Biographical Non-Fiction posted June 2, 2020

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A short memoir about my first job

My First Job

by jsblume

Tom Perkins, as far as I was concerned, was my own personal nightmare.

It was the summer of 1976. I had turned 16 just a few months before, and I had started my very first job at the McDonald's in Sanford, Maine. Because of my math skills, I was front-and-center taking orders.

You're probably wondering what math skills had to do with operating a cash register. After all, today's cash registers do all the work for you. Push a few buttons and everything is calculated.

Not so in 1976. We had a paper menu pad to write down what the customer ordered. Then we had to manually add the cost of every item. A hamburger was 30 cents; 38 with cheese. Drinks were 20, 30, and 40 cents for small, medium, and large. Fries were 30 and 45 cents. A Big Mac - 90 cents. And so on. Then, we had a tax chart that showed us how much sales tax to add. Then we'd punch the actual sale amount into the cash register and have to manually calculate the change due. And, as if that wasn't bad enough, the customer might pay with Canadian money - we got a lot of tourists from Canada. So, we had to manually calculate the exchange rate from Canadian dollars to US dollars.

But, I digress.

Tom was a shift manager. Tall, thin, dark hair, somewhat of a Beatles haircut. Every single mistake I made, he was right there to point it out. It was a living hell.

One Friday evening I was working the 5-8 shift. Tom came up to me late in the shift and asked if I would stay and help close. He was surprised when I agreed. I only agreed because I wanted acceptance and approval.

Another digression. Working the closing shift meant that, after the store closed, the closing crew would completely clean everything. You'd be surprised what everything includes.

As an inexperienced and new closer, I got dishes. Basically, every imaginable (and unimaginable) thing you could possibly think of came to me to be washed. Serving trays, cooking utensils, condiment dispensing equipment, parts of the French fry station. It seemed like hundreds of greasy, salty, slimy pieces of stainless steel.

Tom got me started with the three sinks. The first with hot water and detergent. The second with hot water and sanitizer. The third for rinsing. He started the hose at the hottest temperature and left me to work.

Fortunately, his fiancé, who was also on the closing crew, stopped by a few minutes later to check on how I was doing. She adjusted the temperature of the water to something more tolerable.

The closing routine actually started a bit before the store actually closed. When the store officially closed and Tom had locked the doors, we all gathered at the front counter for a short break. Invariably, there was food left over - burgers, fries, shakes. We sat and munched away on whatever was on-hand and engaged in casual conversation. It was the highlight of my evening.

Still, it got even better. I saw a side of Tom that I hadn't seen before. He was talking about a song he liked and was trying to recall the lyrics. What he remembered didn't make sense: "You were sixteen, I was six." It was a song about one person in love with another. I recognized the song as "My Eyes Adored You" by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I remembered the actual lyrics: "You were fifth grade, I was sixth." He was so grateful for that!

We got back to work after the break, and I was exhausted with all the dishes to wash. I thought it would never end. Despite that, being a closer was my favorite thing to do and I became a regular. I really liked the camaraderie with my coworkers, especially after an evening of serving customers. Even though Tom wasn't always the closing manager, my relationship with him changed after that night. He was no longer my personal nightmare. I saw him as a person, and my performance improved thanks to my new perspective. We became great coworkers.

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