Monday, February 14, 2011

McDonald's, 4 (Jobs v. Life)

It's been a really long time since I last checked in with an installment of Jobs v. Life, my essays about the jobs I've had, in the order I had them... and what (if anything?) I learned from them. This is part 4 about my second job, at McDonald's. Click here for a table of contents.

Over the course of the 18 months I worked there, my job at McDonald's did not change much. Once in a while, I worked the breakfast shift, cooking not hamburgers but Egg McMuffins and biscuits and hotcakes. About two times I worked the cash register or drive-through window, but that was not my destiny, it seemed, to be the public face of the McDonald's at Highway 83 in Delafield.

Mostly, I spent my time at the grill station and the fry station -- because while the new guys tended to cover the fry station, there weren't always new guys to do that, so it fell on other people, and I was mostly those other people.

I got, I think, two reviews during the entire time I worked there, getting a raise each time, and at the time I'm pretty sure that I didn't get what I now assume to be the point of those reviews, and those raises: I just assumed that because I was getting a raise, I was doing all right.

But the raises, and the fact that I remained in neutral as far as my advancement at McDonald's was concerned, should have tipped me off that perhaps I was not a rising star in the fast food world.

Not that I wanted to be.

I really put forth no effort beyond showing up and doing what I was told, and that seemed enough to me at the time. For me, in fact, that was more effort than I was putting forth in many other areas of my life, like school.

At school, I showed up, but I didn't really do what I was told. I did what I had to do to get good grades while not really intruding on my life, which is a totally different thing. Back then -- I was 16 when I started at McDonald's and 17 when I finished there -- as now, my life was set up to minimize the impact that work and school would have on it. Work and school have never been my life; they've been diversions (at best) and annoyances or downright tedious diversions (at worst) that slow down my progress in life.

Work and school have been, for me, the traffic jam on the way to the beach.

So as far back as I can remember -- and that's not as far back, now, as it used to be, because as I advance in years I'm pulling my memories with me. Each year I live is a year I can't remember when I was younger. I now have trouble remembering more than one thing from third grade-- that one thing is the diorama I made of Jesus' life with Lisa Steinbrenner as my partner -- and I can only remember a few things from Ms. Talaska's fourth-grade class, like the fact that she really liked The Flintstones and that in the beginning of the year her name was Miss Dolenchek and then she got married, so we had to call her something different.

But I bet by next year, I won't remember those, really, and I'll have dimmer memories of fifth grade, my memories vanishing behind me as I create new ones, so that I'm always, mentally, the same age.

As I write that, I think maybe I've hit on something there... because I never feel like I'm 42 years old. I feel, maybe, about 25 or 30, which really makes it shocking when I look in the mirror and see the receding hairline and the ever-more-visible start to the jowls that run in my side of the family (jowls that, sadly, Mr Bunches already has, only on him it's not sad, it's cute, because jowls on a four-year-old are pudgy cheeks, so he's benefitting from the very things I spend my mornings trying to push back into my chin while I shave.)(It doesn't work.)

But maybe, while my body is 42 years old, my mind isn't yet, because as those old memories drop away, as I can only remember back, with certainty, about 30 years, maybe that's what's keeping my mind feeling young -- I don't have all those excess memories dragging me down, a virtual albatross. Instead, those memories are the jetsam that, thrown out, keep my mind lighter and carefree, making me able to still feel, mentally at least, relatively young -- young enough that I can find more enjoyment in Peanuts than in Dilbert, at least.

For whatever reason, when I look back, I don't remember much about work, or school, probably at least in part because I tried so hard to make sure those things didn't have an impact on my life. At school, especially, I did the bare minimum -- or maybe not, depending on how you look. Take my British Literature class that I had junior year in high school. Have you, or anyone you know, ever read British literature? No, you haven't, and don't lie. It's impossible to read -- and that's only made worse by the fact that once something's an assignment, it becomes work and I no longer want to do it.

