I saw the man standing obtusely through the popcorn popper’s oily glass. Hands in his pockets, brows furrowed, staring at the menu board. I was in the middle of pouring seed into the kettle, but realized I was the only one there to greet him.
“Hi, how are you? Welcome to the theater,” I said casually as I pushed the oil button and stepped aside to where he could properly see me. By the look on his face I could tell my mere presence was enough to annoy him, but I soldiered on with my smiling face and chipper demeanor. “Can I get you anything? Maybe a large popcorn?”
I was saluted with an eye roll obvious enough to make a blind man uncomfortable. “Large?” he muttered under his breath along with something else I couldn’t quite decipher.
“What was that, sir?”
“Nothing,” he said. I was positive that it was better I didn’t know. “I’ll just have a small popcorn.”
“Okay…” I began, opening the popper doors and reaching for a small bag, “… but for just seventy-five cents more you can get the medium which is twice as big.”
The soft-spoken mumbler suddenly spoke loud and clear: “HELL, WHY DON’T WE JUST MAKE IT A LARGE!?”
I was taken aback by this sudden outburst and for a brief moment thought he was serious.
“Wow, okay,” I said to him. I put the small bag down to reach for the large tub, but soon realized that his unexpected outspokenness had been out of sarcasm.
“No, I don’t want a f***ing large. I want a small. I’m thirty-five years old—I can make my own decisions.”
Apparently you can’t, I thought to myself, if your decisions involve yelling at a complete stranger for doing his job. God, didn’t he realize I was just doing my job? Perhaps I should tell him. “I’m just doing my job, sir. We have to ask everyone or else we’ll be fired.” I said this as non-confrontationally as possible, laughing at the last part to make it sound more like a throw-away joke than anything else.
He didn’t laugh with me. Instead he looked me square in the eye and said, “Then you should get a different job.” With that he snatched his small popcorn out of my hand and stomped off towards the cashier.
I merely stood there wishing some snappy retort would come, but none did. Later I fumed about this rude customer to my fellow coworkers. I hoped that telling someone would allow me to let off some steam and brush it off, but for some reason those angry words from an unknown man plagued me for the rest of the day. Even after my shift ended I kept replaying the conversation in my head.
Why was this bothering me so much? I encounter rude customers ten times a day or more… what was so new about this guy? After a long night of mulling it over in my sleep I came to the realization that what bothered me the most were his parting words: “Then you should get a different job.”
In general I like my job. So I have to upsell all the time, big deal. I don’t think that is any reason to get a new job. That guy certainly did, but I’m sure there are worse things one could do for money. It wasn’t like I was offering my body like some common whore or mugging an old woman in the street. I was just using suggestive selling techniques! All he had to do was say, “No thanks, the small is fine.”
So why did his words sting? Because every day I struggle with the depression that comes with feeling like an utter failure. I’m almost twenty-five years old and I have no accomplishments to speak of. I am working in a minimum-wage position alongside high school kids. I graduated high school seven years ago! SEVEN! And yet here I am still working a “temporary” job not any closer to landing my dream job than I was then. Honestly, doesn’t that man know that I would work a different job if I could!?
Sigh. Someday. Someday I’ll come home without smelling like popcorn—like failure. Someday.