For many of us, what we do for a living is an integral part of who we are. It reflects our desire to be something more than just a mindless worker bee and gives purpose to our wanderings through this life. Of course, there are always exceptions…
It’s been two and a half years since I left my last job as the Executive Producer of a TV morning news show. Granted, I broke the cardinal rule of employment – never quit a job unless you have another one waiting. But my wife had an opportunity to relocate with her company, a move that would let us escape the Rust Belt and get back to the Rocky Mountains. So we went. But Fort Collins, despite a thriving high-tech sector and frequent appearances in “Top 10 Best Places to Live” lists, has shown no love for me and my unique skill-set. It probably doesn’t help that I am the poster-child for an aging workforce in a town that caters to a college crowd. Or that I have been out of work now for more than 6 months – the kiss of death, according to a study that came out just a few weeks ago. And, as if there needed to be any more cause for my resume to be rejected out of hand, I don’t have a bachelor’s degree, so my list of employment hurdles is somewhat daunting. Whatever the case, the search for a paying gig has amounted to a complete dead-end.
Until now. Welcome to my new career in merchandising – a Reset Specialist, to be precise (because no one uses the term “stock boy” anymore, except maybe Paula Deen). I now spend my nights rearranging product on grocery store shelves. What, you thought those aisles just filled themselves? Surprisingly, no one has invented a machine that can do that yet, so canned goods, ice cream, shampoo, adult diapers…everything has to get tidied up and replenished on a regular basis by the grocery fairies who work their magic while the world sleeps. Last night I was on frozen potato detail – moving the shoestring fries a foot to the left, the country-style hash browns up a shelf. Ours is not to reason why – this is simply what I’m paid to do. As near as I can tell, the marketing whiz kids back at corporate headquarters, while pouring over the latest sales figures, decided they could sell three more bags of Ore Ida extra crispy tater tots if only the product was strategically relocated somewhere other than its current location. That’s where I come in. Once everyone has figured out what will go where (at least for this week), I’m handed a diagram of how the new arrangement is to look and instructed to make it so. It’s a bit like one of those tile puzzle games you played as a kid, where you slid the little squares around on a board, moving one into the open space created by the previous move, until you re-assembled the picture. But in this case the little square is actually 20 bags of sweet potato wedges.
As I’ve been told several times by those training me, it ain’t rocket science. No shit. The most important job skill for any Reset Specialist is probably “good stacker.” Yet as mentally, uh, undemanding as the job may be, I still needed someone on the inside (one of my wife’s co-workers, who held a part-time position with the company) to put in a good word for me or I wouldn’t even have been considered. Then came background checks and drug tests and even an inspection of my driving record. To make sure I was moral enough to shuffle canned goods back and forth. In grocery stores. Overnight. Which makes me wonder what the rocket scientists have to go through to land a job.
Am I happy just to be working again? Ask me in the morning, after the feeling has returned in my hands and I’ve had a chance to shower off the goo that had to be chiseled out of the bottom of the freezer. As for “purpose,” well, I can tell myself that the world is a better place because order has been restored to the crescent roll display in the Ogallala, Nebraska Safeway store. Or I can just pocket my 11 bucks an hour and get back to the job searches.