My fingers are red and swollen. My eyes sting. I can’t feel my feet. Needless to say, it is cold. I am walking to my job in the swirling abyss of angry consumerism--retail. It is December, and under any normal circumstances I would not be on foot, but my van has broken down for the 500th time this year, and I can’t miss any more work. They will fire me, I have been assured, and as I am an easily replaceable wage slave, I believe them.
I took this job nearly a year ago, back when I had high hopes of achieving some sort of financial stability for my family. My case worker at the public aid office was hounding me constantly: “Why don’t you have any income yet? You have all these children and you expect the state to pay for them, but it isn’t going to last forever.” She was right. I couldn’t rely on the state to raise my babies. Anyway, I had my pride.
Pride. Ha. I think I left that a few miles back when I slipped on the ice and gracefully busted my ass on the pavement.
I hate my job. I hate the people I work for. I hate the people I serve. Rude, mean, selfish, condescending…I used to be something special. Back when my whole life was ahead of me, people said I was gifted, meant for something bigger than my tiny hometown could ever offer. I had a chance to get out. But I didn’t.
I thought that my talents would carry me through life, that I would be somehow discovered and whisked away to a life of ease and fabulousness. I quit college, even though I had a full scholarship, because I thought it was a waste of my time. I already knew all of the tricks and I was better than all of it. The best even. Man, confidence is something I never thought I would have to miss.
I wish I had some of that ol’ confidence now. But I don’t. I work for a living, if you can call it that. I’m not really sure what I’m working for anymore. The state didn’t want to raise my kids. Fair enough. So I got the job like they wanted. They repaid me by cutting my food stamps, so every dollar I bring in is now spent on the food I used to get for free. Yeah, I’m contributing to society, I guess. I don’t really get it. I just know that I miss my kids, I miss writing…I miss being myself. When I got hired, they told me to leave my problems and issues at the door. That work was no place for drama, and the customers should be my only concern. Greet everyone with a smile, no matter how you are feeling. Great advice from the corporate office, who haven’t dealt with actual human beings since…well…hmmm. If they had any idea how terrible some of the people I have to smile at were, they probably still wouldn’t care. Those are the profits; the sale is what matters.
Not that I see any of that money. I stock their shelves, I answer questions, I run the register and bag the purchases, I tell everyone to have a swell day. But no raise for me. That comes semi-annually, whether I earn it or not, and it’s the same amount for everyone that works there: $0.50 more an hour. Soon I might make 8 whole bucks. I am giddy with delight.
I’m almost there now. I have trudged 5 miles from my little house in the country into town. I think I may die. But I can see the store. I’m ready. I can do this.
“You’re late,” is the greeting I get. I am, almost ten minutes. How did they run the place for ten whole minutes without me? I can’t even imagine. Thank goodness I arrived when I did, or the entire thing may have fallen apart.
“We are gonna have to write you up for this, you know. Company policy.”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” I puff.
“This is your third time, Shanon. Corporate is going to want a meeting. I can’t promise it will go well.”
“Do you think they’ll fire me over ten minutes? I mean, I walked here. The van isn’t running again.”
“You should have called then.”
“I tried. You don’t answer before the store opens. Company policy.”
“I know what the company policy is, Shanon. But you could have given us some notice.”
“Notice? That my car wasn’t going to work this morning? I wish I would have gotten some notice, too. I can’t really control these things.”
“Well, you should have tried.”
“I did try. We just covered that.”
“Try harder next time. You’re close to being fired.”
“Did you hear the part where I said I walked here? In the ice? That’s dedication, I think.”
“Don’t push your luck. You are new and I don’t want to see you lose this job over something silly.”
“Like being ten minutes late because I had to walk here?”
“No, like being insubordinate when you have been offered another chance.”
“Insubordinate? Really? I thought I was explaining myself.”
“You’ll get a chance to do that at your meeting.”
“Ah yes, the meeting. How about we just forego that little venture?”
“Can’t do that. It’s policy.”
“I know a loophole.”
And for the first time in a year, I really, truly smile.