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A Literary Sketch of Many Dead-Ends

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Who in their right mind goes looking for employment in a greenhouse in October?  My sixteen-year-old self didn’t think anything of it, though.  It was a small yet sprawling compound of all things green and leafy just off Highway 45.  The parking lot was littered with different piles of stone, clearance rose bushes, pumpkins and square hay bales, as well as a myriad of odd cement sculptures waiting for paint or glaze.  The store front itself was mostly white with plenty of windows and sliding glass doors.  It was open in the back to the nursery.  Three other greenhouses could be found just to the south of the main building.

The inside had murals painted on the walls of vines, leaves, and flowers while the uneven concrete floor boasted what would have been a rather impressive impression of a water feature; now it was scuffed and chipped by the many carts of vegetation going in and out.  Sorghum molasses, raw honey, and all manner of jam were available for purchase and displayed on an old, ten-foot trailer in the middle of the showroom floor.  Potting soil and fertilizer all lay in sorted stacks along three of the walls and separating the public from the nursery was an old-timey wooden counter filled with glass-front drawers for holding seeds.  This counter, though it seemed fragile and dirty from age and use, was charged with holding up what seemed to be two of the first electric cash registers ever made as well as a tired-looking, sun-darkened old man who said he was the owner.

“I don’t have any work for ya right now, season’s almost over.  M’ wife and I are ’bout to go on vacation ‘fore the holidays hit.  Try back with me in February.”

That’s exactly what I did.  Trudging through the slush of a would-be snow, I put in my application for my very first job at that old, wooden counter, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the Feed ‘N Seed store went under about ten years prior.

At first, I didn’t get the job, but one of their long-time employees took a housekeeping job at the local university so that her son, a very bright boy, would have the chance to go to a private institution tuition-free.  She trained me a bit and I worked with her mostly on the weekends, but I was glad to be rid of her during the week because she was a mean-spirited woman who didn’t know how to watch her tongue – or simply didn’t care to do so.

I worked there nearly every day after school during the spring semester of my senior year doing transplants, watering the starters, and running the cash register for minimum wage.  My employment ended shortly after Mother’s Day because by that point those who were going to garden already had it in the ground and those who waited until May to plant probably wouldn’t end up fooling with it.

From there, I worked at two different gas stations in the surrounding area.  One was privately owned and my employment lasted just three short weeks.  I was fired for going on vacation, although I already had permission to do so.  I quit the other one after another three weeks and vowed that it would be my last job in a gas station.  The assistant manager could hardly manage to function after her mid-morning blunt and was certainly no help to someone such as myself who required more guidance than she was capable of supplying.  When I quit, I had to write a letter to corporate explaining why things didn’t work out.  I sang like a canary and when I went in to pick up my last paycheck, she was there to confront me.  I held my own and she was fired shortly thereafter for failing a drug test because the general manager wasn’t there to skew the results in her favor.

After dealing with the lowest of the low, I scored a great job for a huge corporation as a “package handler”.  It was summertime still.  The warehouse was scorching hot and both the work and the hours were grueling.  From 3:00AM until 8:00AM, I sorted packages as part of a team of three in my very first pair of steel-toed boots.  This job, too, proved to be too much and after months of my paycheck being wrong and my supervisor denying my requests to speak to the warehouse manager, a dear, personal friend of mine, about the issues, I snapped.  I said some unkind things to that woman and never showed up to work again.  Within a week, the deficits in my pay had been resolved but I was still out of a great job that I never should have quit, as I was just six months shy of receiving benefits.

I was jobless and desperate when a friend of mine arranged for me to be his replacement when he left his food service job at a small, family-owned BBQ restaurant inside of a gas station just off of the interstate.  It was here that I met He-Man.  He was kind and helpful with a willingness to do good work in spite of the overbearing manager.  He was the reason I lasted six months at this job before conflicts with the schedule and co-workers alike caused me to walk away from yet another dead-end job.

Then, I went to the Kitchen.  My bills were piling up and for a while I resorted to selling plasma at clinics around town just to make ends meet, but eventually it just wasn’t enough.  Against my better judgment, I agreed to take a sort of under-the-table job at a small-town restaurant where I worked as a waitress for tips only – no wage.  I was lucky to make $50 at the end of a ten-hour day but the other waitresses and I had been lucky.  Those in the kitchen were only paid $3/hr under the table – $30 per day.  The owner was a mean, hateful man who used the Bible to cover his filthy trail of lies and deceit.  I was looking for another job anywhere and everywhere when he cornered me behind the bar and proceeded to yell at me in front of God and everyone about the things I had done and how I was “trashy” and “stupid”.  I left there sobbing and afraid.

I left the kitchen and went straight to another restaurant across town and – still sobbing and distraught – begged the owner, a favorite customer of mine, for a job.  She heard my story and hired me on the spot.  It was a risky move for her because, while she paid her waitresses a bit more than minimum wage, her restaurant was struggling and she really couldn’t afford another waitress.  I was so grateful that she would take a chance on me like that and I promised that I would not let her down.  While I was not her pet, per say, I was her most trusted employee.  Soon after I was hired, she tried to give me hours and responsibility wherever she could.  With no experience to speak of, she had me cook some, prep more, bake cakes, do dishes, keep inventory, make bank deposits, and more.  She gave me back the confidence that was destroyed during my time in the Kitchen.  She cared for me greatly and was sad to see me go when I decided to move to Florida.  I felt bad leaving her the way I did but she was truly glad that I had found myself and would be making a life for myself somewhere.  She hated to see me struggle financially just because I depended on her struggling business to support myself.

This brings me to where I am now.  I am working three jobs:  two as a waitress, one doing commercial cleaning.  He-Man is still a cook but he loves his job now and is more than thankful to be rid of the BBQ place just off the interstate.  He worked there for two and a half years for minimum wage with not so much as a “keep up the good work”.  Now, he is being evaluated for his second raise in the three months that he has been at his new job and could not be more proud of himself.  We do the cleaning together, working as a team for his uncle’s business.  Although we work long, hard hours, we can’t help but feel blessed because we know we didn’t have these kinds of opportunities in Tennessee.

I’ve worked some pretty bad jobs, but I’ve also given up some pretty good ones out of stupidity.  I’m older and wiser now and I hope to keep myself from making the same mistakes again.  I have shown myself that I am stronger and more capable than I ever imagined.  They say that you reap what you sow and I am so proud to say that I am definitely reaping the benefits of all my hard work.

Claire

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