Get Off My Back

Mary Alice and I moved from Hawaii to Columbus, Ohio in the Summer of 2001.  While she was off to Ohio State for Grad School, I was left spinning my wheels a bit.  I figured I'd get some lame job, and then, whatever.  I first got a job at an Auntie Anne's at the newly opened Polaris Fashion Place.  Since the business itself was also new, they trained all the employees at once on how to roll pretzels (impossible), operating their huge oven (scary), and pouring drinks (more like it).  Before the place opened to the public, I offered to the lady who was training us that I could handle the cash register.  She laughed and said "We'll find something for you to do," because I guess I looked like a fucking idiot.  They put me on the drink station for three cents an hour, while I subsequently planned my exit strategy.  There was a Panera Bread in a shopping center across the way, which surely had more dignity.  I went and applied after a few days at the Pretzel Wagon, and I was headed for the greener pastures of the Bacon Turkey Bravo within a week.


The first couple days there were pretty uneventful.  It was a decent wage for the time, and I was happy to be out of the shopping mall.  They started me off with part-time hours, and I performed some relatively simple tasks.  When they made up an official schedule for me, they had me on opening shift for every day I was there.  While I had put on my application that I was available to open, I didn't consider that they'd actually make me do it.  The first day I opened, I woke up at about 4:30 AM, while Mary Alice grudgingly got up to drive me there in the freezing darkness.  My first task was to help bake the bread and pastries.  It was a lot of work, and everything I touched burned my hands.  By the time we were ready to open to the public, I was completely exhausted.  


Here's the thing - I am not a morning person, but it goes beyond playfully joking about it with Garfield posters (pictured below).  If I get up really early and start having to  do things, I feel this fatigue that causes erratic behavior in me.  My back starts to tighten up, I feel really dry, and think a lot of bad thoughts.  Granted this was before I drank coffee - hell, let's get to Garfield.

After that first day, I asked the person who interviewed me if I could work a different shift.  She was incredulous, and told me that I was hired because I said could do the opening shift.  I think I said something to her along the lines of "I didn't think I'd have to actually  do it."  The second day I opened, I was asked to wipe down the tables and chairs in the dining room.  I guess I took the request too literally, because I took a long time and meticulously wiped every table and every chair, which probably took upwards of half an hour.  After completing this task, I sat down to take a rest.  A manager came out to the dining room to ask me what I was doing, and I told him I was resting.  Later that day, that same manager called me outside to have a discussion.  He sat me down with an assistant manager, and asked me if there was a problem.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  He said the assistant manager had earlier tried to show me how to use the cash register, and that I had pushed her hand away when she tried to press the item buttons.  I told him that it wasn't done maliciously, and that I probably did it because it's how best I learn.  The truth was that I didn't even remember that happening, I was so goddamn tired and out of my mind.  I told them that there was no problem, but they started to give me weird looks from here on.


Upon the morning of day three, I was starting to lose my shit.  This guy came to the register, and ordered a medium-sized milk.  I told him that we didn't have medium, that we had small and large.   He insisted that he wanted a medium, so I told him I would oblige his request.  I took a Styrofoam cup that had parts of another cup that had torn off inside, and filled it two-thirds of the way with milk.  As I began to help the next person in line, he began to complain to another employee about his milk.  He said that normally he "Gets a full cup, without another cup torn off inside," and proceeded to glare at me. Filled now with insane rage, I fiercely responded, "Get off my back, okay?!"  He immediately asked for a higher-up.  The same manager who had facilitated meeting with the assistant manager listened to the customer's grievance, and asked me to wait in his office.  After a short time, he came into the office and explained that I can't talk like that to customers.  I replied angrily, saying something along the lines of "I won't allow myself to be treated like a dog!"  That was it for him, and he told me I was no longer employed by Panera Bread.  I accused him of "Making up his mind about firing me way before this even happened," called Mary Alice in a frenzy, and asked to be picked up.  


She wasn't at all pleased with me, to put it very, very mildly.   We had been scraping along financially, and this was my second job left in two weeks.  She later told me that it might have been the angriest she'd ever been with me.  I felt like a crumpled up piece of paper.  This was years before my PSTD-diagnosis, and I recognize now that much of my behavior and around this time could be linked to that.  After about an hour of shouting and hurt feelings, we decided I should try and call Panera to ask for my job back, as we felt that was the punk rock thing to do.  The manager guy said something like, "No, we don't do that," and that was it.


I eventually decided to put my community college degree to use and ended up going to school at Ohio State about a year later.  At one point in 2005 I took a quarter off because I felt burned out, and I went back to that same Panera to see about part-time work.  Enough turnover had occurred that nobody who was there knew me from that first time.  The lady who interviewed me thought I was great.  She asked if I had ever applied to Panera before, and I said I had applied to this very one.  "You did? What happened?" she asked.   "I don't know," I shrugged.  "They never called me back."