The first time was in high school. The year was 1980. I worked at a skating rink in Lawrence, Kansas. A friend who worked there got me into it. Seemed like it would be more fun than the typical fast food jobs. The work was about what you'd expect: run the concession stand, rent the skates. The manager was kind of ... conflict-averse, I guess? I had a tendency to slack off, because it was boring, and she wouldn't really say anything. But she was apparently getting mad about it anyway.
This other friend of mine, a girl who had worked there years earlier, got wind of this. She tried to sort of gently let me know what was about to happen. She said "People who work there think they're getting away with stuff, because the manager never says anything, but they're not." I got the hint. A week later I went in to check the schedule to see when I'd be working, and I wasn't on it. That's all the notice I ever got. I was there for only three months or so.
The next time, I guess I was 19. I'd made my first stab at college and dropped out. I didn't know anybody else besides the skating rink guy doing anything marginally interesting, so I ended up in fast food. I worked at Bucky's, the local legendary hamburger stand that had been around since the sixties, founded and operated by one Duane Buck. His daughter Debbie was about my age and she worked there too.
For about a year I worked the night shift. It was boring and awful for the most part, as fast food jobs are. One cool thing happened, though. One cold winter night, this fat guy was really, really drunk. Anything his friends asked him to do, he'd do it. Crawl all the way around Bucky's on all fours, dude! He did. He wasn't wearing a coat but I'm sure he was too drunk to feel the cold. Butt your head up against the glass door, dude! While still on all fours, he did -- and it broke. When the glass started falling I could see it was almost two inches thick, yet this drunk guy had managed to butt his drunk head into it hard enough to break it. It seemed like glass kept falling out of the frame forever. It was deafening. It's a miracle one of those two-pound pieces of glass didn't decapitate him. The cold air started rushing in and we spent the rest of the night huddled around the grill, all of us repeating "Did you see that?" The front door was boarded up for a month. I heard the drunk guy eventually paid for it.
Then I made the mistake of asking for more hours. The place was never very busy at night, so to get the extra hours I had to work the day shift. The night manager was a laid-back guy named Monty, he was probably about 30 at the time, and everybody got along with him okay. Duane Buck himself ran the day shift, and he was a hard-ass. The pace was a lot quicker, I had to juggle a lot more, exercise my non-existent short-term memory. I could tell I was getting into trouble. I had no "hustle!" I tried to retreat back to the night shift, but wasn't allowed to for some reason I can't remember. Right in the middle of a busy lunch shift, Duane rather brusquely told me to "go clock out." That was the end of that.
Epilogue. It was about a year later. I had the coolest job I was ever going to have during my adolescence, delivering pizzas at Pizza Hut. Most work hours were spent alone, driving around. Not too many opportunities to get in trouble. I spent all my time hanging out with two other delivery guys who were in a band, and I was their sound-guy slash electrician slash roadie. They were tough guys. Way cooler than me.
We worked nights and futzed around in the afternoon. One day the three of us decided to go eat somewhere, one of them suggested Bucky's. I hadn't been in there since I'd gotten fired the year before and I really didn't want to go in there now. I lobbied hard for somewhere else, anywhere else, other than Bucky's. They wouldn't hear of it. I very nearly bolted but that wouldn't have been very cool, would it.
I slunk into Bucky's hiding behind my two cool friends, hoping nobody would notice me. Duane Buck was there, he made a big show of being all polite and friendly, using my first name. At 20 years of age, I thought he was mocking me. Today, I know better. There's too many years between that event and today for me to know for sure, but he was likely being genuinely friendly.
My two cool band friends immediately started acting like this was the stupidest place they'd ever seen. They made fun of the menu under their breath. They noticed the sheen of decades-old grease coating everything. One of them made indelicate sniffling noises while wrinkling his nose.
Most of the same people I'd worked with a year earlier were still there. They noticed me, all right. Nobody besides Duane said anything, but their reaction was plain enough. I could see it in their eyes. I had transcended that place and they hadn't. I was now hanging out with swaggering cool guys, all of us wearing leather jackets, and the forlorn Bucky's employees were all still wearing their paper hats.
I wasn't sorry we went to Bucky's after all!
Most of the employees were too ashamed to let me see much of their true reactions. They looked away quickly and busied themselves with other things. Except for Monty. He didn't say a word, he just stared at me. No emotion, positive or negative, just staring. I looked away, joking with my friends, joining them in acting like I was way too cool for this lame place. I looked back minutes later and Monty was still staring at me. Not at my friends, just at me. Okay, this isn't fun anymore. What is he thinking? That I'm being a dick? That he'll never get out of here himself? What? At that age I wasn't nearly brave enough to try to find out. We got our food, sat in a booth way in the back, laughed very loudly, made fun of everything, and acted like we owned the place. I never went back to Bucky's ever again.
At the time, I thought my friends were being dicks, making me go to a place I'd gotten fired from. Given the way it turned out, they very well might have had other motives.
A few months after that, I delivered a pizza to my old boss at the skating rink. Lawrence is not a very big town. We both acted forced-friendly and didn't say a word about my former job.
Okay, that's enough! I'll have to cover my third and final firing tomorrow.