Saturday, November 19, 2011

Take This Job and Gently Put It Somewhere

 Oh, how I wanted to be Jerry Maguire. How I wanted to put a goldfish in a bag, tell the boss to shove it, right in front of the whole staff, and spirit myself and that innocent fish out of there into the open air. But of course Jerry Maguire didn’t quit; he was fired. And of course I wouldn’t put a goldfish in a bag unless it was in imminent danger.

But still, there were so many times, on so many jobs, when I wanted to make a scene and storm out the door. I wanted to shout “I quit!” and throw a sheaf of papers on the floor. Or buzz into the intercom system and sing, We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when… and walk away, all hips and swagger, giving the finger to the building on the way out.

Oh, how it has not gone like that.

I’ve quit a lot of jobs in my life, and not once have I made a scene. It’s not that I wasn’t tempted: The boss who patted my butt and tried to French-kiss me in the mailroom certainly deserved it. And the über-Christian co-workers who grumbled when I dared not to read the Bible in the lunchroom were good candidates. And as for the crazy-making, exasperating managers—I’ve worked for more than my share of those. But in spite of all that, when it came time to quit, I just couldn’t make the big exit. Instead, my quitting usually amounted to a short meeting with some paperwork exchanged, or a strained phone call with me telling my nit-picky, overbearing boss that it had been a pleasure working for her, and I’d send her a Christmas card. (I did.) In my dreams, I’m a bad-ass. But face to face—well, my mother would be proud. Good manners trump drama every time.

Except for once…almost. It was my dream job—I’d landed a gig as the manager of a riding stable, handling a small fleet of horses, teaching lessons, and greeting customers from a window cut into a very rustic tack room. There was no electricity, no running water…and, most of the time, nobody working there but me. This last bit turned out to be a problem. The owners were a young couple who fought a lot, and when they were mad at each other, they went their separate ways—often for days at a time. So, again and again, I found myself having to run the stable alone, with customers streaming in all day, and horses to be watered and rested and re-tacked, and the phone ringing, and the cash box never coming out right. It was a gigantic juggling act, way too much work for one person. And the pay was terrible.

So I started rehearsing a little talk I was going to have with the owners about this. And one day, it was the right time to do it: I won’t go into the story now—suffice it to say that my day featured a rampaging pit bull, an injured child, and a hungry chicken, and it still ranks as my Worst Day Ever, on Any Job. And when the wife-owner returned late that afternoon, mellow and dreamy after a day of hiking or shopping or whatever the hell she’d been doing all day, I was ready to shoot off like a Roman candle, and that entire speech that I’d been rehearsing flew out of my mouth at about 200 miles an hour, right in her face. I think I may have actually spat on her a little. I ended my tirade by saying that the job was not what I’d signed up for, and I didn’t even like it anymore. That last part came as a surprise even to me.

The effect wasn’t what I expected. In my rage-addled brain, I thought she’d be chagrined, that she’d admit she’d been a bad boss and had made a terrible mistake. Maybe she’d give me flowers or something; certainly a raise. But, to my surprise, her face darkened and she hissed, “If that’s the way you feel, how about if we make today your last day?” Bewildered, I said, “Fine.” She peeled a few bills out of the cashbox and handed them to me as my last day’s pay. Then we busied ourselves with putting away the tack and letting the horses out to their pasture, all in silence. Eventually, her husband arrived, and he was solicitous and kind, as he often was. Then the wife explained to him, with a fake cheery smile, that I’d decided to move on. “Gosh,” he said, “that’s too bad. Well, let’s have a drink.” Then, to my amazement, he whipped up a batch of margaritas in the RV that sat next to the tack room, and the three of us sat down in patio chairs in the dusty canyon and drank to each other’s health. We had a long, slow talk about nothing in particular. It was nice. I was reminded that I liked these people. And I felt bad about the yelling. But the die was cast, and it would have been awkward to change my mind just then. And I got the sneaking feeling that it wasn’t the first time they’d done this—that people had quit suddenly on them before, and they knew the drill.

So that was my sort-of big scene. The music didn’t swell; the crowd didn’t cheer. I drove home and tugged off my boots and took a long, hot bath. I didn’t regret quitting—I knew they’d taken advantage of me, and I was proud that I’d spoken my mind. It just wasn’t a Hollywood ending; it was…complicated. Later, I found another job that, like that one, was not simple and was not perfect. And since then, I’ve found that they’re all like that, to one degree or another—even the best ones, the ones I kept for a long time. And even in the worst ones, I still remember the look on my boss’ face when I reamed her out. And more than anything, I remember those margaritas, that quiet talk with two other human beings while the sun set over the canyon.


  1. I like everything you write (blush), Amy, but this one is particularly touching. I'm going to give it to my memoir students--lucky students!--as an example of thoughtful, personable writing. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for the good thoughts! This one's a good example of a memoir piece that started out going one way, then marched itself off in a new direction that surprised me.