Travel days, they can break you down. In bed at midnight, up again at 4 a.m. to catch a bus to a plane to another town. Some of us will play on no sleep, others on just a few hours snagged between bouts of turbulence. It’s hard on the mind and the body, but its part of the job and I am not complaining. Let me tell you why, about another job, one I had that also had me up early in the morning…
5 a.m. Time to open the doors.
My team and I assume defensive positions at cash registers and other strategic points through the store. Our manager does a final check, assuring himself we are prepared for chaos about to befall us. As he walks to the entrance, the mob stirs with excitement, pressing against the glass doors like hungry zombies in a cheap horror flick. The instant the door crack is large enough, customers spill in, shoved through by those behind.
Black Friday has begun.
Waves of frenzied consumers pour in, pushing and slamming their way about. Furious hands snatch up deals. Tempers give way to fights over limited-supply items. The scene is pandemonium, survival of the shopper fittest.
My team and I hold fast as the store is ransacked, pillaged by barbarian discount hunters. All the while, seasonal music, oblivious to its irony, plays “the most wonderful time of the year.”
The carnage is swift and thorough: Racks stripped bare, bins emptied, shelves wiped clean. Soon the mob has organized into long, winding lines of victorious shoppers clutching their spoils.
Feverishly, my team hammers the keys of cash registers, working as fast as the outdated technology allows. For an electronics store that specializes in cutting edge gadgetry, our point of sale equipment sputters along like burnt out Ataris. The black and white register screens slow to a crawl, credit cards have to be called in, receipts continuously jam in printers. We are not moving as fast as the mob would like us to. They are not shy about telling us so.
“You must have a brain the size of a pea to work at a place like this,” chimes one impatient consumer.
“What’s the hold up, monkeys could type those cash registers faster then you people?” says another.
“See son,” motions an impatient father to his boy, adorned in a high-school letterman’s jacket with a baseball patch on it, “this is the kind of job you get when you don’t work hard in school.”
In my mind, I say, “you must have the brain the size of a pea to stay up all night to save a couple bucks on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy season 1.”
But from my mouth comes the polished, corporate rebuttal of, “Sorry sir. This is the toughest day of the year for the computer system, and we are moving as fast as we can. I appreciate your continued patience.”
Even as the words roll off my tongue, I picture this man’s eyes popping out of his head while I throttle his neck like a dog’s chew toy.
That was my offseason job, a salesman at a local electronics store. On days like that one, I’d wish I could run into a phone booth and put on my baseball player costume.
I’d spring out, my hands on my hips, chest puffy like some pseudo superhero. All would know my true identity: Quasi famous minor league nobody-guy! Hero to Thirsty Thursday hecklers and idol to children who have no concept how little I make. Then, maybe, they would stop verbally abusing me for computer lag and limited supply items that had reached their limits. But honestly, I know they could care less about my secret identity as long as I get their purchases rung up faster than a speeding bullet.
The season is here now, and the chase for big league dreams has resumed. It is but mere months since that fateful Friday. Once again I find myself galloping across fields of perfectly manicured baseball glory, strutting about while fans call after the name stitched across the back of my jersey. Yet, it is funny to think, if you flipped the calendar backwards, the same costume that induced demands for autographs is replaced with an undersized polo and a clip-on name tag. No longer would I stand before cheering fans but instead a hungry mob of agitated customers.
Any delusion of self importance this job may grant me is quickly swallowed in the sharp maw of reality. Even though I am a pro athlete, an idol of sorts to our entertainment-swooned culture, I am not immune to the laws of the world and the money required to live in it. the season ends each fall, the bills don’t stop coming even though the paychecks do.
So, like many of my minor league brothers, I worked in the offseason to make ends meet. Most of us make a laughable wage chasing down the dream of big league ball. Some go in debt doing it. Part of the sacrifice we make to play this game is scrambling to find work when the stands are empty so we may have the chance to enjoy it when they are full again.
There is no shame in a man working. Yet it seems as if the work a man chooses will dictate how he is treated. During the season, it’s special treatment, special favors, special graces. No one really knows who we are underneath our pro getup, but that wont stop them from treating us like authority figures, as our words carry more weight because we wear spikes and a cup.
It’s amazing the things people assume based on job title. I am, after all, the same garden variety, run-of-the-mill human being, regardless of my costume or who signs my paycheck.
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