You hear the word “Roommate” and you never know who you’re going to get. Safe to say that I’ve had different roommates in my life. The same can be said about coworkers and new hires. The same can be said about a new student in a classroom or in a focus group or on a team. You never know if this will be a fit. You never know if the change will go smoothly.
I have been the “New guy” before. I’ve had the “New Guy” jitters. I had worries and wonders.
Will I like them? Will they like me? Are we going to be friends or teammates or just coworkers and two people who have to coexist in this world?
Of course, there are other concerns that come up . Will I be able to trust this person? Will I be comfortable? Will they look to steal my thunder or better yet, will they look to hurt me or damage my reputation? All of these are real questions.
Safe to say that interpersonal changes are not always comfortable. Safer to say that the unknown has a way of leading thoughts into the rabbit holes of anxious concerns.
I worked in a mall when I was 19. (I just smiled and shook my head, by the way.)
I was a stock boy in a store that sold precious items, vases, specialty plates and home accessories. My job was certainly less glamorous than what my friends were doing.
I was midway through the dilemmas of work or school and I had no direction. I had no idea what I enjoyed doing. I knew that I wanted to be wealthy. I knew that I enjoyed the optics of a good job, a strong bank account, a nice car and, if I’m being honest, I wanted the trophy life with a trophy love to stand by my side. I wanted the life. I wanted all of this. However, my surroundings in the basement of a Long Island mall and the people I worked with were neither conducive to nor a supporting atmosphere to launch these dreams.
I worked with one of the delivery drivers who was part Nazi, part bully, part mean and part arrogant, overweight but not slovenly, and mainly, he was an unpleasant guy who said unpleasant things. And this was him on his good days. On bad days he was much worse. I will call him Dee for this application. Dee liked to try and bully me. He liked to mention his hatred for my background and often insinuated that the vowel at the end of Dee’s last name meant that he could have me “Capped” if he so chose.
Somehow, a piece of my history was leaked to Dee. He would try and outwit me. He scowled and told me that I was lucky I never ran into him in any outside places. So, yeah. Safe to say that Dee and I shared a different synergy. It was fiery and less productive at work. It was pointless and ego driven but as sure as noon was part of every day, so was an argument between Dee and myself.
There were a few others who worked in the stockroom with me. One person was older, perhaps somewhere in his 30’s. He was someone with special needs. I was never sure of his connection. I don’t know if he was family or a friend of a friend but he was a good man. I will call him Bob.
Bob had a smile that was more than just endearing. Somehow, at least to me, he had a smile that exposed people for who they were. He made me want to be a better person. He had a smile that exposed the person I used to be, which was bully-ish too. I always looked out for Bob.
Then there was my manager. He was not a store manager. He was young, somewhere close to my age. He was the stockroom manager. He was odd and awkward and uncomfortable in his skin. Perhaps it was here that he saw himself as needed and accepted.
His love life was limited with a few stories that I could neither confirm nor deny. He was used and mistreated outside of his little domain. However, the sales team was made up of good looking young women. They smelled nice and dressed nicely. I will call the stock manager Billy. And the sales team loved Billy. He was their go to man.
I was hired through a friend. I cannot say that this was the job that I wanted for myself. Then again, I’m not sure I knew what I wanted. Plus, everyone worked at the store for a long time. They all knew each other. The store had its own synergy and to start, it seemed as if I was out of sync. I didn’t know where anything was. I had personal struggles with my home life. I was at the tail end of my first real relationship that consisted of dating for longer than six weeks. In all honesty, I was cheated on and called another man’s name at the worst time possible.
See? No one ever takes into consideration that life is happening to other people. Everyone has something going on. It’s not a bad thing to be kind or welcoming in this world. But kindness seems costly when you don’t want to lose the comforts of your spot. I get this now.
I didn’t understand this back then, but I do now.
I was about to lose my so-called love life. I had to move, which meant that three of the major changes in life were all happening at once. My relationships were changing. My home life was changing and now to add color, my work life was changing too. My list of fears were long and so was the emotional train of ideas that kept me from reaching my best.
I’d like to take this time to point out my struggles with loss. My Mother moved down to Florida to begin the sunset of her life. Her goal was to enjoy the end of her years. Mom retired to where she and The Old Man had planned to retire. My Brother was recently married and living his new life.
