By Jim Malone
This post was written on October 16, 2016
In the neighbourhood I grew up in it was common to get a part-time job as early as the age of 14. It was actually common throughout my home country and many parents forced their kids to do it, typically middle-class families. Rich kids don’t have to. I started a humiliating career of part time jobs in the 9th grade, but they provided great lessons and motivations that would shape my future world future.
The first job was at McDonald’s. I was useless. I think the hiring manager must have known that, for it was only when my girlfriend’s sister intervened did he give me a job. I was always put on the meat or frying station. They once tried me in the front but realized my cold demeanour did not make me suitable for customer service. So they hid me in the back.
The only memory that has stayed with me from that job was what a 40-something year old manager said to me one day when I was on the fry station. I was going through the monotonous task of making French fries, grabbing the rack from the fryer and then dumping them under the heat lamp where I would salt them. The manager came over quickly and yelled at me. “Malone! You’re doing it all wrong. Here, give me this!”. He proceeded to grab the fries from the fry rack and dump them under the heat lamp. “Here, it’s like this! You salt the fries by making the golden arches”. He began to salt the fries by drawing an invisible M, known as the golden arches, the emblem of this empire that paid me enough money to buy a slurpee and a bag of chips every day in the summer. I remember just looking at him and thinking “I don’t want to be you when I get older”.
Next up was a job in the kitchen at a cult of a chain in Canada, known as Earl’s Restaurants. Everyone in the kitchen starts out as a dishwasher, but then they quickly move to the front of the kitchen to cook and prepare food. For six months, they kept me in the back as the dishwasher. It was obvious they didn’t like me, and I didn’t like them. After one shift I was told I didn’t have enough “Earlitude”, a cute term that meant an overbearing and perpetual state of phony positivity. Think “Brian”, the dork in the restaurant with the countless buttons of flair from the movie “Office Space”. They also said I wasn’t working enough, but these shifts go from 6pm until 1 or 2am on school nights. I reminded them I was only in the job to help pay my tuition for University in the future, which was my priority. They told me that “Earl’s” wanted to help pay for my University, but I needed to show more commitment. This place was most certainly a cult.
I remember seeing dozens of Brian’s work in the front house (the serving part of the restaurant) come to the kitchen to dump their dirty cutlery and enthusiastically ask how my day was. “How the fuck do you think my day is going? I’m cleaning dishes for $7 an hour?”. Morons.
Eventually push came to shove and one week I noticed I had been taken off the schedule to work my usual Saturday night shift. I prepared to party that evening but received a call from the restaurant asking me why I wasn’t there. I refused to come in. It would seem that they set me up and changed the schedule late in the week when they knew I wouldn’t be in to review it. A week later they made me work my entire shift until 2am on a Saturday. Then this douchebag named Darcy asked to speak with me before I left.
He sat me down and told me that they were letting me go because of my bad attitude and lack of commitment. They were quite right about that, but how can you expect a 16-year-old to be devoted to the restaurant that pays him $7 an hour? It was a cult, you were either consumed by it or repulsed by it. I remember thinking “I definitely don’t want to grow up to be this midget with a Napoleon complex that makes his career working as a chef in a fucking chain restaurant that he thinks is on par with Michelin starred establishments”.
My resentment began to grow for these so-called “part time jobs”. In my final years of high school and the start of University I got a job as a cashier (yes, believe it or not, I managed to fool someone into thinking I had people skills). Only this store was the giant chain “The REAL Canadian Superstore”, because by REAL they meant we cater to people of all cultures. This was one of the only grocery chains that carried exotic foods such as Salted Duck Eggs (note: if one of these every break and you are in the vicinity, evacuate immediately. It is worse than a stink bomb in a sewer!).
I needed the money and couldn’t afford to quit or give them any reason to fire me. So I grinned and bared it for an painful three years that I wish I could forget. This store was located in my neighbourhood, which was very ethnic. So it quickly made me a cynic for all of humanity. There was the white trash that would count their money and pay in coins, which they kept in Ziploc bags. There was the Ismailis, who are known to count their penny’s, that would painstakingly debate me on prices for at least one item every time they came through. I began to even recognize repeat customers that were more apt to argue prices with me. I would get a sick feeling in my stomach anytime I saw them in line. The asian parents of kids I went to school with, as sweet as they are, would also debate me on prices over products I didn’t even know were edible. I never knew some Europeans ate such obscure food as well, often of an odour that was foul and unpleasant. The angry racist white people who thought (because I was white) they could just share with me their disgust for the patrons of this grocery chain, yet they would return to the store again, and again, and again. Oh yes, three years of this. All types.
The cashier turmoil was the one job I learned to just push through. It was probably one of the more unpleasant jobs any student could take on, because the people were so awful when they grocery shop. Who enjoys grocery shopping? I always thought people were idiots, but now I had daily proof of this. Some people were pleasant. I remember the lady watching me speedily scan her groceries with her head moving like she was watching a high-speed tennis match. She said to me “you should be on David Letterman or something”. It turns out, that is the highest praise I have ever received in any job – to this day.
