Jobs v. Life is an examination of every job I've ever had, in order. We're on only the SECOND job: My time at McDonald's, which, when last we left, was about to come to an end.
I was not a popular guy in high school.
*Waits for gasps of surprise, shocked looks, gets none.*
Most people, I think, weren't popular in high school -- they couldn't be, right? If most people were popular than popular wouldn't mean anything.
But I never really had a chance, the way I see it: I was fat for my childhood, the kind of fat that ranges from "sort of pudgy" to "actually pretty big."
Fatness alone didn't make one not popular, though: Don O'Handley was fat, and short, and he had freckles, which really should have made him not popular (No offense to people who had freckles, but, well, it's true)* but he was a popular guy.
I also wore glasses, but not the cool kind of glasses. I wore the kind of glasses that began with me, as a third-grader and then fourth-grader, having to wear an eye patch, but not the cool kind of eye patch like Sally got to wear when she had what I have:*It's true only about people who had so many freckles that they blended in to become one big freckle. Which was everybody who had freckles. Nobody, in real life, ever has, say, three freckles, except that kid who played Tom Sawyer in the movie I think I remember seeing as a kid, and who then went on to play that rich kid on the show where he had a sister, and I think a butler. Maybe his name was Jody. But the point is, if you have freckles, you have lots of freckles. Also, the point is that it kind of seems like nobody has freckles anymore, at least to me. Freckles, as a thing, seems to have gone out of style, like white socks with two, or three, colored stripes on them pulled up nearly to our knees.
That kind of eye patch wasn't used when I had an eye patch; doctors instead preferred to use a flesh-colored, band-aid style eye patch that fit over the eye perfectly and makes one look like a cyclops from more than 3' away.
That, too, probably wasn't the sole reason I wasn't a cool kid, because some of the cool kids had glasses, although none of them had only one eye for a while, thanks very much, doctors.
No, the reason I wasn't a cool kid was that... I wasn't a cool kid. There's no way to say it otherwise. Some people are cool and some people are not. Think of The Fonz, which a guy named Andy Kemp did a lot in fifth and sixth grades.
Andy Kemp loved The Fonz, which I suppose is about the right timing for him to love The Fonz, because Happy Days started airing in 1974, and I was in 5th and 6th grades with Andy Kemp in 1980 and 1981.
The Fonz wore leather jackets and t-shirts and gave the thumbs-up and said Heyyyyyyy and rode motorcycles, all of which people think made him cool. But it didn't. Think: You've seen people who wear leather jackets and t-shirts, or who ride motorcycles, and how many of them are cool? Speaking as someone who lived in Milwaukee when they had that Harley-Fest in the 1990s, I can tell you that approximately 0% of motorcycle riders are cool and approximately 1,000,000% of them will cut you off as you're walking to your job at the theater and also rev their engines at 3 a.m. near your apartment so you can't sleep.
No, The Fonz was cool because The Fonz was cool, and so whatever he did was cool, even jumping that shark, which people tried to make uncool and it's become synonymous with becoming uncool but let's face it: Fonzie jumping that shark was cool too.
So is the name Fonzie.
This is all going somewhere.
Anyway, Andy Kemp loved The Fonz and so Andy Kemp, as a fifth and sixth grader and probably even older except that I'm pretty sure I stopped being talked to by Andy Kemp after sixth grade, would emulate The Fonz. Literally. He stuck up his thumbs and he said Heyyyyyy like The Fonz and he wore white t-shirts and he even seemed to try to style his hair like The Fonz, only more feathered, and otherwise made himself look ridiculous, except that Andy Kemp was cool and so when he did it, it was cool.
Had I put on a white t-shirt and stuck my thumbs up and said Heyyyyy people would have (rightly) laughed at me. Because I was not cool.
