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Turning Down the Raise

I contemplated offering my daughter an allowance.  Of course, hardscrabble me never had an allowance. The way it worked in our house was we helped do things around the house and my parents allowed us to live there. My brother and I had an allowance for several weeks until we didn’t do some things. The allowance was unceremoniously removed, never to appear again. It was like we got fired from our job as kids. I blamed my brother for us getting fired and vowed to never let that happen again – at least, not for another 10 years or so.

Until probably the age of 26 my jobs were not related to anything I was interested in. Not so different from a lot of young people. I did farm labor, pizza delivery, clinical research studies (human guinea pig), warehouse order fulfilling, telemarketing, dishwasher, janitor, business book summary writer, and auto parts store employee. Working at the auto parts store was where I learned the fine art of turning down a raise. The company name was Big Wheel Rossi, a regional auto parts store, that has since been purchased by a larger chain. I applied for a part-time position there.

It was always difficult to go to these kinds of interviews. When you just need a job and you don’t really care what it is. Just the previous year I interviewed for a warehouse position. It was so confusing. Part of me really wanted the job and the other, bigger part, really didn’t care. Unfortunately, everything is funny to me in these interviews. At the warehouse position the woman saw that I had the old college education under the belt – it didn’t even matter that the degree was in communication arts – and immediately thought I might make good lower management material. She started with the interview questions that people use when they don’t really know how to interview people. Really, all these questions are made to do is see if you run screaming. If you run screaming, you were not the right candidate. She asked me to name 5 strengths and 5 weaknesses of myself. I give her what she wanted to hear. The key is to not rattle off the weaknesses too fast. You have to think about it like you don’t really know what the hell is wrong with you. Then she asked me what I thought the definition of a team was. I thought the interview was going good so I slipped into auto-pilot  a bit. I said a team worked together and should all wear the same color jerseys. She laughed a very little and then asked what kind of tree I would be if I would be a tree. I told her I would not be a tree. I could not be a tree. I would not be a tree with a fox. I would not be a tree in a box. Fortunately, she must have had small kids because not everyone recognizes Dr. Seuss references easily in the workplace. She thanked me for coming in and said she would get back to me. She asked me if she could show me out. I said I had seen out and knew what it looked like and would be able to find it myself. For some odd reason I got that job.

My interview at Big Wheel Rossi was with a manager named Andy. He had worked his way up to manager and was proud of his current team. He was liked and respected and he seemed to like me. I had to fill out some forms prior to the interview. Sometimes this boded well for me, because of my neat penmanship. You wouldn’t think that something like that would matter, but it does. And in that instance, Andy said that I had very good penmanship. It was like if a woman were to show some cleavage during an interview. I only had my penmanship. I felt a little cheap, but realized it was a just cause – me getting a job. Shortly after assessing my penmanship Andy hired me as a part-time employee.

I tried to do my best, but realized quickly that I just wasn’t quite cut out for the job. We got spiffs (money rewards) if we pushed certain things like spark plugs or other products. I wasn’t good at remembering to do this. My main job was stocking the shelves, but I also could assist customers looking up parts. This was before the information was computerized. There were 10 large books to look up parts. It was a slow process to learn what parts were in what books. I was first learning how to interact with my fellow employees. There was Mike. He was a fellow long-haired guy. He was way into Volkswagens and knew everything about them. He could work the books like a revivalist minister works his bible. He had parts memorized and would lecture customers about the virtue of Volkswagens. Bill was an assistant manager and he sold guns on the side. Bill’s good friend Pete was also an assistant manager. Pete was Native American. Once Pete pulled his large knife out of his pocket and took me aside and said, “You ever been scalped by an Indian.” I said I had not. Pete seemed too serious for what I knew was a joke. I wasn’t sure how to tell him that this conduct totally undermined what the Native American people have been trying to get away from.

The inequities seemed rife at Big Wheel Rossi. The employees would take a smoke break at some point in the evening. Pete said that I shouldn’t get a break because I didn’t smoke. The next day I brought cigars and attempted to smoke them. I also told Pete that I get three more minutes of break because cigars are bigger than cigarettes. Pete was starting to like the long-haired white kid. It seemed like there was a certain “I don’t care” about him that Pete enjoyed. I slowly became more talkative and found my way by being able to out joke anybody. Whaddaya need? You want a smartass comment? I got one. You need some observational comedy? Here ya go.  Are we making fun of the customers today? Not a problem.

As weeks turned into months I came to get along with the entire staff. I picked up extra shifts or traded with others if they needed to get out for something. I was still not super confident looking up parts in those books. One day Andy came in and said tomorrow would be my 6 month review. That night I thought it would be funny if I turned down a raise that might come from my review.  Of course, I wouldn’t really do that, but it was a funny idea.

The day of my review came and I sat in the warehouse part of the store on a small chair next to the muffler rack. Andy sat across from me on another chair. He had some forms on a clip board and was writing things down as we went. He asked me questions about a few things, but it seemed like just a formality. I said I thought I could do a better job with the parts books. He said he’d seen progress. He then congratulated me on my six months with the company and said that I’d earned a raise of .15¢ per hour. I paused. Oh, no. I was afraid what was going to come out of me, but I couldn’t stop it.

I then told Andy that I didn’t think the raise was a good idea. I said why don’t we wait until I’m better with the books. He said that I was entitled to the raise. I told him no thank you. Andy looked confused. I’m sure no one had ever turned down the raise before. He paused. Then he said in a serious kind of way, “Ah, I have to give you the raise. It’s from corporate.”

“All right,” I said, “But, just make a note there that I didn’t want it.”

Andy paused again then wrote something on his form. I don’t know what exactly he wrote. Probably, “crazy guy turns down raise.” This awkwardly ended our review session and made me the talk of the auto parts store for almost an entire day. Everyone seemed to be amused. Mostly Pete, who liked to think outside of the box.

This reminded me that maybe I didn’t value money the way I should have. So, I decided to offer my daughter a small allowance. I would give her one dollar a week. I pulled out a dollar and told her that she would be getting one every week for doing chores around the house. She said she didn’t want a dollar a week. “Well, what were you thinking?” I said, a little afraid of the answer. She said she wanted a quarter – maybe two quarters. Quarters are prettier than dollars. She would rather have pretty shiny quarters instead of ugly green paper dollars.

Hmmmm. Interesting.

Sadly Yours,

Jason Spafford

1 comment

  1. Samara says:

    Ha! It’s interesting the perspective on money our kids will have watching us use our credit and debit cards instead of dollars and coins.

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