I worked at a movie theater for a year, running the concession stand. I got an awesome visor, a nametag, and free movie-themed t-shirts. So what, The Thunderbirds was a flop. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
Anyway, as a concessionist, the duty of popping the popcorn fell on my young, but responsible shoulders. You see, it was a point of pride that our theater had the best popcorn formula out of the three local theaters. Some even used *gasp* pre-packaged popcorn. We popped ours fresh every day. We threw it out every night. When management wanted to save money on popping oil by altering the recipe, the staff rebelled. Sort of. We just ignored the mandate.
The thing about popcorn is that it’s a piece of fluff covered in hot oil. Back then, we didn’t have a door on our popper. If you were anywhere near it when it started popping, bob and weave, my friend. And, God help you if you thought you could beat it. And, God help you if you knew you couldn’t beat it, but the customer was late for their movie. You stick your arm in the burn machine, dammit.
A popcorn kernel burn isn’t very serious. It’s a quick flash of pain, less than a bee sting, than it’s back to scooping the popcorn into the bag. Though, unlike a bee sting, it leaves nice blotch of a scar behind, so small you don’t really notice it until you get a tan.
But, those injuries weren’t exactly mysterious. You took a risk, you challenged the machine, and you lost. Humanity has made that mistake before and will make it again
My current job is as a barista.
Yes, a job that requires me to jet superheated water through a metal tube into a metal pitcher that I have to hold up in order to make sure your latte gets no foam. Additionally, we bake our own cookies, grill sandwiches, and oven-roast pizza.
These things are hot.
But, where the hell did that massive bruise on my hip come from?
I’ve come home from my job with my hands chewed up with papercuts and I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY CAME FROM!
Something lurks in every retail establishment. First, it dries out your skin. Then, it runs you into things when you’re not paying attention. Then, it cuts you, cuts so tiny, you don’t notice, until the aforementioned dry skin turns it into something much worse.
It’s a mystery, I tell you. And, I’m not the only one. When I asked my coworkers if they had ever experienced the “Mysterious Retail Injury”, they looked confused for a moment. But, after the awkward silence, they shouted “Yes! Oh, my God, where do those bruises come from?”
It’s strange to think that retail offers an environment that allows us to function at that level. I didn’t know that making coffee was so consuming that my mind blocked out pain. Who knew popping popcorn was such a hazard.
So far, it’s been nothing life-threatening. But, you never know what Mysterious Injury lurks around the corner.
I have returned to The Fantastic World of Barnes & Noble (or the Nobley, for you who are savvy to the lingo). I’ve worked at B&N for upwards of three years, alternating between seasonal employ and full time. The last stint was a solid two year, full-time block that ended January 2nd of this year.
Let me tell you, I was ready to leave. I had a new job at a startup that looked promising, I was flexing my creative muscle to the point where my words were appearing on television (yeah, promos!). It was thrilling. I refused to enter my local bookstore for several months, holding on to my experience as only the righteously indignant can. I had my Nook. I had the library. I didn’t need to visit a store. Then, a friend of mine had a booksigning at a different but reachable B&N.
Since I’m so altruistic (insert chortle), I swallowed my foolish pride, pulled up my big girl panties, and stopped acting like a total wad.
It’s funny how often I need to do that.
Regardless of the burgeoning Texas heat, the door handle was still chill to the touch, promising an over-cooled environment on the inside. My moment of hesitation was short-lived, as a short, middle-aged man on the other side had no interest in waiting for me to rip the door open. I took a deep breath and entered. The dusky smell of thousands of pages washed over me, caught on the breeze of the air conditioning.
As I entered the B&N, a dribble of drool rolled down my chin as I stared at the shelves and shelves of books. That same old feeling started at the base of my spine and worked its way up into my brain. No matter how fast I read, no matter how much I tried, I would never, ever be able to read all these books. It was like the first time I ever entered a bookstore, but, somehow, so much more.
You see, back in the old days, I was trained in every department. Nook, music, even receiving in the back room. It was like I had returned to my home country. I knew this place, I fit in here, I could wax idiotic with the staff and they recognized me as a familiar traveler, if not a native of their local village. But, something was (and still is) missing. If this was the hero’s quest, what elixir had I returned with? Had a gained some knowledge in the last few months? Did I bring hope to the ones on the inside? I had missed an essential step in personal character growth and made a misstep along my journey.
As it is wont to do, my financial situation became increasingly unstable. While I hadn’t locked my future into a startup, I had hoped it would provide a stable source of income for a year until I had saved up enough to move on.
Ho ho, not so. The time came when I realized I had to get a second job in order to stockpile any money. I cooked up a big humble pie and reapplied to my old job. They were more than happy to welcome me back into the fold.
Sometimes I think my life is a sitcom. It’s funny, it’s tragic, and nothing ever changes.
But, what if I want the hero’s journey? When does this girl get to leave the farm to pursue her destiny? Why am I so upset that real life doesn’t work out the way stories do?
It’s not too late to begin my epic quest, and it’s not like I don’t have options. But, it feels like I had almost hit the main road with my questing companions, only to realize I had to turn back because I forgot to pack my magic sword.