Monday, March 06, 2006
First Day On The Job
I took a part-time job working at a coffee shop in downtown Saint Paul. Some people would think this work beneath me, but I don’t...especially after my first day on the job.
Of course this has to happen the same day I move into Cuilinn House. With all the hassle so far getting into this house, someone on the other side tells me the entry code for the front door leading to what will become my bedroom. On the second floor, I find a sleeping student who apologizes for not responding to either the door or the phone.
First things first. I boot up my laptop, a parting gift from a dot com bubble burst long ago, and find to my relief access to the Internet! It’s not as spotty as I’d feared. In fact I’m accessing the Internet for this post on the first floor, so the RF signal is not bad at all. Next I start moving my stuff from the living room next door to my bedroom. A tenet next door offers to help. I think, Why do I need help moving stuff from one side of a duplex to the other?, but feeling I should take him up on his offer as to not be rude, I answer, “Thank you. That would be very helpful.” However, upon descending the stairs from my first load, I’m wondering why haven’t I passed him? Maybe he feels uncomfortable violating the newly acquired space of my room? I’ll most likely find my belongings at the base of the stairs. No, there’s nothing in the living room. So how is he helping me move? Oh, there they are, my belongings piled on the wet porch between the entryways (it snowed for the first time in weeks). Ah, the get-your-shit-out-of-my-living room-please type of help. “I think that’s about all of it,” he incorrectly assumes. I just don’t even say anything and grab the rest of my stuff. I’m running late as it is.
With everything piled on my twin bed, I examine the bus schedule and realize I have little time to change into boots, much less the cloths I wanted to wear to make a first impression. My roommate and another housemate throw rock-paper-scissor fists at each other to determine who will fairy my late ass to the bus stop. I’m on my way to work. It turns out that if I’d changed my cloths to what I wanted to wear, I’d feel more out of place.
My first day was simply an employee meeting, an introduction to all I’ll be working with, some basic rules that are more common sense than brainstorms, and opinions by the employees on what could be done to better the efficiency of the job. Although being initially overwhelmed by the staff who all of which are half my age, with every passing minute I felt more at ease. I started thinking of how I could contribute to the discussion and found myself blurting out relevant suggestions. When the delicate subject of dealing with the homeless situation in downtown Saint Paul came up, I could smell the discomfort that the boss Harry T. was feeling while searching for an appropriate term to describe them, so I chimed in with, “indigent”. “Indigent, yes thank you Wax,” he responded now at ease. Near the end, I even felt the courage to make technical suggestions for Wi-Fi customers.
I came away feeling a desire to start working immediately tempered with the fact that I might not get as many hours as I’d wished due to a decent proposal from a temp firm that supposed to start me sometime this week. It’s a good feeling when you want to go to work.
But then I got outted. Penny L., a petite spirited youth shared an observation with me. “So, are you in the program?” As luck would have it, I was staring at the iMac surfing the Web when she laid this bombshell on me, otherwise she’d pick up on the involuntary fluctuation of my pupils, an instinctive sign indicating stress for the fib I’m about to lay on her. Trying to appear distracted by the screen, I respond, “What program?” Oh God, she’s onto me. My mind racing trying to recall what it was that I said in the short time that she’s known me that would indicate that I’m an alcoholic. Indigent! It had to be my suggested terminology for the homeless.
But why? Why would she care? Does Harry know? He must’ve. I’m not concerned with my boss knowing that I’m a recovering alcoholic; I assumed he knew something was up from our first phone interview. His attitude is more matter-of-fact: Can you do the job without your character defect getting in the way? A newly divorced middle-aged man seeking employment is not uncommon these days. Everyone deserves a fresh start, I imagine are his thoughts. He felt comfortable hiring me.
But Penny is different. A young, bright, mischievous liberal intent on discovering a character flaw in this new employee that could endanger the delicate ambiance of the café. She could be concerned about physical harm I could inflict. Mind racing, I must immediately assess the situation, decide on a plan of action, a tack to take. What do all red-blooded American males do when confronted with the truth by a female of the opposite sex? Deny, deny, deny!
