My head is swimming. My hands are chapped dry, asphalt-rough at the tips, from washing dishes and wiping counters and tables with bleach-soaked rags. I’ve been on my feet for seven hours straight, eight if you count the half-hour I spent walking from apartment to bus stop, waiting for my ride, and trudging up a hill and across a six-lane road to work — and time spent standing around before the #2 Inbound comes round to pick me up. God forbid the AATA install a few benches at their stops.
Five lanes of cars rush past me; the sonic impact of each one zooming by reminds me of how my daily hassle (work) is bookended so appropriately with two little mini-hassles: getting there and getting home. I turn away from the road to avoid the smell of exhaust. All I can fathom doing when I get home is crashing, in bed, on the couch, floor, wherever, as long as I don’t have to stand, walk, smile, transact, serve, clean. Maybe I’ll be able to muster up the intellectual wherewithal to do some knitting, but I’m pretty much used up for the rest of the day. I’ve been working a lot more since summer “break” (yeah, whatever) began, but I don’t remember how I managed to do homework, put in hours on extracurriculars or relax at all after working a full day.
That’s how my summer has been so far. Days not sucked dry by my primary job are spent behind the counter at a less stressful gig at a locally owned shopThose that I have truly free are spent reacquainting myself with my boyfriend, who, after six days sans Alex, sometimes forgets that he lives with another person. My summer jobs have nothing to do with any of the 10 or so vocations I’m considering. I’m not working to save up cash for a specific goal, like the cars I’m so bitterly jealous over or a plane ticket to Scotland to visit my best friend. I’m not working to put myself through school. (Paying out-of-state tuition on $6.50 an hour? Hee!)
Remember “Calvin & Hobbes,” the one newspaper comic strip in the last 20 years that didn’t totally suck? A recurring theme was Calvin’s dad telling the roguish Calvin to do unpleasant tasks, like cleaning his room, under the pretext that suffering through the nastiness would “build character.” I think a lot of people — parents, students, the patrons of the various establishments at which us po’ students and other wage slaves are employed — don’t realize that most of us aren’t doing this for “life experience” — that we’re working to live. We calculate our hours in our heads, curse federal and state taxes for excising a sizeable chunk of our barely-three-digit paychecks and plan our finances around the nebulous relationship between payday and the first of the month. People don’t realize that the change they might absently drop into my tip jar becomes my grocery money — or that, when they pick the pennies out of the handful of coins I just gave them as though they’re removing a reviled topping from a slice of pizza, it’s like they’re saying, “Eh, this is such a small amount of money that it’s not worth keeping. However, I’m sure the chick behind the counter can really put this 0.0004-percent tip to good use.”
OK, I’m a little touchy about my need to scrimp — but you can bet I still find space in my very limited budget to add a good half dollar at least to the tip jar at my local coffee joint. I tip servers at sit-down restaurants at least 20 percent. If I’ve got the change, I’ll empty my pockets to those I meet on the street who look like they could use it more than I can. And — just to prove to you that I’m not just begging for more cash — if I don’t have extra money or change, I’ll at least smile, look my server in the eye while I order, thank them profusely when it’s done, and give them a little extra the next time I’m there. You’d want the same thing if you were on my side of the counter.
Jones is a Daily fall/winter associate arts editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.