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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

15

#15. I once had to work for fifteen hours on my birthday.

Okay, so it isn’t exactly having bamboo shoved under my thumbnails. But it wasn’t much of a birthday, either. It was the summer after my sophomore year of college. Soon after I’d started at the school, my parents moved, also. (And in the other direction. You think they were trying to tell me something? Or should I have read something into the fact that they didn’t tell me where they’d moved? Nah.)

So, this was my second summer in unfamiliar territory, with no friends, no knowledge of the area, no history there, and plenty of time on my hands. So, my parents did what all good folks would do in that situation to help me out — they made me find a job. Hoo. Ray.

Actually, my dad found me a job. He was a supervisor at a plant that made glass bottles for various industries — food, beverages, biological research, whatever. And the plant had all sorts of opportunities for a young, near-apathetic kid to make some spending cash by breaking his back for six or eight hours a day. In my case, it was loading crates of IV bottles for Abbott Labs onto wooden pallets, so they could be wrapped and shipped. Groundbreaking stuff. Very engaging, let me tell you, and stimulating? Oh, you don’t know the half of it. I’m surprised I didn’t take up writing poetry on my lunch breaks, from the veritable raincloud of inspiration that hung over the place.

So of course, I took it upon myself to find another job. Okay, that’s not quite fair. I think I was pressed into finding another job. The box-loading thing only lasted for a month or two, which left a lot of long summer days to be filled. Plus, I needed the money for the next school year, to buy beer and gas station hot dogs… er, textbooks and school supplies. Yeah, that’s it. You can never have enough ‘three-ring binders’. Sure.

So, I found a job working at Little Caesar’s Pizza. You know, ‘Pizza Pizza!‘, and all that. Except this Little Caesar’s didn’t exist yet. Me and a couple of dozen other kids signed up to work there once it was finished being built. So we had a week or so of training beforehand, and got our cute little uniforms and aprons and hats, and even got to practice in the real store a few times before ‘opening night’. Which was on my birthday. And which was also one of my last days at the bottling plant. Eep.

So, I got up at the butt-crack of pre-dawn, as was my custom on box-loading days. I didn’t have my own car, so even though I didn’t have to be there until eight or nine, I still had to ride to work with my dad at seven. Or five-thirty, or three o’clock, or some ridiculous godforsaken early hour. I’m not a morning person, folks. Trust me on this one. And spending six to eight weeks of my summer in college getting up goddamned earlier than I did for classes — much less classes in high school — just wasn’t on my list of things I wanted to do before I was fucking dead. And that’s the last summer I spent at home, by the way. The next two years, I made damned sure I found an on-campus summer job. One that started at a reasonable hour, after the fucking roosters have woken up.

All right, where was I? Oh, right, my birthday.

Well, I worked my factory shift. It went until two o’clock or so as I recall, or maybe a little later. We took a break around eleven for lunch, but apart from that, our group — four or five of us — was packing pallets non-stop from eight until two or so. Given that I was there at six-thirty or some shit that morning, I’m counting that as the full six hours.

After that, I trundled off to the pizza place. I think I went straight there, and changed in the car, or the back room of the restaurant. And walked into a shitstorm of people. This was a sleepy Southern town, you see. (Yes, I’m fully aware that’s redundant.) And it seems that everybody wanted to try this new pizza joint that was having their grand opening on that day. My birthday. We were swamped. I went to work immediately at the ‘landing’ station. I had a knack for getting the hot pizzas down out of the oven, slicing and boxing them, and setting them up for the clerks to grab. It was a hot, sweaty job, and a high-pressure job — insofar as any part of making pizza can seem significant — and it required a fair amount of mental juggling to keep track of all the pies in their various stages of readiness.

And on that day, the place was a madhouse. Literally hundreds of people ordered pizzas that day. Some of them were just tryin’ to tickle our balls, I guess, because several pizzas never got picked up. Or maybe we got behind, and they got tired of waiting. I have no idea. All I remember is that we stayed open later than the posted hours that night, to fill all of the orders. Or maybe it was planned that way all along, as a goodwill gesture to the new customers. Again, I really don’t recall. I just know that we finally closed the doors well after eleven, and that’s when we got to take our first breaks, and grab a bite to eat. But we weren’t done yet, of course. We spent the next two hours cleaning up, and scrubbing down, and making neat. Dishes were washed, food was stored, and counters were shined. We finally got out of there sometime after one am. My twentieth birthday passed me by, as I was wearing a smock and rubber gloves and scrubbing pizza pans. If it had happened a year later, I’d have killed somebody that night.

As it was, I was too damned tired. I think I opened whatever presents my parents got for me that night, but honestly, I can’t remember now what they were. I’m sure they were cool — my parents are pretty good about knowing what to get — but I was too tired to really register anything at the time. I think I slept well into the next afternoon.

Now, really, the whole experience wasn’t that bad. And I’m not really bitching here — plenty of people have it as bad or worse, every day.

(Though I was bitching then, let me tell you. I was a bored twenty-year-old kid who hated getting up early, missed his friends, and was beginning to wonder whether he needed the money that fucking badly, after all. Oh, I bitched, dude. I kept most of it to myself — who the hell was I going to bitch to? — but there was bitching. There was most certainly bitching going on.)

And now it makes a pretty good story. ‘The Birthday That Wasn’t‘, I can call it. Or ‘What? That Was My Birthday?‘, or ‘See? I Told You My Parents Don’t Love Me‘. (Just kidding, ma.) And I did get two free pizzas out of the ordeal. Not because it was my birthday, mind you — I doubt that I even told the people at Little Caesar’s about that. It’s just that we had all those extra pies lying around. Everybody took home pizzas that night; some people had three or four.

And eventually, the summer ended. I went back to school, and my parents moved again. (And out of the south, thankfully. I had a private detective track them down that time. Try to ditch me, will you?) And I never went back there. That’s been a dozen years ago, but I bet the Little Caesar’s is still there. Hell, some of the same people are probably still working there. (It was either that, or work for the local paper factory. Or stack pallets at the glass plant. Personally, I’d stick to the pizza if I were them.) Maybe one day I’ll go back and reminisce about how it all started, so many years ago. And then I’ll order a half-dozen pizzas and leave them there without paying. Oh, sure, the money will come out of their paychecks, but at least they’ll have a snack to take home that night, as they wander home to collapse into bed. Ahhh. Just like old times.

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