Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Lesson From Mom

"You have to learn the rules of the game,
and then you have to play better than anybody else."

~~Albert Einstein~~

I wanted a job when I was in high school, but my parents wouldn’t hear of it. They said my job was to go to school. I was allowed to babysit, but I was not allowed to go out and find a ‘real’ job. “Study,” they said. “Enjoy this time. You’ll be working the rest of your life.” That said, two days after I graduated, my mom, who worked for the Department of Employment, handed me a yellow job ticket and said, “You start Monday.”

It was an awful job and the best favor anyone ever did me.

I was a Pin-Ticket Operator in the warehouse of a small home store. Well, not a Pin-Ticket Operator, the Pin-Ticket Operator. The store wasn’t big enough to support more than one. Picture a Mom and Pop Walmart, without the charm. There I dragged myself every day and stood in front of a small machine that I loaded with paper rolls of steel straight pins, with which I attached price tags to soft goods: shirts, underwear, blouses, socks and household goods—and sometimes me. The first aid kit was a box of bandages I copped off aisle five.

The machine hated me almost as much as I hated it. I had to set type in a tiny page set, upside down and backwards, for each kind of merchandise I priced. That ‘tag page’ had to be reset—the automatic inker, re-inked—each time I began pricing a different item, size, color, or brand. Inventory control began and ended with me. I learned that a nine, upside-down, meant six, and ink doesn’t come out of a white blouse. Not ever.

The work was mind-numbing. I stood at that damn machine from eight to five, five-days a week. Unless I was unloading boxes from big trucks. That was where I really picked up the life skills: moving huge, heavy objects with no hand-holds from point A to point B without herniating a disc or breaking a toe.

From Midge, my co-worker and supervisor, I learned to never go into the merchandise stacks with a truck driver named Randy. He was. Very. (I learned from myself that I could disable a man with my knee.)

But what I learned more than anything else was that I didn’t ever want to be a Pin-Ticket Operator again in my life, if that meant I would die of starvation at the bottom of a dumpster outside a mall in Fargo, North Dakota. I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet, but this job in this place became number one on my list of Things That Will Suck You Dry.

I knew, there in that place, I was not only dancing to a tune I could not hear, frigid hands were  wrapped around my neck and would eventually choke the life right out of me. At eighteen, thanks to my mother, I irrevocably understood that I simply wasn’t cut out to pin tickets from a roll onto merchandise from a box with tickets on another roll all coming out of a machine that made an ugly noise. Endlessly, repetitiously pricing, stacking, stocking, packaging, and re-boxing merchandise I could barely afford, and would not want if I could, just wasn't on my dance card.

I did hear the seductive song of forever. I did feel the pull of destiny. I had no idea what either one of those things were, but I was going to, by God, find out. And even though the owner of the business, Mr. Fox, himself, took me out of the warehouse and made me the Accounts Receivable Clerk, I shook the dismal of that little place off me as fast as I could, and rumbled away into a life of my very-own making, the intervening years since a dizzying kaleidoscope of experiences I knew were there in that alluring song.

I knew they were.