Then we hired this manager named Trevor. I was warned about this guy. He was a little go-getter, which is sad when you think that we are talking about The Real Canadian Superstore. Fuck me. Anyways, I learned to just put up with his bullshit. One experience stuck out in my mind however. I received a call at my till from him one day.
“Malone. You see the old guy in the glasses in your line? He’s the regional director for this company. Make sure you are pleasant and do not make any mistakes on his grocery order”.
Oh puke, I thought. Trevor runs over to greet this man as I put through his orders. It was the first time I became witness to the phenomenon known as “brown nosing”. The guy didn’t seem to care much for Trevor, but Trevor had a look in his eye as if he was speaking to a Victoria’s Secret model. I was disgusted. I remember thinking “I definitely don’t want to be this pathetic little worm.”
The cashier job did show that I could persevere. It also permanently ingrained in my memory the universal product codes (UPC) for various produce. It came in handy years later when a girl was struggling to remember the UPC for some macintosh apples that I was buying. I looked at her and said “4-1-5-3”. She entered it in and looked at me in amazement. I still know many of them: bananas? 4011. Green pepper? 4065. Sad.
All of this taught me that I needed to complete University so I could have a decent job that didn’t make suicide a viable alternative. I got in to the business program and took part in the co-operative education system that would give me work experience in various jobs in business for a year. I thought I would finally enjoy work. I was wrong.
In my last year, I had a light class schedule and was working part-time with one of the company’s I got a Co-op stint with, the mighty Enron. Before I get to the Enron part, I decided to make some money on the side as a server in another restaurant chain known as Red Robin. Given my love for customer service, it was insane thinking on my part.
I was a terrible server. I hated faking being polite to people for no reason. They used to make us pour iced crantinis out of the shaker in to the customer’s glass to set the “ambiance”, as they described it. I thought it was ridiculous. This is essentially a burger chain after all. Anyways, on Valentine’s day it was inevitable that I would get a couple that would request this drink. I took a deep breath and did my best to pour it without calling them a couple of idiots that should look for romance somewhere else. It must have been me channeling my rage as I failed to hold the top of the shaker and out poured a bright red alcoholic beverage all over the girl’s lap. Luckily I knew the guy so everyone was able to just laugh it off.
It wasn’t long after that I failed miserably again. A friend was serving a large table and asked for my help. I came over and he put a jug of water on my tray and said, “here, hold this”. I was about as uncoordinated on a tray as can be. The jug just flopped over and the entire contents spilled all over a woman’s head. Unbelievably, she just laughed.
The last straw was when I threw out a group of napkins that I had used to wipe a counter with. The manager, who also didn’t like me, came over and scolded me. “Malone! Do you know how much those cost?”
“No sir, I do not”, I replied. He says, “(some meaningless number) cents each and I have seen you throw out at least $5 worth over the past couple shifts. That eats into our margins!”.
I guess I can see where he is coming, but I do not want to be this micro-managing, good for nothing, douchebag, ever.
I quit the serving job and stuck to my part-time gig at Enron, hoping they would have a normal job for me when I was done school in four months. I was speaking with people in Kansas City about a job and it looked promising. Then September 11th happened. Then the fallout of Enron began shortly thereafter. I was hearing silence from Kansas City.
Suddenly I began to get a real education about the workplace, one on a whole entirely different scale and variety. Before the collapse of the company, all of the propaganda continued and all of the good little soldiers continued buying up Enron stock, even as things looked increasingly dire. Everyone would get excited and cheer after town hall sessions put up on the big screen, sessions hosted by the good ol’ boys Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. These were meant to alleviate the fears of staff. The cult mentality was alive and well, even in this behemoth of an organisation with seemingly well-educated people. Nobody could believe it would all end. But it did, in disaster.
My last memory of that place was on t-day, termination day. As I watched people walk out of the Houston office on television, boxes in hands and shoulders hunched forward, I was watching the same thing happen in our office. One by one each employee walked in to a boss’ office and came out either sobbing or stone-faced. Sobbing meant they were done, stone-faced meant they would stay on with “new-co”, in whatever form that would take. I was obviously not a part of this since I was a student and on contract. There would be no Kansas City and I was happy about that.
The experience at Enron was a highly insightful experience for my young mind and taken in to consideration with the entirely of my part-time work experience, it would make me a cynic forever.
I didn’t have an idiot boss that bothered me at Enron, and because of that I now saw the big picture. Whether you like your boss or not, I did not want to be any of these people. There is no loyalty from a company, whether you are a brown-nosing manager striving to make it to the top or a lowly accounts payable clerk, you are expendable. These companies try to get you to give them absolute loyalty, whether it is a shitty restaurant chain that thinks it is on par with the world’s finest restaurants, or a company that was once recognized as one of the world’s best companies. I knew from my last day at Enron going forward that I did not want to be one of these brain washed zombies and I will do whatever it takes to maintain some independence and control over the decisions in my life, before a company takes that control away from me.
The memories of those experiences remain, but I have still not fully taken my own advice to this very day. I still work for somebody when I don’t want to and that is a hellish existence.