Monday, February 10, 2014

half a pound of horse head meat, please

The scene is clear in all of our minds, yeah? We're sitting in our post-grad glory, a cup of coffee on the bedside table. Our hair is lightly tousled, we're in an over-sized flannel in some simplistic yet just the right amount of lived-in New York City apartment. There's an old record's music floating around the place (where did we get this record player? that's not important) and we're 'writing' and we count this as 'working.' 

And then it happens - we get the email...that beautiful, wild email that says something like:

"Dear _____,

Thank you for your application to your dream job! Guess what? YOU GOT IT! Say goodbye to those student loans cuz you're gonna make it, baby!"

We tear up a little and we feel like we're in some kind of film montage - we light up a cigarette (when did we start smoking? that's not important) and we go out to the fire escape and our hair dances around our face. A stray cat (which isn't dirty) looks at us and we pet it and we smile and think, "Damn."

We celebrate that evening in the East Village with drinks with our friends and we treat everyone because that paycheck is going to be nice. And everything is okay. It's all going to be okay.

* * *

I was certain this is what my life would be after college and it was perhaps the exact opposite. I graduated NYU with a degree, a massive amount of debt, and zero plans of the future. In my last semester I had planned to move to Ireland (spoiler, it didn't work out), go to grad school, and turn into Amy Adams in Leap Year or something. That plan fell away, and I found myself in December of 2010 packing up my NYC apartment and moving back to the suburbs of Philadelphia to live at home.

This wasn't supposed to happen to me. I mean, I heard it happen to other people all the time -- moving home after college, living in their parent's basements or whatever -- but I was different, right? No, I wasn't, and I moved home and gained ten pounds and spent the hours applying to grad school and hanging out with my blind and old cat. 

Months past and I realized I had to do something. I was making no money, living in my high school bedroom, and I was growing more and more miserable everyday. It's pathetic, really. I should have been happy and grateful and eventually I got there -- but that immediate shock of "Oh my gosh. I'm not in school anymore. I'm supposed to be an adult. And I'm not. And I'm alone and I miss my friends and WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?" That shock lasted awhile until my mom finally looked at me and said the dreaded words we all hate to hear - 

"You need a job."

So after several months of bumming it I finally swallowed what tiny ounce of pride I had left and applied for a job.

At a deli.

Where my baby sister worked.

I got the job pretty quickly and was the only girl that worked behind the deli counter. I've worked since I was thirteen and working doesn't scare me but this job terrified me. My co-workers were rough men, I had never used a meat slicer in my life, and I'm already an anxious person. But around this time was when my college roommate and I decided at the end of the summer we were going to move to Los Angeles. We bought one-way tickets and thought, "YUP. What the hell, we're going to move across the country with no plan, no anything and try to make a life."

This little beacon of hope - this light was what helped me be at peace with the fact that my seventeen year old sister was training me at a job. 

What I learned working at 320 Market was that pride is dangerous and you really have to be careful with it. I never would have expected that I would truly fall in love with that job. I loved my time there (I also hated it at times) but overall it was really a great job. I never stopped humiliating myself there, like the one time this lady asked me for Boar's Head meat and I thought she said "horse head" so I announced to the guys behind the counter, "Can I have half a pound of horse head meat, please?" Why didn't I realize how sick it would be if we provided customers with horse head meat?

But I learned a lot. I learned to not cry when I sliced open my thumb so bad I almost threw up. I learned to stand up for myself when the guys tried to make me blush or say crude things. I learned that no one has their shit figured out and that's fine, to be honest.

And when I finally put in my two weeks notice and began packing for LA, I really felt grateful. I carried that with me to LA and I've learned that work is work and you should never be embarrassed if you don't have this idealized "dream job." Because even when we get this "dream job" we're still going to want something else, something bigger. Something better. There will always be this constant want want want. So instead of constantly stressing myself out that I'm not doing as well as other people my age, I just have to remind myself of how lucky I am. I need to practice being grateful because it doesn't come naturally and this moment isn't going to last. We aren't promised tomorrow so why do I freak myself out so badly? It's just pointless.

If I had never taken that job, if I had let my pride swallow me, I would never have made enough money to move out here and I never would have the most amazing friends, an incredible job and I never would have experienced this. I mean, maybe I would have....I don't know. But I love the way I got here and I never want to discredit it. 

Even if it meant having everyone laugh at me for an hour straight because I thought it was normal to serve horse head meat at a deli.

Ya learn, ya know.

* * *

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