Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Life's Little Injustices (Take VII): One Foot Out The Door (Always, Always)

If you're stuck in this particular movie, you know the script already. On this sweltering summer day, The Squawker and I find ourselves marooned in a never-ending line, in some big box store that prides itself on its massive nature -- even short walks through these places feel like traipsing on the U.S.S. Saratoga -- but on this day, the C-word (choice) that America cherishes seems to have run aground. We've come to get a couple of exotic commodities -- like hearing aid batteries -- that we haven't found at the last couple stores. That makes them exotic.

Ahead of us, a mom who's filled her shopping cart to the rafters -- mostly with the usual ghastly processed foods that these places tout in their TV adverts -- unloads her items, one by one, onto the now-silent conveyer belt. She doesn't seem in any particular hurry.

Neither is the cashier. Aside from the odd sidebar conversation with this customer -- and another mom in front of us, leaning on her half-filled art  -- the cashier makes no attempt to engage anyone. She just 
stares blankly at the register, going about her task with a grim, mechanical air, fixating on the numbers and decimal points that she's tapping out.

Minutes tick by, though you'd never know how many, since clocks are an equally exotic commodity in these places. Do they really want you to know how much time you're stuck wasting? (For further reference, see the above graphic.)

Finally, we get our turn at bat. When I ask the cashier, "What took so long?", she just sighs. It's the management, she explains. Seems that this store's long-standing practice of docking cashiers for minor violations has ratcheted up. If you get six points in your first 90 days, you're in deep you-know-what.  "Do they let you work them off?" I ask.

:"Six months," the cashier responds. "They're losing people here left and right. But I ain't waiting on them that long. I've already got two job offers this week, and once I figure out my schedule, I'm out of here. I can't take it anymore."

Almost on cue, a manager walks briskly over and starts chewing out the door for some alleged infraction or other, just as Squawker and I are bagging up our stuff. We know what's going on well enough not to ask...even if the cashier already has one foot out the door.

Back home a day or so later, I'm treated to a curious sight. It's not the moving truck that arouses the attention of Squawker  and myself. It's the tenant, a now-former charter school principal, whom I've met at  several events. This time, however, he's not wearing his suit and tie, but shorts and a T-shirt.

At first, I think he's helping someone else move on his day off. That's a common enough scenario here, as more and more people are getting priced out of our fair town. 
"Hey, how's work going?" I ask.

The principal exhales. "I had some discipline problems with some kids in my class. When I tried to tell them how they were supposed to behave, some parents complained." From the way his brow furrows, I guess the oncoming punchline, and I'm not wrong. I wish I was.

"I got called into the school leader's office a couple of days later. (That's what charters call their particular pyramid toppers, as opposed to superintendents.) 'Based on what I've heard,' the leader says, 'you can either resign, or you can be fired,'" the principal recalls. "I took the first option."

"What happens now, then?"

 "We're moving to Saginaw," the principal explains. 

"Never been there,
" I respond. "What's over here?"

"Nothing, just family. I'm going to stay with them for awhile."

I can hear how the rest of the conversation might go, in his head, the unspoken part: I'm back in Mom and Dad's nest for the first time, in ages. We'll see how that feels after a few weeks, until if (or when) I get the next chapter figured out. If I figure it out.

"Gee, that's too bad," I offer. "Well, good luck." 

As lame as my response sounds, I can't think of anything else to say to this person who's on his way to becoming just another ghost in my memory bank. However, it fits the script that's been written especially for this occasion. Just like an all occasion greeting card, it serves a purpose.

A week later, on another sweltering Saturday afternoon,  I watch the principal (plus his wife and kids) make the usal endless multiple trips to fill the truck with their life story. As you can guess, they look distracted and preoccupied, so I don't try to talk to them.

I wake up Sunday afternoon, having pulled another all-nighter. I go outside to take out the trash, and notice a blank space where the moving truck stood all day. They're gone, that's all she wrote. In work, and in life, we're just step away from going out the door...always, always. --The Reckoner

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