Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Do you want fries with that?

It's a tough thing to work a job you hate. I've had a few part-time gigs in the past that were simply horrific, including a few that I couldn't even manage for more than a few weeks. Sometimes it's the work itself, sometimes the coworkers, and sometimes the place is too depressing or awful to bear, but Hudson: there will be a time in your life (maybe more than one) when you just need to cut and run. It's okay. We all do it. The important thing is knowing that it's okay to leave - in fact, it's necessary sometimes.

My first awful job (my first not at summer camp or "my parents got this job for me" job) was really not all that bad but for the fact that I was a vegetarian at the time and therefore completely incapable of handling all the bloody meat. The kosher grocery store up the street from my parents house was one of the only places to get kosher meat locally, and had a selection and reputation so excellent that Jews from several adjacent states flocked there to stock their freezers. Granted, it was good meat...especially the turkeys and rotisserie chickens...but for a store that specialized in a highly perishable product prone to leaking, oozing, and otherwise exuding blood and salmonella-prone goo, they did a crap job with packaging. The conveyer belts at the registers were constantly wet, either from some kind of meat juice or the sanitizer that was perpetually being wiped over them in a feeble attempt to maintain kosher standards. As a stalwart vegetarian - the kind who got really grossed out watching people eat meat, and the kind who was prone to acts of polite uppity rebellion - I lasted in this job for a full three days before I decided that I was just not meant to slap leaky brisket into Mrs. Rosenberg's crusty reusable grocery tote.

The second awful job was really not THAT bad...kind of...assuming you like sitting at desks and not being able to read things. I worked as an "office assistant" at my parents' synagogue, which primarily consisted of attempting to read mailed-in census forms filled out by the thousand plus members of the congregation (most of whom were really, really old, and many of whom read and/or wrote only broken English) and input the information into a circa 1994 computer database. Basically, I sat at an uncomfortable desk in a windowless office space and politely ignored the fact that Mr. Seymon Burstyn (I can't make this shit up) apparently thought that his household attended synagogue "Connecticut" times a year. I lasted about a month before my teenage wanderlust got the better of me, and I chose to spend the rest of my summer reading pretentious literature and making up goofy songs with my best friend. The next summer, I got a job at Starbucks and loved it.

College jobs are by their very nature awful, though there is a gradient of awful ranging from "hideously and unspeakably" to "hilariously and playfully." On the pleasant end of the spectrum was working at my college admissions office, which I actually kind of loved despite the scorching heat, occasional injuries caused by walking into things backwards, and inevitable moronic questions from families that thought they were at a different college altogether. On the "sweet mother of god, why am I still doing this and why do I continue to do it?" end of the spectrum was the tea shop. At first glance, it looked like I would be waiting tables at a classy, CIA (and that's the Culinary Institute of America, mind you) chef-owned restaurant. After my first night - a special catered dinner for some froofy club for fine dining enthusiasts that yielded me a roughly $150 tip - I was sure I'd found myself a cash cow, complete with gourmet staff dinners. The next day, I was handed a frilly apron, chastised for not wearing black heels to work, and had to wait on all twelve tables of cranky tourists entirely by myself because they did not currently have another waitress on staff. By the end of the month, I had been screamed at by the chef three times, yelled at by a customer twice, had three tables walk out on me without paying, and broken several hundred dollars of Royal Kent Staffordshire bone china (their standard serving ware). After the owner threatened to fire me if I didn't work extra hours polishing silver and not earning tips past my $4 an hour base pay, I pocketed several plastic containers of in-house made clotted cream and stopped showing up.

Incidentally, during college I also worked at a quite fun, casual coffee shop/cafe, waited tables for a whole evening at a fairly avant-garde fusion restaurant, and almost got trained to work at a Nazi-state-esque "family dining experience" that boasted a twenty page menu before their pep talk about "always focusing on appearances" just tweaked me out so much that I opted never to come back. I also spent a summer working at the "information desk" in the campus center, which was basically an $8 an hour position entirely focused on calling security to call the campus center when it closed and referring anyone who called the desk phone to the appropriate other office on campus that could actually give them information. (I loved that job.)

After college came a string of moderately silly jobs. I worked at a coffee shop in a touristy beach town that only netted about $50 a day, mostly in sales of water bottles to those French Canadian families who wandered further from the beach than they thought they had. That lasted about a month and a half before I actually got so bored of sitting and reading for eight hours a day (I could have a book but not a laptop or notebook, so no writing) that I had to quit. I worked at a now-defunct bookstore chain, and generally had a lot of fun there until they started trying to make us sell books and non-book product. I quit after being offered a $.09 an hour raise after a year of almost full time hours, and four years later, the chain shut down. Coincidence?

