Some reflections on a life of (mostly) failure, part III

Today I am going to take a look at my professional career, the jobs I have had and lost over the years, and what the future may hold for a slightly autistic, idiosyncratic, middle-aged man with no official education.

The first job I ever had was working at Carl’s Jr. here in Roseburg. I was sixteen, had a lousy attitude and the only reason I was working was because my parents decided I needed to work. I lasted one month. Hard to stay at a job you hate.

My second job was at Kowloon’s resteraunt, also in Roseburg. I worked as a dishwasher for probably five or six months before quitting.

My third job was working at a gas station. Actually, I worked there twice.

I worked at the Java Company in the mall (my first gig as a barista), I worked at Senior Sam’s restaraunt, and then, finally, in my mid-twenties, I got a job at While-Away Books, a used bookstore/coffeeshop in Roseburg, and this job really transformed my outlook in so many ways. At that time, a wonderful woman named Karen owned the bookstore, and she later told me she hesitated in hiring me because I had such a bad job record, but decided to take a chance on me. I am so glad she did.

The problem with most employers is they seem to think that somehow it is a one-way street, they are giving you money for your work, but they never seem to consider that it is your life you are giving them, your time away from your family, your time away from living. Karen was not like that. She valued and appreciated everyone, and she always treated everyone like gold, no matter who they were.

I worked my first period at While Away for about a year and a half, then moved up to Bellingham, Wa., for about seven or eight months before moving back and returning to the bookstore for another year and a half. Then I moved to Eugene.

In Eugene I worked at a coffeeshop called Jamochas for about a year before being hired by two sisters named Cheryl and Catherine who were opening up a small cafe called Sweet Life. This too would be a big change for me. I doubt any of us, including Catherine and Cheryl, had any idea that when they opened up for business with four employees, that within six years Sweet Life would employ around fifty people and become on of the most thriving businesses in Eugene.

I started out as a Barista/server/dishwasher, but as the years passed, I also baked morning pastries, delivered, stocked the cases, and eventually became the cafe manager. I stayed in this position for my final three years there.

Ahhh, Sweet Life, what a time I had working there. So many crazy stories.

Now that I have had time to reflect and for my life to settle down, I really value and appreciate my time at Sweet Life, but for the last year and a half to two years there, my life was one of swirling chaos. When I made my decision to quit, it was because of so much stress that had built up in my life, not just the job, but everything. I was slowly going insane.

There are several reasons why I began freaking out.

The first one was my issue with crowds and groups of people. My entire life I have not like crowds or groups, I get severely anxious, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know who to look at. I do really well one on one. Sweet Life, if you have ever been there, is an extremely busy place. When I was there, an average friday night would see a line out the door that sometimes had fifty, sixty people in it. I would work the cash register on really busy nights and I would see someone at the tail end of the line, and often they wouldn’t reach the cash register for forty-five minutes. Mass amounts of people crowded into a small space to eat cake and drink coffee. It could be just sheer pandemonium.

working at Sweet Life

Every day before work I would arrive early, sit in my car and try to be calm. My palms would sweat and I would be incredibly apprehensive anticipating work. This went on my entire eight years there.

The other issue that led to me leaving both Sweet Life and Eugene was my schedule. This was my typical week for the final two years in Eugene: Usually I would wake up at seven or so, get Zoe up, make her breakfast and take her to school. Then I would go home and get another hour or two of sleep. Then I would get up again, go get Zoe around noon, have luch with her, take her back to the school for after-care, then go to Sweet Life to start my shift at 3. Of course, almost every day at Sweet Life is unbelievably busy, so I would work a busy 8 1/2 – 9 hour shift, get off sometime between 11:30-12:00, drive to Zoe’s moms house, get Zoe out of bed, plop her in the truck, drive to my apartment (often stopping at Wendy’s to get a late dinner), put her back in bed, and then, hopefully, I would be able to fall asleep before 2 in the morning. Then I would wake up at seven and do it all over again. This was five days a week, although I had Zoe for every day but Saturday.

