My parents did it right. They indoctrinated me with the message until I was at the point of turning thirteen and lamenting the fact I couldn’t yet find a part-time job. For some reason, it’s like my Mom had me excited and even jazzed about finding work and doing something with myself. I remember a benign feeling towards it, mixed with a delusional excitement that a job would be something great for me. I pictured myself in a safety vest and hardhat at thirteen. I had the buzz cut like all those fat slobs I see. Maybe I’d just be a mini fat slob, with pint sized sweat pants and itty-bitty mustard stains on a small cream coloured used-to-be-white t-shirt.
My parents had a friend, Brian, who owned the local Co-Op Gas Bar. His entire work force at the pumps were boys, fourteen through sixteen. Mom always dreamed of me working there, and I remember several embarrassing dinners and barbeques with Brian and his then-wife Debbie when Mom would inevitably always pipe in, “So Brian, don’t you think Joel would be perfect to pump gas soon?” Thanks for helping me shoot the moon, Mom.
I never did work at that gas bar, the jockey life was not the one for me. Too cold in the winter and the slim possibility of getting a tip was never worth the perceived workload to me. That, and I suck with a squeegee. My job search brought me to my first encounter with a resume and cover letter.
I can’t remember if we were looking through a phone book, or if it was in the paper, or on a shaky dial-up internet connection—but, we found a job suited for me. The Bottle Depot in Grande Prairie was looking for people, “And good news for you!” Mom would say, bringing my attention forward. “They’re an equal opportunity employer!”
“What does that mean?”
“It means they’ll actually hire a little retard like you!”
Mom was great to have around as a kid. It hurt at the time, but now I feel like I have a sense of self so ferociously defined by fighting against my mother that I’m a better person because of her. I don’t want to paint her in a negative light—my Mother was never anything but patient and good with us—it’s just that she has this sick sense of humor that must be in the maritime waters; at home she has no verbal filter, so, inevitably, a lot of funny things get hurled your way.
Gems like the time my younger sister, Amorette, a distraught eighth grader, was worried her friends were moving on and abandoning her. She said from the back seat of the car with a sad little voice, “I don’t know why Megan won’t talk to me…”
From the driver’s seat, with a nonchalance so smooth it barely registered, Mom bleats out, “Well maybe she doesn’t like you?”
It’s seriously impossible not to love my Mother after a single conversation. The world would be a better place if people spoke their mind like her. Especially the kids.
I moved in the typical directions as far as the childhood career hunt went. Like most of the boys in my class, I graduated from paperboy to fry cook one fateful summer.
Fast Food Joint A hired me in August of 2003, when I had the bright idea to chase my friends into the work force. A decision I have regretted for fourteen years, eleven months, six days, fourteen hours, twenty-seven minutes and thirty-two seconds. Thirty-three. Thirty-four.
In my hometown, on the west end, there’s a McDonalds directly across a parking lot from the FAST FOOD JOINT A. I worked there with Ronnie, while Walter, Tyler and countless others gravitated toward McDonalds. I think—the details are hazy. I know I worked with Ronnie though, and I would yell back and forth with Tyler while he hung out the drive-thru window as I took the garbage out.
I would be minding my business, carry trash bags two by two to the dumpster pen out back. From behind me, I hear a scraggly, familiar voice, yelling the most disgusting of epithets—but a favorite of teenage boys in the early two-thousands. I turn, and Tyler is hanging half out the window as a car creeps towards him down the lane. How charming we were. Of course, I yelled back the same crass shit. He’d pull himself back into the building and I’d open the garbage pit with my hands full of bags, usually finding either William, or Terrence.
William was a college student in his mid-twenties, I want to say. He was one of those guys who had an ambiguous age because of his beard. He was crass, rude, and seemingly hated me, but he liked metal and was intensely funny so I hung around him anyway.
Terrence was the most sarcastic person I’ve ever met. I think he was in his late twenties, and at one point, he started sleeping with one of the managers. The pair of William and Terrence would leave me alone in the kitchen while they’d go smoke- letting me handle small onslaught after small onslaught until I cracked. Once, the screen was full of orders and I was alone in the back. I marched outside in my apron and my hairnet and I gave those fuckers the what-fer. When they eventually did come back in, I had survived and thus received proper training on how to run a one-man kitchen. I’m pretty sure I could still handle a late-lunch rush by myself. It’s like riding a bike, I think.
