With frizz sticking to my face, I opened the door; the rush of air-conditioning swept my coat of heat off my shoulders. A small chime like summer mistletoe hung from the doorway, announcing my arrival into the domain of organic coffee and handpressed peanut butter–two things I insist should replace our paper currency.
“Welcome to Nature’s Paradise, how are we doin’ today?” A voice called. I swiveled to see a buff woman with a pixie cut and a thick coat, an Exercise Physiology textbook on the linoleum counter in front of her.
I asked for a job application. She slapped down a vintage document asking for “fax number” and “pager”, which I filled to the best of my modern-day ability. Once done, she assured me that, “you seem very normal. You’re dressed for one, and you’ve given last names to your references. These are all very promising characteristics.”
I had come back from Europe seven days earlier, and this declaration of what constituted a “promising employee” was the quintessential welcome back to Emporia.
I was hired as professional cashier and saleswoman–thanks to my astonishing lack of nudity and charming handwriting. This was back in the middle of August. I left the job to move back to Manhattan a few days ago, middle of December. In the months in between, I obtained more than just humorous interactions with the Emporian aesthetic.
First, we have the female David Goggins herself, Tasha. Her and I would spend hours talking about discipline and methods of endurance training, her fascination with cycling and a current pursuit of a masters degree in Exercise Physiology mingled well with my love of running.
She had a soft spot for doughnuts and was perpetually freezing; she would not be contained by such things as diets and summer heatwaves.
Tasha spoke exactly what was on her mind. If there was anything you could trust in, it was that Tasha would tell you the truth and nothing but the truth.
I worked afternoon shifts on Tuesday and Thursdays with Bayley, the chairman of the Chill The Frogs Out club–if that were to exist. Nothing phased her, she was consistently level-headed. If I were to come to work agitated, a few hours chatting with Bayley would banish the restlessness.
Bayley was a proud self-declared introvert, and we vibed well over our fondness for going to bed early. Her self-assuredness was a balm to my jumpy soul, and she reminded me of how miraculous it was to own every part of oneself.
I spent six hours on Wednesdays and Fridays with Jordan, the great and chasmic knockout. The occasional Saturday, if we were lucky.
You couldn’t hide from Jordan, even if you were to want to. She had soul-consuming cobalt eyes, framed with lashes the envy of your neighborhood llama. They seemed to find you and hold you tight, forcing you to match her gaze-for-gaze.
Jordan was an anomaly. She was the poster-child of boldness, a voidless lack of social anxiety.
We spent our shifts meandering through the aisles, sharing secrets and tuning the radio to the dirty stations when there weren’t any customers.
While completing end-of-shift duties, we would yank up the volume and spend more of our energy choregraphing synchronized hip-hop moves than sweeping.
Together we were a machine of less-than-productivity, accomplishing the bare minimum and having such a lovely time of it all. Her and I were yelled at the most out of anyone. That was a badge we wore with pride.
When the schedule changed and new hires were added, our time together dwindled to a couple hours on Fridays. To make up for the decrease, we would stow notes to each other.
To say that Jordan is seared into my hippocampus–which is something I doubt many people say–would be a misrepresentation of the influence she has had in my life.
Then we’ve got Will. Him and his mother, Carol, owned Nature’s Paradise and offered caverns of what to take when you’ve got the uncontrollable toots, but you’re allergic to modern medicine.
Will had both the craziest stories and the largest amount of physical swagger of anyone I have met. His mannerisms are so completely Will, that Bayley, Jordan and I would reincarnate his stories in perfect imitation.
Head tilted, he would start with a gentle, leading, narrative storytelling speed, then he would gain momentum and rock back and forth and hoist his hands up in the air and raise his voice for the final lesson of the story.
He would pause. Step back. Drop his hands to cross in front of him.
“And stuff like that.”
He would tilt his head once more to let the wisdom sink deep. Bayley, Jordan, and I listened like mouth-breathers, all thinking:
There’s no way that actually happened, right?
My experience at Nature’s Paradise is encompassed in both my colleagues and these Willdoms. These snippets of truth that were exhaled so confidently, it was all I could do to hold on to the pen as I scrawled them down.
A few days ago, on my last Thursday shift, he imparted his final batch of Willdoms upon Bayley and I:
- Always make chances, because you never know what opportunities might be available.
- There is no picture, no mirror that can show the true reflection of who a person is. The true beauty of a person is in the lives that they touch.
- Let life control your destiny, but control your future.
My time at Nature’s Paradise has left me with a reservoir of Midwest small-town experiences, all meaty in sensory content. Living in Emporia and working at Nature’s Paradise are synonyms.
Peace and Blessings,