Column, Movie Diary

Working for the weekend

By Dom Cioffi

My son started his first job about six weeks ago. He works at a local grocery store collecting carts from the parking lot, bagging groceries, and emptying trash barrels. He makes just under $10 an hour and couldn’t be happier.

He generally works on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays so for the first time in my life, I feel bored on the weekends. My wife and I loved the idea of our son getting a job to earn money, but now that he’s gone so much, we’re admittedly missing him being around the house.

I usually drop him off at the start of his shift and return hours later to pick him up. If he has to be at work early in the morning, he will likely sleep on the way to the store and then roll out of my truck looking every bit the sleep-deprived teenager. However, when I return to pick him up hours later, he’s generally in the highest of spirits.

Being an only child, my son thrives on his relationships with others. He loves being around his friends no matter what the scenario. I’ve never seen a kid who wanted to go to school so badly and yet wasn’t that interested in education.

At work, he’s found a host of new people to chum around with, but he also loves the interaction with the shoppers. It didn’t take him long to figure out that the nicer you are to the customers, the better chance they’ll mention something to the manager.

At the grocery store he works at, if someone tells the staff that you did something special for them, they’ll give you a service excellence award. Sounds great, but when my son found out you could trade in the certificate for a free pizza and soda, he got really excited. He’s now collected three service excellence awards in the last month and I’m confident it has more to do with the food than the honor.

He’s also realized that going the extra step for a customer could be a financial windfall. Periodically, he carries groceries out to shopper’s cars, at which point they’ll reward him with a few bucks. One elderly woman left him a $10 bill in her trunk, complete with an antiseptic cloth so he could “wipe off the covid.”

I asked him recently if he was interested in being a cashier. He scoffed at the idea. Even though they make a bit more money, he claims it’s not worth the hassle. Apparently, cashiers have to recite pre-written, interactive dialogue, which he finds contrived. Plus, they aren’t allowed to listen to music, which he can do while collecting carts.

Sometimes when I show up a bit early to pick him up, I’ll catch him working the parking lot collecting carts. I’ll pull my truck into a spot and then watch how he approaches his job. I feel a sense of pride when I see him muscle a huge line of carts into the building, unlike some of the other kids who take in two at a time in order to drag out the process.

The other night I showed up early and caught him dancing through the parking lot while singing to himself. I rolled my window down to listen and then when he wasn’t suspecting it, I honked my horn, scaring him to such a degree that he came over to the truck shaking.

While I thought it was the funniest thing I had seen all weekend, he was highly agitated and refused to talk to me on the way home. (It was still worth it!)

But the single greatest moment came on the afternoon I showed up a few minutes early and found him collecting trash. He saw me parked and wandered over with a large bag of garbage. I rolled down my window to talk, at which point he stated very matter-of-factly, “I’m the only teenager in this store that knows how to tie a damn garbage bag.”

I beamed with pride at this statement since, many years ago, I taught my son the correct way to tie a garbage bag, telling him that someday the knowledge would come in handy. (It seems so innocuous, but like everything else in the world, there’s a right and a wrong way to do things.) The fact that he remembered my lesson and was prideful of his abilities gave me hope that he’s realized I may know a thing or two.

This week’s film, “The King of Staten Island,” is about another young man venturing out into the world, except in this case, his lack of a father-figure has stunted his abilities and self-esteem.

Starring SNL comedic standout Pete Davidson, this surprising little film (which is rooted in Davidson’s own life story), does a wonderful job capturing the unique flavor and sentiment of a 20-something man struggling to find his way in the world.

I have to admit, this film caught me off guard. I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. It’s well-made (directed by Judd Apatow) and well-acted (co-starring Marisa Tomei and Bill Burr). And kudos to Davidson for a shockingly rich and emotional performance (even if he was basically playing himself).

A blue-collar “B+” for “The King of Staten Island” (available for rental on multiple online platforms).

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]

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