Monday, August 15, 2011

The Working Man

The worst job I ever had entailed working as an overnight manager at a CVS pharmacy. This was almost immediately after my last semester of college, and right before making a definitive decision about the “next thing.” It wasn’t a pleasant time in my life. I’d just finished playing ball, my father had died the previous year, and I had no motivation to do much of anything to better myself. By choice, that whole summer has disappeared from my memory. I can do aimless pretty well, but that doesn’t mean I like to, and that period was about as aimless as it fucking gets.

When I came home from school, I didn’t do what most of you people did. I didn’t write up a resume and attend job fairs or anything like that. I didn’t network or look into furthering my educational prospects. Instead, I started bouncing in a bar – the local one I referenced in my book. This wasn’t the most productive use of my time, but I knew everyone who worked there and it was fun most nights. Plus, I got to work with our old friend “Clint,” something I still kind of miss doing.

Greg was another bouncer at that bar – a paralegal who’d quit his job to go to law school at St. John’s, where he was in his second year. Not much happened in this place, so we had a ton of time to sit around and talk to each other about life. That’s one of the things you miss when you “graduate” from that kind of life – the sitting around and the talking. You learn a lot. That’s why cops and firemen and soldiers and athletes have reunions. Bouncers probably should, but the job doesn’t mean that much and it's really stupid and pointless, so you won't see that.

I told Greg I didn’t have much of anything going on, and he told me about his summer job at CVS. It sounded easy. You went in at 10 at night, you left at 8:30 in the morning, and you didn’t have to do jack shit. He said he’d go into that little second floor office with the mirrored windows and read legal textbooks all night. I figured I’d try it out for a while until I made some decisions about what the fuck I was actually going to do with my life. It seemed like as good a place to think about this as any.

I interviewed, got the job, and went in for their mediocre little training program, which had me following a rather ambiguous night manager around in a store other than the one I’d be managing. I laughed out loud whenever he referred to the "fem" aisle. After two weeks, they gave me my assignment and I reported for work.

I’ve had some shit jobs in my life – I wrote about one here for several years, obviously – but managing a CVS at night was my least favorite. There was nothing particularly difficult about stocking shelves all night – which, in diametric opposition to what Greg told me, is what it actually entailed – except for the fact that the clock did not fucking move. I mean, it stayed painfully fucking still. You’d open one of those stupid fucking red bins, get everything on the shelves or end-caps and put all your price labels in place, and you’d have killed approximately five minutes, which felt more like an hour. It wasn’t even like you could get into some kind of “flow” state by giving yourself over to the minutiae of the job and drifting off. It wasn’t possible. At least when you're shoveling shit for a living, you can lose yourself in the rhythms of shit-shoveling and make the clock move. At CVS, time simply refused to pass. I’d have been better off just staring at my watch for ten hours.

We were also expected to prevent “shrink” by chasing down shoplifters and holding them until the police arrived. They had to be fucking kidding with this one. I even told them so. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re so cranked up that you’re wandering around a CVS in the middle of West Bumblefuck, Long Island at three in the morning looking for a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, you’ve fucking earned it. Take something to wash it down, too. The fuck did I care?

Payday was the last straw for me – the day I decided, after about three weeks, to bail out. Back then, not knowing any better, I was one of those kids who loved to cash my checks and walk around with $600 in my wallet – money I’d end up spending on clothes or at the bar. That’s how I knew the mindset of all these fucking Guido kids back when I bounced, because I used to do the same shit. I loved nothing more than to hand a hundred dollar bill to a bartender to pay for one drink. In retrospect, I think we both knew it was more than 20% of my bank account, but we all played the game anyway.

At CVS, we were permitted to cash our checks with the cashiers up front, so that’s what I’d do at the end of my shift on paydays. You had to wait for the customers to go first, though. So if you stood in line, waited for five people and were next, you’d have to defer and go to the back of the line if a customer fell in behind you. Company policy.

My last day, I didn’t want to follow this rule. I’d been circumvented by customers three or four times, and I just wanted to go home after working all night. I’d wait it out and be ready to go, and the cashier would tell me someone was behind me. Over. And over. And over again. Finally, I’d had enough. Fuck that Catch-22 shit.

“Just cash my check.”

“I can’t,” she said. “There’s a customer behind you.”

“I don’t care anymore. Just cash my check.”

“You have to wait for the customers.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t. I quit. Just let me get my fucking money and you’ll never have to see me in this shithole ever again.”

They called my house a few times after that to ask for my nametag, but I never gave it back.