Around Christmastime when I was sixteen years old, my girlfriend had her eye on a bracelet at Kay's. The piece in question was a pink strap of leather (or maybe pseudo snakeskin) lined with two rows of pearls. The pearls were certainly not high-end by any means, and were probably those freshwater knock-offs from China. Still, they were pearls nonetheless. The bracelet had originally been priced at around $250 and had recently been marked down to the $150 neighborhood. My girlfriend wasn't asking for me to get it for her, by any stretch. She was well aware that at sixteen years of age I wasn't exactly rolling around in spare change and capable of shelling out hundreds. Still, I had no good gift ideas for her, and when the price dipped just below $100 a few days before Christmas, I sprang on the opportunity to exceed my budget and get my girlfriend the bracelet she wanted so very much. She really appreciated it and was very thankful, which is always awesome for a sixteen-year old kid. She wore the bracelet for a few months and went out with me for a few months beyond that. And that concludes the only experience I've had with Kay Jewelers.
But it does not conclude this entry. I have mentioned that I was not raking in money at this point in my life. Instead, I was making minimum wage at the worst job I have ever had. To understand the true cost of the bracelet, we must eliminate "money" as the middle man and consider that, taxes included, the bracelet had cost me about fifteen hours of work as a dishwasher at a place I will simply call Joe's. Joe's was an eatery I worked at for four months of my junior year of high school. Weekday shifts were three hours long and Saturday shifts were four hours. Since there were always two or three dishwashers employed at a time, a typical work week was six to ten hours. So there you have it. Thanks to two weeks of my terrible dishwasher stint, my girlfriend got to have an ornamented wrist when she wanted to. The cost of living.
When I took the job it sounded easy enough. Customers came in and got food, and I would wash all of their used plates and utensils. Left out of the description was the fact that two thirds of my time would be spent down in the basement washing preparation tools and machinery, cleaning bathrooms and ovens, sweeping floors, and taking out garbage. Even though I had absolutely no customer interaction, I was made to wear a company polo shirt. It was stained with bleach when given to me, and made of some of the cheapest and coarsest cotton I have ever felt. Combine coarse cotton chafing with hot dishwater steam for three hours a day, and you're only asking for skin damage. By the end of my four month stint at Joe's, my upper back was peppered with acne, pimples, and a general irritation.
Plenty of other things went wrong right off the bat. In my second week, I finished a shift and went to punch out only to learn that Joe, the owner, had punched me out an hour ago. "Oh! You're the new dishwasher," he said to me after a tense moment. "I was wondering whose charge number that was." I suppose without asking around for confirmation, he had settled on "nobody's." I was never reimbursed for the "extra" hour I had worked, even though it would have cost the place less than the price of their roast beef sandwich. Also, regardless of the fact that it is generally considered moral, legal, and right to pay an employee for his work. We decided that as a nation back in 1863, or so I had thought. About a month in, on a cold and rainy October day, my manager asked me to change the letters on a sign outside. I had never been asked to do such a thing, and was unprepared for any outdoor activity. Nonetheless, I did what I was told, pouring rain and all, and came back inside after twenty minutes only to have my boss say, "No, no, the other sign!"
The job was also not without its hazards. Several times at Joe's I ended up cutting my fingers on knives and tomato slicers. One of these times stands out because I was bleeding so badly that the dirty dishes were getting some blood on them. My supervisor had no bandages to solve this issue, but wouldn't let me keep washing dishes while bleeding, and wouldn't let me clock out early while he washed the last few dishes. Instead, I was made to put on several latex gloves on the same hand, cutting off nearly all circulation to it. Fortunately for Joe's, a lack of circulation means a lack of blood flow. When my shift ended and I took the gloves off, my hand was a deep red, and my cut finger a disgusting purple. Numbness subsided several hours later, only to give way to pain.
