Essay | Joining the Work Force

"You look really tired," she said.
"Yeah. I am," I replied as I proceeded down the steps.

I didn't even look at the stranger's face. I hoped her remark didn't mean my exhaustion was obvious. I hoped she just had a sharp sense of perception, because no one wants to buy candy from a weary-looking seventeen year old.

So, candy, right? Selling candy at stadium events was probably my second job ever. Mostly at the local Home Depot Center for LA Galaxy & Chivas USA football (read: soccer) games. Oonce I got to work a Coldplay concert in Irvine, where we weren't even allowed to sell inside the actual venue, but those opportunities were few and far between. The gist of the job is that you lug a heavy tray of candy for hours, walking up and down stairs, around well trafficked areas, selling your wares.

"Candy!" you scream. "I have some candy here, and I would very much like to sell it to you in exchange for more of your money!"

It's not a job I would go back to.

Most of the other vendors I worked with took the usual approach. You know the one, just like how the guys yell "peanuts!" at a stereotypical old timey baseball game. "Snickers! Snickers! Get yer snickers!" Me though, I think I was (read: am) too self-conscious to draw that kind of attention. I got this weird idea that instead, I would have a routine, like stand-up. I had these odd one liners I would yell at the crowds hoping to get some laughs, attention, and most of all, a sale. They paid us by commission.

With my zingers like, "I'm trying to go to college here!" and, "Delicious, life-giving candy!" I got some satisfying chuckles. Sometimes I got nothing and I would awkwardly waddle on to the next set of bleachers. Most of the people who bought from me knew they wanted candy, and there was no need to pitch to them the idea of a biscuit stick covered in caramel, which is, even then, covered in chocolate.

Sometimes people would haggle with you. They would see something they like, ask you how much, and then be shocked at your answer. The customers would give you looks that say, "Yeah, it's a king sized bar, but you want how much?"

What I wanted to say was: Uh, listen, man. I don't have the luxury of setting the prices. I don't get to do that. I haul the tray around and hope someone has a kid bratty enough to force their parents to buy seven Kit-Kats™. No, I can't give it to you for a dollar less. Yes, I know you can get it at the supermarket for less. you want to write a letter to my vendor or some shit?

But I just shrugged and moved on.

Thieves are always a problem. They are a cowardly and superstitious lot. When it comes to candy, the most common thieves are the children. When they're not busy being this country's future, they're just straight up taking shit. Normally you can catch it, but when a mob of hyper children swarm you (Was there a field trip or something? Where did all of you come from, and why is there only one adult watching you?) it's hard to keep track of who paid for what.

Kids are notoriously bad at forming single file lines and conducting business in an orderly fashion. Once, three kids were picking at candy to buy, two more were inquiring about the price of everything, four were trying to pay me with whatever their parents gave them, and two were trying to steal. I didn't catch the two. As I walked up the stairs to get back to the outer rim of the stadium, I saw them staring back at me as they chewed on their Nerds Rope. They giving me the stink eye, and had this smile on their face. The same smile the psychotic serial murderer in horror films has when he's alone in the room with an unsuspecting victim.

Of course, I suspected something was wrong. But it's not like I could go up to their parents and demand to be paid. I imagined what would happen if I told their parents that I think their children just stole some candy. They would either scold their children and then pay me my two dollars, or tell me "No," in a booming voice as they broke me over their knee. I decided not to act on my hunch.

My suspicions were confirmed at the end of the work day when the money was being counted. Maybe I should have accused those kids of being criminals in front of their parents. Either way, the money was taken out of my cut of the profits. The vendor gave you something like twenty or twenty-five percent of your total sales. For regulars, that meant roughly seventy dollars on a regular day, and over a hundred on phenomenal, sweet-tooth epidemic days. My cut was thirty-five.

I worked the job a few more times after that. I think once I made as little as twenty dollars. I knew I wasn't good at this, and maybe the bosses didn't like that. At that point, I was beyond a squeaky wheel - I was totally off the wagon. So, I stopped signing up for events. No more sixty pound trays strapped to your shoulders, no more thinking up one liners to pitch candy, no more hagglers insulted by your asking price, and no more kids who think stealing is cool. But I still look tired.