It was fall 1999. It had been a few months since I came to the US. Still beaming and hopeful about what I could do and who I could become.
As I waited for the registration to clear up at the local community college, I looked for a job. I was willing to do any type of job so I could earn money until school started. Then it would be studying full time.
After applying to a few places, I started to lose hope. Why would anyone hire a teenager? One with exactly zero experience with work. Zero experience with the US.
So when K-mart called me back, I was both nervous and excited. I was going to be a bag-checking person. I had no idea what working for minimum wage was like. Or that we had to ask for permission to go to the restroom. I just knew I would get paid. I was going to get rich.
When I arrived on my first day, I was told to become a cashier.
What happened to the other gig I was told about? I had rigorously practiced for that.
Now I was truly terrified.
Cashier? But I don't know any of the items. Even the store seemed intimidating to me.
I never held a credit card before.
What if I lost people's money from their credit card?
Would I get arrested?
This was too much stress.
While my mind was oscillating between calling it quits on day 1 and crying in public, I started to look around. There were cashiers near me who appeared to be having a ball. Genuinely smiling and doing their work like they were making 6-figures. I was in awe. No matter how much I got paid since, I could never match that enthusiasm.
I started working and soon I got used to it all... all except the customers. I had never had to smile at anyone I didn't know before. Never had to make small talk. Now it was a job requirement. We were all told to smile and talk to the customers and keep them happy. I couldn't muster the energy for any of that. I barely made eye contact...silently praying that the customer doesn't talk.
The most common question - how do you say your name? Had I known the frequency of that question, I would have just put my initials - K. K as in Kay. There. No follow up questions necessary.