20
Jun
08

My New Life, Part III: Excessive Workload May Lead to Removal from the Honor Roll

*****

This is the last of a three-part series.  Feel free to read part one and part two first.

*****

“So you’re working at Starbucks?” my mom asked.

“No.  No, I am not working at Starbucks,” I replied.  “I am working at a Barnes & Noble Café, which just so happens to sell Starbucks products.  I still get my paycheck from Barnes & Noble, we only accept Barnes & Noble giftcards, so technically, I still work at Barnes & Noble, just a different department of Barnes & Noble.  It just so happens to be a department of Barnes & Noble that very, very much resembles a Starbucks in every possible way.”

There’s a reason that I got to feeling this way, and it started on my second day of work.  I had already begun to think that the idea of working in a coffee shop was a bit humbling, but it was nothing compared to the first conversation I had with Heather, the girl I would work alongside that day.  Heather was a short, bubbly blonde with an exuberant disposition, the exact idea of what you would imagine someone who worked at Starbucks would look like, which is to say, the total opposite of me.

“So, how long have you been working here in the café?” I asked.

“Oh, like only four months, which isn’t really that long, but ever since pretty much everyone left, I sort of, like, have a little seniority, I guess, which is why I stayed.  Also, I like having the discount on books, even though I don’t really have much spare time to read.”

“Oh really?” I said, “Are you going to school for anything right now?”

“Well, not right now, because it’s summer, but I’ll be a senior next year.”

My reaction to this discovery was, in retrospect, lacking in tact.  I believe, if I can recall it with the accurate inflection, my exact words were as follows:

“In HIGH SCHOOL?!?!!!

Heather either didn’t comprehend my shock, or she took it incredibly in stride.  “Yeah, and you know, I had to talk to Janine, the manager, earlier, because they had me working like 40 hours a week during the school year, which was fine, but I seriously had no time to do my homework, and I was getting a C in my Trig class, and that’s really bad for me, ’cause normally I’m really good at math, so they cut my hours back.  But now since it’s summer I’m back to working a lot more, which is good, ’cause I, like, really need the money.”

I think by this point of the conversation I was huddled somewhere near the milk refrigerator in the fetal position, weeping.  It was as though I was staring my pride in the face, and it was babbling back at me about its favorite shopping malls and whether or not it thought it would continue to play volleyball in junior college.

There was nothing particularly wrong with Heather.  She was a very nice girl, and seemed mature for her age, which I’m sure added to my surprise in learning she was, in fact, seventeen.  It was just difficult for me to wrap my brain around the fact that this spunky young thing was, in all respects, my superior, and she didn’t know what it felt like to have to buy her own groceries.  Throughout the day I’d attempt to try and forget she was seventeen, and remind myself to treat her like she was a peer, but it was difficult.  In making small talk, I’d ask her questions and find out her best friend worked at Forever 21 and “totally gets me a discount on anything I want,” or I’d read the note she left for Maggie, which read “there is one soy milk left and we are COMPLETELY out of asiago pretzals.  and chocolate chips.  Heart, Heather”

I really couldn’t blame her.  She was simply acting her age, and I couldn’t ask any more than that from her.  I was more and more discovering that this was a pride issue for me, that it was going to be up to me to find it in myself to be okay with this.

Ashley came in to the café around 3:30 to cover Heather’s lunch break.  I had met her on my first day, when she had shown me a few of the things Barnes & Noble had changed since I had left my older store.  She was my age, and had been working at Barnes & Noble through college, like me, but then just stayed on afterwards when she was given a full time position as a retail lead.  It would be an easy job to manage as she prepared for her wedding, she said, which would be in October.  She was infinitely more easy to talk to than Heather.

“So how’d you end up back at Barnes & Noble?” she asked.

“Well, it’s not a long term thing for me, actually,” I explained.  “I’m planning on substitute teaching in the fall, but my certification hasn’t come through yet, and I needed something to help me pay the bills and keep me busy during the summer, so here I am.”

“But didn’t you say you graduated in 2007?” she asked.  “What have you been doing since then?”

“Well, the past year, as I see it now, was kind of like time off for me,” I said.  “I just had a tremendously boring and generic office job that I got at my school in the graduate education department.  My old school kind of handed out jobs to its graduates like candy, if they wanted them.  But I literally sat at a computer all day long, and some days wouldn’t say a word to anyone.  It was mindless work, which in some ways was good, because it didn’t take anything out of me, but it was just so boring.”

“Yeah, but you probably made twice as much as you make here,” Ashley said.  “I’ve been working here for three years, and I’ve only gone up three dollars an hour from where I started, which was minimum wage.  Sometimes I wish I could find a desk job like that.”

This took me by surprise.  “Sure, I made more money,” I said. “But I didn’t do anything.  I barely spoke to anyone.”

“Are you kidding me?” said Ashley.  “That’s perfect.  You got paid more money to do less work.  I’d take that in a heartbeat.”

“You say that now,” I said, “but it wears on you.  Trust me.”

It was about this point in the conversation when Heather came back from her lunch break.  As Ashley went back to the bookfloor, Heather put on her green apron, and I grabbed a wet rag and went out to wipe down the tables that weren’t being occupied by people reading, sipping coffee or talking into their bluetooth headsets.

It was then I really started to think about the conversation I had with Ashley.  Would I rather be back at a desk somewhere, doing nothing and making more money?  Was that the better option for me?  It didn’t take that long to come to a firm conclusion.  And the conclusion I came to, as I took that germ-infested rag and wiped the drop of caramel frappuccino off of my shoe, the same shoe I had worn to work every day at APU, was a resounding no.  This was temporary, I reminded myself, and if it was going to be something temporary, it might as well be something that allows me to interact with my coworkers, where I can make things for people that make them happy, and I can chat with customers all day long.  In two days I had already had more conversation with some of my fellow baristas than I had with a large portion of my coworkers in the APU Education Department the entire time I was there.  And that, in my opinion, was worth three months of a pay cut.

So I finished wiping off the last of the vacant tables and went back behind the counter, taking my new attitude with me.  I dropped my rag in the small red bucket filled with sanitizer, washed my hands, and looked at the monstrous black espresso machine on the opposite counter.  Turning my head I looked at my seventeen-year-old companion, who was in the back room, finishing off the text message conversation she had started on her lunch break.

“Hey Heather,” I said, shooing aside my ego for the last time.  “I haven’t made any hot drinks yet.  You think you could show me how?”

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1 Response to “My New Life, Part III: Excessive Workload May Lead to Removal from the Honor Roll”


  1. 1 mattvaudrey
    July 12, 2008 at 9:44 am

    …and that’s how I met your mother.

    Another excellent post, man.


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