I started working within a week of my 16th birthday. I hit the strip mall closest to my house on my birthday, or maybe a few days before, and filled out applications in the car. My mom drove me in our maroon suburban that smelled occasionally like old bananas, because my parents didn’t want me to have my license yet. I jumped up and down when I got the first job I applied for and spent the next three months working at Subway, in three to seven hour shifts, and spending my paychecks on cheap sunglasses and CDs from the record store on Mill Ave.
My boss was a 22-year-old stoner who listened to Skinny Puppy and threw keggers and he terrified me. Not because he made me feel like a kid, although he did, but because he was my boss. He was outwardly irritated when I asked for weekend nights off. He kept a close eye on my sandwiches to make sure I didn’t put more than two pieces of cheese and three slices of iridescent roast beef on each six-inch length of bread. He knew I routinely broke cookies and burned bread and wrapped subs so loosely that they fell apart in customer’s hands. So when the time came to stop working at Subway, I was afraid to tell him. I was afraid to tell him that I waited too long to put in my two weeks, so I had only sketchily limited availability for the next week and a half.
I waited until what I wanted to be my last day, and Skinny Puppy wasn’t there, a fact I welcomed with equal parts relief and dismay. I was scheduled from 3:00 to 10:00 p.m. By 6:45, my coworkers knew it was my last day. By 7:00 we were eating cookies and waging a war with the condiments. At 8:45 they told me I could take off early without cleaning up, an act of kindness if I ever saw one. In my cowardice, I opted to leave Skinny Puppy a note with my half-a**ed notice. And would you know it, there was no paper in the entire store. So I wrote what should have been three lines on a sheet of a 8.5 by 11 on over a foot of receipt paper I pulled from the register. I said that I wanted to quit. I said that I could come in the next week, in three-hour chunks, on Tuesday and Thursday. I apologized. And I left smelling like sandwiches and never came back (um, except to buy sandwiches, on a regular basis, for the next several years). But Skinny Puppy didn’t put me on the schedule, or call me, and I always felt like a jerk for the way I left.
Having worked a multitude of low-wage jobs since that first, I now realize that I could have done lot worse, and that 22-year-old franchise managers count themselves lucky when people even bother to tell them they’re not coming back. (Although I have no way of knowing if Skinny Puppy even realized the long receipt pinned to the wall was a note, and maybe he thought I just didn’t show up.) Having worked nearly continuously since the day I turned 16, I’ve also learned that there’s no time quite like that last day or last week or last two weeks of work. It’s a blessed freeing time when it becomes clear that everything you’ve been working at for the last however long doesn’t matter in the way you thought it did and your job is just a job and there will always be another one.
I put in my notice yesterday. I still have a few weeks. And when I leave, I will still be a lawyer. I will be working in a different office, for a different employer, with different people, and I will inherit or grow a whole new set of stresses. In the meantime, I’m going to try not to get in a condiment fight in the office.