It's not just our own choices that effect our lives. Sometimes it's the choices of others.
My job is what the professional world sometimes refers to as unskilled. That is to say that it did not require twenty-thousand dollars for four years to get a piece of paper saying that I'm qualified to do this job.
After one year of college, I decided it wasn't working out. Whether the quality of my life would have changed one way or the other, it is a decision I own no matter how strong the urge might be to blame someone else.
The last ten years of my adult life have been a study in trial and error, with jobs that came and went and attempts to go back to school not panning out. There were corners I never should have cut, opportunities that I regretted ignoring, and mistakes that burned me three or four times before I learned to stop making them. But one thing has remained consistent; right or wrong, I have always accepted the consequences for decisions I have made. Others, however, do not always do so.
For example, one afternoon I was called to help a customer bring a heavy piece of merchandise out to her truck. Standard procedure at this store is to have the customer call for assistance from another store employee while the customer brings their vehicle to the curb. This is for our protection as well as to not risk the customer injuring themselves while helping us to lift heavy items into their vehicles. If they get hurt on their own time, it's their own problem, but if it happens on our property, someone's getting a payday.
So I called over the radio, several times, for someone to come and help me lift this item onto the customer's truck. No one responded. Several times the front end supervisor, who heard my calls, asked for someone to reply. No one responded. This is a big store with plenty of employees and we generally have forty radios that get handed out throughout the day and not one person responded to the numerous calls made over the course of five minutes. Understandably so, the customer got impatient with waiting and went to lift the item. I of course had no choice but to help her because our store places such a huge emphasis pleasing the customer and I had the crazy notion that continuing to make her wait when she wanted to go home was not going to make her happy.
One of the many store managers, who also happens to be our human resource person, approached me as I was bringing the flatbed back into the store. She reprimanded me for letting the customer help me lift an item. My coworkers, who did not respond to my repeated calls, or the calls of the front end supervisor, were not reprimanded to my knowledge. Clearly, I was to blame for not physically restraining the customer. When I finally broke down and told this story to another of the many other store managers, naturally, the HR manager was within her rights to “remind” me of store policy. This is an instance where it was most definitely the actions, or lack thereof, of other parties that lead to my receiving the negative consequence.
Once again, my job is considered unskilled labor. I'm a cart attendant for a major retail chain. With a mechanical cart pusher as the main tool of the trade, you have me, or those like me, to thank for all those shopping carts you find in the vestibule of your favorite retail store and not in the parking lot where they can damage your vehicle. I'm also the guy who takes care of the trash, cleans the restrooms during the day, and generally does whatever menial tasks are sent my way.
Some might think that to be working so low on the totem pole at the age of thirty, that a man must have truly failed at life. If that is your opinion, please be assured, that I am fresh out of rat's hairy bottoms to give in exchange for what you believe. Because at the end of the day, I'm getting bills paid. My belly is full and my modesty protected. I don't have any major addictions, health problems, or familial obligations that would eat up the majority of my paycheck. And I'm able to afford a very nice place in the center of what was once the richest city in America.
That's not to say temptation doesn't crop up now and again. Past mistakes have schooled me well on controlling my more detrimental impulses, such as eating that which does not belong to me and has not been specifically designated for my consumption. Sometimes the temptation is a lot more significant than a perfectly good order of bread sticks that have been left, untouched, in a shopping cart for what couldn't have been there long enough to be covered by anything my immune system couldn't handle.
You'd be surprised how many people drop their credit or debit cards in the parking lot of my store. Sometimes it's late at night, at an hour when it's very unlikely that the customer is even aware the card is missing. As I call the loss prevention officer on my way into the store to hand the card over, I sometimes mentally calculate how many places I know of that will not ask for a signature for purchases under a certain amount, or ask to see identification.
Then there's a beautiful blue wallet that I assume belonged to a woman, as there was a very feminine stitching pattern and, like most accessories belonging to the opposite gender, seemed to be built for more functions than the interior of the TARDIS. During the middle of the day, as I saw it lying there in the seat of the shopping cart, I very briefly considered stuffing it in my pocket long enough to go the restroom and inspect it for any possible monetary value. Once the cash was safely in my own pockets, I would of course drop it off at the customer service desk with everything else still remaining.
In dreams it's so much easier. I never think twice about pocketing the cash I find in dreams. Usually it's fifties, or hundreds, and always in unreasonable amounts that is basically my subconscious' way of telling me that while I may be content, I am far from satisfied, and I would gleefully seize upon any opportunity that would give me an advantage.
Reality is much more painful, as I also calculate the greater chances of the cardholder discovering the card is missing much sooner than I thought and the consequences of getting caught in the act of using it. Then there's the cameras in the parking lot. Sure, they only review those things when they have a reason to, but I'm pretty sure if a customer called in with an approximate time that she was there when she may have left her wallet, that would be a good enough reason to check the surveillance media.
Oh. It's also wrong.
In the end, the choices I made protected someone's credit rating. And when I returned to the vestibule to unload more shopping carts, I saw one of the managers and “remembered” to hand the wallet over to her in case I “forgot” to bring it to the right place. She informed me that someone had inquired about a missing wallet over the phone, to which I apologized for not returning it sooner. Nothing more was said on the subject.
This won't always be the case though, at least when it comes to finding money. One day, maybe tomorrow, or maybe years from now, I'm going to come across a wallet, or an unmarked envelope with an untold amount of cash nestled within the folds. There will be no company policies to tie my hands. No witnesses, or CCTV. My conscience will be firmly reined. And it won't be a dream.