Today’s prompt comes from The One Minute Writer: The Belt Buckle and the Necktie – However you want to use these 2 ingredients in your story; go for it! I read this prompt and decided to tell a story based on the first necktie association that my brain gave me. I thought back to when and how I first learned how to tie a necktie for a job that I held briefly in my early 20’s. Unfortunately the belt buckle never made its way into this story. Perhaps one day I will give it its own post as a consolation prize.
I have had many jobs in my life, including ice cream scooper, lifeguard, hospital newborn nursery assistant, receptionist at a Hummer dealership, receptionist at a Lexus dealership, certified nurse’s aid in an assisted living facility, Jamba Juice elf, Starbucks barrista, bookseller, and window washer. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I tried out lots of different things. Some jobs I took out of necessity, and I left as soon as something better came along. Some jobs I invested in only to discover they were not what I wanted. I learned the hard way the value of a steady work history while talking to potential employees. A year on my resume would consist of anything from 1-4 employers. Consequently, I have endured ridicule from peers about my job history potpourri. A one point, one catty coworker said to me, “I hate people like that, who have had tons of different jobs. Just pick something!” I had no idea that there was a “people like that,” and that I was one of them. I just didn’t know any other way to discover what I was capable of without trying a little of everything.
I was also dealing with a severe phase of depression and anxiety in my twenties which rendered me minimally or non functional for months at a time. I would stay in bed for days, having to mentally psych myself up for a phone call, or a visit from another person, or a shower. Though a long-term job could have been, and eventually was, the structure that helped me pull myself out of the storm, there were some interim jobs that were simply beyond my functional ability. My anxiety levels were nothing I could ever explain to my employers, so I usually came up with a more responsible-sounding excuse. When I left job after job, though, I developed a reputation of a drifter. The writer in me was able to spin my speckled resume in a way that kept me in the game, plugging away until I was able to find my feet on solid ground.
The job that required me to wear a tie was a waitress position at Macaroni Grill, and it turned out to be short lived. I was living with my grandmother at the time, depression/anxiety pit preventing me from living on my own, and I got the waitress job as an attemt to socialize myself. Like a new puppy who bites anyone he doesn’t know, seeing them as a threat, I had to learn to be normal. The money was good at Macaroni Grill, but when I sought the job, I neglected to acknowledge that food and its effects on my diabetic body were significant sources of my anxiety. I could handle the customer relations part of the job, but I hadn’t considered the effect of having to be enthusiastic about food that I couldn’t eat would have on my fragile mental state. My self-defeating subconscious just hit the jugular of the one job that might actually destroy my brain.
Just before my first day at the restaurant I had a minor panic attack. My uniform included a tie, and I had no idea how to tie one. This was before the days of instructional YouTube videos, which my husband references during the day or two of the year that he wears a tie. My grandmother’s arthritis kept her from demonstrating the process for me, and she was unable to give me spoken instructions. I called my dad, crying, and asked if he could teach me over the phone. A theatrical comedy played out as me an instruction and I put the phone down and picked it up after each step. Then I ended up crying again because when it looked like a preschooler’s craft project when I was done. Eventually I managed a passable knot, though it resembled a boomerang and stuck out to the side a bit. I was out of time, I had to get to work.
At the restaurant I followed the seasoned waiters around, talked to customers, wrote my name upside down in crayon on the paper tablecloths, and earned my mentors extra tips that they refused to share with me. One customer, obviously pitying my boomerang tie, gave me some helpful tying tips, then slipped me ten bucks and his phone number when my mentor wasn’t looking. I presented the menu to the tables in the vaguest terms possible, and often lied about how tasty something was. Every list of ingredients I had to memorize gave me a bigger knot of anxiety in my gut, every customer joyfully ordering starchy sodium filled dishes gave me diarrhea. I made it through exactly three weeks of training before losing my shit, throwing my tie in a dumpster, and going back to bed for another three weeks.
Fortunately, my later twenties and early thirties have offered me much more peace and stability. The fact that I am writing this post today would have amazed that frazzled twenty something that couldn’t talk about food without sweating. My depression and anxiety never really go away or get “cured.” I still have days when showering feels overwhelming and social interaction is an alien concept. I still have weeks when I walk around in a black fog. But I have learned how to stand up under it and push myself through it. Most of the time it is a white noise in the back of my brain that I can ignore while I get on with my life. To this day I still do not enjoy eating at Macaroni Grill, though I can still write my name upside down in crayon, which impresses my niece and nephews to no end. Everything I’ve accomplished in my life, my job, my writing, my mortgage, my marriage, my pets, my friendships, they all remind me of how far I’ve come from that imprisoned life of my early twenties, and I am proud of all of it. Even so, I still can’t tie a necktie for shit.