Thursday, October 26, 2006

Kicking in Chairs and Knocking Down Tables

I didn’t really want to move to San Francisco at first. I had lived in the Redwoods and then in the San Bernadino Mountains and the city scared me. The problem was that we couldn’t work at the ski resort anymore. It was a bad winter for snow and they were cutting jobs. When Neal’s mom called to see if we’d housesit while she went to Paris to study, he talked me into it. His powerful argument was that we didn’t have anywhere else to go.

I got a job in Berkley as the assistant manager of a newly opened shoe store on Shattuck Avenue. The pay was shit, but I was already twenty years old and the only jobs I’d ever had were either food service or in the Conservation Corps. It felt so grown-up to dress-up for work and walk down to the J Church and then transfer to the BART every morning. I went out to lunch, and read the Chronicle like all the other adults. Then I came back to work and put up with tons of bullshit from my bosses.

The regional manager was just hanging out until the store was set-up and running. My direct boss was an old school, condescending asshole from Los Angeles named Hank. He called me "Honey" and thought he was smarter than me because he had a penis. Hank wasn’t at the store much. He took money out of the drawer to gamble on the horses and usually left right after lunch for that purpose. While he was around, however, he was unbearable and temperamental. Most of our clientele, as well as the employees were African American and Hank seemed to take great pleasure in telling racist jokes. All of this I experienced to the soundtrack of the ten most popular songs from that winter of 1986, including “Manic Monday”, “Rock Me Amadeus”, “West End Girls” and “Conga”.

Things at home were just as bad. Neal hadn’t even looked for a job. He was back hooking-up with his high school friends and apparently didn’t have time. He took trips to Tahoe to ski and spent most of his days smoking pot and watching videos at his friend Charles’ house.

His mother came back from France after a month because she didn’t like it there. She was full-blown crazy and would leave notes to herself on the fridge that said, “Come soon. Please, come soon.” It was never clear what she was waiting for. On her bad days, she’d keep a rant going for hours about what fuck-ups her children were. No wonder Neal hid out at his friend’s house smoking weed.

I quit my job on a Monday. That weekend, Neal had ditched out to Santa Rosa with a friend. I came home from work to find a dozen roses he bought for me with my own money and a note saying he had to get some space and think about whether he was still in love with me.

He came back on Sunday all apologetic, but I was a mess. I had no money, a shitty job, a boyfriend who wasn’t sure if he was still in love with me and I didn’t want any of it.

At some point, I found clarity in the mire. I could just quit. I’d leave my job and find something in the city. I would stop trying to be the kind of adult I had never understood and go back to waiting tables where the money was better and the bullshit was different, but familiar.

When I put in my notice, the regional manager pulled me aside and tried to guilt me into staying.

“You do know that if you quit, Hank will lose his job. He has a family to support. You are the only one keeping things together for him here. Do you have any idea what will happen once the home office finds out about him taking money from the drawer? They will shit.” And when that didn’t work, he took a different approach. “It’s because of your boyfriend, isn’t it? You’re just freaking out about him. You should dump him and stay here. You’ll be a lot happier in the end.”

I quit anyway and found out that right after I left, the company fired Hank and everyone who had worked under him. I felt bad for my co-workers, but it wasn’t my job to save Hank.

I’d like to say that I broke-up with Neal, but I didn’t for at least another year and a half. I got a job at a nice café on 24th Street in San Francisco and moved in with some of the women I worked with there. I had my own room and best of all, nobody screamed at me through the door.


julie in l.a. said...

Wow--that's some amazing hair on the cashier lady...

Churlita said...

In 1986 it was nothing BUT amazing hair. I used to have to schedule her early on Friday nights so she could get home and watch Miami Vice.

Anonymous said...

SF 1986...I rememeber Van Halen's first record with Sammy Hagar, lots of Madonna, and some very bad Starship. There was a sort of alternatice station at the time that played New Order, RObyn Hitchcock, XTC... The hair scene was a little more subdued on the Presidio though.

What was the cross street on 24th?

Margaret said...

What is that guilting someone into keeping a job? A good manager offers money.

Churlita said...


Yeah, this was early 1986, so some of those songs came out later in the year.

The cross street was Sanchez. I worked at the Courtyard Cafe which I hear is now a crepe place. That's where I waited on Robin Williams and Burt Parks.

I lived kind of on the corner of Noe and Valley back then.


it was one of those companies that thought I was lucky to work for them, and didn't get that I could work a million other places for better pay and under better conditions. I was so happy to get out of there.

Remiman said...

What a colorful life you've led.Tell more;-)

Churlita said...

Thanks, the less I do in my current life, the more often I write these "memory" posts.

Anonymous said...

I think our local coffee place was a chain type called La Petite Boulangerie, or however the hell they spell it, on Geary around 15th or so... That and our local dive bar was on Geary too, The Black Fox. Long may she be rememebered.

Churlita said...

I remember that coffee and bread chain there. For a while I worked at Bakers of Paris on 24th st as well. There are so many places I miss there. I suppose a lot of them aren't there anymore either.