My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 10: Quitting My Day Job

Today I came to a decision. I’m quitting my day job.

I didn’t quit today, because I learned from the mistakes I made when I was younger. There were times when I quit a job with no backup, no plan, and no idea what I was going to do next. It’s never the smartest thing to do (though each time I did it, it was under some severe stress and absolutely horrendous working conditions). So instead of just up and quitting, I’m sending out resumes starting tonight. As soon as I find even a part time job, I’m leaving the place I’m at now.

Let me tell you why.

First, I’ll explain what happened today. Then, I’ll list what’s happened over the last seven years (seven years I’ve worked without a raise, which I only did because the tips were good and I wasn’t qualified for anything else until I got my degree).

I deliver pizza for Pat’s Family Restaurant, located in the Marlton Crossing Shopping Center at 101 Route 73 South, Marlton NJ 08053. I’ve worked at this store since it opened five years ago, and before that I worked for two years at another Pat’s store in Woodbury Heights, NJ.

One of my jobs as a delivery driver, in between taking deliveries, is to take out the trash. My store is in a strip mall, and we share a dumpster with about a dozen other businesses. Over the last five years, about once a week, one or more of the other businesses dump their garbage on the ground. They do it when the dumpster lid is closed. When I take out the trash, I need to use a broom to push the lid open and flip it back so it stays open, since the dumpster is rather tall. When the lid isn’t flipped completely open, however, you can still throw out your garbage just by lifting it a foot and tossing the garbage in, then letting the lid drop back down. Any sensible, responsible person can easily lift the lid and throw their garbage inside.

The owner and manager of Andrea’s Boutique, located in Marlton Crossing Shopping Center in Marlton, NJ, is neither sensible nor responsible. She has, at least half a dozen times in recent weeks, dumped multiple bags of garbage on the ground near the dumpster. This is a violation of New Jersey Statute § 39:4-64 (2004). It is also disgusting, childish, and rude. As a result of her actions, the dumpster area is constantly covered in filth, rotting food, and other grime. This has attracted rodents, and my store manager has frequently had to call the exterminator because of the ongoing problem. He has also frequently made me pick up Andrea’s trash.

I decided that I was done cleaning up after a litterbug, and today I found her garbage bags on the ground, carried them back to the back door of her store, and left them there for her to clean up. I also left a note which read, “Do not place your garbage on the ground. Open the lid and place it inside the dumpster.”

She became angry over being told that she was a litterbug, and complained to my manager in an attempt to get me fired. During the ensuing argument, she referred to me as “not worth her time,” said that I was “just a lowly employee,” and asked me “who I thought I was” for telling her not to throw her garbage on the ground. I retorted that most people learn in kindergarten not to throw their garbage on the ground, and that she should grow up and take responsibility for her actions. She spewed repeated insults at me and belittled me, and in response I used profanities (because I’m the sort of person who says what I mean, instead of veiling my insults behind a facade of moral superiority).

While I freely admit that my actions were rude and there are more appropriate ways to address a litterbug than leaving notes, I do not believe I deserved to be disrespected and talked down upon. This woman harassed me at length, speaking to me as if I were less than a human being and beneath her attention.

In a discussion with my store owner, I was told to “just deal with it” and that he expected me to promise this woman that I would gladly pick up her garbage (he actually said I should tell her “gladly”). He said this because he wanted to placate the woman and shut her up (Behind her back, he later said, “Forget the bitch, she’s not worth it.” His words, not mine. I called her a bitch to her face.). I disagreed with the idea that I should be responsible for cleaning up another person’s garbage, but I played the part of a good employee and issued a formal apology to Andrea for yelling (even though my yelling was in response to her screaming and insults) and for leaving the note (even though it was in response to her repeated illegal littering).

I fully own up to the fact that I acted unprofessionally and verbally lashed out in anger. I readily confess that there are more appropriate ways to have handled the situation. Andrea, however, continued to proclaim that she had every right to dump her garbage illegally “because she can’t lift the lid” (her words).

This is not why I am quitting my job. It’s just the most recent drama and disrespect I’ve dealt with. The proverbial last straw.

The primary reasons I am quitting my job are the following:

– My manager frequently sexually harasses the female employees. He makes lewd suggestions about sexual things he wants to do to them, or things they should do with the food they are about to serve. He also frequently sets his sexual harassment to music, singing lewd songs to the tune of whatever happens to be playing on the radio. He makes similar comments about female customers after they leave. The other drivers do the same thing, frequently commenting on which female customers and employees they want to do certain things to. One driver has frequently said he only wants to deliver pizzas to “hotties.”

– All of the managers ignore problems like the garbage dumping, even when my coworkers are the ones who do it. When I complain about having to clean up after my coworkers, I am asked “Why are you making a big deal out of it?” The other employees continue to leave messes for me to clean up, including garbage left on the floor inside the store, garbage spilled out back, and unsanitary messes left on the food prep tables.

– The cooks frequently harass me and my coworkers in Spanish, thinking that I don’t understand them (they don’t know I speak a good amount of Spanish). When I walk by, they call me “Gordo” (Spanish for “fat”), and numerous curse words (“Cabron” = “asshole,” “Chingaro” = “Fucker”). When I tell this to the manager, I am told to ignore it.

– The cooks also frequently drop food on the floor and still use it. If you’ve ever ordered a cheesesteak or a hoagie from Pat’s, there’s a good chance the roll may have hit the floor and still been picked up and used. Over the past seven years I’ve seen this happen dozens of times. The cooks also work full shifts without ever washing their hands, use cleaning chemicals right next to the food so that it might splatter and contaminate the food, mop with filthy water that smells like sewage, and leave spilled food kicked under the counters because they don’t feel like sweeping it up.