It may sound like complaining but it really isn’t. I loved having my daughter every day, and being the more prominent parent (at that time her mom was getting her nursing degree), I loved the pride I felt in having worked my way up to being a manager at one of the busiest shops anywhere in Eugene, but between the erosion of my social anxiety and the slow drain of my energy from my schedule, I found myself getting sick all the time, I was having mini nervous-breakdowns on a regular basis (I should also mention that in the final three years in Eugene, I was in a unstable relationship, my uncle, father and then my friend Tracy died.) I stopped climbing altogether.

When I had had enough, I took what at the time I thought would be a leave of absence. I just wanted to get out of Eugene – the biggest city I have ever lived in – go back down to Roseburg, go out on the family property and just decompress for a time. I thought I would come back. I was bitter when I left, but later I would begin to understand things with more clarity, and now I feel nothing but gratitude for my friends and the people who did and do care about me up there. Especially for Catherine and Cheryl.

Check them out:

When I worked my last day and began packing up my apartment, it dawned on me that I was actually leaving for good. My Mom was going to let me stay with her for a time, and I was really looking forward to being in the country again. My soul needed it. I grew up in entirely rural settings, my family has always had land, and so it was a true homecoming for me.

I suppose I knew I had made the right move to Roseburg when, on my first full day in town, I walked into While-Away Books, my old haunting ground, now owned by another nice woman named Peggy. I had gone there intending to get a good cup of coffee, and as I was doctoring my java, I saw some customers who remembered me from when I worked there before, and they inquired about the nature of my plans, and I mentioned that I had recently moved back down ‘for the summer’ – I was just fooling myself at that point – and Peggy happened to overhear our conversation.

While Away’s Facebook Page:

She came and sat down with me at one of the tables and pointedly asked me if I was looking for work (Peggy and I had met on several occasions, but all we knew of each other was that I used to work there and she was the new owner), and I said I was. She interviewed me the next day and just like that, I was starting my third term of employment at While Away books.

Several important events occurred during this final period of employment at the book store. The first, and most important thing was meeting my partner Brook. She came back to work about three months after giving birth to her first child, Ryan. She had recently split with her husband, and about a month after she started working at While Away again, she boldly asked me out on a date, and we did, and have been together ever since. Our daughter Julia was born last May.

The second important event occurred when I began to write again after a nearly decade-long hiatus from writing. After writing a handful of stories, I took a leap of faith and left the bookstore to write exclusively. We knew we could manage on just one income for a while, and so I left to give it a try.

Production-wise, it went well. I ended up writing ten or eleven stories, totaling over four hundred pages worth of fiction. I even overcame some big blocks to send in a story to Glimmer Train, a more prestigious publication. It was, of course, rejected. I also had three articles published, all on the subject of climbing, the last article a two-piece story on my experiences climbing the Grand Teton. Unfortunately, both my home PC and my laptop both died, and I am not a long-hand writer. I don’t know if it is because of my peculiar psychological make up that I do so well typing as opposed to pen and and paper, but I find I can keep up with my my thoughts much better if I type. Plus, I love the way the keys feel under my fingers, especially on an older typewriter.

In any case, after leaving the bookstore, the only gainful employment I had left was teaching rock climbing, and  had to let go of that shortly after, my pain making it all too obvious my shortcomings as an outdoor teacher. Since that time, I haven’t worked at a regular job at all, and it has been over a year and a half.

I tried, several times, to get a job, I have over twenty years experience as a barista, but I am kind of old for that sort of job, plus with my experience as a manager at Sweet Life, I am sort of over-qualified for entry-level coffee positions. I also have to be honest about my struggles with pain, which certainly deters would-be employers. The funny thing is – my job record is better than it ever was, excluding the gap in employment, but I find it hard to get a single call-back.

I honestly don’t know what the future holds for me. Since it looks like I am out of school, I will have to find a job sometime soon. It scares me, especially with the intensity of my recent pain, and I honestly don’t know where I will turn to find a job.

So maybe it is through the written word that I will find a way. I don’t claim to be a great writer, especially when it comes to writing such as this. But I do believe I am a pretty solid fiction writer, it is, after all, what I have the most experience writing. One story has been sent in. Maybe tomorrow I will send in another.

At the bookstore.

Next: Part IV, Family Life.


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