But that's they way thing's worked at Joe's. They were too small a place to have a company mission statement, but if they did, it probably would have been "Too hurt to work? Go fuck yourself." One day in November I got my wisdom teeth pulled. I was held out of school for four days. With work being of a much lower priority than school, I told my manager not to schedule me to work on these four days at least three times in the weeks leading up to my surgery. Sure enough, I was scheduled to work on the day I had my wisdom teeth pulled and also two days afterward. When I explained to him that I would be drugged down to a sleeping stupor after the surgery, he only said it wasn't his problem, and that I needed to find someone to take my shift. There were only three dishwashers at the time, and we had no interactions with each other as we all worked on separate days. Still, after introducing myself, I managed to get one of my two coworkers to cover both of these shifts for me. The catch was that I needed to take the day right between them, the day following my surgery. I did so, skipping my painkillers and dealing with agony in my mouth for three long hours.
But the wisdom tooth episode has nothing on the mono era. That November was not my body's healthiest month, as just a week after my oral surgery, after achieving a fever of 103 degrees, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis. You know, the textbook young adult disease that makes you really tired. After calling in sick with the aforementioned fever, I gave my manager the mono news the next day, leaving it up to him to decide whether or not to lighten my load. Alas, one of the other two dishwashers had hockey tryouts all week, and I was scheduled to work a record four days. All week, I could barely stay awake, let alone work, and was told at least three different times that I needed to "stop moping around" and clean dishes faster. It didn't help things that as we approached Thanksgiving and Christmastime, catering orders were coming in everywhere. My workload nearly doubled, but I was still expected to get things done in three hours, even with my mono. I would stay later and later while the sun set earlier and earlier, eventually reaching a point where I would emerge from the dank basement into total darkness outside, wet through my clothes in sub-freezing temperatures.
I was not scheduled to work for the entire week after Christmas. This was the greatest Christmas gift I could have received that year. I was told, historically, that this last week of the year was always a light week, and that, in general, things were not nearly as crazy from January to April as they were in the fall. Things were looking good. Fully recovered from mono and fresh off of Christmas and a week off from both school and work, I went into Joe's the following week with a new positive attitude, looking forward to the upcoming and comparably easy winter workload. I checked the schedule, only to find that I again was not on it. Amazing, but confusing. I asked around and was told by other employees that I would probably be getting fewer hours, post-holiday season, and that it wasn't uncommon to have a week off. But when I called to find out my hours for the following week, I was told that, again, I was not working. Yet I was promised that there was nothing to worry about and that my name was still on the scheduling grid. In mid-January, at the beginning of what would have been my fourth week off, a co-worker sought me out in school and asked me to cover his shift that afternoon. I accepted, happy to finally get back to working.
When I arrived for my first shift in nearly a month, smiling and eager and happy to have some hours again, my manager looked confused. "You're uh, you're not on the schedule today," he told me. I told him I was filling in for someone else. He seemed troubled to hear that news. "Well, I don't know if you're still in the system," he said. It began to dawn on me. I was no longer an employee here. I had been fired. Fired without ever being told about it. Fired so sneakily and suddenly that none of my coworkers had even known about it. Fired by this spineless man, standing before me, acting as if me showing up to work four weeks after having been fired was some kind of minor misunderstanding. "Yeah, you're no longer in the system," he said. What a politically correct way to terminate employment. "Didn't we send you some papers?" That lying coward. If "papers" had been sent, why was I greeted with "You're not scheduled to work today," as if I could have possibly thought I was still employed? Why the "let me check the schedule" fake out?
I called my mom and asked for a ride home, telling her I'd explain why I wasn't working later. I sat down in the middle of the empty dining area - at least I hadn't been lied to about how calm it was during the winter - and waited for my ride. Before long, the main cashier lady spoke up. She was the only person at Joe's who had ever cared about my life or said basic courteous things like, "I hope you feel better soon," about my wisdom teeth and mononucleosis. She asked me if I wanted a sandwich while I waited for my ride. I had never even had one in my four months there, and she was shocked to hear this. "Oh, you gotta have one then. They're really good," she said. I obliged, walked up to the counter, observed the menu, and finally decided upon the roast beef. She not only charged me, but charged me full price.
If I ever find myself with both the desire and the resources to open up a restaurant, I will do so right across the street from Joe's deli and resort to new lows in order to steal their customers. I will do this with no remorse whatsoever.
Anyway, Kay Jewelers seemed like a fine store, and I'd definitely shop there again.