– Some of my coworkers, those who are in the owner’s favor, are allowed to treat everyone with disrespect (even more than what I described above). One, a relative of the owner, has repeatedly cheated on his delivery dispatches in order to get more deliveries than other drivers, frequently speaks disrespectfully to the other drivers, never helps with any of the work that needs to get done, and on at least two occasions that I’ve witnessed, has altered the tip amount on credit card receipts, stealing money from customers in order to get more money for himself. During an argument I had with him one day, he screamed and cursed at me, then spat in my face. Literally spat in my face, a thick glob of saliva. When I complained to the manager, he said “I know the guy’s an asshole, but just don’t talk to him.” Despite the fact that my boss saw me reduced to tears by the disrespect, he simply told me to “Man up and deal with it.” The employee who spat in my face suffered no consequences.

– The owner requires me to run personal errands for him while on the clock. It could be argued that “requires” is hard to prove, but when the man who signs your paychecks says he needs something done, sometimes you’re faced with the knowledge that you have to either do it, or risk having your hours and pay cut (he has cut my hours in the past without cause, and on one occasion I almost didn’t pay my rent that month because of it). Errands I’ve been required to run for him include going to the liquor store, taking his car to get gas, picking up his dry cleaning, and buying socks for his son (he provides the cash for the purchases, but makes me go to the stores for him).

– When I transferred stores (from Woodbury Heights to Marlton, because Marlton is a busier area), I was given a pay cut based on the logic that “All drivers at the new store are going to be paid the same.” This despite the fact that at the time, I had two years more time working for the company, and the other drivers in the Marlton store were brand new. The pay cut has cost me approximately $3000 since then.

These are the highlights. This is not counting all the generic bullshit of working in an unclean restaurant, dealing with long hours, being screamed at by customers when the cooks made a mistake on a delivery order, and so on.

So where does this leave me?

Well, the majority of what I’ve listed here is things I’ve dealt with for years by telling myself I’m not going to be at this job forever. About three months ago, I wrote that I was now a “professional writer who delivers pizza on the side.” I’ve decided that I can no longer deal with the filth, the disrespect, the low pay, the sexual harassment, the coworkers cursing at me in another language, and the fact that every time I complain about these things, I am told to “deal with it.”

If I worked for a large corporation, I would go above my boss’s head and file a complaint with someone higher in the company. When I worked for Pizza Hut, they had a system in place to allow such things. Pat’s, however, is a family-owned place. The owner and general manager of my store are cousins. They back each other up no matter what. Even when someone spits in my face.

I recently read a book by Nancy Peacock, titled “A Broom of One’s Own.” I highly recommend reading it. In it, Peacock describes her life as a struggling writer who worked as a house cleaner, even after she had published two novels (since she wasn’t earning enough money from writing to quit her job). In the final chapter, titled “Quitting,” she talks about a time she quit her housecleaning job, and about times she quit writing because of frustration. When speaking of one of the multiple times she had quit and gone back to it, she says:

“Quitting exacts a price, not just on my writing, but on my soul. When I can’t give my soul what it needs through writing, I go off in search of some other bright ball of yarn. And what I need to learn is that I don’t have to be so extreme. When my soul yearns for the tactile, it’s okay to weave. In fact, it’s a good thing for a writer to be nonverbal for awhile. It’s a big lesson for me to learn that being a writer shouldn’t mean that I’m chained to my desk twenty-four-seven.

Another big lesson is to finally understand that once I am a published writer I will always be a published writer, but that I will also always be an unpublished writer. I will get rejection slips, no matter what the New York Times said about my first novel. And hopefully I will always have material in need of some work, because if I don’t have the pages I have I will never have the pages I love.”

Peacock’s novel stuck with me for the last couple of months. Ever since reading it, I’ve wanted to quit my job and focus on writing. So that’s what I’m going to do. I haven’t worked much on “Manifestation” for several weeks, because I’ve been too busy with school and work. And it’s exacted a price. I feel like I’m neglecting something important to me, a novel I love more dearly than I can explain, because I’m too worried about paying my bills and living a comfortable life.

Except that it’s not a comfortable life. It’s a life where I work 12 hour shifts, trudging through the rain and snow to deliver pizzas to people who tip me 85 cents. It’s a life where I see a mouse scurrying across the floor of my restaurant, and know there’s a cesspool of crud in the dumpster area behind the store. It’s a life where someone can spit in my face and walk away without consequences. That’s not the life I want.

So I’m quitting. I have alternate sources of income (my paid blog writing and Graduate Assistantship job at Rowan, and my freelance work). I’m going to search for a new job, something in writing, publication, or anything along those lines. Something where I can work in an office at a computer, putting my creative mind to work and using the skills I went to college for, instead of taking out other people’s garbage. Something where if I am insulted at work, there is a proper set of procedures for me to get the conflict resolved instead of being told to “deal with it.”

Something, maybe, where I’ll make less money (despite all my complaints, I make a lot in tips, enough to live a financially secure life). But there are things more important than money. There’s respect. There’s creativity. There’s pursuing my dreams instead of trudging along at a dead end job.

So I declare it, here and now, not caring if my manager reads this (I doubt he will, but I don’t care if he does). I’m going to work tomorrow, but I’m only staying at Pat’s Pizza for as long as it takes for me to find at least a part time job someplace else (or if they fire me first). Even part time would help me make ends meet while I focus on my writing. And that’s what I want to do.

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