Who out there has seen The Shawshank Redemption? One of the finer films ever made. Anyway, in the film there’s this character whose name escapes me at the moment. He was sent to prison when he was just a kid, and spent his whole life there. In his 70’s, he finally makes parole, and gets himself a fine job bagging groceries. But, it’s not long before he hangs himself. When word gets back to his friends still in prison, they speculate as to why he killed himself. The best explanation they come up with is that when you are in prison for so long, the walls become security. You become used to the rigid order day in and day out, and when you are finally freed, the lack of order gets to you, and you’d do anything to get it back. The prisoners of Shawshank Prison called that “being institutionalized.”
Shortly after I saw The Shawshank Redemption, I went back to Augustana to visit some old friends. There, I began to see how college life can be like a prison. You get up, march off to the cafeteria for breakfast, the off to your regimented classes for the morning, until lunch time rolls around. Then, the same thing happens for the afternoon. After supper, you’ve got your free time, which is generally spent in your dorm room studying. As much as people want to get rid of that order and head out into the real world, they know how scary it is out there. That’s where you get the people who take seven years for a three year program. All they look forward to is getting out.
And now, I find myself in a fine job bagging groceries.
Close to a year’s worth of job hunting, and this is all I get. Bagging groceries. And part time to boot. It’s not so bad. Instead of spending my afternoons watching Jerry Springer and Batman: The Animated Series, I spend it making sure bread doesn’t squished at the bottom of a shopping cart. And, since I’m on my feet for 5 hours out of the day now, I think I’ve begun to lose weight. I’ll be back to my old slim self in no time (although, I haven’t been my old slim self since I was 9). But at least I’m making $6.25 an hour. I’ll be rolling in it come June, when it’s time to start paying my student loans.
And the people I work with are OK. There’s my boss. She seems to be a delightful person. I’ve only been working for about two weeks now, but she strikes me as being one of these people who would rather be your friend than your boss. I’ve never understood that kind of managerial style, because it hurts more when you screw up and your boss comes down on you. Actually, what has me afraid is, now that I’ve been working for a couple weeks, she actually looked over my resume. Word is once again getting out that I have a B.Sc. Last time I had a job and my co-workers found out I was going for a B.Sc., I was turned into Mr. Wizard. I have no desire to be Mr. Wizard again.
Besides my boss, I have two groups of co-workers. First, we have “the elders.” Since I usually work afternoon shifts, these are the people I tend to be working with most of the time. They are a group of grandmotherly ladies, who are just killing time until the C.P.P. kicks in. They are nice, and tend to be tolerant with a new guy like me, just learning the ropes. The second group I have dubbed “the punk-ass teenagers.” These are high schoolers who are doing this as their after-school jobs. They tend to come in around 3 or 4 o’clock, just as my shift is ending. The female punk-ass teenagers seem to be nice enough, but its the men who make my spider-sense tingle. Like every bully who ever beat the crap out of me, they tend to look down their nose at me. I think that they’re just pre-occupied with sizing up the new rooster in the henhouse. Oh, to have raging hormones again!
But if this job is giving me one thing, it’s an appreciation for the life of a super-hero. Very often, it’ll get quite busy, and all 5 tills will be open. One bagger between 5 tills. Oh, how is one supposed to assess where one is needed? Do I go to the till where there are 9 people lined up with baskets? Or the one where there are two full carts? Just when I’ve settled in, I’ll here that cry from a cashier: “Mark! This person needs help out to his/her car!” So, I’ve got to drop everything and help that person out to their car. I come back in, and once again my dilemma begins. Which till gets a bagger, and which doesn’t? Which mother will be stuck bagging her own groceries? Who will live, and who will die? How does Superman do it?
This, in a nutshell, is my job. Whee. Once again, I find myself longing for order. How much so? Well, my sister was looking at her post-secondary options a month or so ago, and left the NAIT calendar lying around. I picked it, and flipped through it. I stopped on, of all things, broadcasting courses. Once again, I briefly flirted with the idea of becoming the Scarecrow professionally. Should I do it? Should I once again become a dark avenger of the airwaves, only this time do it for money? Doesn’t that make me a sell-out?
I feel that this is good for me. Someone once said that before you know who you are, you must first know who you are not. I’m sure a few months of doing something I don’t want to do will help me decide what I want to do a whole lot quicker. Near the end of The Shawshank Redemption, we find Red, one of our main characters, in the exact same situation. A lifer, in his 70’s, finally out on parole. He finds himself in the noble profession of bagging groceries. And, if the irony isn’t enough, he’s living in the exact same place where his friend hanged himself. For a moment, Red ponders going down the same path that his friend went down. But then he remembers that his friend Andy, who escaped a few years earlier, hid a message for him. Red seeks out this message, and finds that it’s an invitation, inviting him to join Andy in Mexico. So, Red boards a bus, and heads to Mexico. As life progresses, I hope I can be like Red. Freedom shouldn’t be a curse. If I don’t like bagging groceries, I can do something else, and I’ve already begun formulating “the plan.” There’s one thing I know for sure, and that is that bagging groceries is only a beginning.