By Dan Fitzpatrick
Among the most sacred American rites of passage is the first job. Like other fortunate youths, I found myself working not out of economic necessity, but rather as a character-building extracurricular. Menial and unpleasant by design, the first job is meant to teach us punks the meaning of responsibility. A hard day’s work. The value of a dollar. All good stuff, to be sure, but my biggest takeaway had more to do with human nature. I learned to deal with strangers, particularly those who were less than interested in being my friends. You know, assholes.
Back in my early teens, I became a caddie at a golf club in my hometown. It’s a place where successful middle-aged men go to blow off some steam and take their amateur sports careers a bit too seriously. Granted, the vast majority of people you come across in any industry are harmless enough. Some are even pleasant. As a novice caddie, however, you often get assignments for the less-desirable golfers. The trainwrecks. The troublemakers. The assholes.
On one such occasion, I was asked to carry for one such asshole, an older gentleman with a well-paired sweater vest and frown. We’ll call him Mr. Turd in order to respect his privacy, but also to avoid respecting him too much.
It was a round where I couldn’t seem to do anything right. Turd ordered me to stand close to keep the sun out of his eyes, but snapped at me for breathing too loudly during his swing. Later, one of his partners—a nice guy, oddly enough—suggested I take a break and strap Mr. Turd’s bag onto his golf cart for the last couple holes. I gladly complied, but my overlord unfortunately saw it as an act of unforgivable laziness. Before we could tee off on the 17th, he took me aside and berated me in front of the other players and caddies with all the righteous fury of a doomsday prophet.
In the moment, of course I wanted to stand up for myself and let him have it. “One day, I’m gonna be somebody, Mr. Turd. Then you’ll be sorry you were so miserable to me!” Then everyone starts clapping for me, and we all deliver candy to the orphanage that Mr. Turd was trying to shut down. You know the drill.
But I just stood there and took it like a champ. “Sorry, Mr. Turd.” And boy, I’m glad I did. Somebody had to, or else we never would’ve gotten off the golf course.
A couple years later, I switched over to a part-time cashier gig at Wegman’s, a local deluxe supermarket. The endless scanning and bagging was a bit mind-numbing, but it was a decent enough job. The interesting thing most people don’t realize about the food-buying experience is how impersonal the entire thing is. Grocery store employees present thousands of items in perfect rows for shoppers to browse at their leisure, but rarely do the two groups ever come face-to-face—until customers reach the checkout lane.
For the assholes, this is their opportunity to announce their list of grievances. The cashier will hear exactly how their days are going, like it or not. This even applies to the self-checkout aisle—that’s right, not even robots are safe. It’s a weird sensation to have your “Hi, how are ya’s” met with immediate yelling. Maybe the store was too bright, there was no more of that special yogurt, or the parking lot was crowded. Whether or not the problem was my fault, I was bound to hear about it. Meanwhile, the other customers (the good eggs) were caught in the crossfire, trapped between a shouting lunatic and a rack of Us Weeklies.
That’s what assholes do: they take an entire situation hostage with their anger, their selfishness, and their total inability to solve their own problems. The entire world screeches to a halt around their flailing egos. For the good of everyone else, crises like these require a hero to defuse the assholery and allow ordinary life to resume.
Little by little, I got better at dealing with the bores and bummers who dared compromise the tranquility of my lane. I dispensed swift justice, issuing curt apologies and ushering troublemakers out of the store with a sedated “I’ll be sure to pass on your concerns. Thanks for shopping!”
These encounters turned out to be far more valuable than the minimum wage I earned those summers. Assholes will never go out of style, or get outsourced to China, so I got used to dealing with them. Keep the bullies moving, I told myself; don’t let them put down roots in your golf course, your register, or your head.
Even if I fail in that endeavor, I at least know how to avoid becoming my own worst enemy. It’s so easy to not be a Mr. Turd. I’m better off for it, too. Because once I shake off Mr. Turd back into his sportscar, he’s got nothing better to do than pick on another peach-fuzzed teenager.
Dan Fitzpatrick is a writer and comedian based in New York City. He is a regular contributor for popular online publications, including Above Average, Splitsider, and The National Memo. He also has a personal humor blog, The Danopticon, and can make a mean omelet (it hisses insults at nearby children). Follow him on Twitter.