Growing up, my parents always acted with patience towards my sister and I when we acted out. They rarely struck us or raised their voices; a type of self-restraint I’d eventually come to figure out was a well thought-out front. When I turned fifteen the bluff ended, and I realized my parents were actually terrible sadists who played the long-game. They’d been biding their time to punish me for all the regrettable things I’d done, and now, as I turned an employable age, they were putting their vindictive plan in action: I was to get a part-time, after-school job.
My father’s idea of a good time involved working during the daylight hours. He never spent one moment of his weekends on the couch, watching golf and getting fat like other dads. In fact, he rarely sat down for break- fast or lunch, choosing instead to eat while pacing around. If he finished his work in the yard and garage, he’d take his mountain bike on an all- afternoon trek through the foothills, coming home just in time for dinner dirty and bloodied from a few falls, and drenched in sweat.
My sister and I preferred to spend our weekends lounging, occasionally doing a few chores here and there — mowing the lawn, washing the cars, walking the dogs, etc. Now I knew these “chores” were actually manipulations of my character. With- out my knowledge of it, my father had crafted me into an employable young man, and boy, was I bitter about it. I’d been conned. Every night before bed, I’d lie awake and picture my parents drinking champagne and laughing at their successful dupe.
The next few months, my weekends involved filling out applications and interviewing for bottom-rung positions at dead-end jobs, fast food joints and gas stations. At first, I thought I’d be able to outsmart my parents — completing the applications and leaving them around the house for them to see. On the weekends, I’d pretend to return them at their respective places when instead I would throw them away at a nearby friend’s house and spend the next few hours playing video games and talking about crushes. I’d come home saying, “The manager said he’d call and set-up an interview later. That tip about a firm hand-shake and looking him in the eye? Great advice, Dad.”
This rouse was quickly thwarted, however, when my mom volunteered to drive me around, expediting the process, and allowing me to cover more area. To make matters worse, when I asked her to stay in the car and wait for me, she insisted against it. Now my only hope to avoiding this excruciating embarrassment was to embrace the hunt and hope to get hired somewhere, anywhere, as soon as possible. With all my accolades, I knew I’d be hired soon enough, but who would be the lucky employer?
No one ever called me back. I understood rejection in the romantic sense — I owned no car and no driver’s license, my bank account contained no more than $60, I didn’t play any sports and I was now known as the kid who went every- where with his mother. Usually I’d show up to school with oil-stained hands and busted knuckles from working on classic car restorations the night before in my father’s garage. I’d rush from class to class, terrified that people might recognize me as the kid who tripped walking down the bleachers during Freshman Orienta- tion, my weak, skinny limbs flailing about as I tried to turn my clumsiness into a graceful somersault, looking like a baby bird doing gymnastics.
In my mind I saw my peers openly pointing and laughing as I fled down the hallways. But rejection from employment? That I couldn’t understand.
Soon enough I was desperate for work, and started begging friends who were employed to get me a job, anywhere. One friend worked for T.J. Maxx, and after charming my way through three interviews, I landed the job. At this point, I was 17 and a senior in high school. I worked 30 hours a week after school and on weekends and had little time for a social life. My coworkers began to force themselves as confidantes. In the break-room, a group of middle- aged Persian women would interview me in English, then switch back to Farsi and laugh at my sad life, as though the foreign language veil were thick enough to hide their obvious mirth. Because I went to school with their sons and daughters, I imagined them returning home after our shifts and gossiping about me, holding their laughter back just long enough to
say, “Your friend Mason said he was leaning back in his chair in history class and fell backwards, and every- one laughed at him!”
Undoubtedly their children, my classmates, would respond with, “Mom, I’ve told you a hundred times — he’s not my friend, just some weirdo.”
What I learned from that job was essentially what my classmates also taught me, although it took me quite a few years to realize it. Every shift I’d hang up clothes people were too lazy or rude to hang up themselves. Nobody was paying attention to my blunders. Instead, like me, they were so engulfed in their own actions that they never noticed me tripping down the bleachers, bringing my mom around with me, and worst of all, working at T.J. Maxx.