Sunday, August 21, 2011

Here's Your Change

Until the time comes when I can support myself writing full-time, I have a Day Job. Capital letters. Forty hours. The Big Suck. In that Day Job I work as a bank teller, usually head teller, which means I'm responsible for this great, big pile of cash that I'm allowed to play with and look after but never take further than the bullet-resistant glass. My power is like that of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade- it's incredible to behold, but it can't cross the seal.

Or, as I like to say: I have the only job that gets worse the more money you throw at me.

In October I'll have completed three years at this job, a number that's scary considering how fast it came, and how bad the job has gotten at moments. There were stretches of time in which I can only explain why I showed up in the morning as a sick fascination. That thing where you say, "It can't possibly get worse," and then it does, and you laugh and say it again. And it happens again.

At times like that I like to imagine myself sitting up on a hill, watching a gruesome train derailment. Maybe I'm eating popcorn.

The main reason why The Job got so bad, and not all of the time, but a good amount of it, is simple: under-staffing. I worked at a branch which simply didn't have enough employees for the amount of work that needed to get done. That kind of thing tends to snowball- low morale, lack of energy, all the little things that get put off until some mystical future that never quite comes, stays just out of reach- it all congeals into this great, gaping wound that doesn't get a chance to heal.

About a month ago, on a Monday, at three-thirty, thirty minutes to closing time, I was called into the office. There I was told quite simply that, due to some shifting needs in the area, I'd be reporting to another branch the next morning.

I'd been transferred. Nearly three years in one place, and I had thirty minutes to say goodbye.

This was a shock to me, as you can imagine, as was walking into my new situation the next morning and finding I'd gone from an old, dirty building built in the fifties and frequented by the elderly and generally not-well-off, to a bright, clean block made of glass and daylight within eyesight of a golf course, visited by an endless line of lawyers and trust-fund babies. All these people had teeth and used the internet! They wore ties and had investment brokers on speed-dial!

I was lost.

Now, a month later, I'm finding myself as adapted to the change as I'll likely ever be. Not entirely, but enough. There's a strange resentment in dealing with people who have money when you have little, but mainly in dealing with the ones who don't deserve it, who push it around like a shield, with a sense of entitlement in every move. The ones who see waiting in line as spit in their faces. Whose immune systems violently over-react to the word No. Whose primary weapon is the threat of Taking Their Money Elsewhere. It's an insult to people not so fortunate to see ones who are, yet take no pleasure in it at all. Or maybe it's an important and affirming lesson. Who knows.

And then, just when your mind is made up about these Money People, you'll turn around and meet one who's the nicest guy you've ever met. Or you'll meet, as I did, the plastic surgeon who uses his own money to bring kids over from Iraq who have been disfigured in the war, who puts them up in comfortable surroundings and then rebuilds their faces, free of charge.

But it's not all doctors and lawyers, of course. There are the nurses and drivers, too, the secretaries and the retirees. Yesterday I helped a man with a check from the Narcotics Department who looked head-to-toe like an undercover drug cop, and when he walked away he was replaced by a sushi chef in full uniform, the shirt held closed by a safety pin.

Does anyone see these things and simply move on through their day? Am I the only one haunted by intangible connections?

The only constant is change, as they say, change is good, change is growth. But change always seems to have a running start on me, and I have to chase after it, lungs burning in my chest, to catch the trailing seams of its shirt.

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