I talk to my dog. ‘If you’re not having any fun, what’s the goddamn point?’ she says. Leave it to Rosa to get to the heart of the matter.
I’ve worked at Walmart as a second job, but it might become my only job. At first I’d thought I’d keep my hand in as a guy “working with kids” and juggle Walmart and substitute teaching, come August. But I don’t know.
I’ve got no connections, no ins. Subbing would be just like that day I spent driving a taxi in Cleveland and broke even driving overweight inner-city ladies to the supermarket, and no tip. I’ve subbed before. Subbing would probably be leftovers, same as last time. I’d keep pulling special-ed rooms full of angry, emotionally disturbed kids.
So maybe just Walmart. It’s reliable. And some days you don’t even get sub jobs. I need something regular.
Moreover, I’ve found Walmart to be a benevolent employer. Now that’s really weird coming from the son of ardently leftist parents. I inherited from my father a freelance job doing PR for a union that picketed Walmart, the juggernaut that mowed down mom-and-pop America. The Frank Capra movie of American life is gone. The era of the big box store is a fait accompli thanks to Sam.
But Walmart’s done all right by me.
I didn’t realize how much I liked the job until recently when I had to fight to keep it. I had a beef with a crew boss who had been mistreating me, humiliating me in front of co-workers. It was in the dairy cooler, he was asking me where I’d been, like I was some malingerer. And I work hard! I scurry around the place like some damn coolie. I admitted I’d been in the can. Upon further abusive interrogation, I admitted it had taken a long time because I’d had diarrhea. He kept yelling about unwarranted slacking-off, treating me like a punk kid. I am a 65-year-old man. Maybe I fool people because I’m muscular and lift big boxes. But I’m really an old guy and I deserve some dignity, damn it.
I didn’t sleep that night.
Next day I telephoned an old Cleveland friend, who, after delivering himself of a few choice epithets regarding this boss of mine, counseled me to complain. “Bad enough you’ve got to be a punching bag for these asshole kids. You shouldn’t have to take this shit.”
I complained in Personnel the day after that.
It just so happened the crew boss had a two-week break from the store (family affairs, training in another facility, I forget), so I wouldn’t have to see him for a while. I continued reporting to the Walmart gig, Saturdays and Sundays, 4 a.m. to 1 p.m., bracing for the day my nemesis would return.
After the two weeks were up, he still didn’t come back. In fact, CAP 1 didn’t have a crew leader. The overnight manager came in and mustered us, or the top veteran grunt on the crew was told to order people around. The crew was winging it. Going about my business, I finally asked someone about the old crew boss, what had become of him. The guy I was asking and a few people around him laughed. Nobody would tell me anything.
Finally the crew boss did come back.
I’d seen him as hot tempered, certainly in his dealings with me, who he thought had a don’t-give-a-shit attitude, and so in anticipation for this I was even ready to go outside and handle it that way if that was what he wanted. But nothing of the sort was in the air. Soon as we found ourselves in the same room, during the 4 a.m. mustering (we used the Personnel office for this purpose), it was as if the ugliness had never happened. As he was doling out the orders, and I got mine, I said “Aye-aye, sir,” and shot a finger salute off my forehead, sitting at three-quarters angle from him in my chair.
I’m guessing he’d had his ears pinned back and had got put on something else for a spell, and the ultimate powers that be figured the thing was healed.
And, somehow, it was.
We’ve been getting along great. He sees he had me pegged wrong. This same guy just gave me a fair, positive review, as I’ve been there about a year.
And to think I’d been ready to quit the job!
One passive-aggressive little geek who works the CAP 1 crew and had heard my scolding had even said, in the wake of it, that he’d quit if he had been treated that way. Which also burned me up. Some of these assholes thought I didn’t really need the job. They thought I had money, being a teacher. Good one, huh? I’ve had to disabuse him, and some others, of that notion. I don’t have many options. I’m the same rat-on-a-treadmill financially as they are. I need Walmart to make my monthly nut! So anyway, I still have the job. I’m dug in.