I had a lot of firsts at FAST FOOD JOINT A. It was my first job, and I had my first girlfriend when I worked there. I started dating the counter girl who was a year older. On paper, it should have made me the coolest guy in school, but in reality, it was the tensest thing I’ve ever been a part of.
I was fifteen and she was sixteen. She asked me out on the first date, and if that wasn’t scary enough, it turns out we were going to her house to watch movies. As the fudge poured over the nervous-sundae, she was picking me up with her mom. And, for the cherry on top: her mother would perch behind us in a chair, supervising the date the entire time.
The tension didn’t start there, though. The first glaring weirdness came when I met the little sister days earlier. She was a year younger than me, but something about her was just easier. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t a girl who liked me, but she was a smooth conversation and she was learning to play guitar, just like I was. We already had common-ground, unlike her gymnast sister and I.
We watched Shark Tale, rather, I festered about touching her hand or trying something while Shark Tale played in the background. When that ended, we looked at each other. We were laying on a mattress on the floor, and with the awkward gaze and tension of Mother Bear from the corner of the room, seeing each other’s faces that close was alarming. We sat upright with enough room for the Holy Spirit in between us and watched 13 Ghosts.
I never kissed that girl. Never held her hand. Honestly, I think the portly fifteen-year-old was just blindsided by a pretty blonde paying attention to him. It wouldn’t be the last time in my life either. I lost a pretty sweet chair to that same deal not seven years later. After I quit FAST FOOD JOINT A, I had a failed career start in the dairy cooler of my neighborhood IGA. I worked for three days, nine hour shifts with an hour lunch. I wouldn’t get a uniform until my probation ended, and I lived a five-minute walk from the store, so I’d go home and sleep. Grocery work was the most boring thing I had ever experienced, and as far as time-keeping went, they were stuck in the 1960s. I couldn’t for the life of me understand what the hell they wanted me to do to keep track of my time, so I just stopped going.
I drifted a little bit before once again following my friends into employment. I was in high school now and rolling with the cool crowd. Well, cool to me anyways. I had buddied up to a few older guys because of my heavy metal hair-do and met a guy that changed things for me. His name is Jeremy and he was a line cook for Mr. Mike’s Steakhouse. The Steakhouse had program that would essentially pay you to pimp your friends to them. You bring them fresh meat in the form of another human, and they pay you a stipend of fifty silver coins for bringing them a new slave. The employee referral program. Jeremy started a chain reaction that hired Hulio; Hulio got me hired, I begat David, who then begat Christina, who then begat Shawn. By the time things got into full swing, a large chunk of my social circle would transplant from school to the restaurant. I realize now that those were probably the best days of my life. Friendships forged in a dish pit.
I was a prep cook when I met a great friend, and a great guy in the back. We shared a body type- portly. We both giggled a little goofy, but he was the quiet type. At the time, I was a mini-Jeremy, which was only quieter by a measure of -4db. His name is Darcy. If you’re in Grande Prairie, theoretically, if his name wasn’t changed, you could go buy a house from him. He also looks a like a model now, puts my spare tire to shame.
David worked the line with Jeremy, Hulio worked prep with me and Christina took position in the dish pit. Never wanting to see our friend struggle while we went and had a good time, we’d often help Christina close up at the end of the night, staying until one or two am messing around, blasting music and cleaning anything put in front of us. We’d steal booze from the bar when no one was looking—just a nip hidden in the soda, never anything serious. Closing the pit with friends, tunes and a buzz was always a greasy fun time.
I stayed at The Steakhouse for a long time, I honestly can’t remember why I left. I found myself as a box boy at a members-only wholesale club-type store the summer I graduated. I came back from my fishing trip and heard that they started their front-end people at thirteen dollars an hour, and that was good enough for me. I pulled on a polo, strapped my heavy metal hair-do back into a pony and hit the concrete floor.
I lived for a summer off delicious members-only wholesale club-type food court hot dogs, the cheapest lunch guaranteed to kill you with hyper-tension, and boxed the groceries of the people. I met a guy named Josh, and I swear I’ve gone on to meet three different “builds” of the Josh model, you’d know the type as soon as you met him. Suave, built, chiseled jaw line and soft eyes. The type of man to make me think as I hear myself laugh at his jokes. But, the thing I really took away from my members-only wholesaler experience was the altercation I had with the ancient succubus from hell.
