Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Second Job

When I turned sixteen, I qualified for the two rights of passage I yearned for: a driver’s permit and a real job. The desire to learn how to drive, I understand. But why I was in such a hurry to join the ranks of the working stiffs, I can only ponder. I suppose my main interest was getting out of the house and out of my dad’s way. I constantly rankled him, and he was pretty much pissed off at me for about seven years or so. So, a part-time job that occupied the hours of 6-10 pm sounded pretty choice (this was the late seventies, you know).

I applied for a job at only one place, in the grocery industry—the other traditional career route in my family (the first being the newspaper industry). My dad, you see, was a grocer for the first twenty-something years of his adult-type married life, and a butcher for the remainder of his working days. My older brothers and sisters helped out around his small neighborhood grocery store, the one a few miles from our house that Dad opened after his first store, a block from our house, burned to the ground one horrible night. It was the first time I ever saw Mom cry one of my older sisters remembers. I was a year old. By the time I was old enough to help bag apples (how do you think they got into the bags?) or sweep the warped oak floors, Dad decided that the larger chain stores were a real threat to the neighborhood stores—and he converted his into a Laundromat. Smart guy, my dad.

But this is about me. I’m sixteen, and I’m ready for my first interview at Tops Friendly Market. I meet the small, eyeglassed and balding manager in his tiny, dark little domain of power behind the cash office. I’m extremely nervous, and figure I have a snowball’s chance in hell of being hired to be a real grocery store cashier (low self-worth, anyone?). But the manager is impressed by my work history. He is even more impressed by my personal reference: Mr. B., our next-door-neighbor and all-around good citizen, who was a bank manager back in the day when they wore suits, topcoats, and hats to work every day, and were held in the highest esteem. (Side note: I was happy to visit Mr. B. just last November. He is eighty-nine.)

I was hired and started my career. I remember my first day of training, when the front-end manager introduced me to the expression, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” I spent days wondering what she really meant by that. But she was a toughie, no doubt about it. She scared me, and I stayed out of her way. With a little practice, I soon became a very good cashier. No scanning bar codes back then, oh no. We had to read the price and punch in the numbers, attributing each item to meat, produce, frozen foods, or miscellaneous as we went. I was a veritable machine, grabbing item after item from the cart, placing it on the conveyor belt with one hand, while accurately punching in numbers with the other. Fast as lighting. I was that good. My failure as a paper girl was soon a distant memory.

Tops Friendly Market was an odd little segment of society. Aside from the wide variety of personality types in our customers, the people who worked there were a little different than I had encountered in my sheltered world. They were a little more crass, a little more permed, teased, sprayed and Camaro driving than I was used to. I liked them. Once I felt comfortable, I wandered to the break room to chat with the other women, usually older than me and much more aware of the world. I started bumming a cigarette here and there, to fit in, to have something to do on break. I started making friends among the red polyester smocked and vested community; even took on a van-driving boyfriend, much to the horror of my parents. He was a real loser, but I thought he was pretty much the best I could do. The jocks weren’t lining up outside the door, you know?

I used to go out after work with a guy named Troy. He was cute and I had a real crush on him. We’d get some beer after work, and sit in his car, drinking and listening to Lynard Skynard. We’d flirt some and make out, even though he had a girlfriend. I was one of those girls, apparently. I was in his car one night, in front of my house as he was dropping me off, when the radio announcer told the world that John Lennon was dead. That’s why I remember Troy.

Back at Tops Friendly Market, I eventually ended up switching to the produce department. It was more solitary work, interacting with the iceberg and parsley instead of the drunks and yuppies. I had time to think, and hum, while I was making piles of oranges and weighing bags of broccoli crowns. I was usually the only one in the department in the evenings. All alone and isolated from the rest of the store.

All that stretching, reaching for the top of the apple display. Plenty of bending over, sweeping up the celery fronds. The quiet nights when very few customers would wander through the department. Ample opportunity for a predator, otherwise known as the store security guard, (you know, someone to be TRUSTED) to graze a bustline or a hip, and to say the inappropriate things that only confused a young woman into wondering if she should be flattered—or frightened. And so she said nothing at all.

That was my second job. And my first experience with sexual harassment. Little did I know how many more were to come.
Tops logo is a registered trademark of Tops Markets.


Jan said...

Great re-telling. Wow, I cant't remember my "first". It's good to have a poor memory.

Mrs. G. said...

Boy, this brings back some memories of freedom and practicing to be an adult and weird work relationships and inappropriate creeps. When I think of some of the comments and attitudes I enountered during my teens and early twenties, I shudder. I can't believe some of the bullshit young me put up with, but who was there to tell? Great post.

Jo said...

My first job, also at sixteen, was as a telemarketer--I know, I was that young! I was awful at it; I would just end up talking to prospects all about life and such, something I was told over and over again NOT to do. I soon changed jobs! You have to do so much to realize what you don't want to do.

Anonymous said...

Great post Claire :)

one of those girls, lol, you hussy you ;)

Queeny said...

Being harassed by a security guard had to be scary. Great post! Riveting even. Hope there's more to come.

By the way, thanks for your comments on my post. You know the one.

Claire B. said...

Jan, you have many interesting job stories on your blog! Funny that we're on the same track. . .

Mrs. G., I'm with you. I was such a dumbass that I didn't handle anything well. Didn't know what to do so didn't do squat.

Jo, I can actually picture you asking people about their kids and dogs and kittens! I once had a sales job (story to come, it's a doozy) and I made good friends with my customers.

Hay, I was a hussy but I had fun! Actually, maybe I'm still a hussy at heart. :-0

And queeny, that security guard left such a frightening impression that I still remember exactly what he looked like, down to his forest green windbreaker. And you are such a gracious person to thank me for opening my pie hole once again! I love reading your blog.

Nora Bee said...

I loved reading this. Reminds me of my first job as a hostess at Friendly's restaurant, wondering if I would "make the cut" and get hired, sexual harassment, and all.

Anonymous said...

Great post, and interesting all the comments. I remember a very odd instance of sexual harassment during an interview with Domino's pizza. I had just graduated college and needed some money while I was looking for my career job. Luckily, I found that before I had to deliver pizzas for that lecher. You would think that I would have had some skill at handling creeps by then, but I was still pretty naive. I am generally, "sunshine and rainbows," but not as naive as I used to be, and also not afraid to be a bitch to keep the undesirables at bay. I hope girls today are learning it's okay to not always, "be nice."