I was just watching GMA and they were talking about quitting. Quitting jobs, specifically, and when’s the best time to do it (i.e. not in the heat of the moment) and how (with a level head, so as not to burn any bridges). The one time I really quit a job, like had just HAD IT, I did neither of these things. I was eighteen, and it was the summer after graduation, and I was working at Stride Rite Bootery at University Mall here in Chapel Hill. (It’s long gone now, replaced by a photo studio or a hair salon, I can’t remember which.) Anyway, I’d been there since the fall, working twenty-odd hours a week measuring little feet and selling incredibly expensive children’s shoes. (Hello, Haven from That Summer. Who says fiction isn’t based in truth?) It wasn’t a great job, but it wasn’t all that horrible either, as I liked all of my co-workers, if not my manager, who was this much older man who was kind of grumpy and desperate to retire. When summer came, he started farming all his hours out on the rest of us, cutting his schedule down, and my hours went from twenty to more like thirty. When I went to ask him about it, he totally blew up at me, saying that ever since the school year had ended I was slack and lazy and spent too much time out in the courtyard talking to my friends on my breaks. He just went off: I remember it so well, we were standing in the little tiny office space in the back room where he kept his musty photographs and his Bible quote a day calendar, which made it all that much more intense.
I have never done well with people yelling at me, especially when it’s totally unexpected. These days, I kind of let it roll off me, but then I was eighteen and young and COMPLETELY floored. I can’t even remember if I said I quit: I think he said something like, “If you don’t like it, you can leave,” and then I just…did. I walked out, completely shell shocked, and then got to my car and burst into tears. It was so humiliating, and I felt like such a failure, as even then I had total perfectionist issues, always wanting to do everything Just Right. (Hello, Macy from Truth About Forever, right?) I remember I called the guy I was then-dating (a short lived relationship, and a whole other story) and he said not to sweat it, it happens, no big deal. But I was really shaken. I guess it says something, though, that I can’t remember what I did next, how I went back to get my last check, if I ever talked to that manager again. So maybe it wasn’t such a big deal after all. There is something, though, about that first big break with authority, when you just find yourself having to do something you KNOW is going to really piss someone off, but oh, well. I’ve had a lot of jobs since—babysitting, waitressing, teaching—but I still remember that moment, walking out of the U-Mall, more clearly than I remember the end of any of them. Weird, right?
I have to say though, it was at the Burrito where I saw quitting done with real style. Maybe it’s the emotion of the restaurant business, but people rarely left quietly. The kitchen guys were the best. It was ALWAYS a big blowup, usually involving the disgusted yanking off of aprons, banging of prep carts, and strings of curses, followed by every door slamming on the way out. I WISH I had quit Stride Rite that way, now, if only because it was a dumb high school job and was probably my only chance to do so. But you can’t redo the past, I guess. Except on the page, where I had Haven throw a shoe at someone before she walked out on her job at the shoe store. Yeah. That was nice.