So there you have it: a 65-year-old cart-pusher who fought for his job at Walmart.
It would be sad. Except it isn’t.
I was telling my therapist about a kind of happiness that comes from the damn job. Just the doing of it.
Like say I’m in the dairy cooler to label pallets of overstock. It’s 4:20 in the a.m. I’ve got my knit hat on, long-sleeved jersey, one of the polar windbreakers they make available to people working there or the shivering Antarctic freezer. I’m in the moment: scanning and marking boxes, fixing printed labels on them, stocking bins, “capping” bins to draw out merch for the retail floor, working freight and capped “picks.” It’s a simple task, free of “drama,” for which I receive a wage that enables me to pay bills. In a sense I enjoy it more than trying to be a high school teacher.
There have been two worlds, two populations, at the school, which I’ve dealt with. One, the honest stalwarts who read and write, and whom I’ll miss, some with a pang.
Two, stoned ruffians who’ll do anything to avoid the work, and get away with it because I don’t know how to police away their lethargy and plagiarism. I feel my weakness as a teacher. I try my best. With three weeks left in the torture, I don’t even care anymore. Add in the exquisite little irony of my having been a stoned fuck-up myself in twelfth grade, and you’ve got the whole picture. This aspect of the job constitutes an ink blot that has blackened the whole pool.
I’m not the popular teacher. I wasn’t at the last school I’d taught at either.
At that previous job, with the “accommodation” district, there got to be two schools you went back and forth teaching at. One was a one-room school house, a fish bowl with all the kids with their laptops and books surrounded by two teachers and one aide at any one time. The other school, which drove me to quit, was devised to look and feel like a real high school. They had them scheduled in staged subjects, one after another; they went to a room for math, then one for English, etc. But in actual practice the kids went wherever they wanted.
There got to be competing entertainment venues.
The science teacher had a big advantage with that Smart Board on which he broadcast YouTube car races and AC/DC concerts. The acid-head social studies guy had a multimedia rig-up; Doors music issued from state-of-the-art speakers while lyrics scrolled down a screen hugging the wall. It was all on the computer but nobody was working.
I sat in my room, where I tried to interest them in To Kill a Mockingbird and A Separate Peace, and found myself more and more alone. When kids asked if they could go to another teacher’s room, I didn’t have the heart to stamp my little foot and say no, nor give some wheezy speech about the adventure into literacy they were missing. I let them go.
I have come to have the same exact problem at the public school I’m at now, where this second career of mine is about to sputter to an end.
It’s been a curriculum of misery and thank God it’ll soon be over.
When I’m at Walmart I’m in service to a vast mega-corporation, but there’s no opportunity to fool myself. I’m no poseur, as I have been in the schools of northwest Arizona.
Oh don’t get me wrong. The pay I’ve got from that work contributed to the pension I shall start drawing in June, and I am grateful for that. Furthermore, I believe I am a very fine English teacher when given an opportunity to be one. Trouble is, all too often the jobs I was able to get did not require that so much as being there in some behavior management capacity at which I had no skill, nor interest. This is not a region where kids go to college. People don’t come from families that care about reading and writing. They need a corrections officer, and I’m not that guy. I tried to interest unmotivated young people using wiles of such staggering inefficacy it was amazing I never broke down and cried at my serial failure.
No, I never cried. But that fainting episode in the bedroom in December 2008 was from unacknowledged stress over a job I hated. A few months after that I would stalk out of my class when kids had been pelting me with food, and was fined a grand, and became a teacher’s aide in a room of angry, emotionally disturbed kids at a middle school, before I got another teaching job, this one, my last.
I conceived this blog as a victory dance, believe it or not. Excuse this sad story, but I needed to use it to get to talk about how it’s possible not to have had a lucrative or uniformly fulfilling white-collar career, to wash up as a menial laborer, and to somehow be at peace with oneself. You can believe this or not, but somehow I’m all right. On good days, I’d even say I was happy. I pretty much battle through everything.