Eight months after graduating college I was going nowhere. I spent my days bagging groceries at a local super market, which was barely a step up from a corner store. Meanwhile my college diploma was proudly affixed to my parent’s dining room wall. It was a shrine of cosmic folly. My parents stared at it glowingly with all the misplaced pride that comes with the receipt of a perfect attendance bumper sticker. Whereas I saw it as a haunting reminder of what life should have been. An accomplishment memorialized on a piece of paper that never bore fruit in real life.
Instead, I stood chained to a checkout counter. My red apron covered in grease, dust and various food stuffs from spills on aisle five. My ears were bleeding out to the slow jazz renditions of eighties soft rock hits, and every second was seemingly a giant step back from prosperity. I cringed as the revolting chubby Latin girl manning the cash register yapped incessantly about her boyfriend. As a defense mechanism I counted the hickeys on her neck and her overly exposed chest. Apparently, the manager’s constant warnings to button up fell on deaf ears, and the rest of the world was forced to lose their lunch while Priscilla let her boobs breathe.
This was my misery. I was a fucking phenomenal failure of higher education working for minimum wage at a business, which extraordinarily defied its end on a daily basis. My education only served to rob me of my own blissful ignorance. I started to think I would have been better off being born during the crusades. At least then I could seek stardom by bludgeoning the brains of brown people; instead of idly wasting away in the black-hole of underemployment. My hopeful existence had been sabotaged by the realization that business ventures and upward mobility were highly contingent upon nepotism and excess cash to spend on startup costs. The story of rags to riches felt about as legitimate as Jack and the Beanstalk. My future felt like it was entirely out of my control. Instead, my job search had felt like a one sided-affair, where salaries were astronomically reduced by requesting experience, and the title entry level job became synonymous with a Ponzi Scheme.
“Kevin? Why you never listening to me? Come on, we working here. I really don’t like you ignoring me and all. Mrs. Larson needs another Metamucil. This one got stomped on or something. You can get her one, ok? Do it already,” I suppose Priscilla intended to work at the super market all her life, so she needed to maintain a false sense of dominance, “I don’t know why Mrs. Larson, I’m the only one trying to work hard and stuff here. These college boys think they’re better than everyone. It ain’t right, you know? Sorry, ok.”
“Don’t worry honey. Oh I have another coupon here,” Mrs. Larson chirped pleasantly unaware of any inconvenience.
I used every errand as an opportunity to burn minutes off the clock. Lucky for me, there was no Metamucil on the store shelf, and I could add on a trip to the storage area. Now the back room was like a fortress of solitude for my other two co-workers. They had mastered the art of evading the store manager, and were keen on finding any and every location to smoke weed. True to form I found the two lighting up next to the loading area. Manuel, the taller of the two potheads, lazily flicked the joint outside as the double doors opened. Then he scurried outside to recover the joint when he realized I was not our absentee manager.
“Fuck, Kevin you’re supposed to give signal the bro! Let us know you’re coming,” Marty was a kid I had gone to junior high school with, who had somehow disappeared during the transition to high school, “You know the signal? Fuck bro.”
“The signal, dude? C’mon Marty there’s no way to flash a signal through those double doors. Why don’t you try smoking in a little more mysterious spot, you know like not in front of the fucking door?” Normally, I found a sense of respite in the company of the two potheads, but increasingly anything that reminded me of my misfortune operated as a trigger for my self-deprecating rage.
“Chill, bro. Chill, stop the hate. I mean fuck we’re ones who should be hating bro. We mighta lost another joint, and I ain’t getting paid enough at this bullshit job to just being tossing joints all over the place.”
Manuel emerged from the docking station outside proudly holding the joint up in the air, “Nah dude, shit is good! It ain’t cashed or nothing homey. Light it back up, light it back up! Then hold ya lighters up cus ya just don’t give a fuck!”
“Alright cool. I forgive you bro, Kevin, totally fucking forgive you. Fuck I’ll even let you take a hit. You down?” This was going to be an easy decision to make, right? I could take a hit of their skank weed, thus making life a little more tolerable in the short term. Yet, I would risk contracting whatever awful infection/disease/virus created those sores on their lips, and basically destroy any chance I had at passing a drug test for a new job. This should have been an easy decision, except it wasn’t.
Now more than ever I was tempted to allow my life to just fall off into the abyss, and embrace every degenerate activity that came my way. Every day I woke up disgusted by my own image. I was a college grad seemingly light years away from wearing a suit, and covered from head to toe in a uniform that screamed minimum wage. I began to accept that most job applications I sent out would never receive a reply. I stopped questioning why being overqualified was a good reason for a rejection. I started automatically pledging my loyalty to any and every potential employer just to be considered for an interview. It all left me just a little emptier inside.
My mini-depression made it seem almost more appetizing to ensure my future was fucked up rather than allowing the possibility of success to linger. I looked at the joint and then watched Manuel eyelids fight the weight of his high. He giddily encouraged me to take a hit, “Yeah! Get high! So high with us, homey! Come on show ya love for the reefer, puff pass puff pass this fucking awesome stash! Them hoes in the rap video gonna let me smash! Oh fuck homey, I swear I’m an awesome MC when I get high.”
Ok it really wasn’t such a hard decision based on the company, “Nah I’m good guys.”
“Bro, what did they teach in college? To be totally fucking lame? You keep disappointing me.”
If only he knew how disappointed I was with myself. How I longed for the days when my youthful fervor allowed me to pursue every day with reckless abandon. How I sulked religiously like an exiled member of a recently usurped royal family, deep in the throes of my own self-loathing, constantly bitching about how we use to be rich, because I use to be rich with potential. The potential to change the world. The potential to take any profession and make it my own. The potential to write my own ticket to the oval office if it suited me. I was so fucking rich with potential! I may as well have been a Saudi Prince dumping potential dollar bills on random potential eastern European prostitutes.
Now though, the truckloads of infinite possibility that had once followed me around religiously vanished as if they were consumed by a sudden and mysterious black hole. Yet, I was all too aware of the absence of my potential. I longed to return to those carefree days full of drunken revelry, where I cast aside brain cells as if I was impervious to aging. I fantasized about those moments where I held the unwavering belief that my drunken transgressions could never blot out the brilliance of my future. I longed for the days when every moment overflowed onto the next ripe with the promise of a better tomorrow.
Yet, that promise is never as bold and abundant as when you’ve yet to discover your own super power. When you’ve yet to ascertain where your talent lies, and you’re nothing but a big fucking sweaty ball of ambition. I would say it was simpler time, only because times are always simpler when you write about your own origin. As any good American child would I had built my own little private paradise in my mind. So when I set off for a pre-collegiate leadership conference in Chicago, my expectation of living a prosperous and remarkable life had yet to be tainted by the dreadful reality of the mathematical equation that is American society.