Do you remember your first job?
I was 15 when my dad said I would not be returning to Camp Lord of the Flies for my annual sequestration. It was actually a reputable summer camp, (though I'm pretty sure the director was a pedophile). But as a plump, bespectacled, only-child, I was the obvious candidate for ridicule and torment.
It was 1980. Sports bras had not yet been invented. Men had yet to realize that women didn't like being whistled and leered at, or having their bodies loudly pronounced or pounced upon in public. No one even associated Catholic priests with... Well, let's not get dark.
It was a time of innocence, if that's the correct word, and I'm pretty sure it is not. Looking back, we were all pretty much idiots.
By the time I was 15, I had no longer been William Goldberg's Piggy for what seemed like, oh, half an hour.
Now, I had a figure that stuck out in all directions, and my long red hair was a beacon. There was no camouflage for me.
I'm not saying I was popular, or that I looked the way I was supposed to in that day. (That said, Molly Ringwald had nothing on me, except she was thin and easier to dress.)
I thought my face was too oily, my hair was too frizzy, and OF COURSE, I was definitely too fat.
I couldn't fit my chest into prom gowns. Cars passing almost always honked and occasionally veered dangerously off course through a curve.
I couldn't walk or ride a bike without grown-up men whistling and screaming at me.
First job: Dunkin' Donuts. Picture a pink dress with a white apron tied in the back. It should have been an easy job, serving donuts and coffee to strange men.
All I remember is, I was so nervous I couldn't count change at all. I was fired at the end of two weeks. Oh, joyous relief!
A friend hooked me up with a job as a cashier at a CVS drug store. I could wear a regular shirt and pants, but I was still too nervous to deal with the general public and operate a cash register. I was constantly calling the manager to void my transactions. I wasn't supposed to use the word screwed, as in, I screwed up again. Instead, I was supposed to say I've made a mistake. But I couldn't even remember that. I was fired at the end of two weeks. That one didn't feel so good.
I worked at Eaton's the Druggist, object of the famous prank call:
Hello? Are you Eaton's the Druggist?
Everyone I knew growing up in my town has made that call. You know who you are.
At Eatons, all I had to do was face the aisles. That means, make sure the product is facing the customer, all lined up nice and tidy. I could do this. No amount of anxiety could prevent me from carrying out this task.
Except the one time, when I had stayed up all night and taken some sort of over-the-counter stimulant to stay alert at the store.
I was given a sheet of neon-orange stickers, and I was told to doing something with them. But what? I couldn't remember. And the neon orange was so damn orange. Just as I was realizing, all was not right with my head, my English teacher, Mrs. Weiner, walked through the door. She had super-short platinum-blonde hair. She was at least as orange as John Boehner. About fifty years old. (Really? OMG.) I was full-on hallucinating from the pills I had taken. They were non-prescription, over-the-counter--bear that in mind. Don't judge me, I just wanted to be bright on the job.
Yeah, I was fired.
I had a summer job on the eighth hole of an 18-hole golf course in Beverly, Mass. My mother landed it for me through a friend. You hate to put a friend in that position, though. No one wants to fire a friend's kid. I read Call It Sleep and ate tuna fish sandwiches. The cook mashed up the tuna with her bare hands. I also ate Reeses peanut-butter cups and chocolate bars. No one seemed to mind.
The lady golfers stopped at the eighth hole for ice water, with a twist. They always wanted a twist. A twist of lemon or a twist of lime. One would ask for a twist, and the others all followed suit. Just to be obnoxious, I stocked the fridge with ice water that already had twists of lemon or lime--I even had a few with lemon and lime and no ice, because there were those kinds of ladies, too.
It gave me a perverse pleasure to greet their originality with Henry Ford efficiency. I'd have rolled that ice water out on a conveyor belt if I'd had a conveyor belt on the Eighth Hole. That was the summer of my contempt for the rich.
I was also very disappointed in Bruce Springsteen for Born in the USA.
When I wasn't at the Eighth Hole, I worked poolside at the grill and snack bar. My customers were nearly naked, I couldn't be nervous. I did a good job. I also drank a lot of milk shakes, but I had to ride my bike seven miles each way the country club, rain or shine.
I was not fired!
I washed dishes in one of the residential dining commons. Not fired.
I flipped burgers and collected trays at the student union. Not fired.
I cold-called alumnae of U. Mass. to ask them to donate money to the alma mater. They had a "very persuasive script"... I could hear an audible click when my boss got on the line to listen and evaluate and find me lacking... I lasted two weeks. So fired.
After I moved off campus, I worked part-time at a Cumberland Farms convenience store (think KwikTrip), where I successfully operated a cash register for the first time.
However, four or five weeks into it, a man in a dark suit came into the store. I'd never seen him before. He worked for Cumberland Farms, showed me his card, and directed me to follow him to the back of the store, where we sat on crates while he explained that there was a video surveillance camera in the back of the store. It had been recording my every move since I started working there.
Have you ever taken money from the cash register?
Have you ever failed to put a customer's money into the cash register?
Have you ever permitted anyone--a friend or a family member, for example--to come into the store and take anything without paying?
Ms. Barmack, I remind you that we have had a surveillance camera trained on you this entire time.
Yes, you mentioned that.
I'll ask you again. Have you ever taken anything from the store without paying for it?
Have you ever consumed anything--a can of Coke, or a candy bar--without paying for it?
Well? Have you?
That's when I burst into tears and confessed, I had been eating the occasional FROZFRUIT bar in the store on my shift. (They were nutritious and refreshing, particularly the strawberry. The mango was also very tasty.)
How many FROZFRUIT bars do you think you consumed?
I don't know. A few, I guess.
A few per day or a few per week?
Per day, I'd say maybe two.
Would you say, four? Do you think you might have consumed four FROZBARS in a single day?
He pulled out a large calculator and worked up the sum. When he finished, he explained, I had eaten at least two hundred dollars worth of FROZFRUIT bars in just a few weeks.
I thought that seemed excessive, but who was I to argue with the unequivocal evidence of a video surveillance camera?
Fortunately, I had lawyers in the family and my case was quickly settled out of court. I paid Cumberland Farms $42 for the fraudulently consumed quiescently frozen confection.
I was 19 at the time. Flash forward four years. I am 23. I am lolling sleepless in a bed in a military hotel in Tokyo, watching 60 Minutes report on a Cumberland Farms scam.
Cumberland Farms had been offsetting the cost of all of their shop-lifting losses by scamming their own employees.
Here's how it worked. After a few weeks of employment, an intimidating off-site manager would take the hapless employee to the back of the store, make them sit down on a crate, and explain about the surveillance camera....
BUT THERE WAS NO SURVEILLANCE CAMERA!!!!
Not all of the scammed Cumberland Farms employees were college kids with access to free legal representation.
They used the same line of questioning every time. Virtually every employee admitted to taking something--a pack of matches, a Diet Coke...It all added up to some fantastic sum, whatever they thought they could reasonably extort.
They made so much money from this scam, it exceeded their wildest expectations. It was more than than the total annual cost of all Cumberland Farms shoplifting losses combined. They were profiting from it.
Sadly, the lawyer who represented the victims in the class action suit against Cumberland Farms refused to settle out of court. He wanted his day in court. He wanted to bring down the man. Like the real-life lawyer in A Civil Action, it undermined his clients' interests and ruined his life.
Clearly, he had not experienced being fired often enough. If he had, he certainly would have been better able to brush off the sting and dust of disappointment, and get on with the business of life.