknames, but nobody had a name like Stoner Kelly.

My first recollection of him was as I walked to the break room one day and saw this tall, hirsute, mouth breathing man, with large bags under his eyes, wearing a butcher’s apron and staring into space behind the meat counter. In other words, he looked stoned. All the time.

Jewel hired a lot of people who needed second chances. Then, and now, I feel that’s really laudable. However, Stoner Kelly may have been on his fifth or sixth chance.

The two main memories of Stoner Kelly both happened in the Jewel break room. Usually I would sit in the break room by myself, look at the staffing schedule for the coming week, and eat three candy bars in fifteen minutes. I ate three candy bars because they were always on sale; three for $1. One day Kelly leapt into the break room with snacks in one hand, and pictures he just developed at the camera counter in the other. He was thrilled to show me the pictures. He started laughing and told me I needed to see the pictures.

I don’t remember much of what Kelly said, because he spoke like Ali G and the deep timbre of his voice didn’t help with his annunciation.

It didn’t matter what he said, his enthusiasm was unbridled, and I just had to see these supposedly hilarious pictures.

The pictures consisted of a picture of a blunt, him smoking said blunt with his friends, and a woman’s butt at said friend’s house.

I was surprised that he developed photos of himself doing something illicit at his employer. We didn’t get an employee discount, so it wasn’t a cost savings move; it was out of convenience.

The second memory of Stoner Kelly happened on New Year’s Eve 2005. I was back working at Jewel during my university’s semester break. I was in the break room and Kelly burst in with a bag containing boxes of drugs from the pharmacy. I asked what he was doing, and he said, “Tonight, I’m gonna get fucked up.” He then said that after midnight he wouldn’t be able to buy the drugs from the pharmacy in quantities any more.*

I don’t recall what naive, 18 year old me said in response to that, but I do know what I saw: Kelly ripped open a box, tore the pills out from each cell, popped them in his mouth, and chased them with a Code Red Mountain Dew. Then he started working on the next box. In between gulps of cold medicine and soda, he called his friends and bragged aloud about how many boxes he scored, and boasted about how fucked up was going to get. He talked about going to more stores before midnight once he was done with his shift, and suggested they coordinate going to different Jewels and Walgreens.

I don’t think Stoner Kelly saw midnight that New Year’s Eve. Jewel closed at 11, and my shift ended at 10. My friend Neal went up to clean the break room, and found Stoner Kelly passed out on the break room table. His 15 minute break earlier in the evening extended into a lunch, and then some. He didn’t know what to do at first, but eventually had the heart to wake him up. I wonder how many people walked by and didn’t do anything. The coat rack, lockers, and manager’s office all walked by the table where Stoner Kelly was resting his head, but nobody did anything until Neal stirred him. If you have no shame about your employer developing photos of you partying, you probably have no shame about using cold medicine the wrong way and passing out at work.

I returned a few more times during semester breaks at Jewel, and Stoner Kelly was still there. Now when I go into the store all these years later, there’s still some familiar faces, but I haven’t seen Stoner Kelly in years.

Party hard, but responsibly.

* What I later learned, is that the law, which regulates the sales of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, went into effect on January 15, not January 1st