I love reading, and I liked British literature, or at least what I took to be British literature before I took a class in British literature, and by that I mean "stories about King Arthur," which I had in a book that had been given to me by an aunt or grandmother or someone like that, and I mean "The Lord Of The Rings, the Narnia books, and The Sword In The Stone," all of which were by British authors and were literature, and so I assumed that in Brit Lit we'd be reading things like that.

I was wrong.

We read things like The Canterbury Tales, a collection of poems which is like The AntiStory, so powerful is it's ability to destroy a love of reading. And we read Beowulf, for some reason, even though I'm pretty sure, now, that it wasn't a British story at all. And we read other things, like the stories of King Arthur, but by then I'd given up even trying to read, in class or out of class. I had read maybe 3 pages of that junk and given up, so instead of even trying to read it, I just listened really well in class and figured that would substitute for actually reading the assignments, and it did because I got a 108 on the final exam, which was in essay form. In case you're wondering, the scale was 1-to-100; I got 8 points extra credit on top of a perfect score.

That was pretty much how I operated in every class in high school: do the most minimal amount of work consistent with getting A's and B's, which, for me, was a really minimal amount of work. My textbooks barely looked used, and I read lots of comic books in the meanwhile, and the whole thing only failed one time, in Chemistry class, where I got a "C" because the final exam was to identify a salt through various chemical tests, and I couldn't fake my way through that and never identified my salt, but Mr. Hassemer for some reason still gave me a C, so I guess it worked.

With that kind of (not at all a) work ethic, "just showing up and doing what I was told" at McDonald's was, as you'll probably agree, a big leap forward for me. I couldn't fake making 10 hamburgers or mopping the break room, so I had to do it. But I did just that, and nothing more. I showed up, I did my job, and then I went home. And in return, McDonald's let me keep showing up, let me keep doing my job, let me keep getting paid ($2.45 per hour, at the end.)

And I thought, at the time, that was fine. I had no ideas that this was going to be a career, after all -- back then I was going to be a doctor, I assumed, because that was what my parents said I should be. (And also the president. Seriously.) I didn't really want to advance, or do anything else there, except that the other jobs that people were doing seemed easier than the jobs I was doing. It seemed easier to be on the cash register than fries -- or at least less hot and greasy. It seemed easier to be the crew chief calling out how many burgers to make than to be the guy who's making those burgers.

So while I wanted the easier jobs, I also didn't want to do anything to get them, and, in retrospect, my failure to advance at McDonald's, where people could (I'm pretty sure) rise from fry vat guy to assistant manager in about 2 months, really says something... as does the fact that I kept getting only those nickel raises. I worked about 12-15 hours a week, so a nickel raise meant sixty cents more per week, and that wasn't back in a time when you could say "well, sixty cents was valuable then." This wasn't 1882. It was 1985, and sixty cents was nothing.

But back then, I didn't make the connection that's so easy for me to make, now -- that getting more than a nickel raise, getting advancement, required more than just showing up and doing what you're told. I maybe didn't make that connection because it was my first job, or maybe I didn't care all that much because it was just McDonald's, or maybe it was that simply getting to an easier job didn't seem worth putting forth any effort - -that kind of worked against it, in fact, if I had to work harder to get an easier job -- but most likely it was simply that I didn't care all that much, period.

I'd had to get a job because my parents made me, and because that was what you did, and because I needed money. The job I got was the one that was available, and it fulfilled all the criteria of a job: It paid me to show up and do what I was told.

At least, until I stopped showing up.

1 comment:

Rogue Mutt said...

I worked at Burger King my first year plus in college and about all it taught me was that working in fast food really sucks. To this day I try not to make too much of fuss, try not to be one of those d-bags who orders fries with "no salt" or a Coke with "no ice" or demands my Whopper be cut into fourths because I remember when I was behind the counter and how annoying that was.

They never gave me a raise but for some reason they put me on the cash register; maybe because I was majoring in accounting and I could count without using my fingers and toes.

It's good to write things down because you do forget a lot, so this way you can always look back and kickstart your memories.