Paycheck, monotony, two weeks to months “temporary” now become the equivalent of an assistant manager, fifty more cents and a shred of authority. It’s easy to play pretend when you’re getting paid, so you do it as much as possible. Keep a lid on those anger issues, hide in the back and prep food, wash some dishes, pretend that you’re not stuck in a love rectangle with the only attractive girl that works the cash register and the rest of your coworkers that Saturday. Flits of joy when you finally get invited to the parties, to drink on the job, to equal the misery you’ve all decided on for yourselves. Half of us have college degrees from art schools and the other half have a coke problem before the age of 25. Looks like we’re both taking turns slicing meat today, we’re no different.
Always make it to work, my Dad would say, no matter what. Hungover? Drunk? Did that many times. No sleep? I’ll take a nap in my car. Suicide attempt by an old flame? Show up to deliver bread in the same button-up you thought would make you look more attractive, nobody will complain if you show up on time. Some ethic is instilled in us that lack anything else to claim, we’ll persist to earn that measly sum. To impress people that benefit off of our little lives. They smile nice, that feels good.
You’ll take on the sixty hour weeks, not saying no feels the same as always saying yes to you. Abundance of opportunity and showered praises, yes, you’ve finally become appreciated. That’s all you ever want, that’s why you put up with this shit. Life and your friends passed you by, rewarded for their compliance with social standards, you’ll try to justify your failings while still comparing yourself to perceived success. You haven’t done anything you actually liked in a long time, but at least Overtime gets paid out a week after you ask for it.
There’s stories, but they’re all the same. You hate the customers, but without them you’re left with yourself. Armies of drunks behind the counter, it feels like we’re brothers in arms, these other small Texas town rejects. I’ve got tongs, i’ve got a loud mouth. We’ve got a twenty year-old alcoholic that looks like a Mario brother, last weekend he punched the toilet so hard the seat cracked. Want to tell him that your pizza slice isn’t long enough? Yelling at homeless people became a treasured pastime. One time a shot-girl grabbed my forearm and laughed at my joke even though she couldn’t hear me. A frat-boy ran up and down the block crying with his pants ripped from ass to ankle, his wallet got stolen. I stayed up every night ’til seven in the morning and cried quiet screaming when I thought God only created life to laugh at His cruelty.
The first time I stepped behind a grill I didn’t move for eight hours uninterrupted. Grease caked into my pores and I got a half-off discount on my burger meal at break. I was high on Thanksgiving so I wore sunglasses at night and said hello to my friend who tried to fight me when we were drunk. I danced in the street back then and spent nights smoking pot in a garage. I gave up on possibilities and chased the life I knew was meant for me, knocking off the trivialities, I still messaged girls on FaceBook instead of talking to them in real life.
Radio Stations, TV Stations, the same apathy, everybody in management curses each other for their incompetency. We’re a big market, so they say, we’re worth the investment from Corporate. They saw fit to have me train on a teleprompter for two weeks before we went live. I got the job because I was hot shit at my internships, my last one I was hired for a joke resume I submitted on a whim. You get far in life for being a smarmy asshole if you know how to do it with a wink, a lesson I learned at the perfect time. My boss was a grown woman that told me every day how much she hated her job and how retarded everybody was, especially our audience. She still told me that I needed College to be happy.
Never completely competent, always exactly enough. A warm body, functioning limbs, could hit buttons on a computer and mumble an excuse for long wait-times. That one rich restaurant gave me chances, I repaid them by not showing up to work as some sordid act of defiance. I arrived to my firing ceremony with a newly-shaved head and combat boots in all black. I looked like a Nazi and celebrated with my unemployed friends over a dollar chili dog dinner.
Hoisting up a projection screen held together by bungee cords and Home Depot piping, in the next life i’m standing fifteen-feet high on stacked shipping containers. There’s poisonous snakes in the dead grass below and we’ve got a Drag Queen show coming up in a few hours. On the Fourth of July we promised fireworks, instead we gave them a cheap licensed stock video and our boss went on one of his “meetings” at midnight. The company credit card bought me twelve boxes of pop-tarts.
The only true reward was the pain of humiliation, wearing uniform red polo tucked into boy shorts, pressing the button on the children-train while your High School crush walks by with her friends. They didn’t know you worked there. You still have three months left to go before you quit, that job interview was promising enough to leave before they could throw you in the battle-boat pool for your birthday.
At last, we’ve finally exhausted all options but stand-up comedy. The last thing left to live for, I paid five dollars to get ten minutes of stage time to an audience of chairs in Los Angeles. I went on another joy binge, quitting my job thinking I would never return to the restaurant industry, blowing five hundred dollars on a solo train trip to the beginning of my life. Making a brief stop in my hometown to watch my brother’s reluctant graduation from High School. No greater pit of Hell than the entertainment industry, the last dream I hung my neck on, the only thing that got me through the years of bullshit frying my brain with pot and telling girls that I had art in built into my bones. Years of toiling in dirt clubs only to feign success and reduce your life behind you into a fractured imagery, family and friends didn’t know if you ever there to begin with.
My mom cried at the train station when I left. She didn’t know it might’ve been the last time she ever saw me alive.