Nothing Special

You wake up one morning and realize you're not as special as your parents and teachers told you you were

Tag: Bethesda

Getting Fired from Johnny Rockets

You…are firing me??

Not everyone can say they’ve been “let go” from Johnny Rockets.

Your Nothing Special editor was in the Summer between his Sophomore and Junior years of college.  I was working as an intern/indentured servant while living at home in Maryland and needed some actual money to do anything.  They hired me at Johnny Rockets, Bethesda, which you may remember for its art-deco diner architecture and pull-out straw containers.  My managers were 1) Dawn, maternal and tender, 2) Cora, filled with utmost loathing for my guts.
It’s not exactly clear what set her off.  She would steal my tables.  She would glare at me.  One time, while I was mixing a malted, she yelled from the back room, “Daniel!”  I turned around to reply “What?”  There was silence in the restaurant.  Cora beckoned.

“First of all, don’t you EVER respond ‘what’ when I call your name!”

“What should I say?  I don’t understand.”

(Cora is off to take a table)

Smile of Death

In addition to having some problems at home, Cora may have had other reasons to resent the new employee.  I was sometimes slow.  I was headed back to college (Yale:() in the Fall.  Worst of all, I didn’t do every requirement of the Johnny Rockets handbook.  I didn’t like to pour the ketchup smiley face, figuring as a client I’d rather pour my own ketchup.  I didn’t like to automatically lift the circular straw dispenser for customers either.  If they wanted a straw, they’d take it.  I didn’t always have my white paper hat on straight.  I did, for the record, willingly agree to sing the select songs when they were played on the jukebox, and all in all I was not the worst waiter in the world (though my own mother and brother were kept waiting for a LONG time when dining and have never forgotten).
One day, about a month and a half after starting the job, I came into the back hallway to see that my name was not on the schedule for the next week.  Dawn was on duty.  I went to her matter-of-factly.

“Excuse me, Dawn? There must be some mistake.  I am available to work next week.”

“Daniel.  Why don’t you come into my office.”

And the tears started.  Just faintly at first–the nose twitch.  Then unhideable.  Dawn was very nice about it.  She said it was predominantly that I was the most recent hire. But there was no way to really soften the blow.  For a Special person, there’s only one thing worse than being fired.  It’s being fired from Johnny Rockets.

This is not “I lost my job at J.P. Morgan during the financial downturn,” or “I got busted because of an accounting scheme I came up with as CFO but really I’m pretty smart to have even been able to even understand what it is I did.”  This is not being let go from a school because of Mayor Bloomberg’s budget cuts or getting beaten out for a medical residency at Mass General.  This is being let go from a burger joint where they pour ketchup smiley faces.

As a small final remark, you’ll notice that Johnny Rockets Bethesda no longer exists, whereas Barnes and Noble, Bethesda, which did not fire Daniel but which he left on his own volition, is still going strong.  My dad has always said this is karma.  I don’t know if firing me was the sole reason Johnny Rockets Bethesda’s had to fold, but let’s just say it didn’t help.  As for Cora, wherever she may be, I thank her for teaching me the lesson that sometimes people dislike you for no clear identifiable reason.  And also that you’re not that special.

I invite my Fellow Occupiers of SpecialLand (FOOS) to use this sacred space and share with us any experiences you’ve had of being fired from a place you never thought you’d want to work in the first place.  Let the healing begin.

Next week in Nothing Special:  Wanting at some point in your life to have an email with disclosure/privacy warnings at the bottom.

Orioles Baseball

"Top Shelf" newsletter from Barnes and Noble, March 1999

Noble Bookseller

Inspired by my last post (someone has to be!) I decided to pull one more paper out from the old accordion folder.  In this case, Big Orange.  Do you notice, on this specimen at right, a large section in the center?  This was Barnes and Noble’s way of celebrating my election as Employee of the Month.  They don’t list anything I did to earn this victory, but they do say it was quite a close vote.  Looking back, they probably just cycled through their employees.  Is this what happens everywhere?

It was the year after college.  I was working at Barnes and Noble Bethesda, living with the folks and feeling just great about myself.   So great that one day I put a dent in the walkway behind our house by banging it with an aluminum baseball bat.  Sometimes you just have to let it out, and I chose to do it with that bat and some loud swearing.  Unfortunately the new neighbors, who had small kids, heard me.  That night my mom told me they had mentioned something, and that their kids had been scared.  Ouch.

Every time I saw them over the next couple years, I wanted to say “I’m not a psychopath your children need to be afraid of, really!”…or maybe, “Sorry if you may have heard me the other day, the Orioles just seem so close and then they crush your soul, you know?”  The thing is, I missed apologizing the first time I saw them, and after that it’s just too awkward.  But I wish I had.  Is there anything that makes you feel less Special than passing your neighbors and knowing they’re afraid of their kids going near you?  Actually, there is.  That’s what this blog is going to be about.  More on that in later posts.

Things weren’t all bad.  Barnes and Noble Bethesda, despite what you might think, was actually a crazy place to work in the late 90’s.  On the bottom floor–fiction, theater, film, and children’s–we had our own splinter colony.  We scoffed at management and the widget-selling mentality of our corporate bosses.  (see “Top Shelf,” above right and Bob the Manager’s description of the “Moment of Truth”).  We were our own band of crazed booksellers—each with his or her own superpower.

Hillary (whom I called “Hil,” pronounced in the French—“eel”) was a thin, shy, bookwormy gal with long cinnamon hair and pretty, mouse-like features with a few freckles.  She wore purple a lot.  Many on the floor adored her, including yours truly, who couldn’t resist her quiet manner and uncontrollable smile.  I would sometimes give her a lift home, where she lived with her grandfather.  It reminded me of “Beauty and the Beast” where she lives with her kindly fatherI would always try to figure out if Hil was giving me any signals during those rides, and I think it’s safe to say now, she wasn’t.  But Special people LOVE people who don’t give us signals, so our relationship intensified. 

I won’t have time to finish today how this story ends.  I know you’re stuck dying of curiosity, but we have to pace ourselves.  Here’s the point I wanted to get to, though.  I, more than anyone else, was instrumental in Hil’s decision to return to college.

Hil was incredibly well read, much moreso than I.  Yes, my books had more marks in the margin about someone’s use of some symbol somewhere, but Hil actually knew the books she had read like friends.  For the books we had both read, she could out-discus, out-cite, and out-argue me on any aspect.  On one occasion, as we placed face-outs along the Photo section, she asked me what I had majored in at Yale.

“English.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, English.”
She smiled broadly.
“You know, I didn’t think I was anywhere near being able to be an English major.  But if you were an English major at Yale, I can definitely handle it!”

So see, I told you.  I was a major reason for Hil going back to school.  It was actually a pretty fun moment to laugh with Hil at this realization by the lower level photo section of Barnes and Noble. (Don’t say “Nobles!”)  When we find ourselves building someone else up, or at least tearing our eyes away from our own Special navels to notice them for a moment and connect, we may take a small step towards getting over our condition.  We gain a tiny inkling that there might, MIGHT be other people in this world.  And that these people, like us, could, POSSIBLY, thrill and suffer, ride high and fall low, sing and weep for all that life carries towards them.  At the time it was enough to keep the baseball bat safely in the sports closet, gathering dust as it was meant to be doing.

drawing of Sports Closet with bat, hockey stick, tennis racquets

Sports Closet

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