I have quit jobs because of moral reasons. I have quit for ethical reasons. I have quit because I was unpaid and undervalued. I have quit because I had to move and couldn’t afford the commute. Hell, I’ve even quit a job because my paycheck earned me everything I’d wanted when I picked up a bag of pot, a pudding cake, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. But I have only once quit a job because I could no longer physically do it. At least, until now. To be clear, I haven’t quit my job yet, but even Flor has suggested that it might not be the worst thing which could happen. The fact is that the only reason I haven’t given notice is that I’m too damn proud to admit to myself that I might not have what it takes to do a minimum wage job. I went from being very good at what I do for a living, knowing what I had to do and when I had to do it on an instinctual level, to being someone who doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, and unable to do what he’s been assigned with any level of competency. I am aware that it will take some time to bring myself up to speed, that the jump from food service to retail is involves a fairly decent learning curve. I know that I will get faster with every shift I work, that it’s only a matter of tenacity.
And so it would be, if it weren’t for the nearly maddening level of agony from which I have been suffering since halfway through my shift yesterday. I mentioned before that I had quit a job because of my physical limitations. It was the winter of 2001, and I had just moved to Lake City (a drive through suburb north of Seattle) with some friends who’d decided that I probably shouldn’t be stuck living in a thicket behind the Safeway of our hometown while working at McDonald’s. I’d been contributing from savings while looking for a job, but nothing was coming through. Big surprise. One of these days I’m going to have a laugh at the predictability of my life, although back in December of 2001, it was the first time that I had ever had to leave a job and immediately look for something else. The only thing that I could find was Labor Ready, which allowed me to wait outside the office in the freeing cold so that I could fight for shitty manual labor gigs with all the other people there without any other skills. After about a week or so of digging ditches in the frozen earth, I discovered that I wasn’t built for labor of a physically demanding nature. There came a day when I could not get out of bed, when my muscles were so tense and stiff that even though I knew that I would lose the job, and have a hard time getting anything else through that agency, I just couldn’t move my body.
I got back into another McDonald’s, after pestering them with applications (which they were kind enough to reference when they called the apartment to let me know that I’d scored myself an interview- my roommates hadn’t truly been convinced that I’d been looking, you see, much like the Flor these past few months), and decided that restaurants were definitely a step above killing myself for a living. But even restaurants, fast-food though they might have been, can take their toll. With every move, with every resignation, I told myself that the next time around, I would find myself something that didn’t have anything to do with food, and every time I wound up back in the embrace of food service. I got good it at. I started getting promotions, and then worked my way up into senior management. I developed a skill set. Hell, I even started remembering the Spanish that I’d taken in high school, and within a few years, managed to make myself conversationally fluent. Aside from the normal wear and tear of multiple hours on my feet, the worst that I really had to deal with was the constant stress and pressure of running a business and giving a damn about my employees. The stress did a number on musculature, but I managed it as best I could. I’d spent so long being at the top of my game, that when I left this last time, I felt that I could do anything. Hell, I even thought that I could write.
My first non-training day was yesterday, and it almost broke me. I have never, never, unloaded that volume of product off of a truck before. It was a constant flow of cases ranging from nearly weightless to considerable heft. The boxes were all shapes and sizes, and it was our job to sort them into their departments’ pallets, stacking them as best we could, and keeping up with the neverending flow of more and more cardboard containers. By the time we’d finished, I thought that I might have caused permanent damage to myself. Honestly, if we hadn’t finished when we did, I might have had to notify the manager that I couldn’t continue. I realize that I’m entitled to see a physician if I am hurt while I’m at work, especially if I did everything correctly, but I didn’t want to be the white dude who just couldn’t cut it doing basic grunt work. It’s been a sobering experience, I have to say, proving to myself that I could not, in fact, do anything I set my mind to.
But there is the slightest of silver linings: I got a call yesterday that a fairly well-known Chinese fast-food place would be interested in talking to me about a management gig. It’s been over a month since I applied, but at least they’re getting back to me. If it turns out that I can score this job, it means significantly more money, steadier employment, and something that I can do with almost killing myself. I’m crossing my fingers that this works out, because now that Flor’s on board with me walking away from where I’m at, it’s hard to keep going back.