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As a writer who works from home, I don’t get out much so I decided to take a part time job to get out of the house and meet more people. The bad economy gave me very few options but I was determined to find something. With few choices, I reluctantly accepted a job at a local fast food restaurant.
My first day, I donned my apron and paper hat and looked around. My coworkers were young, very young. I swear no one was older than twelve.
I considered running but the manager Ally caught me and made me fill out my new hire paperwork.
She looked at the form and gaped at my age.
“How old are you,” she marveled.
“Thirty five,” I said dryly.
She leaned in conspiratorially, “If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the oldest person who works here.”
Why yes, I thought sarcastically, that makes me feel much better. That and this stupid apron make me feel spectacular.
I was beginning to think I made a mistake accepting this job.
When she finished the paperwork (and marveling at my ancientness) Ally taught me how to assemble a taco.
It’s a taco, I thought. How hard can this be?
Assembling a taco involved 17 steps, complicated directions and had to be done in two seconds or less. I had the answer to my question. It was very hard.
Ally rattled the directions out at me like an auctioneer selling a choice horse. I was still trying to process her first sentence when she finished her fourth paragraph.
I had a suspicion that this job wasn’t going to work out.
A customer arrived and Ally told me to wait on them. Hesitantly, I reached for a wrap but got the wrong size. Ally stopped me. Then, I found the right size wrap but the wrong type. Ally stopped me again. After four tries, I had the right type and size wrap but had forgotten the complicated directions the wrap heating machine.
“It’s simple,” Ally said exasperated. “You lift this, slide this over, push this lever down. Put the wrap here unless it’s a jumbo wrap, then you use this basket. Close the lid, ratchet this lever twice, twirl this dial clockwise then counterclockwise. Then you press this button for steam four times for a small, seven times for a large and eight times for a jumbo.”
“Uh,” I said confused, “I lift this?”
Frustrated, Ally made the taco.
Later that same day, the oldest person who worked there quit. I decided to follow her lead leaving a thirteen-year-old the title of oldest person to work there.
Getting out of the house is overrated.
I’ve decided there’s a place for age discrimination and that there’s a reason some jobs are done by the young and energetic. The old among us aren’t fast enough for fast food.
I’ve noticed lately that life has a way of bombarding me with trivial problems. This leaves me free to ignore the overwhelming, larger problems of life.
Just last week my doctor informed me that I would need one hundred shots in my knee to treat a damaged tendon.
“Let’s do it next time,” I said nervously.
“Don’t worry,” he assured me, “I’ll numb your knee first. You’ll hardly feel a thing.”
I hesitated. I was worried but not about the shots. My knee hurt and needed treatment but all I could think was I haven’t shaved in a week!
Or take a phone conversation I recently had with my mother. She told me that my sister’s asthma problem prompted her to discuss with my sister the importance of teaching her young daughters how to dial for help in an emergency.
“Don’t worry,” my mother told me over the phone, “none of your sister’s asthma attacks have been severe. It just seemed like a good time to review dialing 911 with the girls and to teach them how to use her phone.”
I reflected that at seven and four my nieces could probably use a Smartphone better than my mother could but wisely said nothing.
“Perhaps I should teach Seti how to dial 911,” I replied. Seti is my cat.
I don’t have kids to teach to use a Smartphone but the cat is fairly intelligent. Compared to the average person, I think Seti stands a good chance of learning how to use one.
“Or Starla,” Mom replied, naming my dog.
“Ha! If I collapse in the floor, Starla will think it’s a game. She’ll just wonder why I’m not throwing her toy.”
“When you don’t throw a toy she brings you another one,” my mom pointed out.
“Great, they’ll find me dead in the floor covered in dog toys,” I said only half-joking.
Mom worries about my sister’s potential impending asthma induced death. My own health problems aren’t known to be fatal. Mom laughs.
Then she laughs more. My mother erupted hysterically. She had to move the phone away from her ear she roared so loudly.
Great, I thought, now I have to worry about being buried in dog toys at my death and my mother laughing at the site of me.
Perhaps worrying about the trivial is simply a survival mechanism. If I worry about leg hair, I don’t have to worry about my damaged tendon – or the pain of one hundred injections. If I worry about the dog toys, I don’t have to worry about collapsing in the floor and dying while the cat frantically tries to dial 911.
Worry has a funny way of missing the point some times.
My husband Brian was bursting with excitement. He had applied for his dream job and looked to be on a fast track to hired.
I began imagining his potential salary. Just for fun, I inflated the likely sum greatly and tried to decide what we needed most.
“I’ve decided what to buy once you get the job,” I informed him.
“Oh you’ve decided have you,” he grinned at me. “I’m the one getting the job.”
“Yes, but I’m the one who desperately needs a new car,” I retorted. I really did.
“What’s wrong with the one you’ve got,” he teased. He knew I needed a new car.