Okay, you can only run interference long enough to come up with a plan of attack. What do I want? I want to stay anonymous when it comes to the workplace. Revealing I’m an alcoholic freshly in the throws of recovery on my first day of work is not my idea of anonymity. I also do not want to lie. What does she want? Satisfaction. She wants to know whether or not her observation is correct. Her blue eyes, short auburn hair, and trusting smile tell me I should be comfortable admitting my addiction, especially since she thoughtfully chose to query at a time when we were relatively alone. She’s smart. You have to think around her intelligence if you’re to put her question to bed.
“You know, the substance abuse program,” she continues prodding. Youth tends to believe truth is the answer to all problems. My sponsor is a big believer in the truth and says you should be honest with employers and lovers, and everyone. This is not what the Big Book says when it speaks of honesty with one self. “No,” I pertly answer.
“No, you’re not in the program?”
“No,” I stick to my guns trying not to panic.
“So you are in the program?”
“Wait, that’s a double negative.” I woman after my own heart, she argues like me. I feel one side of my mouth curl up in delight. I’m loosing this squabble already. Quick, think faster, chose a topic slightly off subject and engage. With a deep breath, I turn from the monitor to finally stare her straight in the eyes to discuss a slightly detoured subject.
“When living and working in downtown Saint Paul, we find people in various stages of life, from the homeless addict to the stressed out executive,” God your eyes are beautiful, “and we often must choose how best to serve them in our context of both
barista and humanitarian.” Her grin grows as I feed her this line of B.S.: She’s engaged! Don’t loose her before getting back to the subject she initiated or she’ll call you on it. Keep her occupied long enough to decide where you want to go with this line of thought. Yada, yada, yada, “When a man is found panhandling in front of our store, I can either ask him to leave, or give him some money hoping he’ll make the right choice to buy a sandwich instead of a bottle.”
“Or you could offer to take him to lunch,” she suggests. She bought it. It was on sale.
“But that would only make him feel you’re controlling his will. He must make that decision for himself. I can’t help him with his decision.” Now time to come back around to answer her question. “What I’ve found is that a person’s decision to make the right choice must come from within or it simply wont take.”
“That’s true,” she agrees. “Say, have you ever been to the Day By Day?”
“Day By Day? I’ve heard of it,” in a hopefully not too deceiving tone, “but never been there,” not a lie. It’s a sober café, like coffee shops aren’t, but it’s known for doing service work. She’s onto me.
“So, do you know of a market downtown?”, fully changing the subject. I’ve answered her question and softly avoided it at the same time. I considered afterwards whether it would’ve been more appropriate to simply respond, None of your business, but it wouldn’t nearly have the same effect. She was pleasantly curious and I found no danger in her knowing. If she really wants to know for sure, she’ll have to meet me in a closed meeting. Even then, I could choose leave, but probably wouldn’t.
Having successfully skirted the question, I volunteer, “My Father taught me a lot of things. I mean he told me a lot of things, usually things not to do...I’d do them completely out of curiosity. Like when I was five my Dad was working on the car and had pulled the battery; he told me not to touch both posts at the same time: black thumb.”
“You had to learn the hard way.”
“Yah, like what he told me about sex.”
Clearly curious, she asks, “What?”
“Never date a psych-major...”
“Oh definitely not. Their the worst.”
“I did anyway, my first girlfriend in fact…and ten is too young.”
”What?”, she exclaims.
“I was twelve,” I confess.
“Oh, that’s okay then.” Hmmm...makes me wonder at what age she lost her virginity?
“When he told me not to do something, I’d usually do it anyway. What he taught I’d never forget, and usually practice. He taught me not to wear my heart on my sleeve.” It is said.
With retinas locked, she confesses, “I understand.”