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Tuesday, September 02, 2014         

INCIDENTAL LIVES


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20-year clerk carries light for Safeway in the night

By Michael Tsai

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In his 20-plus years at the Safeway supermarket in Manoa, graveyard shift clerk Jerry Lakins has seen all species of nocturnal shopper, from tittering college freshmen proffering shoddy fake IDs to bleary-eyed cabbies with hanging shirt tails seeking after-work smokes, to slow-stepping loners who roam his well-waxed aisles looking for nothing in particular.

Lakins does his best to make each feel at home. Eyes ever gleaming, he greets every customer with a quick, shy hello and is only too happy to offer his assistance should the location of garlic-stuffed olives or Swiffer pads or frozen limeade prove elusive. And when no one else is in line, he'll also chit chat with late-night regulars who never seem to be in a hurry to head back out into the night.

Because while Hemingway and his heroic drunks may disagree, for many there is no better clean, well-lighted place to wile away a few wee hours than a supermarket. And certainly no better man to tend register than one whose cheerful disposition belies an Eleanor Rigby life.

Lakins grew up in Oakland, Calif., in a neighborhood where drugs and crime were rife.

"It was pretty rough," Lakins said with a shrug. "The local gas station was known as 'the pharmacy.'"

When his parents divorced, Lakins moved with his mother and four siblings to Honolulu, settling in his grandparents' Manoa home.

Lakins graduated from Roosevelt in 1986 and attended Kapiolani Community College, where he earned an associate's degree in liberal arts. He got a full-time job as a courtesy clerk at Safeway in 1990 and has been there ever since.

For years Lakins balanced home and work, work and home. He devoted himself as best he could to both until sibling by sibling his family began to drift into separate orbits.

Brother John lives in Nevada. Another brother, Tony, is in Iraq with the U.S. Air Force. Sister Tina lives in Wisconsin. Last year, Lakins' mother and youngest brother moved to New Mexico, leaving Lakins truly alone for the first time in his life.

"Like any family, we had our melodramas," Lakins said, shrugging again. "But I do miss them."

Lakins keeps a small place in Kaimuki but he figures he spends more time -- on and off the clock -- at Safeway. After he gets off in the morning, he shops or does laundry. He usually sleeps five or six hours in the afternoon before heading back to Safeway, where he catches a few more winks before starting work at midnight. On his days off, he sleeps until 1 a.m. and is out the door before sunrise to go to Starbucks.

"They know me there," he says. "And I always order the same thing: nonfat, decaf mocha."

Sometimes Lakins will take his bicycle out to cruise. Once every other blue moon he'll join friends for karaoke. But mostly it's all about work and getting through the time between work. He says he'd like to get married one day, would like to have a family like the one he grew up in, but he hasn't met the right person yet. Work and all.

Lakins has plans to visit his family this summer when Tony returns from his deployment. It's something to look forward to. He spent last Christmas and New Year 's working at the market because it was better than being at home alone.

Lakins figures he's like a lot of people, so he focuses on what he has , not what he's lacking. And each night he takes his place at the register at the front of the store, the bright fluorescent lights above holding the night at bay, and he looks toward the automatic doors. Who knows who will walk in?

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Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@staradvertiser.com






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