Looking for a little extra cash to support my rent-paying habit, I soon got the silliest job of all silly jobs. I was hired to work on commission selling...wait for it...fancy crystal figurines and costume jewelry. Yes. It was a whole store filled with hundred and thousand dollar crystal animals, flowers, tiaras, ornaments, pins, earrings, heavy machinery (there was a tractor), necklaces, and most memorably, fruit. I actually sold a $5000 crystal pineapple once, but the poor sucker who bought it came back not an hour later to return it. How I didn't ask for an explanation I'll never know; I guess I prefer to imagine his reasoning. Put simply, I could potentially be good at sales, but who the hell can convince anyone to spend upwards of a hundred dollars on a crystal raccoon that they didn't come into the store planning to buy already? Maybe I just wasn't trying hard enough, or maybe I was entirely justified in quitting after my fifth straight month of not meeting quota.

Then came the doozy, the until-now worst of the worst. I somehow thought it would be a good idea to work at Build-A-Bear Workshop. First off, I had to wear khaki pants and completely white shoes. I think I spent more money on my clothes for this gig than I made in the first few weeks, and did I ever re-wear either? Methinks not. Second, I had to pretend to be REALLY excited about clothes and accessories for stuffed animals that cost about as much as my own did. Third, and perhaps most embarrassing, I had to guide children, gushy grandparents, giggly teenagers, and the occasional blushing dude getting a present for his lady through the "ritual" of stuffing their animal. I think I've repressed the details, but it involved forcing them to kiss a little silk heart, then ramming a giant metal tube up the butt of the creepily deflated animal they were "building" until it was filled with polyester fluff that I swear I still sometimes find clinging to my clothes. Creepier still was the fact that the fluff (which came in giant bales that we tore apart with gardening tools in the back room) was prominently displayed in a giant clear plexiglass tumbler. There was a giant clear box of bear guts just sitting in the middle of the store. How is that not terrifying? They also insisted on putting the word "bear" in front of or in everything, like "Bear-vitations" or "Beary Special Friends." This was offensive enough, but when it was made mandatory to create and maintain a character in the online Bear interactive universe (Bearniverse?), I decided that I had better things to do than play WoW for tweens. You know...like, anything.

After that I was a substitute teacher, which I actually mostly enjoyed save the one time I got sent to a middle school and a kid actually tried to light the room on fire (thankfully, your Dad was subbing in the same school that day, and we were able to curtail the potential chaos). Then grad school happened. Then the real world! Whatever that means! I got a job teaching English classes that I loved at a school that I loved, but it was a one-year contract. After the year was almost up, I was told that the job was going to become permanent as long as I jumped through all the procedural hoops of applying, interviewing, etc...and then they hired someone with more experience instead of me and broke my heart.

I scrambled. I interviewed for a dozen teaching jobs towards which I was mostly ambivalent, was a finalist for one that I would have adored at a private school I would LOVE to send you to if money allows, and was ultimately offered a position at a school I truly had no opinion about whatsoever. I had a friend who liked working there, but it was another one-year position and I was wary. The day after I accepted that, with resignation, I was offered an interview at a school about which I was genuinely excited. I hadn't signed a contract in the other district, so after interviewing and getting a job offer that same day at a school that sounded legitimately awesome, I opted to smear my own name by breaking a previous verbal contract. To date, that has yet to bite me in the ass, but I ultimately made a totally shit call.

The "awesome" job at the "awesome" school turned out to be something that I am literally willing to pay to leave. The long and short of it is that I drove almost an hour each way (admittedly with a thoroughly, genuinely awesome friend as my carpool buddy) to work in a school that...well, for the sake of politics, let's just say that there is a lot of work to be done, and a number of people who work there probably oughtn't. A few exceptional teachers and administrators have helped me stay sane, and a few fairly nasty individuals have made it easy to want to leave. When I got pregnant with you, I was midway through a seventh to eighth grade loop with kids I truly loved, so rather than leave them (and start at a new school four months away from popping out a baby) I opted to stay for at least their full two years. Obviously, I was away from work a lot longer than I had initially planned, and had to borrow as-yet-unearned sick days from the district in order to cover our time in Boston. What a double-edged sword. I was generously granted an opportunity to take the time I needed, but at the cost of selling myself into indentured servitude at the hands of disorganized and generally helpless masters.

Then my old job was posted as open and accepting applications. Exactly my old job. I spent three days flipping out over whether or not to apply, then realized that not applying was about the stupidest thing I could do. I am not selling crystal tiaras to high school princesses (or their adoring boyfriends, which was actually incredibly sweet the two times it happened), and I am not scraping old scone crumbs out of tea cups that cost more than my car insurance premiums. I am not falling backwards up a flight of marble stairs, and I am not whimpering in the shower as I try to scrub away the ghost of chicken skin from under my fingernails. Even still, I was working in a job that I both want and need to leave, so I spent a week obsessing over the wording of my application materials, had most of your aunts and uncles in Massachusetts edit them for me, had current coworkers and administrators write me some truly touching letters of reference, and dropped my application off at the district central office with you in tow (because seriously: who doesn't remember the applicant with the adorable baby?). Hudson, someday I'll tell you that you were there when I applied for what I hope will become one of my favorite jobs of all time. Hopefully you'll remember me going to this job, and even more important, you'll remember me coming home in the afternoons (hopefully happy). Ultimately, it's just as important to keep a job that fits as it is to leave one that doesn't.

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