“It turned seventeen this year. It’s old enough to drive itself! Of course, it never does. It leaves all the work to me.”
“What if I want a new car,” he asked.
“You got the last new car,” I protested. “You’ve always put your vehicular needs ahead of mine!” I stamped my foot.
He burst out laughing. “Vehicular needs,” he repeated.
“Yes, vehicular needs. Remember when you let me drive that awful Grand Am for two years while you had the safe reliable Jetta?” My aunt had given me the ancient Pontiac after my own car was totaled in an accident. Thankfully, no one was badly hurt, unless of course, you count the car.
“Worse, when it caught on fire you were going to put it out,” I snapped.
We were backing out of the driveway when we heard a pop and flames erupted from under the hood. Eyes wide we leapt out. Brian ran for the hose.
I flung myself between him and the flaming car.
“If you put it out I swear to God I’ll divorce you,” I screamed.
He stared at me in disbelief. “What if it spreads,” he asked meekly.
“You can save the bushes. I like them much more than the car,” I replied generously.
The obnoxious car quit everything. It quit running in the middle of an intersection and it quit burning too. I was stuck with it for another year and I said a prayer for the new owner when I sold it.
“Ok, ok,” Brian relented. “If I get the job you can get a new car but I have to get the job first.”
“My fingers are crossed,” I replied sweetly. I wanted him to get the job but I really wanted a new car!
“I like this one,” I exclaimed over a stainless fronted fridge twice the size of my own and packed with shelves and organizers. I wondered what it would be like to open the refrigerator and find what I was looking for. I sighed dreamily.
A small man with graying hair approached and examined two nearby dishwashers. He made a face as he shifted back and forth between them.
“Tough choice isn’t it,” I asked him
“You’ve got that right,” he muttered. He gestured to the other side of the store. “My wife has all the details anyway.”
I smiled, understanding. “You know you’re not the one who’s going to make the decision?”
He chuckled, “Right again.” He continued to examine the washer but not as intently as before.
Brian and I strolled across the store. Brian shot me a dirty look.
“What,” I asked seeing his expression.
“What did you mean that that man wasn’t the one who was going to make the decision,” he asked.
“I meant his wife was going to choose the dishwasher,” I replied seeing no reason to be circumspect.
“You think that you would pick out the dishwasher if that were us,” he demanded.
“Of course I would,” I retorted. “I pick out all our stuff.”
He thought about that. “You didn’t pick out our couch. I did.”
I chuckled. “If that’s what you think sweetie,” I patted his arm.
He stopped walking and watched me closely. “You can’t possibly expect me to believe that. I was there. I looked at samples with you. I picked out the fabric. I wanted the sleeper sofa model. We debated eight hundred different throw pillows!”
I sighed. We’d been married for eleven years. It was time to tell him the truth.
“You didn’t pick out the couch. I did. Yes, you looked at samples but I talked you into the one I wanted, I convinced you that we needed the sleeper sofa for guests. We looked at eight hundred different throw pillows until I could maneuver you into the design I liked best. The fabric you did pick out. I let you have that one.”
“Let me?” He shook his head and fixed me with a gaze. “Do you mean to tell me that you pick out all our major purchases?”
“Yes,” I nodded.
“Then why do you drag me through it,” he shrieked.
“Because,” I replied, “it’s more fun when you’re there.”
“It’s more fun to manipulate me into liking what you like, you mean. Why not just go get the one you want anyway?”
“Where’s the sport in that?”
I was a professional pet sitter for over ten years, six of which I owned my own pet sitting company.
People often ask me what it takes to be a pet sitter. A love of animals is imperative, the ability to work independently and be responsible is also necessary but nothing compares to a sense of humor for sheer survival on the pet sitting frontlines.
The German shepherd weighed nearly as much as I did. (If he were wet and I didn’t eat for three days but who’s counting?) Named Etzel, he was a regular on my schedule. I walked him nearly every day.
He was great to walk for a number of reasons. No one pesters a woman walking a dog that she could saddle and ride and he wasn’t easily upset. He took unexpected disturbances like the raucous noise of a front-end loader in stride.
Plus, he never, ever pooped on a walk. I never had to tote a bag of doggie doodie across two neighborhoods to the nearest trashcan. In the case of such a large dog, it would have been a hefty bag: a very hefty bag.
Then one innocent day it happened. An event so traumatic as to inspire years of therapy, or it would have if I went to therapy.
It started with a rumbling deep and low like an impending thunderstorm. The sky was clear and sunny but the “thunder” boiled and stirred and small animals darted for the safety of their burrows.
Etzel turned and looked at his backside in confusion. He heard the noise. He felt something strange but he had never experienced something like this before. He was worried.
With a great whoosh his bowls erupted and liquid, warm doggie doodie sprayed from his rear end.
He began circling in desperation blowing poopie in a circle like a deranged garden sprinkler.
