In addition to making the posterior portion of my anatomy really, really sore, work has also taught me many valuable lessons.
My first job was a very short one. After two days of being a go-fer at a car dealership, I was informed by the service manager after showing up for day number three that I had been hired without the knowledge and/or consent of the owner and had to be let go.
It wouldn’t be the last time.
Lesson: Like water, blame only flows in one direction—downstream.
A few weeks later, I was hired for a similar job at another dealership. I worked six days a week—3 PM to 9 PM Monday through Friday and all day Saturday (even after my senior year of high school started). After five months of faithful service I was let go when the dealership found someone who could come in an hour earlier than I could.
It hurt, but at least I got the last laugh. My replacement attended the same high school I did, and I knew him to be an irresponsible fuck-up. Sure enough, a few weeks later the same man who fired me was on the phone asking if I was working.
Lesson: Like you, your employer is always looking for something better. Take nothing for granted.
While a freshman in college, I worked as a stock boy in the china department of Marshall Field’s. I got along famously with the department manager, her assistant and the floor manager. I didn’t mind work a bit. In fact, it was rare it felt like work.
But however sweet it seemed, it was after all, a workplace. A workplace rife with all the jealousies, conflicts and grudges that workplaces have. And the perception that the china department had its own stock boy because the department manager was in a relationship with the floor manager ran deep.
And while the store was air conditioned, precious little of it made its way into the stockroom. As a result, hours spent heaving sixty-pound boxes of china onto stockroom shelves made me rather warm. To cool off, I would remove my stock jacket when I went to lunch.
Somehow, the store manager got wind of it (it certainly wasn’t because we dined at the same places). I protested, saying the stockroom was hot and I needed a breather. Besides, I wasn’t being paid for lunch. What business was it of theirs what I wore?
I even took to walking outside the mall—all to no avail. After a heated meeting with the floor manager, I resigned myself to wearing the bloody jacket.
Lesson: There is always someone looking to undermine you. Watch your back.
I graduated from college in the early-eighties. Like now, the economy wasn’t very good. It especially wasn’t very good if you were an English major. I worked temporary jobs during the day and one of the most-dangerous jobs in America at night.
I worked the graveyard shift at a convenience store.
Oh, the stories I could tell: the woman who arrived in high heels and a men’s white dress shirt. The guy who emerged from the bathroom in his dress shirt and a hard-on, asking if I could “help” him.
The drunks, the thieves, the cops, the cons. There was never a dull moment in the convenience store trade.
I worked every other night. When I wasn’t breaking up fights or kicking out drunks, I was anticipating armed robbery. It happened, but to the other guy.
That was when I got really serious about finding a full-time job.
Unfortunately, that was when the other guy got really serious about finding a full-time job, too. And since he found one before I did and the owner couldn’t find a suitable replacement, I worked thirty-six nights in a row.
Enough was enough.
The owner was making a very nice living from the store. I but an hourly wage—sans benefits. I decided he could assume the risk and work the graveyard shift and gave notice that I would no longer be able to do so. Not one but two nightmen were found.
Lesson: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.