So here's where this is all going: I got fired from McDonald's because I was not cool but I desperately wanted to be cool even though I had no shot of ever being cool in my life. I didn't know that then; I know it now, and I tell my kids the truth, the truth being: If you're not cool, you never will be, and then people like Oldest Daughter go off and be cool anyway, surprising me because somehow they turned out cool and then I feel a little rejected all over again.
(I suspect that Sweetie was cool in high school, although it doesn't seem like she was and she denies it. She was elected to something or other: Homecoming Queen, or Butter Queen, or some sort of Queen, and she was a cheerleader, I think, and also she tells this story about having to wear a swimsuit in a talent contest that she's a little hazy on the details but which I secretly think might have been a Miss Teen America show or something like that. That might explain how Oldest turned out to be cool, and The Boy, I think, was cool, too. Middle doesn't seem to have been cool but that may be because she was cool but didn't care about it because Middle is a driven person and doesn't much care what people around her think, which may be part of being cool, as I care all too much about what people think, even though I say I don't.)
My firing, in short, came about because society has complex rules for determining who is in and who is out and some people are able to understand and work within those rules, and some people-- like me -- are aware that the rules exist but that's it; we can't determine how to work within them and also spent a lot of time reading comic books.
And also it came about because there was a party, and we thought we could get in, "we" being me, and my friends Fred, and Bob, and "Flan."
Fred, Bob, "Flan" and my friend Eric, a guy who got straight As and graduated I think second in our class and went on to be very successful as far as I could tell from trying to find out about him on Facebook before I got kicked off of Facebook for being too social -- comprised my basis social group, and somehow, that weekend, we had gotten invited, kind of, to a party. I say "kind of" because that was how these things worked; there weren't formal invites, after all. If you were able to find out about the party from someone who was going to the party, you were able to go to the party, too, and if you went to the party and brought with you a couple of people who weren't completely unacceptable, they, too, might go to the party.
So how we were getting into this party was this: Bob was dating a girl named Stephanie, from Oconomowoc, and Stephanie was friends with someone who was having a party, which meant that somehow, Bob was clearly invited to the party.**
**Side note: We were not from Oconomowoc. We were from Hartland, which even I knew made us better than the people from Oconomowoc. No matter what rung of the social ladder we occupied in Hartland [very low and somewhat off to one side, in my case] we were above every single person from Oconomowoc, because they were from Oconomowoc. The only thing worse than being from Oconomowoc, from our perspective, was being from Pewaukee.***
***That was the kind of social stratification that existed when I was a kid and a teen, and may still well exist now, although if it does I pay it no real attention not because I'm better than that but because my circle of friends now consists of (a) people I work with and who I do not therefore want to socialize with (b) my kids and Sweetie, and (c) a law school friend I talk to by phone once a year and (d) two friends of Sweetie's that I get to be friends with by default. So I don't know where I fit in the social order nowadays [probably very low, and still somewhat off to the side], and I'm sure I'm a bitter disappointment to my parents, who were vigilant about enforcing social standing, vigilant to a degree which would have gratified and embarrassed Charlotte Bronte. In my parent's world, social standing depended on a complex mixture of "how good your lawn was," "what city you lived in" "what street in that city you lived on" "whether you parked your car on the driveway or inside the garage like a civilized human being" "how often your kids fought and whether they could be overheard by the neighbors fighting in the yard about dumb stuff because what will the neighbors think" and, most importantly, "whether you put your Christmas tree in front of the window where everyone could see it," that last being an unforgivable social sin.
The only problem with going to this party, a legitimate party where we would be legitimately invited sort of and there would be legitimate friends of Stephanie's who might kind of like Bob's friends, was that I had to work at McDonald's, and my friends, selfishly, did not want to wait until 10:30 p.m. or so to go to the party that started at 8:30 or so, and my Dad, selfishly, did not want to let me drive our car, which at that time was a brand-new Pontiac Gran Prix with t-tops that we would sometime take off and put in the trunk and drive around in pseudo-convertible style.
