“Bits of meat would be in my hair and all over my body.”
I don’t know where this is from but I have a kind of loyalty. If I make a commitment it kills me not to keep that commitment. It eats me up. Even back when I was working crap jobs, I felt some commitment to them. Somebody would say, “Hey, we need you to work an extra shift next week,” and I would feel like, “You know, they need me.” It could be sorting sunglasses, but it didn’t matter, man, they needed me. I worked many pointless jobs, which means I had to have quit them, but I have almost no memory of saying to the boss, “I’m not going to be working here anymore.” I would continue to work these jobs far beyond what was reasonable. And because I was compliant there was no need to promote me or give me raises. I just sort of hung on. Like the ultimate sap.
My first job was a paper route and I did that from 9 years old to 12 or 13, a long time. This was back when you had to go house to house to collect the fees—you could be a 9 year old on your bicycle carrying around 150 bucks at night! It’s insane! Then I was an umpire and I was terrible. The coaches hated me because I was probably making bad calls, but I stuck with it. It was really miserable. I was 14 or 15 years old and making 8 dollars a game if I was behind the plate. If I was in the field it was 6 dollars. And a free hot dog. I would make a bad call and I’d be yelled at by all of the parents, but of course I stuck with it. I have no recollection of hanging up my face mask. Then I worked as a boxboy, or wrapper, at Ralph’s after I got my driver’s license. It too was terrible! I would clean the meat room on Friday nights because I couldn’t say no. And that meant on a Friday night in high school I wouldn’t go out with my friends—I’d be in the meat room cleaning out the meat grinder by hand. Hosing everything down. I would smell like raw meat and bits of meat would be in my hair and all over my body. It was just nasty! But I had no capacity to imagine a better job or better circumstances. This was the job. This was what you did to earn money. That might be why they never promoted me! I think I started the job at $3.70 an hour and I ended at $4.90 two years later.
When I graduated from college I wanted to stay living in San Luis Obispo because it’s a wonderful town and I had lived there four and a half years as a student. I was dating the girl who became my wife and I had a lot of friends still there, so I took a full-time job at Kinko’s, 40 hours a week, as a delivery driver. There were not a lot of deliveries to do, but I got into three wrecks in that truck. At one point, with my boss in the truck, I backed into a car that was parallel behind us and scraped the side of that car and the side of the truck. Another time I parked behind a UPS truck and the UPS truck backed into it. And then the third time I pulled into a one-way road going the wrong way and a 16-year-old kid was coming pretty fast and wrecked the truck pretty good and his car too. He was so bummed because he just bought the car—I think it was a 1985 Z28—and he had a date that night. He told me his mother was going to kill him and he made me walk into the nearby fabric store—this was the pre-cell phone days—and made me call his mom and tell her the reason he got in the crash was because I did it. Which was true. So I had to call his mom and tell her, “Excuse me, my name is Chris, I work at Kinko’s as a delivery driver, and I just caused an accident with your son.” And she immediately said, “What did he do? I’m sure he was responsible!” And I was like, “No, no, ma’am it was me.” “Don’t tell me that!” “No, I promise, it’s me!”
And I never got fired. They never thought, “This guy should not be working here.” Instead what they did was move me around the counter to become the color copier specialist. And I remember they hired a replacement delivery driver, whom I had to train, and I thought she was sweet. She was kind of hippie and into the Grateful Dead and patchouli and everything else, but she rubbed the boss the wrong way for some reason. He looked for ways to get her fired but looked for reasons to keep me around. That was one of those things where I thought, “I need out of this job.” Then I remember being in the supermarket and the checker was an older student I knew. She was in her mid to late thirties and she had a daughter. It was a beautiful day, and I said, “Gosh, San Luis Obisbo’s such a great place, isn’t it?” as I was checking out my groceries. She said, “You know, it is a great place. But even the greatest places in the world are terrible when you hate your job.” And I remember thinking, “I’ve got to quit my job! I need out!”
But I couldn’t quit unless I had something taking me away from it. I was going to be at that job forever unless I had something pull me away—because of my inability to actually quit anything. And that’s why I applied to grad school, because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I had no thought of “I should just go to L.A. and take improv classes.” Or “I should move to Minneapolis and join some scene.” Or “I should intern at some company.” I just thought, “I like school. I’ll go to school again. If I get in, I’ll have to quit. And then I won’t be working at Kinko’s anymore.” And that was it. I got into grad school and they called me at work, in fact, to inform me that I’d gotten in. And it was kind of beautiful.