I watched in horror as both my legs were sprayed with waste. I was rooted to the spot, unable to do anything more that gape.
Etzel was tall and the stream coursing from him reached my thighs. I shut my mouth just to be safe.
It was over almost as suddenly as it began. Etzel and I locked eyes. His expression was one of utter confusion. Mine was horror.
What to do? I could scream. I could cry.
My sense of humor got the better of me.
I burst into laughter. The dog who never pooped, indeed. So much for that!
I have spent a life time living with cats and I’ve yet to see one follow a direct command save for one notable evening in my college days.
I was preparing for an evening class. Part of our assignment for the semester was for each student to lead one class. This was my night.
I was seated on my office floor surrounded by papers, handouts for my fellow students.
It’s a well known scientific fact that if you leave a sheet of paper unguarded a cat will sit on it. Though there were piles of papers and though I had three cats, I was smug. There was nary a cat rear end to be seen in my office.
The average cat owner who didn’t want papers sat on would simply go in a room and close the door to keep the cats out. I, however, lived with an evil genius, a mastermind of cat mischief.
Friday the 13th, as he was aptly named, could open a door as easily as he shed fur and being a longhaired black cat with a thick undercoat, he shed a lot of fur.
Shutting a mere door wasn’t going to stop him. I doubted locking it would stop him either. I wouldn’t put it past him to pick a lock.
I opted for a more subtle approach. I bought a fresh package of toy mice, popped off their fake tails so Mimi, my female cat wouldn’t eat them, and tossed them on the hardwood floors.
Three cats were soon engrossed in beating the figurative mouse snot out of their new toys and I sat happily unmolested with my work.
I was nearly through preparing when Mimi strolled into the office with a toy mouse in her mouth.
“Dang it,” I told her. “I missed a tail. Give it here before you eat it.”
I reached for the mouse but she obediently spit the mouse onto my lap. I reached for it to pop off the tail and the mouse ran!
“Holy freaking cow,” I yelped as I sprung from the floor. The mouse, the real mouse, darted for the closet. Relieved to make his escape but not as relieved as he was not have his tail pulled off.
“Where did you get that,” I snapped at Mimi. She ignored me and pressed her face to the gap at the bottom of the closet door.
Reinforcements soon arrived as the other two cats, Friday and Hemmy, dashed into the room. Even our Springer Spaniel Claire joined in the mouse hunt.
I fled to the safety of my university.
Obedient cats create havoc, I reflected. I decided I prefer them as their usual, willful selves.
Through the years, I’ve seen bosses do desperate things to promote their businesses: Spend $400 save thirty cents!, Buy a mattress, win a free EyePad! or Sign up two friends for a Pap smear get a free mammography!
Another, more subtle brush with Leadership Letdown came when the owner of an antique store I once worked for promoted a furniture sale with balloons.
“Look at this,” Kelly snapped when I walked in the door. Four red, helium balloons with cherry red strings were tied to the back of a chair.
“What are those for,” I asked.
“We’re supposed to put them out to promote the sale,” Jess said.
“So,” I shrugged.
“So? So, we have to write ‘SALE’ on them with markers,” she snapped back.
“They couldn’t even spring for balloons with ‘SALE’ already written on them,” I asked.
“That’s not the point,” Kelly said. “The point is that balloons pop when you write on them.”
I stepped back. “I’m terrified of balloons popping near my face,” I told them.
“So are we,” said Kelly.
We paused and stared at the black, ominous markers and their unknowing victims bobbing happily on the chair.
I eased toward the door.
“Don’t even think about it,” Jess snapped at me. “You’re the marketing director. You should handle the balloons.”
“Those balloons weren’t my idea,” I retorted. “What are we? A used car lot? Besides, Jess, you have the best handwriting.”
She shot me an ugly look and I knew I’d won.
She picked up a marker, removed its cap and slowly walked toward the balloons.
She gave us a nervous grin. “How bad can it be?”
She gently and steadily touched the marker to the balloon and BLAMO the balloon exploded!
We screamed in terror and threw our arms up to protect our faces. Two customers left the store. Buying antiques wasn’t worth the risk.
“I’m done,” Jess said. “Kelly,” she retrieved the marker from the corner she flung it to and passed it off.
Kelly shook her head no.
“You can do it,” I said supportively. I knew who would have to do it if she refused.
Kelly untied a balloon from the chair and moved away from the remaining, intact balloons.
“Just in case,” she said. I wasn’t sure what she meant but I nodded anyway.
Her hand shook as she moved the marker toward the balloon. Suddenly, the balloon slipped free!
“It’s loose,” Kelly screamed.
I shrieked and dove for the floor. In the background, I could hear Jess screaming.
Then, there was silence.
The balloon bobbed harmlessly against the ceiling.
Sheepishly we grinned at each other.
Without a word, Jess took the balloons outside and let them go.
“We don’t get paid enough to risk our lives,” she said.