2020 took casualties on every level, literally as well as metaphorically. Lives have been lost. Survivors have had their lives changed for the worse by lingering coronavirus side effects. Jobs have been suspended or eliminated. Businesses have closed. Families have suffered. Special events were canceled….or worse, continued on schedule but infected and killed their attendees. Plans great and small were waylaid. Happy times were postponed for safety’s sake and downgraded to a form of delayed gratification to be fulfilled in what will hopefully not be an even worse year to come.
Milestones on the calendar came and went — some without fanfare, others with drastically reduced celebrations. My own example at hand: 2020 marked my twentieth anniversary at my day job.
Once upon a time in the year 2000, I was a divorced guy living alone in a two-bedroom apartment in the section-8 complex where I grew up. My son lived with my ex-wife in another part of town. I’d been in the restaurant biz for twelve years, ten of those in management. I started there in high school and, as I frequently half-joked with people, just kept forgetting to quit. My best friend Anne lived two buildings away in a one-bedroom hidey-hole with her dog Harrison. Our relationship status changed years later, but that was a tale for another time.
The era after the Y2K non-bug was different and yet not. Mystery Science Theater 3000 had ended the year before, but Star Trek: Voyager was still on the air. I’d been on the internet for about a year and was still learning how to navigate its pitfalls, including but not limited to trolls, flame wars, bots, spammers, scammers, cybering, viruses, moderators, the slowness of 56K modems, AOL in general, and opinionated comics fans who didn’t get Watchmen. Via arcane internet magic I can tell you every film I saw in theaters that year from worst to best based on my young, flawed criteria at the time:
- Final Destination
- Chicken Run
- American Psycho
- Meet the Parents
- Cast Away
- Godzilla 2000
- Pitch Black
- Fantasia 2000
- Rugrats in Paris
- Mission: Impossible 2
- Men of Honor
- What Lies Beneath
- Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
- The Road to El Dorado
- Scream 3
- Pokemon: the Movie 2000
- Return to Me
- The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle
- Titan AE
- The Tigger Movie
- Eye of the Beholder
This is a terrible list written by a young stupid male clearly out of his gourd. Do not ask me to justify any of these rankings except to confirm that I do still agree with the first-place and last-place contestants. Beyond those, that thing’s a mess and would’ve gotten the worst clickbait movie news site expunged from the internet. Thankfully as of the year 2000 listicles weren’t a thing yet and I was never employed by that kind of site anyway.
Tastes notwithstanding, if you look at the list closely enough, it’s apparent I was a parent. Several of those films were clearly not intended for adults to see alone without being accompanied by a minor. It was a favorite father/son activity of ours. Though I had to work nights and weekends at the restaurant — very nearly all of them — my ex generously let him come over for visits whenever I had days off from work. Those nearly always fell in the middle of the week. Such flexible arrangements were easy while the two of us got along and he was a kid not yet in school.
That situation inevitably had to change. In fall of 2000 he would legally be school-age at last. For his sake my visitations would have to be limited to weekends only. That was never going to happen at the restaurant job. I was second-in-command, but the store manager never worked nights or weekends, nor did her daughter who was also a manager because her mom/boss didn’t make her. We only had two other managers. It was a small store that relied on me to facilitate not only a number of critical business functions, but also the boss’ scheduling convenience.
If I’d stayed there, my son basically would never get to see me again. So I had to choose: my son or my job. And my deadline was the first week of school.
I interviewed twice at my current workplace, several months apart for two different positions. The first time, I applied for a management position. I sat at a table surrounded by four supervisors from varying levels and within minutes knew I was clearly aiming too high. Restaurants and cubicle-filled offices share some aspects, but the leadership requirements are galaxies apart, even more so for a two-time college dropout.
For my second try, I aimed a bit lower but knocked out a two-page resume which I could sincerely fill with accomplishments performed and skill sets I’d acquired throughout my years, many of which were applicable to the new position. Better still, the job requirements allowed for either a bachelor’s degree or years of business experience. I aced the obligatory math test and, hopped up on several pounds of sugar and caffeine, gave the liveliest, most energetic interview of my life. If I’d had time and gas, I could’ve driven straight from there to Broadway and gotten a moonlighting gig as a singing cat.