Once there was a fat cow, with a small herd of fat cow friends, all inching along in line as they move towards their deaths, closer than most to the end. In a store like this, box system relies on boxes coming out of the warehouse—sometimes there just aren’t any boxes. I had no control over this. Fat Cow One, let’s call her FC1, approaches the till with a members-only wholesaler card in hand, and starts into my partner mid-bitch about how hard it is to find certain things. Literally, mid-sentence.
CSYW (Cheery, Sunny, Young Woman): “Hi! How’s your day going!?”
At this point, Fat Cow One thrusts her card forward.
FC1: “And another thing! Why would you keep the trash-bags so far away from the trash-cans! This is ludicrous! How am I supposed to know the size!?—I’m going to need boxes.”
YSJ (Young, Studly Joel): “Sorry ma’am, I don’t have any boxes at the moment.”
FC1: “You what!? Are you kidding me!?”
YSJ: “I’m sorry, I’ll go try and find some.”
I turn around, and at full-tilt, hit the floor. I knew where the best boxes came from—produce. I head straight to the back of the store only to find the department emptied of cardboard, completely clean. Knowing there was nothing I could do and that the line was backing up, I hurry back to the tills.
YSJ: “I’m sorry ma’am, it seems we’re out at the moment.”
FC1: “You’re a fucking joke. I’m glad I’m not your grandmother….”
She trailed off, but she said the wrong fucking thing to a kid that views everyone as equal. I’ll call out my own grandmother, I don’t give a fuck.
YSJ: “Excuse me. Ma’am.”
I spit the words at her. She froze.
YSJ: “You. Can. Not. Speak to me that way. I’m just trying to do my job here. I’m sorry that it didn’t line up with your expectations today.”
She was mortified. A seventeen-year-old with a bullseye tattoo and three feet of hair strapped behind his head was scolding her in public. Silently, she pushed her cart out of my sight.
I quit the members-only wholesaler to go back to school, the good old GPRC. I was in a music program, and I was hearing rumblings of the music store, GP Music, looking for people. I was standing with Hulio when Ben, our music-store employee friend from school said, “Wayne wants you to apply.” He was talking to Hulio, but upon hearing this, I made up some bullshit, ran to the library, printed a resume and bolted downtown.
One short conversation with Wayne and I was in. GP Music had just been sold to G&H and they needed a shipper receiver to help them move through the transition. I loved that job. It was stressful, but I learned so much about both the industry and myself. School became too much to handle along with the job, so at one point I had to step away from G&H.
I took a job as a librarian while I studied. It was once a week, twice every other for five hours at a time. Facebook time, reading time. Whatever time. I wish I was writing back then, that was nice quiet time that could have been spent being constructive. Instead I learned everything there was to know about Team Fortress 2. When I dropped out, I was still working as the librarian. That was awkward, not being enrolled but still having a position meant for students. I gave it up fairly quickly when I found out they were building a Big Box in town.
My time at Big Box was great, it was my longest-term job and I met so many great people, Jack included. Things were very cool at that time, we all felt like a team that raised a store from the ground up. We built all the displays and put up the product, we priced and counted everything and then we opened the doors. It’s not a job I would want back, though, it’s certainly a time I’d like to relive.
Things changed with the management. Corporate switched out the General Managers and took our X and gave us a Y. Y was a fucking cock. I have never met a denser, thicker, more disgusting piece of human trash in my life. He wasn’t a physically big guy, but he was drenched in condescension, pretension and even had the gall to say to me once, “I’m paid too much to clean.”
Things really went downhill with Y on a moral basis. I was once sent home for not trying to sell a woman an eighty-dollar service plan on a hundred-twenty-dollar TV. She was the first customer at ten in the morning. I once witnessed Y berate an employee to tears in the middle of the sales floor, and that was my final straw. I wrote a two-page letter of resignation detailing how far we had fallen and how morally reprehensible the new management style is and emailed it to every HR person and higher up in Big Box Canada that I could find online. I gave them three weeks’ notice because I was just under a supervisor as far as position goes, so I’d train someone for them. Steve heard this, called me in and let me go with a, “We’ll pay you for the week, just go.”
I looked him in the eye and said, “No, I’ve provided a written notice for three weeks. You will pay me for three weeks.
