I think a lot about the jobs people do and how they ended up there, just one of my many quirks being a people watcher. When I was in the mall the other day I saw this girl working at one of those “turn gold into cash” kiosks that takes all your gold and gives you a pittance for it. She was sitting there on a stool reading a book. Blonde hair. Nose ring. Angular face. The book she was reading was in another language, possibly Russian. I would say she was no more than 25 years old. And I thought about why she was working at that kiosk, how she even found out about the job, and what it would pay to do something like that. I almost walked over and asked her those questions, but she was working, even though no one else was approaching her kiosk. That’s just how my mind works, and I do that same thing many times during any day. Then I started thinking about what people see when they look at me when I’m working. Do they wonder those same things about me, or do they just go on about their day oblivious to the curious stories they might be missing out on?
When I first moved here 11 years ago I needed a job in the worst way. I hadn’t yet finished my undergraduate degree, and I was having to stay with my girlfriend’s mother for at least the first month while I found that job so that I could support myself. That first week up here I was scouring every single ad for jobs in all the local papers, placing phone calls for interviews, and even visiting a staffing solutions company, yet nothing seemed to pan out. The staffing solutions company had nothing that fit my qualifications, and because I was going to be going back to school in the fall (I moved here in late May), my hours were a difficulty to get past. That’s why I didn’t get that job at the prison, and why even though I was able to get a writing job for a computer company it was royalty dependent, so in essence I didn’t even get paid for that job until the software was released along with my companion writing piece. It was beyond frustrating. I even thought about selling encyclopedias door to door, but bailed at the last minute.
Finally, when I had been here a month and a half I knew I just needed a job, any job, even if it didn’t suit my skill set or what I wanted to do for a career. I just needed to make money to support myself and to get out of my girlfriend’s mother’s house. So, I accepted her offer to apply for a job where she worked, despite my apprehensions about working at her job. I had no other choice, I decided, so I applied one week, and the next week I was going in for orientation. The job was at a grocery store called P&C, in Herkimer, and I will readily admit at the time that I thought it was beneath me, even though I had no degree and I had nothing else. I went into it with a bit of a chip on my shoulder that was instantly knocked off by my new manager. He was very down to earth, and obviously smart, and he slapped me on the back that first day and told me he knew this was a job for me and not a career, but that I should enjoy myself and do a good job anyway. Then he told me I would be working in the deli.
Um, well, uh… If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll know that I’ve been a vegetarian since the womb. In fact, to that point I had never even touched meat, so a job in the deli was going to prove a wee bit difficult and challenging, to say the least. I found that out right away. You see, I didn’t even know what the different types of meat looked like, so I had to rely a lot on the customers and my fellow workers to help me identify the meat I needed to slice for each person. The good news is that since I was a vegetarian I was very careful about the slicers and not getting any of the meat mixed up with the cheese that we also sliced on those machines. I cleaned each slicer meticulously after cutting meat and before cutting cheese, or vice versa.
Tuesdays quickly became known as Senior Rush because senior citizens got a five percent discount at P&C on Tuesdays, so from the moment we opened our doors they were there. In fact, they were waiting outside in the parking lot and at the front door when I arrived for work at 7:45. By the time the doors opened at 8:00 I had to be at my station in order to field those requests, and then have the seniors help me figure out what meat they wanted. One thing I couldn’t stand was when they came in and said some type of meat I hadn’t yet cut because it exposed me for the fraud I was. I definitely wasn’t a deli man, but I made up for it with my attitude. See, I took my manager seriously and his attitude was infectious. I smiled at everyone because I was genuinely happy to just have a job. Any job. And the customers raved about the kind of service I gave them, even though my knowledge of meat was noticeably shoddy. Er, nonexistent even.
And that thing about working with my girlfriend’s mother turned out not to be such a big deal after all. In fact, it kind of worked in my favor because she saw me working hard, identifying with customers, and just being a good worker, and I think it changed her opinion of me in a positive way. At least I hope it did, because she eventually became my mother-in-law, and I’d like to think she knows I’m a hard worker. But as much as I worked hard and did everything I was asked, there was just something about working with meat, having to be around it all the time that turned me off, and I was still making minimum wage. I needed a job where I could make more and have incentives as well, so when Target put up its banners and said they were putting in a store at the mall, I jumped at it. And the rest is history. But for that two months I was a deli king, or at least a deli serf, or something. I’ll never forget it.