I was hired. Everything changed. I started at the new job on September 11, 2000. As you can imagine, my one-year anniversary did not go well, but that was a story for another time.
There was one drawback to the career change: I had to take a pay cut. Between the weekly child support payments and my monthly car payments that had been negotiated at a painful post-bankruptcy interest rate, I knew things would suck financially for a while. But I had to do it for my son…and to an extent, for myself. My heart was never in restaurant work. I couldn’t see myself there at age 40 or 50 or more, let alone treating it as a lifelong commitment. There was no chance of advancement into an office position and no desire on my part. I’d stayed put for as long as I did because…well, because they let me.
The list of cons was small. The pros outnumbered them by far. No more nights and weekends, except in exceedingly rare instances when overtime was necessary. No more handling grease. No more coming home with a new burn every night. No more ten-hour shifts spent entirely on my feet. No more wearing standardized uniforms provided by the company. No more name tags. Actual health insurance and retirement plans. And they allowed me to grow a beard, which the restaurant owner had expressly forbidden. I’d learned a lot from him, but I was happy to leave that rule behind. I’ve shaved it off exactly once since then and consequently ruined some otherwise awesome road trip photos. The pay cut was eventually not an issue, and my son’s custody situation underwent its own changes, which were a story for another time.
Then twenty years flew by and here we are today. I’m older and have more pains now, but have gone above and beyond to perform the tasks at hand and to make myself as essential to the workplace as possible. I’m still not in management, but have instead evolved into the guy who’s been there forever that everyone goes to whenever they have a question. It’s not a bad place to be. Of my original eleven teammates, only three are still with the company, and one of those is about to retire.
If only I’d changed jobs a year earlier, maybe my twentieth anniversary would have fallen in 2019 and we could’ve had an ordinary celebration. I blame my younger self’s fear of change and love of procrastination for the poor timing.
With 90% of our company now on work-from-home, my anniversary party was a Skype chat. One of my teammates thoughtfully put together an amusing PowerPoint presentation. And my current boss, who’s also reporting to the office in person daily as I am but at a desk dozens of feet away from mine, brought me the gift displayed in our lead photo: a delightfully decadent chocolate cupcake from a local establishment called Sweeties Gourmet Treats, owned by the wife of a former Chicago Bears linebacker.
Our company has a “twenty-year club” that allows aging employees in it for the long haul to fraternize at special get-togethers, but the induction dinner for my “class” was indefinitely postponed for obvious reasons. I understand the hazing ritual involves funny hats and singing. I’m okay with the rain check for as long as needed.
I’m grateful just to have a job in this economy, let alone to have grown into one that values my service and demonstrates their commitments on an ongoing basis both to clients and to employees, pandemic or no pandemic. Our company isn’t the largest in Indiana, but they’re big enough that employees who celebrate work anniversaries are entitled to order a gift from a third-party catalog that specializes in such forms of commemoration. I sifted through a long list of appliances, jewelry, accessories, outdoor gear, and products bearing the company logo until exactly the right object caught my eye: a piece of heavy machinery.
Behold a combination electric leaf blower, vacuum, and mulcher. We have two maple trees that shed a few jillion leaves every fall. This tool came along at exactly the right time. I don’t care about the blower function, but the other two were a godsend. The vacuum is weak enough that it’s more efficient for me to rake the leaves into piles first before whipping out this baby, rather than wandering around the lawn and trying to Hoover up the leaves one at a time. Once they’re gathered in tiny fragile mountains, the machine inhales them, shreds them into itty-bitty bits, and spews them into the attached bag. With its assistance I saved dozens of minutes on the gathering process and was able to cram the same annual tonnage of leaves into one-third as many trash bags.
It’s such a little thing in the grand scheme. Most of my 2020 highlights were little things like that. This new toy is basically a lawn-care expansion of the Suck-Cut from Wayne’s World.
Party on, Wayne. And party on, Garth.