Summer's are a lollapalooza of majestic sights and adventures. Especially for this Carolina boy. Sunburnt skin, sweaty hikes with friends, the sound of cicadas chirping in the distance. I love it. One particular summer though, I allowed myself to fester on the negative instead of the myriad of summer ventures surrounding me. The summer of 2012. I had just graduated art school (BFA Acting...shout out to SCAD) and completed an internship in The Big Apple itself (which resulted in zero job opportunities and one big case of Scabies).
In the moment, I felt like I went from 60 to 0 in a heartbeat. The brakes were not gently pressed, but harshly slammed upon. The hustle and bustle of college life abruptly ended and lead to a boring summer back in the clutches of my parents house. I paced around not knowing which avenue to explore next. After binge-watching every episode of Six Feet Under, which by the way will make you sob on the floor of your bedroom (so I've heard), I knew I had to earn a little money if I wanted to get back to NYC, a place I knew was always calling me in my head. I went out the next day with a newly typed resumé in my hands and a list of office jobs and restaurants I could potentially work at. I had thought the planets aligned to grant favor upon me because the first restaurant I walked into ended up hiring me on the spot. Little did I know that those planets were certainly aligned, but in order to royally fuck me over fast and hard. The place was a small Italian joint that put out wonderful food, and that I had frequented in my life with my family. I felt great going in on my first two days of server life. On the third day, however, things took a turn. I finally had met the Owner and General Manager. Now, I wouldn't describe myself as the most...ahem...masculine...of men. I most certainly am a proud gay man and, admittedly, I exude some stereotypical behavior from time to time. The very hairy chested Italian Owner/General Manager, I suppose took notice of my qualities and thus made it his personal mission to make that day of work for me miserable. I was given the nickname Froo-Froo, I was told I walked like a woman and was reassured, in case I didn't know, that I had a vagina. The list just kept going on and on and on. Charming, isn't it? At the end of that third day, I couldn't hold back the tears, I just wasn't used to being made feel so uncomfortable in a work environment. I climbed into my Scion TC and before I could put my keys in the ignition, I burst into a river of tears. How could I let things get so bad so quickly, I kept thinking to myself. Just a month ago I was a graduate and intern living his dream in a great city with great opportunities. The next, I'm crying in my car because some bigoted asshole doesn't know that there is more than one way to be a man? It was a low, that's for sure.
I'm telling you this sad sob story because the most amazing thing happened because of it. I picked myself up and, of course, needed a new job. One of the hundreds of applications I filled out was online for the Panera Bread Company (Omg, those cinnamon crunch bagels, yummmm). As it turns out, Melissa, an old friend of mine who I hadn't seen or talked to since childhood really, worked as the Catering Coordinator of that branch of Panera. She saw my application in a pile of others and immediately got me to come in, interview, and be hired on the spot. This was a sweet, sweet turning point for my life. Through my job for Panera I was reunited with Melissa, and then in turn met our Manager, Charlie, and another fellow employee, Megan. We four became the fastest of friends. Downton Abbey viewing parties, Chinese dinner dates, mountain house vacations, getting tattoo's together, even church hopping on Christmas, we always had the best time together. Funny enough, within the year, none of us ended up staying at Panera. We just needed to pursue other things in life, but even so, we still stuck together. All four of us. Even states away! Megan moved to Indiana, I now find myself in New York City, where I wanted to be all along, and Melissa and Charlie are happily in NC having a blast. Our chance encounter was 5 years ago but we are still the closest foursome you will find. In fact we just got done with a 2-week-long road-trip across America together. Being trapped in a car for that long is a bit numbing, but I couldn't have done it with anyone else other than these people. We laughed until tears streamed down our faces, we danced until we were sore. We lovingly call ourselves the Plastics. Yes, from Mean Girls, and yes, I'm Gretchen Weiners.
It's amazing to think that the only reason I got hired at Panera and met some of my best friends was all because of a terrible day of condescension, harassment and a horrible low feeling. Those feelings should never be tolerated. In fact, I probably had a great case to sue and win. No one should ever be made to feel that low and unappreciated. Unfortunately, it does happen, and too often, I fear. If you can, please get yourself out of that situation as fast as you can. Run, don't walk, to a place where you are not only tolerated, but CELEBRATED! Wondrous things happen when you find a place where you belong, and find the kind of support from friends that will be there for you no matter what. Each and everyone of us has a spark to share with the world. And when you find your center of friends, that spark will ignite. You are the sun and we are all stars in the Milky Way of life.