This week’s pause is inspired by the first methodology I learned to reframe time.
This week, I’m approaching the concept of time from the perspective of my teenaged self, specifically, the lessons and gifts I experienced in regard to my first job at a fast food restaurant, circa 1975, in Peoria, Illinois.
I remember when I was a teenager, managing “school” (classes, extracurricular activities, studying), working part time for desired money to spend, and determinedly aspiring to cultivate a vibrant social life, finding time for everything was often challenging. There were numerous occasions when my work, school, and social aspirations conflicted with what I wanted most in a present moment.
My first job, the summer I turned 16, was as a cook and cleaner at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Peoria, Illinois. I rode my bicycle two miles to the restaurant location every Monday through Friday and two miles home (rain or shine because my mother didn’t want her car smelling like fried chicken). My work hours were 9-2, unless I was asked to work longer to cover another worker’s shift for some reason. My father pooh-poohed my inspirations to spend a summer, reading, writing, at the pool, and hanging out with friends, demanding that I earn my own spending money, so I chose to apply at what I thought were upscale establishments like grocery stores, shops at the mall, and fancy restaurants. To my chagrin, no one wanted to welcome an inexperienced, naïve and rather full of herself young lady to their payrolls. I suggested to my dad, that maybe, I could spend the summer writing a book or composing music, but he wouldn’t budge from his position. Kentucky Fried Chicken offered to hire me, and I sighed, “yes.” I imagined the managers would put me behind the counter (because I knew that was where I belonged in this busy restaurant). To my dismay the manager had other chickens for me to fry: my jobs that summer were scrubbing bathrooms, floors, and deep-frying chicken.
My days that summer consisted of getting ready and dressed, out the door -by 8:30 am on my bike. I mopped up grease, emptied cole slaw into containers, scrubbed toilets at least twice each day, cleaned out fryers, and got burned by grease from the fryers at least every other day. Between 2 and 3, I would clock out, ride my bike home, and sit out on the patio until the smell of chicken diminished enough for me to enter the house, shower, and wash my uniform for the next day. And every Monday through Friday that summer (except for our annual family vacation week), I plowed away at the same routine.
My days were made up of how I spent my time. The clock, the travel time, the hours, the minutes, the days—all prescribed to a schedule created by an employer/another for me. I chose to take time for this job because of several factors:
1. Order from my father.
2. Money to go out to eat, shopping, to events, buy gifts and go to movies with friends.
3. I was learning how to grow up and work was a part of my training.
There is a time for everything in our lives. To learn about time is an ongoing process of living. Whenever my mom would tell me to do something and I was busy with something else, I would reply, “I don’t have time.” She would raise her voice and admonish sternly, “Then make the time.” I found that an odd expression as a teenager. Did she think I could wave a magic wand and spin grease into gold?
My imagination has been my stuck like glue companion for most of my life. When I struggled with my thoughts, my tasks, or my feelings, I would try on a program of pretend, a beyond present time imagining where the dirt and filth I scrubbed to shining freed me from the spells of servitude and showered me with joy and blessing. I played songs and scripts in my head, and the drudgery of my greasy job provided inspiration for happy daydreams.
When I practiced this “fake it til you make it” method of reframing my daily labors, I discovered my time spent laboring was actually okay. It was a temporary time, and with an attitude shift, it could be (almost) fun. My job brought me the money I wanted and taught me that time is relationship to what is present in my experience. If I want to experience possibility/positivity/pleasantness, I could choose to find one way or another in order to make time and room for what I wanted to think and feel. I learned to let go of negative thoughts that didn’t serve me.
Did I succeed? Rarely, but the seed was planted. With all the secretive herbs and spices flavoring the Colonel’s recipes, I added a few of my own: Acceptance of how I spent my time and a smile to pave the way.
When the summer of 1975 ended, I retired from my employ at KFC. It was a rather wistful farewell to an experience that taught me how to manage time through employment. When I recall that summer of my life, I smile, shake my head, and imagine I smell fried chicken. Time for lunch!