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I remember dying to turn 14 years old. Thirteen was the showy milestone, the birthday equivalent of a moral victory against childhood—I was officially a teenager and newly confident in watching PG-13 movies—but 14 was the real prize. Things would happen at 14, and the world would meaningfully change for the better. I could finally get a job.
In those months before turning 14, I fantasized about how much I’d be able to work, how much that labor could earn, and what I could potentially buy. The math was ambitious, naive, and fun: $5.15 minimum wage, multiplied by 12 … no, 16 … no, 20 hours per week, multiplied by four weeks a month, which would, holy shit, give me $412. The sum left me in amazement and eager to run the math again, changing variables to account for the chance that I might make $6 an hour or work 25 hours a week.
My fantasy came crashing down when I started my first job at the Taco Bell on Warren Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. It started even before I arrived, when my mom yelled at me from down the block because I was dribbling my basketball on my walk to work. (Ball was life, so I figured I could practice dribbling on the five-block walk.)
“You’re going for work, not for play,” she told me. And so I learned the dichotomy: Work is work, and life is life. The two are separate, and they shouldn’t meet.
That summer, I toiled through the worst job I have ever had in my life.