“We’ll see about that.”
I dropped my copied version of the Albertan Labour Laws on the chair I was sitting in and left. Escorted by my supervisor, like I was going to steal everything I could grab on my way out. Three days later I had fifteen hundred dollars sitting in my bank account. Three weeks, less taxes.
I drove from Big Box straight back to The Steakhouse, I had been hanging out with the staff through Jeremy at the time. My old friend Amy was managing the place and she was thrilled to see me. I had a job within an hour of being released from the Big Box world.
For a few months, I humped the doorknob as a host/server/bartender. I had zero skill, and my personality had gone into retreat in this new, more adult environment. I wasn’t a big dog anymore; I was barely even a puppy. My father passed away during this time and I took two months off. When I eventually did go back, it was messy. Emotionally, I was even worse this time around, but I guess the universe owed me one at the time, because my buddy Mitch called me up. He wanted to talk about me working at G&H again.
Wayne had gone and started a production company with a friend, and Rivers stepped into the role of Mr. Manager. Rivers is a great guy, and I thank him a ton for that job but in hindsight, I think I was figuring some things out—some of which had a fairly negative impact on the state of the store, and my mental health. Not a very nice thing. Amicably, we split. Well, technically I got fired, but I had all the chances to turn things around. I couldn’t.
I spent a month in a frozen bachelor’s suite. I nearly ended things, but I found DC Universe Online instead. It’s a sad thing when your life can be saved by the escapism found in a game.
At the end of my month, by chance, I was talking to a friend named Carl, who turned me onto his place of employment, Electrician-Mart—electrical supply. I learned how to handle thirty-foot street lamp poles with a forklift, I learned how to cut wire and what PVC piping was really for. I always thought it was weird you could buy pieces for the Blue Man Group’s drum kit at Home Depot.
Then, I met that woman who ran away with my heart and chased her to Edmonton. Unemployed for roughly a month again, I found work at a damage restoration company called Chucktor. The summer I started, they had a contract to restore a paint shop/office building in Fort McMurray, AB. The CEO of the company, Fat Head Bob, was the project manager and he had popped in to check up on the site.
I had just been instructed to clear all the old power lines from the far wall of the warehouse where the paint shop was. I was on a scissor lift, harnessed up, wearing thick gloves and eye protection. I had asked when I was given the task if the power was off, I was assured it was. I pulled the first section of conduit off the wall, exposed the wires and cut into them. With a flash and a crack, the wires exploded in my hand, the cutters melted and I freaked.
I stared down from the lift looking for my supervisor, or the project manager and found that Fat Head Bob, scuttling away like the bottom feeder he is. I wrote my incident report, naming the supervisor and project manager as incompetent with their support roles, and unfortunately had to hand said report to my supervisor. I highly doubt that report ever saw the inside of an office.
What I should have done was called OHS and booked a Greyhound ticket home. Never have I witnessed a more shameful excuse for job safety. But, instead, I let a few of the other guys talk me down from the ledge. Stupid move. I still get just as angry thinking about that today. This is a first-hand example of why we have so many young, dead Albertans on the job.
Upon returning from Fort Mac, I simply dropped my bag and walked out the door. We had been gone for a week, and while out there they tried extending our trip for another two. We all threatened to quit. They recanted and took us home for the weekend, to go back on Monday. I bailed. No job is worth that.
I found the next gig at Warehouse B, a janitorial supply company. There I learned about the stress of working too often. There was too much overtime for me and I felt the weight of my position ten times more than what it actually was. I became angry and unapproachable. This is the job that cracked me a bit. I worked it for as long as I could, about a year and a half until I found a chance opportunity on Kijiji one morning.
That’s how I ended up, at Super Costume! A small little mad-house run by a mad scientist. Some days, the only smiles in that building were plastic. But, at the end of a week, it’s always rewarding to see the pictures of something we built bringing joy to someone.
As I meandered through the job, I realized I’m supposed to be doing something else. I can’t sustain myself like this, it’s a black hole. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and wasting my time when I could be working on things that actually challenge me. I’m just not sure how to go about that. Time marches forward and I begin to realize my skill set lay outside my professional experiences. I’ve started down the road, I’ve turned a buck with my words. I just need to figure out how to turn it into a full-time gig.
Writer, performer, producer and musician from Alberta.