Saturday, May 31, 2008

Job Market-1, BlackenedBoy-0

Mountain Town Summer
Originally uploaded by BlackenedBoy

Given the extremely positive response to my last entry and the congratulations I received from my blogger friends, I was extremely reluctant to write this post. However, reality must persist, and as much fun as I had reading the nice things that everyone had to say about my new job, the truth has to be stated: I've been fired.

After a single night on the job, my supervisor (and the owner of the business) made the decision to terminate me. You'll never believe why.

My shift was due to begin at five o'clock, and I pulled in about eight minutes after. Now, had this alone been responsible for concluding my time at Mountain Town Ice Cream, I would have been irritated but understood nonetheless. Employers who consistently tolerate lateness can begin to see subordinates who arrive at work progressively later each day, and eventually be left in the awkward position of having no one on staff because one of their company's associates simply chose not to show up.

So, had that been the only issue, I would have begrudgingly accepted my former boss's decision and driven away cursing myself for not leaving the house ten minutes earlier. It wasn't, though.

I turned into the lot, parked my car, and got out to greet my then-superior.

"Hi, Mr. Ice-Cream-Owner-Who-Fires-People-For-Absolutely-Ridiculous-Reasons," I said cheerfully.

"I will not abide lateness," he said sternly, handing me the forty dollars that he'd already had in his hand when I arrived.

"Oh, okay," I said, accepting the money that he'd extended towards me. "What's this for?"

"I wanted to pay you for last night," he said, his Southern drawl thick and strong. "Son, there's just certain things we can't do."

He paused clearheadedly for a moment, not to form his words, but simply to stare out at the blue sky as if nothing in the world was the matter.

"Your handwriting is horrible."

"Oh," I said, still not quite understanding what he was getting at.

"So," he continued. "I'm not going to need you to come back."

For an instant I thought that he was giving me the day off, as the idea that I was being removed from my position for poor penmanship was too ridiculous a thought to be the first in my mind.

Then, though, after a moment had passed, I caught on to what he meant.

"Oh," I repeated, but this time with a tone of distinct disbelief. I couldn't see myself, but I'm sure that my mouth had dropped open in shock.

"Sir," I pleaded. "Sir, it was my first night. I was just really nervous and I was trying to take all the orders down in time. I mean, I promise that if you give me one more night I can make my handwriting neater."

"No," he said. "It was absolutely terrible. I talked to my son [Fat-Boy-From-Whom-Mountain-Town-Ice-Cream-Takes-Its-Name] and he can't read it, either. I'm sorry."

"Sir," I said, still genuinely not comprehending that something so stupefyingly nonsensical was actually happening. "I promise you, I can improve that. I mean, I was doing a good job actually serving the ice-cream and making it."

"I know," he conceded. "But we have to be able to read those order forms. Your handwriting was completely illegible. I'm sorry."

His son had in fact mentioned my handwriting the night before, but it was in an off-hand and often teasing way, with the young man at one point joking that reading my shorthand was like "deciphering code."

He never hinted that it would be the one aspect of my performance that could make the difference between keeping and losing my job.

Throughout the whole thing, I was just thinking, "This seriously can't be happening."

I've worked in two grocery stores, a fast-food restaurant, as a babysitter, and at two different newspapers. Before yesterday's incident, I had never once been fired. I am simply amazed that the first (and, I hope, only) place of business to actually eject me from its ranks did so after an evaluation not of my job proficiency but of my script.

I mean, am I the only one who finds that totally insane?

The reason for my termination was so tacitly absurd that even my parents, whom I had fully expected to pounce on the event as proof of my incompetence and idiocy, stood behind me. This afternoon my father called me out onto the deck while he was grilling chicken for dinner, saying that he wanted to talk to me.

"Yeah, Dad?" I asked. "What do you want?"

"Are you okay, BB?" he questioned. "Are you alright with everything?"

"Yeah," I answered. "Yeah, Dad. I was just kind of bummed out yesterday. All I can do is find another job."

His reaction, which surprised me, was likely the result of several different elements acting in conjunction with one another. First of all, I had been particularly demoralized the previous afternoon, and had even ridden with him when he went to the grocery store simply so that I could vent my feelings.

I was frustrated and disgusted, as much with myself as with the proprietor of Mountain Town Ice-Cream, all throughout yesterday evening. I went to bed last night at eleven o'clock, for me an early hour (I am in college, remember). I simply did not want to be awake to think about all that had happened, about the fact that, two days before the end of May and barely over a week before my trip to Movie State, I'd been left without employment.

As of right now, I have no means of income for the summer, something that, as a twenty-year-old whose parents are not oil magnates, is something intolerable and really unaffordable.

The core reason of my parents' response to the situation, however, likely goes to a revelation that my brother Powell made without quite meaning to several weeks ago.

As some of you may already know, I went through a bout of severe depression during my Freshman Year of college. That depression advanced through last summer, to the point that in early August I nearly attempted suicide.

I had confided this only to Powell, and about a month ago during an angry confrontation with our mother and father it burst out of him.

"Powell," my mother had said softly following an explosive argument he'd been having with our father. "You have to be gentle on him. He's dealing with a lot right now."

"So, what?" Powell responded angrily. "BB was going to kill himself last summer, and you didn't even catch on!"

And then my mother was silent.

Now, for the record, I'm not relating this to being fired from the ice-cream stand. As infuriating and upsetting as that was, and as much as it complicates my ability to save money this summer, I will move on. It's not a soul-crushing blow.

I merely evoke my recently-revealed history as a means of explaining my parents' uncharacteristically and in truth shockingly understanding actions in the face of my losing my job after a single day.