Most of my friends were gone and some of them were people that I had to be distant from. I was young in age and young in sobriety. I was uncomfortable in my own skin but then again, and dare I say this but I think I have to, I doubt anyone is ever truly comfortable in the early stages of life.
I had no idea who I was, what I really wanted, what I really liked, who was my type, nor did I even understand who I was or what I wanted to be.
It seems as if we are all trying on new clothes throughout our life. We change outfits until we find the outfits that fit. And we change partners as if life is this crazy dance and sometimes we circle back, and sometimes we move on until we find our place in the circle.
So therefore, I was in between outfits. I was in between dances and circling around. I was between housing and in between love and single life. I drove around in a beat up blue four door Chevy, which was less than cool. I was on the verge of life but yet, the world was so big that it’s awesomeness was intimidating to me. And here I am, working in the basement of this store, which obviously, I am using this as an analogy for life.
I wondered if I would fit. I wondered if I would be welcomed and liked or if I would be able to move into the machinery of this store without a hitch.
In short, the answer was no. I did not like Billy nor did he like me. In fact, this is one of my first lessons about people and their thunder.
This was Billy’s place.
This is where Billy was needed and wanted and asked for. Billy was never one to be comfortable in social settings. He had insecurities the same as everyone else.
The reason I knew this was because it was explained to me after I heard that Billy was slandering me to some of the girls on the sales floor.
One of them said I was “Cute.”
Billy didn’t like that.
Plus, Billy had a crush on this girl so he immediately took to a slander campaign.
And I get it. I really do.
He didn’t want to lose his position nor did he want anyone or anything to jeopardize his comfort.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. I know you must be saying to yourself, “But Benny, this must happen to you all the time . . .” and it’s true because I am cute.
Just kidding. But at minimum, I was cuter than Billy!
That’s for sure.
This was my first lesson in why people don’t get along in the workspace. I’d been the new guy before and this wouldn’t be the last time that I was the new person at work.
We are absorbed by fear of loss and the concern for comfort. We want easy transitions and a seamless life without issues. No one wants anyone or anything to disrupt the clear pools of our life or muddy the lake, so-to-speak. No one wants anyone or anything to steal their thunder or, stripped to the lowest common denominator, nobody wants to lose their place of importance.
No one wants to lose their value or the attention from others. We all want to be valid. We want an easy life but life is not easy and sometimes, never the twain shall meet.
There is a strange competition that we partake in but this competition is mainly in our heads. This is us coming at ourselves from a place of judgment; and furthermore, we pressure ourselves just to be liked, wanted, valued, accepted, included and comfortable.
For the record, I was not at the store very long. But this was on me. This had nothing to do with Billy who, by the way, is someone I eventually learned to like and get along with. This had nothing to do with Dee who is someone I never got along with and chose to argue with on a daily basis. I was terminated the day before Christmas due to my poor work ethic which, at the time, I can say that yes, it was true. I didn’t do much more than collect a measly paycheck. But more, my performance matched my attitude, which matched my emotional mindset and my anxiety. I gave in to my worries and insecurities and allowed my ego to take over.
Did I enjoy the job? Not too much.
Was I paid well? Nope.
This was my first true lesson that supported a great saying that I never listened to.
“Keep the focus on yourself!”
Stop looking at what other people have or do.
Stop worrying about the next guy.
Keep your eyes on your own paper.
My life is not a sentence but a series of journals.
I can write and rewrite my direction whenever I choose.
I have lost count of how many outfits I’ve tried on in my life, which is fine. And I say this because the greatest thing about the freedom of forward thinking is that I can keep trying new things. I can try on new outfits and if I like them, I can keep them. And if I grow out of them, I can move on and find a new one.
Note: Decades later, I saw Bob at a local strip mall. The store was long gone at that point. I don’t know where he was living at the time or if he was working. But he was still Bob and boyishly wonderful.
Unfortunately, a few of the local kids thought it was funny to pick on Bob. I saw this. I stopped this and although this was not the nicer side of Ben Kimmel, I leaned in to make sure they would never touch Bob again.
Bob. . .
He was sad. Then the kids left him alone.
Then he smiled and said “Hi Ben.”
In a world where I can be anything . . .
I think I want to be like Bob.