You take the job at the chain pizza placebecause you need the money, dammit.If you hustle your ass, you can make a goodchunk of cash during those“five minutes or less, or it’s free” lunch nightmaresand make it to class on time,a protein shake in your handand your hair smelling of grease.Or you take the late shift and gladly,the big tables of pleasantly drunken bikers—because even though they stare at your assin those ridiculous polyester pants—they at least are friendly.And they leave big tips.
You wait on the kids from school,that you see at frat parties,including that one guy who treats you like shit,leaves behind a huge mess of a table,and a dollar tip; the car he driveswould cover your whole year’s tuition,and you know his mommy and daddymake the payments.He smiles at you—and you mutter“asshole” under your breath, fighting the urgeto kick him in his privileged nuts.
You are a scholarship kid,but the scholarship doesn’t cover rentor books or gas or food—the shit you need to live.One of the folks at home doesn’t have it to give you. [End Page 5] The other one does, but you don’t askbecause he seems to willfully believe you are OKand if he doesn’t ask, he doesn’t have to know you’re not.You’re not about to volunteerthe information. Because pride.And anger, and resentment, and, well, dammit, pride.
So you sling the shitty pizza,wear those itchy polyester clothesthat nothing on earth could ever stick to or stain,and that humiliating, ridiculous hat.The smell of warm cardboard boxesmakes you retch, sticks with you forever.Even after you’ve gone home,stood in a hot shower,and gagged as you washed it from your hair. [End Page 6]
CHERIE RANKIN is a Professor of English at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois, and has been a member of the Working Class Studies Association since 2004, where she currently serves as president-elect. Over a lifetime of employment, she has been a member of the IBEW, the Carpenter’s Union, and currently, the IFT/AFT.