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Last Paycheck

I just got back from picking up my last paycheck/tips from Starbucks. What a depressing experience.

I really liked working there. I’m tentative to admit that, because (1) it’s Starbucks and (2) it’s a job, but I really did enjoy it. Fun, pleasant, and—believe it or not—hard-working coworkers; decent customers (the one I work at is smack dab in the middle of an industrial park…we mostly get—there, look, I’m still referring to it in the present tense—truckers and blue-collar businesspeople from the area, and what few yuppies we get are usually asking directions on how to get back to Wicker Park or Schaumburg); and it was pretty easy work. The drink recipes follow a very basic pattern, and once you have the pattern in your head, it’s almost impossible to screw it up. And eventually, you reach a point where you could make every single drink, one after another, in your sleep.

It also made me feel a sense of accomplishment that is generally lacking. I used to temp, but when I’d temp I’d do sloppy work, and I’d never know what the hell I was doing or interact with any of the people it affected, so there was no real sense of purpose. Just another corporate drone, only on a temporary basis. There’s a line in a very funny (if you’ve temped) film called Clockwatchers: “You can make as many mistakes as you want because usually by the time anybody catches it, you’ve moved on.” That sums up my temping experience. Also, another line: “I can sit here and do nothing as good as anybody.”

And, lazy and unambitious and lumpy as I am, I can’t stand doing nothing all day. Even the very basic nothingness of my existence, which essentially consists of playing video games, watching television/movies, doing Internet shit, and writing, leaves me more fulfilled than temping.

When I write, I accomplish something. I put something down on a blank sheet of paper (or, more accurately, Word document) that previously only existed in my head. When I watch TV or movies, believe it or not, I feel like I’ve done something with myself. I’ve learned something new about the human condition or manatees, or I’ve been inspired to feel some sort of emotion, positive or negative. When I play video games—which I do a lot lately—I finish a level or a mission or a certain section of the story, and I feel like I’ve done something. It may not be cracking the human genome or solving world hunger, but it’s better than randomly typing in numbers to aid some bitchy middle-manager frustrated about her station in life and secretly paranoid about the not-so-secret affair she is having with a close coworker.

Yeah, when you temp, you also find out all the inside gossip. Nobody cares about telling you things they wouldn’t tell permanent workers because you’ll be gone in two months. And chances are, you won’t even care. I never did care, but I always knew things. I like knowing things, whether I genuinely care about them or not. I also like gossiping. Or, as my father says, “exchanging information. Men do not gossip.”

So with temping leaving me feeling empty—and, more often than not, unemployed in this harsh economic climate—I decided to go retail. I figured the pay would be much, much less, but since I could do it during school, over time it’d even out. I was right—I was making assloads of money at Starbucks, thanks to the tips. But I reached a point where I could not work the hours anymore. I simply couldn’t balance school, work, a social life (yeah, a month ago I had one), and extracurriculars (also a month ago, I had those, too). And then she started shoving me on morning shifts before class. That was where I drew the line.

I told myself I’d never let the job become the top priority. It’s just a part-time job to make extra money, money I don’t even really need—it’s just nice to have. And as soon as it did—that is, as soon as I worked a 5-9 a.m. shift on a Monday and collapsed on my bed and slept for six hours instead of going to school—I quit. That was it.

And I feel bad about it. I feel guilty for giving no notice and leaving them in the lurch, but it was necessary. I liked a lot about the job, but at the same time there was a lot I disliked about it. I hated the fact that people would call my house almost nonstop on evenings and weekends, trying to convince me to switch shifts. I never particularly liked the manager or her policies. Occasionally, customers got on my nerves. I didn’t like how, because I was the guy, I was always the one who had to check the bathrooms and take out the garbage. And the hours were getting in the way of developing what turned out to be a doomed relationship. Not exactly stuff that’d make you quit, but eventually it adds up. Also, when it’s a luxury and not a necessity, quitting is an easy card to play when you get dealt a shitty hand.

Now that I got my last paycheck, part of me wants to say, “Fuck off, guys. I’m gone for good.” But another part of me wants to get down on my hands and knees and beg for my job back. I’m sort of stuck in the middle of that, and the outcome will probably be that I just never go back there. Too many good memories. Too many pleasant people. Walking in there tonight just made me sad.

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