I Was Hired to be a Bouncer at Ten Years Old


Child's rubber sneakers, Photo by Zan on Unsplash.

Ever been in the grocery store and recognize someone at the end of the aisle? You throw on that cheerful smile and toss your hair back. But you stop. You can’t remember his name.

Tim? No. Tom? Bob? It was something simple.

While you’re digging through a black hole, Tom or Bob has spotted you. He yells across the aisle, “Jane! It’s been weeks.”

Only weeks? Stealing a pose from Pooh bear, think think think, you still can’t rummage his name.

You leave the grocery store feeling painfully upset. How did this happen? Was it all the pregnancies? Tom or Bob is ten years your senior, and he remembered your equally simple name.

Meanwhile, Tom or Bob (who is actually Steve) walks into the sunshine with a cheerful face. He wasn’t troubled by memory loss or awkward social misgivings. He had a wonderful conversation with his friend Jane. Whereas, you hardly conversed, only spent the 3 minute conversation avoiding his name and when it couldn’t be avoided, interjecting name references with “Hey, you,” “Man,” and that one time “Dude.” When have you ever said dude before? That was a dead giveaway.

This has never happened to me (not yet anyway). I’m Steve in this situation. How annoying am I, right? I’ve always, since forever, had a memory that creeps people out. I’m that friend that will never forget your name, your face, your birthday, and always leave you feeling a little bit awkward because it’s been only weeks.

At ten years old, I harnessed my talent for memory and snagged my first job.

Dad packed the truck full of game day essentials: ham and cheese sandwiches, Sunchips, sliced oranges, and water bottles. He lowered the windows to let the heat of summer blast back into the atmosphere. The maroon and white face paint striped onto my younger sister and my face dried and peeled underneath the beaming sun rays. My brother, Tyler, in the front seat, balanced his helmet between his knees as Dad reversed the truck, bounced in the pothole, straightened, bounced once more in the pothole, and headed for the football field.

We were notoriously late, so we dropped Tyler off at the gate, parked, then, so we wouldn’t miss kickoff, rushed to hide our game day goodies in our jackets. Oh yes, you caught that, jackets. Not parkas or anything, just thin windbreakers. But if anyone asked why we were wearing jackets in classic South Texas 95 F summer heat, well, that’s easy, preventing sunburns. For a redhead especially, the best way to prevent sunburn is covering up. I learned that line when I was five.

I squashed the oranges tucked underneath my armpit inside my jacket, waddling to the gate. Hannah, my little sister, balanced the cling-wrapped sandwiches stashed at her waistband. A sandwich slid through her shorts, down her leg, and landed at her feet.

“Hannah, hurry,” Dad and I said at the same time.

“They won’t start without Tyler,” Hannah said, hiding behind me as she replaced the ham and cheese at her waist under her jacket.

This was true. As their best player, both defensively and offensively, Tyler achieved stardom that made most eight year old boys envious and eight year old girls googly-eyed.

“Ty is probably already there,” Dad said.

This was also true. As their fastest player, Tyler could outrun our blue heeler, Angel, out swim a water moccasin, and out climb a lizard. He was fast, which crafted an irreplaceable athlete.

We heard a whistle as we approached the long line at the gate.

Hannah and I shared a grimace, knowing we missed kickoff. The line was abnormally long and didn't seem to be moving.

“Come on, people. Let’s go. Let’s move. We’ve got boys to root for,” Dad said, in a tone that made his impatience forgivable. Motivated by Dad’s speech, people reached into their wallets to prepare for the ticket stand.

The kicker, Paul, was Tyler’s funny friend. Paul always guaranteed a good laugh. His mom, Julie, waited tables at the local hamburger joint. She once served me the biggest basket of fried pickles I’d ever seen. Standing in line now, Julie tapped her feet like she tapped her pen when taking table orders.

“Hi, Miss Julie,” I said, awkwardly keeping my arm stiff at my side to keep the oranges from falling.

“Hi darling,” Julie said, maintaining a good rhythm with her toes.

Her daughter, Rosie, a massive fan of Tyler, actually preferred Tyler’s football number to Paul’s. A glittery #7 sparkled in the sunlight on her cheek. “Oh look, it’s Tyler’s sisters. Y’all are so lucky--you live with him.”

