Updike's 1954 poem "Ex-Basketball Player" and his 1961 short story "A&P" both feature young protagonists trapped in dead-end jobs. Flick, the ex-basketball star, is employed in a gas station pumping gas and checking oil. Sammy works as a cashier at the local A&P. Neither seems destined for a brilliant future.
A main difference between the two, however, is that Flick seems resigned to his lot, while Sammy is not. Flick appears to accept that his glory days as a talented high-school basketball player in 1946 are over by 1954. If still superior to them, he is becoming as out-dated as the old-fashioned, personified gas pumps he works among:
Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps— / Five on a side, the old bubble-head style, / Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
Sammy, on the other hand, rebels against his lot. When he sees Queenie, who he thinks is part of one of the affluent families renting summer beach homes not far away, walk into his A&P barefoot in her bathing suit, with her head held high as if she owns the place, this stirs all of his own desires to cast off his abjection and lowly status. He projects onto her the better life he longs for, and in the brief time he watches her, he identifies with her so strongly that he impulsively quits his job.
Sammy's quitting may have been imprudent, but it suggests he is forward-looking and ambitious, set on escaping the trap of a dead end job in a grocery store. Flick on the other hand, seems resigned to living on the memories of past achievements. At Mae's Luncheonette, he:
seldom says a word to Mae, just nods / Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers / Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.