Not too long ago, I was bitching about café jobs. Because, aside from the occasional obnoxious customers, I like café jobs. I like being able to prepare and sell a product I enjoy, I like droning on and on with excitement about coffee, I even like talking to customers. I hate to admit it, and I know my blog in no way reflects this, but I actually like people. “People” in the general sense of people waltzing into a store, ordering a drink, maybe chit-chatting. As long as I don’t have to forge a relationship more complex than that, I love people. It’s all the people I know well who I can’t stand. Does this say something about me or them? Or both?
At any rate, I was bitching about these jobs because I could probably do one forever, without being promoted or anything, except the pay is shit, the tips bring them to almost above shit, and the benefits—if there are any—almost always suck. I wouldn’t really want to turn one of these jobs into anything resembling a career anyway, but if they paid better, I’d love working at a job like that for a few years, until either something better comes along or I’ve saved enough to go on a coke-fueled bender that will, with any luck, set me on the path to my chosen career of “drug mule.”
Because these jobs don’t pay well, I automatically see them as demeaning. I see them as the type of thing where the customers who walk in automatically look down on me, think of me as a failure, fully aware that I’m a fat, disgusting almost-25-year-old who has given up on his dreams and is resigned to working shit jobs for low wages. I can’t remember who said it, so I apologize if you’re reading this blog and know it was you (but feel free to tell me in a the same condescending, obscenity-laced way I correct people), but when I said this, one of my friends said, “Fuck ’em. It doesn’t matter what they think. You like the job, you’re only doing it because you like it—and, in fact, are taking a pay cut to do it—and you know you haven’t given up on anything. You just need money.”
Which is true, and it made me feel a lot less shitty about taking café jobs. It’s not about how other people see me—it’s about how I see myself. And as you all know, I see myself as vastly superior to everyone I meet. Except for all those people who are better than me.
So I had an interview about a month ago with the assistant manager at a coffee shop way the fuck out in Evanston. It paid well, had good benefits, was located in the middle of the yuppie part of Evanston (which means: obnoxious customers who tip well), and has more branches in Southern California than it does in Chicago. I figured it’d be a good start; I could work there for a year or two, then put in for a transfer to a different branch, or just quit and try to get rehired on the other side.
The first interview went pretty well. The assistant manager had a pretty good poker face, but in the end he betrayed his feigned apathy because I’m just that witty. He also told me he was recommending me for a second interview with the manager. I was pretty pumped, until it turned out to be a pain in the ass for the assistant manager to even schedule an interview. I couldn’t tell if she was flighty or disinterested, but I’m in a I need a job right now mentality, and she’s saying, “Ummm…can you wait a couple of weeks?”
I finally had my second interview, and I knew instantly that I didn’t get it. She didn’t seem interested in the answers to my questions, she seemed on a general level to dislike me, and at the end of the interview, while she feigned politeness, it was one of these, “I have a bunch of other interviews, so I’ll get back to you,” which could be taken either way, but I felt like it was the brush-off. And I was right, because I never heard back. When I finally called, she said, “Right,” in a tone that suggested she barely even remembered me, and then said, “All the positions are filled. Have a great day!”
I wondered what had happened. Usually I’m the one who instantly hates people, while everyone else tortures me by being really nice and thinking I’m just joking around when I say things like, “I will chop your head off and scoop out your insides like pumpkin filling.” The opposite only happens in rare circumstances, and when it does, it drives me nuts.
I developed this really half-assed, stupid theory. Almost two years ago, I got a wild hair up my ass to get a burr grinder. In Seattle, my sister’s then-fiancé (now husband) and my job at Tully’s Coffee got me obsessed with creating the perfect cup of coffee at home. In order to accomplish this, I’d need freshly ground beans. But those cheapie blade grinders build up so much heat and static electricity, they practically double-roast the beans (or, in the case of Starbucks, triple-roast them. You need a burr grinder, which doesn’t generate that level of heat. Some of the low-end ones generate static, but that’s why I refused to settle for nothing less than the Solis Maestro Plus.
I planned to buy one from Amazon, but returning through mail-order is a pain, so I decided I’d do a little try-before-I-buy action…except very few places sell the Solis Maestro. It’s a specialty item made by an obscure, foreign brand, so the only place I could find it at was—wait for it—this particular coffee shop.
At the time, the same manager worked there. I called up to ask if they had it in stock, and she said yes and she’d hold it for me. She was very excited—this thing cost $150, and if it’s anything like any of the other coffee shops I’ve applied to, nobody will ever buy it—especially when I actually showed up and paid for it. She was less excited when I returned two days later and gave some lame excuse to return it (I think it was, “It doesn’t work right”).
