The pangs of first jobs...
My mom has always teased me about my hands. She used to call them "princess" hands because they were never dry, cracked, or bruised. This wasn't because I have really good skin or extra white blood cells - it was because I never did any manual labour of any sort. The full extent of my exertion came from opening pop cans or peeling an orange. Later, my hands began looking mighty crappy, but that was because I was really clumsy and things like windows had a habit of falling on my fingers.
When I hit my teen years, money seemed to matter a whole lot more than before. There was only so much my five-dollar allowance could stretch, even if this was ten years ago and inflation was kinder back then. I needed to (gasp) start working. And I was too old for a paper route.
My mother found me a job at a food court, and very enthusiastically told me to work there. I could see the dollar signs in her eyes, so I agreed. The job was highly unglamorous, often tiring, and paid minimum wage, but I told myself that I had to stay. The Italian couple I worked for was kind enough (we got to take leftover food home, and boy, did I ever), but I could tell the wife didn't like me very much and the husband thought I was a hoodlum. I couldn't stand one of my co-workers, Olga, but she left shortly to pursue other interests. We served Italian food in hot trays, as well as pizza and cappuccino. By the time I left, I had still not managed to learn how to make a good cappuccino. I wasn't allowed to cook either, for obvious reasons, but I was allowed to touch the cash.
The hardest part about working at the food court was missing out on my social life. All of my friends didn't have jobs then, and seeing them make plans without me, and then hearing them talk about them after, pained me. But I did feel a newfound responsibility and satisfaction that comes with work. It also didn't hurt that I had money to spend as I liked. This is where eating out and cabs began to figure greatly into my routine.
The food court closed down, and after six months, I was unemployed again.
One day, for fun, I applied to Loblaws. And I say for fun because I never thought I'd actually work there. But a callback and psychological test later (I seem to take a lot of these things - maybe it's me), I was placed in the Meals to Go/Deli department. Besides the pretty store, this job had nothing else going for it. From the moment I started, I loathed working there. My manager was unbearable (and very small-minded), the pay was mediocre, and the employees were treated like insignificant criminals. And the customers! They were a bunch of insensitive buffoons. Still, the freedom and independence of having my own money outweighed the cons.
Until I lost it one day.
I don't remember the exact day or what the weather was like, but I looked around the store while the ribs were cooking and almost broke down in tears. I didn't want to be there as much as they didn't want me to be there. My apron was full of chicken guts, my face was flushed from the convection oven, and my hair smelled of salami and cooked ham. I was tired of not being heard, tired of customers yelling at me because management was too lazy to change the Sale signs, tired of picking up the slack of my lazier co-workers. I told my unsympathetic employer that I needed some time off, and she agreed. I ran all the way home without looking back.
For such a large store comprised mostly of part-time employees, Loblaws had too many politics. Management was always looking for ways to cut back at the expense of the employees. The union was corrupt, and I suspect a front for the Mafia. Even some of my co-workers were playing the game too hard. There was no person they wouldn't step on to get extra hours or the favouritism of the managers. It was almost like "Survivor," minus the remote location and million-dollar prize. But I must admit, Loblaws opened my eyes to office politics and work ethic, even if it was seldom positive.
After these jobs, I vowed to get out of the food industry. Coming home and smelling like blue cheese, or picking Brie out my fingernails, or putting ointment on my third-degree burns was not my idea of fun. I had a taste of responsibility, and it was time to move on. ¤ C.Ho.
[ Find out what Phan used to do back in the day. Part II of the article. ]