For a couple of years as a teenager, I had a job at a small-town pizza restaurant.
Unfortunately, the pay sucked, I didn’t like the tasks I was assigned, and a couple of my coworkers made me reconsider my position on pacifism.
But I kept working there because the boss allowed me considerable flexibility in setting my schedule and because I often got cheap or free pizza. (Pizza was my favorite food back then.)
I was a miserable employee — at least for the purposes they’d hired me.
Had they wanted a good host, someone to make people feel welcome and to engage in a few minutes of pleasant, witty conversation, I would have been ideal.
Unfortunately, those skill sets weren’t appreciated the way my teenage narcissism thought they should have been. I often got chewed out for sitting and talking to the customers when I was supposed to be frantically bussing dishes back to the kitchen. The nerve!
They also frowned upon my practice of placing little signs that said “tips appreciated” at the cash register (they weren’t, apparently) and informing people about when and where my rock band, Okra, was performing again.
I never screwed anything up monumentally, and missing a shift entirely was pretty uncommon. And I did work hard most of the time — or at least my spaced-out version of it.
Still, I think it was only my boss’s big heart and considerable patience that kept me from getting fired.
I think the one and only time I seemed to excel at the job was during employee training. A middle-aged woman with a laptop showed the employees a 5-minute video of some people throwing balls back and forth to each other.
Our task was to count the number of times a ball had been thrown. I spaced out right at the beginning. Realizing I wasn’t going to regain my count, I watched the rest of the video disinterestedly.
After it was done, she asked us not how many times the balls were thrown in total, as we’d expected, but whether anything unexpected had happened in the video. When nobody else volunteered an answer, I tentatively raised my hand and mumbled:
“Somebody in a gorilla suit passed through the video about halfway through.”
The woman’s surprise was palpable when she said:
“Very good! I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone see that!”
Yeah, I thought, that’s because everybody else does what they’re supposed to be doing — they pay attention and follow directions.
But I didn’t tell them this. At long last, my lack of focus and aversion to following orders had gained me praise. My moment of triumph was more delicious than all the free pizza I could eat.
Matthew Stensland-Bos is a writer, poet, healer, and musician born in a bathroom in rural Minnesota. He explores consciousness, love, healing, and grounded spirituality in Know This Love, an SFBay opinion column. You can find him at www.wordswithmatthew.com, a website he desperately needs to update.