Let me preface this blog post by stating that I do not subscribe to antiquated baby-boomer ideology of “Millenials all want to be at the top of the pyramid without putting in the work, bah-humbug”. It’s a line that as a 20-something, I, and a fair few of my friends, have heard more than we would like, so much so that I think its one of the defining factors of our generation; we’re aware of what we’re worth, and we expect to be treated accordingly, much to the chagrin of our aging counterparts. This in mind, I do find that an overwhelming majority of those in my social circle(college-educated young professionals), are, a year or two out of school, finding themselves in jobs that reflect their ability, and hand them the keys to upward mobility.
While this is fantastic, and I salute those of us able to do so, I found working a poorly paying job doing something I hated, helped me learn quite a bit about who I am as a person, albeit not so much on a professional level. Now, the summer of my senior of college was big for me, I had my first apartment(in the same town were I went to school), I was still getting over an ex, so alcohol was playing a big role in my life, and I had my first job that hadn’t come from a summer camp or study program. Things were looking up, until I, ya know, began working.
I was working the deli-counter at the local corner store, glamorous, I know, but it paid my rent(and my bar tab, which was a huge factor in my staying as long as I did). The first warning flag that it wasn’t the most swell thing, were the hours. I was showing up early-afternoon, and I often wasn’t home until just shy of midnight. Now late working hours suck, but are a manageable thing, what got me, were our evening customers.
I went to school in a small town. A very small town. And as anyone who has spent any meaningful amount of time in a small town can attest, they are not the idyllic folksy dreamscape we city-folk tend to make them out to be(or used to before the 2016 election apparently threw the coasts and middle america into a social civil war). In fact, I would say just the opposite is true, these small towns are just as messed up as any big city, but with the smaller population, it is often more glaringly noticeable.
I don’t want to give any wrong impressions here, I loved college, and I loved the town I went to college in, but working late nights at the corner deli, these small town oddities presented themselves to me with disturbing regularity. There was one man who waited outside our store, just to hitchhike down the street, and then hitchhike back. That was all he did, all day. There was another woman who would come in, never buy anything, but hold entire conversations with our cashiers in what I’m pretty sure was not a known language, but rather a string of incoherent syllables punctuated with the occasional knowing nod.
I chased a entirely nude man out from behind our counter with a broom. I was working in back, slicing the days, I dunno, ham I guess? When our cashier, ran back and told me I had a new job, and threw me a broom. Now I remember this story as myself valiantly fighting back a foe, spartan-esque in bravery and poise, but in reality it was likely more me keeping a naked guy at bay while trying to not let his dongle touch me, chanting “ew, ew, ew, ew, ew”.
He kept yelling “My clothes are in the freezer, my clothes are in the freezer!” And while that’s an odd thing to shout, what was stranger was that they were. When I closed up that day, I found a full outfit, shirt, jeans, underwear, socks, jacket, and even boots, frozen to the floor of our walk-in, as if the man inside of them had just, poof, vanished. I’m still recovering from living through that budget episode of The Twilight Zone, cursed to live with the nagging fear that I may find myself naked outside of family owned restaurant trying to spirit my clothes away to safety.
Another gem was any interaction with a woman known only as The Troll. Now this may sound like a mean thing to call someone. Honestly it probably was, but seeing as she never gave her name, and I shit you not, looked identical to the odd little forest creatures from Frozen; the big bee-stung looking nose, brittle straw-like hair, barely standing above 4’11, there weren’t allot of other nicknames springing forth. My coworkers and I were at a loss for any other kind nomenclature with which to refer to her.
Any time she walked in was a hold your breath moment, because this little firecracker might do anything. She would come in and order insane sandwiches, I’m talking “I’ll have pickles, half an onion, no ham, mayo, banana, hard-boiled egg, horseradish, mustard, chili, pizza, coca cola, peaches, jam, cauliflower, a rubber glove, childhood, a jar full pennies, tomato, leather, mushrooms, dog hair, sliiiiiiiiime, onion again, pepperoni, cheese(?), and extra salt on wonderbread”, then not pay for her food after you somehow made her this atrocity, and walk away, seemingly forgetting she had just watched you, with Bobby Fischer like intensity, assemble the dumpster fire that she took her half an hour to order, because she trailed off to go on a tangent about not owning a cat halfway through.
One time, she came in, held out both of palms and complained about having too many dimes, even though she had only buttons in her hands. She did this, without interruption, for two hours.
One of her crowning moments came when she ordered a coffee. Our deli had a small self-service coffee station, the kind you might find in a gas station, and she walked in, and prepared herself a cup. When she went to pay for it however, she found herself a few cents short. The cashier at the time, sensing the tenuous nature of this woman’s grasp on reality, let her leave with her beverage, insisting she not worry about the price.
She took this as licence to take a free coffee whenever she chose, and for a week, came in, poured herself a daily pick-me-up, and left, sans payment. We had all reached the conclusion, that it would be worth it to lose the three cents it cost us to make a cup of coffee, and let it slide. One of our cashiers however, had not gotten the memo.
This cashier, coming back from some time off, was unfamiliar with the unspoken agreement we had reached with this woman, and as she went to leave with her free drink, put forth, “Excuse me miss, but you have to pay for that”. This was, I imagine, startling for the woman, as she, in the style of frightened field mouse, immediately dropped her pants, urinated over as much of the floor as she possibly could, and then promptly left, coffee in hand and a grin on her face.
These stories could be taken simply as a few funny anecdotes about awful customers, at a job I never wanted to have, and if that’s your take away, great, I think that’s actually a pretty okay thing. My overarching point here however, is that doing things we hate, working jobs we deplore, gives us experience at skills we never expected to have. I never wanted to know how to deal with unwanted nude men in the workplace, but now, I’m prepared for that. I know how to appear to be assembling train-wreck sandwiches without wasting ingredients, and deal with the utter nonsense that is the american consumer. I went through some weird shit working at that deli, and I now know that I’m someone who is prepared to deal with some weird shit. That’s a skill I’m proud of, and hey, even if you don’t learn anything new about yourself, I bet ya get a story.