There’s a very moving scene at the end of the disco drama Saturday Night Fever where the street philosopher/ballroom dancer Tony Manero looks deep into his woman’s eyes and explains: “there’s ways of killing yourself without killing yourself”. It meant nothing at the time, and really, it’s still a bit foggy. But funnily enough, there are also ways of getting sacked without getting sacked. So, you know, Tony was almost there…
I was sacked without getting sacked in the summer of 1998 – around the same time that a tiny little dwarf child called Michael Owen made the entire planet throw up with joy as he took a ball down with the outside part of his ankle, ran around the entire Argentina team TWICE, then plopped one into the top corner. Everyone went wild. Everyone except for me, because I’d just put two and two together in my head and realised that my day job at a sandwich shop was fading away. I looked on as Owen ran towards the crowd, his arms outstretched like a metrosexual Jesus, but any surge of joy had been countered by the plummeting realisation of impending unemployment, leaving me totally centred. Neither happy, nor sad. Just perfectly balanced chakras.
As it happened, I had been working in a small Bristol sandwich shop called The Upper Crust, or Sandwiches R Us, or Sexy Lunches. It was 1998 – if you can completely remember things, you weren’t on drugs. The initial plan had been to train me up as a manager, based on the fact that I looked trustworthy, and I had a degree in Sociology which presumably made me great at talking shit. They hadn’t taken into account that I might be unbelievably bad at making lunch for people – something which became apparent after my first shift, in which pickle had outweighed cheese, I’d inadvertently told a regular that his girlfriend looked like a horse, and the takings didn’t make sense because I hadn’t a clue how the till worked. I’d based my pricing on what people should ideally pay for things.
Custom started to dwindle, one man even specified that anyone but me be in charge of making his meal.
My boss – initially a kind man – put it down to first day nerves. But by day three it must have dawned on him - he’d employed the only person in Bristol completely unable to carve a complete slice of bread. And whilst I might have prided myself on being fast at my job, that was mainly because people left the shop clutching a bag full of their dream sandwich ingredients all haphazardly clumped together in no particular order. Custom started to dwindle, one man even specified that anyone but me be in charge of making his meal.
At this point, my boss should have stepped in and explained that things weren’t really working out. I would have understood. I would have cleaned the smears of butter from my forearms, removed the specs of cheese from my eyelids, peeled the gherkin from my hair, and left that shop with my some dignity. But no, he was too scared. He was cowardly and a coward. Instead, he began a slow burning assault to undermine my spirit, which began a cruel ripple effect that ended with me not really feeling anything when Michael Owen scored his greatest goal for England. For that I can never forgive him. And if I remembered his name, I’d tell him so. He started lessening my shifts. At first by one a week, then two, then three. Until eventually, I had ONE shift, on a Thursday morning. I knew it was over. Very few people can live on less than £20/week.
“It’s not really worth my while working for you,” I suggested on the phone, finally broken, calling time on this ridiculous charade.
“Ahh, that’s a shame Josh,” he lied. “Thanks for all of your help.”
Oh, f*ck you! (I didn’t say that bit).
You can follow Josh on Twitter @joshburt76 should you so wish
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