Is it possible she remembered that, remembered me, and this did me in before I even started? It seems unlikely; I probably wouldn’t have gotten a first interview, much less a second (I didn’t do the first interview with her, but if she had known, she probably would have just told the assistant manager not to recommend me). But maybe it was one of those nagging things. “Why do I know this guy? This is going to bug me for weeks.” Well, weeks passed, and maybe she put the pieces together. Or maybe she did at her store what the managers did at Borders, keeping a running tally of “frequent returners” to flag them in the computer and make sure they didn’t do it too often.
These are the paranoid things I think about, when in fact this is an Occam’s razor of rejection: she didn’t like me. Was it me personally, my work history, my not-entirely-subtle implication that I’d blow this pop stand at the first opportunity, the fact that I had a 45-60 minute drive one way? No idea, but there was something about me that made me an unacceptable employee, and as usual it sort of shattered my confidence. Employers haven’t exactly been jumping to hire me, and in most cases I can chalk that up to them either not looking at my resume at all, or giving it a once-over and deciding I don’t have enough experience. Entirely reasonable considering most of the jobs I apply for are way out of my league, but a job at a coffee shop? How could I not get that?
Shaken but still desperate enough for money that I needed to just keep plugging away on applications, I kept on rolling. On Friday, I went to Borders and tried to butter my manager to get my old job back, but she wasn’t there at the time. I filled out applications for half a dozen coffee shops in the area, tailoring it to make me the most desirable applicant (but, for the first time ever, being truthful on the application), but it turned out none of that mattered. The first application I sent out that day got a callback that afternoon. I scheduled an interview for Monday, and I said to myself, “I’m going to get this job.”
The weird thing is, my interview was actually worse than the other one. I felt incoherent, I was taken aback by his line of questioning (which was different from most coffee shop interviews I’ve had, and I’ve had a lot), and I thought I was sunk until I realized he plowed through a sheet of questions labeled “first interview”—not writing any of my answers down, mind you—and then proceeded to another sheet labeled “second interview.” Huh. Did that mean it was going well?
“I’m going to be straight with you,” the manager said. “I’m not desperate, but I do need employees who can do the job, and you have experience. I’m going to go ahead and hire you.”
“Uh…okay,” I said. “Thanks.”
He ran off to get the paperwork. I waited patiently, observing the traffic-free coffee shop, admiring my new work environs. He returned and slowly filled out most of the paperwork for me, explained to me my job tasks (most of which are common sense). As he filled out one of the forms, he asked, “How long have you been out of work?”
I lied, “Since May.” He nodded without taking his eyes off the paperwork. I added, “I’ve been looking around, but nobody seems to be hiring. Or, at least, they’re not hiring me.”
He glanced up, suspicion in his eyes.
“Uhh…” I elaborated. “What I mean is, I’ve been applying for a lot of office jobs, and I guess I just don’t have enough experience.”
The suspicion didn’t exactly go away with that remark. I continued, “I prefer working in cafés, anyway, but the office jobs pay a little better.” Finally he nodded and returned to the paperwork.
Again to pass the time, he asked, “Why’d you leave Starbucks?”
I sighed. “The manager didn’t work around my school schedule,” I said, adding, “You don’t have to worry about that since I’ve graduated, of course. She kept scheduling me at times I just couldn’t work. I’d always tell her, but she wanted to argue with me about it, so eventually I just quit. School was more important.” This is, of course, almost entirely untrue. The manager worked sufficiently around my work schedule; it just happened that I had a hard time getting up at 4:30 to go in for a shift from five to nine, then enjoy my 90-minute one-way commute to a three-hour class. Instead, I went home and slept, then called up and quit without notice.
“Which Starbucks was that?” he asked. I told him. He nodded and then said, “I worked for Starbucks for five years. Who was the manager?”
“Uhhh…” I thought. What if he knew my old manager? What if they were friends and he called up to check out my story or use her as some kind of reference or something. Instead of coming up with a fake name like “Mike Hunt,” I blurted out her actual name. Not even just the first name—first and last, right out there in the open.
He nodded, but his eyes didn’t have a look resembling recognition. The nod turned into a shaking head, and he said, “I don’t know her.”
I shrugged noncommittally. I was getting worried at this point that my stupidity and unfortunate bout of Tourette’s-like honesty would cause me to lose this job before I even had it. Fortunately, he didn’t ask me any more questions. He handed me the various tax and benefits forms that I could fill out on my own, gave me a training manual, and sent me on my way.
I felt reasonably good—I had, in the span of an hour, gone from having nothing resembling a job to being somewhat gainfully employed. Not really in my chosen career path, but as a wise and nameless friend once said, I haven’t given up on anything. I just need money.