I was in a bind, clearly, as the forces of evil/nature/something or other conspired against me to make me... work... when clearly my life would be better spent drinking too-foamy beer from a poorly-tapped keg in the kitchen of a house owned by someone who didn't know any better than to live and raise their kids in Oconomowoc and so deserved having teenagers getting drunk in her house and hopefully making out with one of Stephanie's friends.
So I asked my dad, again, whether I could use the car to go to work and then go out that night, but my dad, who valued that car far more highly than he valued the likelihood that Stephanie had a friend who was hot and would like pudgy guys who read science fiction, said no, so I tried a different tactic:
"Can you call me in sick to work?" I asked him.
You can see, in that question, that I had, through 16 years of living, learned little to nothing about life and in particular about my dad, who got up every day at 5:00 a.m. to drive to work, work being actual work at that time, driving a truck and delivering soda to various grocery stores.
My dad absolutely refused to do that, pointing out to me that I was not sick and that he would not let me call in sick because I wasn't sick, and also that it was important to go to work because something or other, I don't know.
Proving that even smart kids like me are stupid, I said:
"But there's a party I want to go to and Bob and Fred and Flan won't wait for me to get off work to drive me out there," and I didn't finish the sentence because there was no place to go after that, given that my dad interrupted with another speech about the importance of blah blah blah.
Looking back, now, I'm pretty sure Dad was talking about how important it is to develop good work habits and/or whether or not I made a commitment to my job and/or how they were counting on me, and it's 99% likely that somewhere in there was the phrase "never amount to much" if I didn't do whatever it was I was supposed to do, but let's examine the facts:
A. A party existed that I could go to.
B. Competing with that party was my "job" at "McDonald's."
C. Was I going to be working at McDonald's all my life?
D. No, clearly not, especially given that
E. I agreed with my Dad on everything he said and then went upstairs and used the phone in his and my Mom's room to call my boss at McDonald's and tell him that I was too sick to come in to work that night and couldn't make it in and I was really very sick and also I couldn't make it in, and then I called Bob and told him to come pick me up at McDonald's and then I went back downstairs and got my McDonald's uniform and had my dad drive me to work, where I had him drop me off at the driveway leading to the McDonald's instead of right at the store adn then I pretended to walk towards the restaurant until he left, and then I went and hung out at the end of the driveway to the McDonald's where my boss couldn't see me until Bob picked me up and we went to the party.
Regretfully, none of Stephanie's friends were into guys like me, because teenage girls were largely not into guys like me, which meant I spent that Friday night much like I've spent every Friday night for most of my teens and twenties: avoiding responsibility while standing sort of near a group of people roughly my age and pretending I was a part of that group.
That particular Friday night was somewhat different, though, in that when I got home, around midnight, the party having ended when the poorly-tapped keg stopped giving out even foam, my Dad was still awake and said to me:
"How was work?"
I shrugged and acted nonchalant, even though I wasn't really sure what nonchalant meant, and said: "It was fine."
He nodded and I started to go up to bed, and he called after me:
"Your boss called. Wanted to know how you were feeling."
Standing on our stairway, I paused, and said cautiously:
"What'd you tell him?"
My dad waited just a second or two and said:
"I told him you were at a party, so you must be feeling fine."
I was scheduled to work at 11 a.m. the next day. My dad drove me to work, and I walked inside, already dressed in my uniform and trying to act, again, nonchalant.
My boss was there in the tiny office he used off to the right of the grill where breakfasts were made.
"Hey," I said, looking for my time card and pretending this was just an ordinary day.
He looked at me and said "You don't think you still have a job here, do you?"
I said: "I thought I did."
He said: "You don't. Turn in your uniform when you get your check Friday. Make sure it's washed."
So I went back outside, being careful not to look at anyone except Terry, the crew chief, who shook his head at me and turned away.
When I went outside, my dad wasn't there anymore, and I had to go back inside and ask to use the office phone to call my dad for a ride home.