Saturday, September 10, 2011

“Chicken Is My Life”

As I was growing up, my mother did everything she could to keep me from working in the real world. Her philosophy was, “Once you start working, you never stop,” which applied to everyone but those who make a career of being on welfare. She wanted me to enjoy being a kid as long as she could and for quite awhile I took complete advantage of it. My father, however, had been working since he was seven and as much as he wanted the best for his children, I’m sure he wanted us out of our chairs and earning our own Slurpee money. Parents are always saying that they work hard, so that their children don’t have to, and then we don’t work at all and they get angry. And my father worked hard, very hard.

When I was younger my dad owned Bobby Cox Drywall and sub-contracted for many of the major players in our area and even did a couple of jobs for Disney in roundabout ways. To say he busted his ass is to say Einstein was a tad smart. He slung mud from before the sun came up until it went down again and yet, he never missed a ball game or school concert. His one wish for me was that I would get a great education so I “could work smarter, not harder.”

“Get into the computer field,” he’d say, steering me away from the medical field because he had seen me try to whittle and was worried about the damage I would cause with a scalpel in my clumsy hands. Furthermore, he had only heard me talk about playing doctor and figured I’d wind up with a sexual harassment suit and he’d be paying for my lawyers.

When I came close to failing 8th grade, he decided it was time to teach me the value of a good education and that summer I went to work for him. It was the hottest, hardest three months of my life. Five gallon buckets of drywall mud weigh three times that when you have to haul it up three flights of scaffolding only to carry it back down again. My right arm is four inches longer than my left due to the stretching it received that summer. Dad gave me every dirty, nasty job he could think of as did my uncles who were all working for him at that time. I always came home with more mud on me than they got on the walls, and soon Mom was complaining about my laundry.

But, I learned my lesson. When I went back to school I started cheating my way to good grades and back into my dad handing me spending money.

However, the money started to dry up as I tried to keep up with the Whiteheads and Gillises who had the smarter but not harder jobs and I knew I would have to buckle down and find a job. Therefore, with that sad revelation, my working life began during my senior year of high school and it was that very first job that told me that whatever I wound up doing for a living, I would not be able to view it the way everyone else did. I noticed then that for too many work was way too serious and it was Manager Tom that creeped me out about it.

Mrs. Winner’s was a new fast food chicken place in my neck of the woods and a couple of friends and I applied figuring a new place had to have room for desperate teens. I should have known that they were desperate when they took the application and, without looking at it, told me to be at their neighboring store at five the next day for training. “And wear khaki pants.”

“No problem.” As I got into the car I asked Mom what kind of pants khakis were, afraid that they would be those pants women wear that only come down to mid-shin.

“Those are Capris. Khaki is a color. Are you sure you’re studying?”

I had no idea what class taught modern fashion, but I’m sure I had cheated correctly and not missed anything.

Once properly dressed, I showed up eager to prove I could succeed at something. I learned to clean grease, mop floors and change soda dispensers. I also learned how disgusting people could be in public restrooms, which makes me wonder if most people hold themselves until they enter a fast food joint because not even eating at Taco Bell could cause an explosion that fast. It was almost as bad as the food.

The day before our store was to have its grand opening, an employee meeting was held for our first “Do it for the Gipper” pep talk. We all showed up in crisp, as yet unstained, uniforms, many of us at our first real job, waiting to be inspired to give it our all. The store had one main manager and three assistants and besides my two friends, Greg and Rod, who were working there with me, the only other person I can remember is Manager Tom, one of the assistants. Sadly, the only thing I remember about him was the opening line of his part of our motivational session. He stood in front of us young and impressionable teens in his dark blue Dickies pants and light blue button down Mrs. Winner’s shirt and, in all seriousness, said, “Chicken is my life.”

I didn’t hear another word. My mind locked onto those five syllables and screeched to a sudden halt. Who says corny crap like that? It was right then that I realized that there were two types of people – those who lived to work and those who worked to live. I also knew which one I was going to be. Chicken would never be my life.

Nor, for that matter, would anything else that I did to earn a living. I’ve never been a career-minded person and I’m sure that worried my father in the beginning who didn’t want me to sweat as much as he did to provide for his family. However, I determined right then that a job was not going to be in control of my life; I was. I’ve watched my friends be sent all over the place away from their growing children in the name of some job. I didn’t want that. I live for my family and I wasn’t going to miss one growth spurt. Some of the jobs I’ve had I’ve even been able to take the boys with me. While Char and I home schooled, I was a custodian and the kids went with me every day so that I could help them with “One Fish, Two Fish.”

My jobs have not been glamorous: fast food, a cookie company, pizza delivery, a bag boy, custodian, a construction worker and a supervisor for newspaper carriers. I never cared, however, because it was never about the job. It was always about the life outside of the job. It still is.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t give my jobs all I could, because while I was on their clock I did. However, there was a line and it came about at the time clock. A manager tried to force me to do something at one point and thought that his job was all important and could dictate my life. “You’ll do it. You need a job or you wouldn’t be here.”

“True, I need a job, but that doesn’t mean I need this one.”

If it’s a matter of needing to do something with my family or work, my family will win every time. Those are the memories I’ll carry with me when the kids stick me into some old folks home for belligerent seniors.

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