Walking down Queen Street in Auckland one day, I saw a man wearing a hairy gorilla suit. He was sitting on the sidewalk behind a cardboard box, muttering to himself.
“F**k this,” he said, quietly.
Then, louder, “F**k this.”
He stood abruptly, ripped off his gorilla mask and threw it to the ground.
“F**K THIS,” he shouted, storming off.
As I passed, I noticed that his cardboard box contained a couple of coins and a banana peel.
No wonder he hit rock bottom.
I like to think that everyone hits rock bottom at some point in their working life, because it makes my own rock bottom experience a little more acceptable. Not much, but a little.
London, January 2004. 22 years old.
I was dirt poor. My first payday was still 3 weeks away and I had no British pounds left. What little I came with had vanished after rent, my monthly tube pass, a winter coat, and, uh, New Year’s Eve.
I wasn’t completely broke – I had about four US dollars in my Indiana bank account, which I was saving for a day when I was really desperate.
This was that day.
My new job sucked. I was a membership advisor for a chain of London gyms called the Fitness Exchange. All morning I stood in front of the McDonald’s at Liverpool Street station, forcing flyers into people’s clenched fists. You’d think that location would be effective: free gym passes to alleviate the guilt of a Big Mac. Well, it wasn’t. It made people angry. It made me angry. All of those people eating McDonald’s while I chewed on a stick of gum through my lunch hour.
Today would be different. Today, I would eat cake.
I took my debit card to Starbucks, the only place that accepted cards for transactions of less than £5. With the exchange rate at the time, I was limited to items under £2. I selected a blueberry muffin and tried to make it last through my lunch hour.
Unfortunately, I am a fast eater with little patience, so it was gone in 2 minutes. I went back to work, still hungry and in a state of despair.
When I returned, the office was empty. I shared with it the other membership advisor, an English guy named Dan. Dan was portly, with aspirations of being a spin class instructor. He sweated a lot, even when he wasn’t doing anything. It made me uncomfortable.
I sat down at my desk, planning to play solitaire. My foot hit the trash can, spilling its contents across the carpet.
Among the crumpled bits of paper and rubber bands was a bag from Pret-A-Manger. Inside was a chocolate croissant, barely touched.
Here were the facts:
1. It looked delicious.
2. It was already paid for.
3. It was in the trash.
Seized with desperation, I removed the croissant from the bag. I tore the bitten end off, and I ate the rest of the croissant.
I. ate. food. out. of. the. trash.
Hello, rock bottom.
The croissant turned to ash in my mouth. My face turned red, even though no one was watching. I stuffed the bag in the trash can and pushed it way under the desk, against the wall.
When Dan came back in, I grew paranoid, convinced he was going to look in the trash and see what I had done:
“Did you…eat my croissant from the trash?”
“It jumped into my mouth, I swear!”
“You did! You disgusting mongrel. You’re fired.”
But of course, he didn’t suspect me. I made it through the rest of the day with my secret intact, but my pride shattered.
Life went on an upswing after that day; how could it not? I borrowed some money from my roommate and made it to payday without scavenging for rejected baked goods. Halfway through February, I quit that job and found a better one, as a PA at London South Bank University.
I’ve had bad moments in jobs since then, but never again have I sunk quite so low.