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The Mighty Storeroom Fort

When I was in high school, I worked at a Toys “R” Us. It was a great place to work, mainly because the massive store in Bloomington, MN was the size of a football field and the entire second floor was a storeroom where wily employees could hide, often remaining undetected for their entire eight-hour shift.

I learned this method of work avoidance from a 35-year-old man-child named Glen, who had worked at the store for nearly a decade but shockingly never been promoted. I met Glen on my first day of work. I was asked to get a box of Hot Wheels cars from the storeroom and put them out on the sales floor. On my way downstairs, Glen stopped me.

“Oh, hey there buddy! I’m the inspection committee,” said Glen, winking creepily at me. “What do we have here? Let me take a look at these before you put them out.”

Glen proceeded to open the case, take all the rare and valuable Hot Wheels cars from it, and hide them behind some boxes in a corner so he could buy them later. Once he was assured I wasn’t going to tattle on him, he suggested I come upstairs and help him carry some boxes.

On the way up the stairs, Glen pointed out the huge Pink Floyd lyrics written on the wall with a thick Sharpie, proudly bragging that he was the one who put them there.

Run, rabbit run.
Dig that hole, forget the sun.
And when at last the work is done,
it’s time to dig another one.

I pretended to be impressed, only because it was the polite, Midwestern thing to do when something a person has done is stupid. I looked at Glen and tried to imagine all the people who had pretended to be impressed by him over the years. The vastness of it made my head throb.

The upstairs storeroom was not unlike the warehouse at the end of the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. A person could get lost for days in the endless rows of boxes. Some were so dusty that they obviously hadn’t been touched in years. Glen saw my mouth hanging open and noted that few of the boxes contained anything interesting. It was mostly old playsets and baby items that never went out of favor with customers.

Glen brought me to an aisle deep in the back and asked me if I noticed anything unusual. I didn’t. He walked halfway down the aisle and pushed aside a large box to reveal the entrance to what appeared to be a small fort he had built. He had found a small mattress for a crib, surrounded it with boxes like an igloo, and then used a a baby blanket as a makeshift curtain to cover the entrance. The large box pulled in front made the fort virtually invisible.

This was pure genius. All the items the store actually used were in the front. Other than the annual inventory in January, no one ever went this deep into the storeroom. Unless you came to work drunk and started snoring, no one would ever find this fort. This Mighty Fort.

Now granted, an employee couldn’t normally get away with disappearing for a full shift. Someone would notice their absence. But during the busy Christmas season, the store would hire droves of temporary workers, to the point where there were 15-20 employees working a typical weekend shift in December. With so many employees and only a few managers, it wasn’t unusual to work an entire shift on the sales floor and never see your bosses.

I immediately had a new respect for Glen. Clearly, I had underestimated this brilliant human being. The King of the Mighty Storeroom Fort was now my favorite co-worker. He would let me use The Mighty Fort sometimes, on days when he wasn’t “working”. I never slept in it, but sometimes I’d hide there when a really lousy job had to be done, like unloading a truck in winter or messy “accidents” in the store. Every time a kid vomited all over the sales floor – which was often – I’d sprint up to The Mighty Fort to avoid having to clean anything.

Alas, disaster struck in the last week of December. Returns by customers were surprisingly slow after Christmas, so inventory was moved up a week. Glen didn’t know, and had neglected to remove his handiwork in time. I was with our boss, Mike, when The Mighty Fort was discovered. I cringed when he pulled back the blanket, unsure of whether Glen was actually sleeping in it or not.

“What the hell?” said Mike, pulling back the blanket. The Mighty Fort was empty, but there were various travel games in it that Glen had recently been playing. Mike picked one up. “What is this, a room? A secret box room? Paul, do you know anything about this?”

“I dunno, I’m never up here,” I said, barely able to hold in my laughter as Mike crawled inside The Mighty Fort.

“You don’t think . . . it couldn’t be homeless people living here, could it?” asked Mike from within The Mighty Fort, not joking at all.

“Yes, it could be that,” I said, trying not to lose it.

“No, we would have noticed that. What a weird thing,” said Mike. “Oh well.”

Glen walked into the storeroom just as Mike was throwing the boxes into the trash compactor. His eyes grew big and he quickly walked away. I could hear him cackling on his way down the stairs. As the compactor crushed The Mighty Fort for good, I began drawing up plans in my head for the new one, The Almighty Mighty Fort. It would be bigger and better than this one. This loss would not destroy the only decent thing Glen had ever done with his life.

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