“Being Difficult”

I had recently been switched to the morning shift, Monday through Saturday. This was done by the old Cafe Manager, who had a very polite habit of asking us how we felt about changes to our regular schedules. Regular schedules being an understood trade-off for the fact that the employer does not tolerate the concept of “unpaid leave” for “full-time” employees.

On Thursday morning we saw the new schedule had been posted. In addition to four eight-hour shifts, Monday through Thursday, I was scheduled to work Friday and Saturday evening. I considered how comfortable I could be with this schedule, lamenting to my colleagues that it struck me as rude to schedule me for an extra day of work, overtime, without asking me first.

I didn’t really want to work overtime, and I had been invited to a birthday party on Saturday.

I tossed it around in my head how I wanted to deal with this, over the course of the day. In the early afternoon, near the end of my shift, the Co-Owner passed by, and asked if I’d seen the new schedule, and had any problems with it.

“Well … I do have a prior commitment on Saturday …”

“When we hired you you agreed to be available Monday through Saturday.”

“I was also told that I was expected to work a regular schedule.”

The phone rang, I asked if she wanted me to take the call. She left me with the telephone. I could feel the electricity in the air. Just in case things were about to get ugly, I gathered my personal belongings in to a convenient pile, in case I might have to leave suddenly.

The Owner came around looking for me, having checked the washrooms. I was in the basement, storing some supplies. I was asked to come around the front to have a meeting with him and the Co-Owner. I had to turn around and double-check that the basement door was properly secure. After all, I wasn’t sure that I’d be back around, and this door had featured prominently in the final straw that had broken the Cafe Manager’s back the week before.

I was invited to sit. I was reminded that I had previously agreed to be available for work Monday through Saturday. I responded that when I agreed to this, I had also been told that the schedule would be provided two weeks in advance. The Owner responded that he had never made such a claim. I reminded him that he had told me this at my interview, when I had been considering additional employment to supplement my income.

(When he denied that he had ever said that the schedule would be posted in advance, I felt that I had caught him in a lie. At that moment, his face seemed to separate from his skull, and become a rubber mask, the rage behind it revealing itself in his eyes, his forehead, and his extremely tense body.)

He explained that the schedule was to be posted two weeks ahead of time, only in the best of times. Since one of the employees was on three weeks leave, which she had arranged months in advance, this was clearly not the best of times.

We have been soliciting for and interviewing candidates to work in the Cafe. I inquired as to whether we might bring a new hire on line soon enough, that they would be trained and available to work next weekend. The Owner got visibly angry, and admonished that this was none of my business, and it was not my place to make such a suggestion!

They cut to the agenda at hand: are you refusing to work?

“… not yet …” (I did “not yet” view the problem at hand as unsolvable, by reasonable people. If nothing else, it wouldn’t be the first time I had scrapped recreation plans to accommodate an employer.)

They cut to the chase. The Owner told me that he’d do what I had wanted him to do for a long time. On the grounds that I was “being difficult,” I was fired. I would hand him my apron, and he would return with my belongings, which I had just before arranged for easy retrieval. He would also punch my time card. I offered to bring him an S.A.S.E. He agreed.

I was free.

I didn’t want to get behind the wheel until after the adrenaline had passed. I took a walk around the block, stopping in a knick-knack store where I had heard that the lady knew of the difficulties that my predecessors had had with the Owner. She engaged me in conversation, and I admitted that I was relaxing. One of my regular customers was there and asked if it were my day off. I confessed that I had just been fired. Why? For being difficult … about working overtime. They both looked surprised, and the store owner then told me that she had heard of other bad stories. She flipped the bird in the general direction of my former employer, which helped me smile, and feel more sanguine.

That evening, I got together with some comrades, and many drinks were purchased for me. The Cafe Manager had just returned from a vacation, and showed up to buy s’more drinks and help us share horror stories. The consensus was that the Owner has a great idea in what he wants to do with his business, and he does what he can to hire the best people, but then for whatever bizarre reason, he can’t trust them enough to do their job, and does what he can to make an ass of himself, and it is frustrating to see his good idea ground into dirt this way, where there’s been 300% staff turn-over since they opened six months ago.

“It is like he’s a Shakespearean character,” I explained to a sympathetic friend today, “engaged in a great enterprise, which will be destroyed because of his tragic fatal flaw … which is that he is a big dick!” I was in another Cafe, and an employee passed, and laughed at this analysis of whatever it was that I was talking about. I may have to apply for work at that Cafe.

It was a groovy time. I felt good. And the rest of the evening segued in to an exceptionally joy-filled, romantic night. But, that is a different story. I have to apply for unemployment benefits on Monday, and explore the different possibilities that will lead me to Chicago, California, or to further adventures in Champaign-Urbana, as the lease is kaput on August 12. At least I have time to clean the apartment now.


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