I mean, I really thought they'd be all over that. For once, they've shown a compassion and maturity that I often doubt they possess.

Meanwhile, other job prospects are dim but not hopeless. National Coffee Chain only wants someone who is planning on working long-term, because, as their manager told me this afternoon, "it takes about three months to train employees thoroughly enough that they can be on the floor unsupervised."

Really? This must be a high-end cafe. I never imagined that making someone an iced drink could be so complicated.

Minor Coffee Chain told me that their policy is to review applications and then call anyone they're interested in to set up interviews, Crappy Gas Station isn't hiring, Downtown Gas Station only hires twenty-one and over, Historic Restaurant wants "experienced servers," and Boat-Guide Restaurant is currently mulling over whether or not to see me, as they primarily need someone to cover the night shift and that person is required to be behind the bar.

"Well," I told a Boat-Guide employee over the phone. "I'm not twenty-one, but I have a lot of availability. I can work pretty much whenever you need me. I'm a college student and we're out for the summer, so I have a lot of time."

One of the first questions she asked me was how old I was. Does my very voice give it away?

It's a good thing that she couldn't see me, because then I wouldn't have had a prayer.

I'm optimistic, though. One of my good friends, Peruvian Girl, is going to speak to her manager tomorrow at Pancake Restaurant and let him know that she has a friend looking for a summer job.

I would greatly prefer not to take up employment in this establishment, but obviously I'm not in a position to bargain. I'll accept what I can get.

On a positive note, there is a lot coming up very soon. Powell's graduation from Mountain Town High School is this Sunday, June 1st, a fact that is far less surreal to me than I ever thought it would be. It seems like just yesterday that I was preparing to receive my diploma, but that June afternoon passed nearly two years ago now.

Life moves so quickly, but the memories remain visceral and real. It's unsettling sometimes how events that took place years in the past, often well into my childhood, can sometimes feel like they just happened.

On Sunday, Grand Ma Normal Family, Uncle Responsible, Aunt Crazy, and Cool Cousin will come here to commemorate Powell's completion of secondary studies. Grand Ma Normal Family is Aunt Crazy's sister, while Uncle Responsible, married to Aunt Crazy, is the twin brother of my late grandfather.

I've always thought it's so interesting that two brothers married two sisters, thereby becoming inlaws in addition to being blood relation. Uncle Responsible is a short, paunchy, unabashedly bald man whose intelligence is belied only by his persistent allegiance to the Republican Party.

Uncle Responsible spent decades working for the U.S. government, including a stint in the Navy during his youth, and my brother Powell and I have often speculated that he was a spy of some sort (or, as we constantly joke, may yet remain an active agent).

While we kid about it, there are actually some things that would seem to lend feasibility to such a theory: Uncle Responsible would disappear for weeks at a time when my father's cousins were children, and military personnel would stop by periodically to to check in on Aunt Crazy and the children. To this day there is very little he can reveal about his job, ant Aunt Crazy is still largely unaware of where the vast majority of my great-uncle's trips took him (although, whenever anything is declassified, Uncle Responsible can be counted upon to, like a giddy and light-eyed child, drag out various pamphlets and books detailing satellites sent into space long ago whose operation he was somehow affiliated with).

Aunt Crazy is so dubbed because of her boisterous nature. Short, plump, white-haired, and with almond-blue eyes, looking every inch the cheerful old babushka, she is given in her sixties to saying things like, "It's hard out here to be a pimp!" in a faux-urban accent.

This owes nothing to senility (which her daughters routinely accuse her of suffering from) but instead is rooted in her offbeat personality.

Once, during a visit several years ago to my grandmother's house, Powell told a joke that caused Aunt Crazy to oink like a pig.

"Aunt Crazy, you snorted," I laughed.

"Yeah, I snorted," she replied in full ghetto mode. "Snorted some crack!"

"Listen," our grandmother told Powell and I privately later. "Don't tell Uncle Responsible that Aunt Crazy was talking about crack. And don't tell Liberal Cousin, either. They hate it when she talks like that."

She does have moments of unintentional battiness that only enhance her hilarious persona.

"Yeah, I think Mom may be going senile a little bit," Cool Cousin, in her thirties, said during this year's Easter dinnner at Grand Ma Normal Family's House. "I'm going to have to get her some of those board games."

Liberal Cousin agreed that this would be a good idea and the topic soon moved to family members and their resemblance to other family members.

"BB looks a lot like Anne," someone said, referencing my birth-mother.

"Powell looks more like Dad, though," I replied. "And so does Thomas."

"Really?" Liberal Cousin asked. "I think that Thomas looks more like Marie."

"What?" Aunt Crazy, who'd entered the room, asked suddenly. "Marie who?"

"Mom!" Cool Cousin exclaimed through booming chuckles amidst peals of laughter from everyone else.

"His mother!" Liberal Cousin shouted out riotously.

"Oh!" Aunt Crazy responded. "Well, I didn't know."

Before long we were all in tears, as one story led to another and the next thing we knew Liberal Cousin was regaling our dinner with her memory of the time that the family car's hood and flown open while Aunt Crazy was driving on the highway.

"So then," Liberal gasped as her listeners heaved and wiped the moisture out of their eyes. "She drove all the way home looking through the little airholes in the hood."

Cool Cousin cackled at that, and the holiday ended on a very merry note.

I mention Aunt Crazy and the rest so much because Powell and I will be taking a trip with them (although Uncle Responsible's presence on this journey has not yet been confirmed) to Movie State next month.

I leave for Native State on June 7th, and then on June 10th it's on a plane and off to the coast I've never seen before.

Oh, and by the way, Anne is bringing my camera with her to Powell's graduation, so I will have it by the time we depart.

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