Hannah and I again exchanged a glance.

“Oh, it’s Rosie,” I said matching her tone. “Very lucky indeed.”

I craned my neck to peek out the line. About 20 people down, standing behind the table, exchanging money for tickets, stood a baffled, frantic woman. “Dad, isn’t that Barbara? You know the HEB cashier. She always gives us a mint.”

Dad worked in law enforcement. He had an even better memory than me. “Yeah, sweetie. That’s Barbara. Why?”

A crowd of giggling girls casually walked to the front of the line, carefully matching everyone’s stares.

“We’ve already paid,” said one of the girls, throwing her hands on her hip.

Barbara, without looking to the group of girls, said in her best the-customer-is-always-right voice, “I’m sorry. Please, wait a bit. I’m busy with this customer.”

The once giggling girls now gawking girls replied, "Look lady. We’ve already paid. Here are our tickets. Let us through.”

Barbara recounted the customer’s change, whom I knew as the beautiful Mrs. Riley, my second grade teacher. She was beautiful because she smiled a lot, and she was kind, and she wore skirts.

Waiting behind Mrs. Riley stood an angry man, Mr. Beau, Jimmy’s father. Jimmy was Tyler’s angry friend. He was always ready for a fight. He played defense for the mighty Buccaneers, Tyler’s team.

“Girls, go back to the end of line. You’re slowing her down. She’s recounted that change three times since you showed up. Now git,” Mr. Beau said. Mr. Beau was a pig farmer. ‘Now, git’ was a phrase often used at work and at home.

The once giggling, once gawking, now glaring girls whipped their hair behind their shoulders and marched off to the back of the line. Everyone did as Mr. Beau asked.

The sun hammered until little drops of sweat dripped from every brow standing in line, including Barbara’s.

The oranges beneath my armpits started to slip. I wiggled the oranges until they smoothly popped back into the joint.

“Did you say no more tickets,” shouted Mr. Beau, as he approached Barbara. “How can you’ve run out already? Come on, Lady.”

Whispers of the ticket void trickled down the line all the way to the glaring girls.

“Just let us pay,” someone shouted from behind me, I recognized the voice as my bus driver, Larry. “Let us in. We’ve got boys to root for, right Rabb?”

Dad turned at his name. “Yeah. She’ll figure it out. Let’s simmer down, now. More tickets will be on the way.”

The school was on the other side of our small town, but Josie, the Booster Club president, had taken a golf cart and that would take ages. The game would be at halftime by the time she returned with her pink raffle tickets.

Dad’s little speech calmed the line for a solid thirty seconds. The line pushed itself closer to the gate.

Chain link fence with a small hole in the center. Photo by Ussama Azam on Unsplash

“I’ve an idea. I’ll be back. But if it works, I won’t be back,” I said, hurrying to the front of the line. I took note of all the people in line, recognizing all but one face.

“Hey! Tyler’s sister,” said Rosie. “You can’t cut. What do you think she’s doing?”

Hannah shrugged, causing a tiny earthquake in her perfectly placed Jenga of sandwiches. She slapped her waist, catching a slippery sandwich.

Rosie squeezed her eyebrows together and bit her lip, lost in thought. “I can’t believe your Tyler’s sister.”

“Hi Barbara,” I said, dodging all the hisses and humphs from the line behind me, as I distracted her from her counting.

“Hi sweetie, look Josie ran back to the school to grab the tickets. She'll be here," Barbara paused, "soon."

Another whistle bounced off the bleachers.

“Was that fourth down?” asked a large man from the middle of the line. “I can’t tell. Can you tell?” I knew him as the man with the best brisket in town, owner of Mr. Bob’s Meat Market, Mr. Bob himself.

I squeezed my arms closer to my body, keeping the oranges from slipping.

I began, “Barbara, I’m here to help. See, I kinda have this weird, great memory thing. So, no need to wait for tickets or a stamp. I can remember who’s paid and who’s not. That-a-way all you have to worry about is collecting the money, which you're already a pro at.”

Barbara glanced at the line waiting for her, full of red faces, squinting eyes, and when not slouching, craning to get a view of the field.

“Oh I don’t know. Josie gave me strict orders. It’ll be best if we just wait for the tickets, sweetie,” Barbara said gently.

“I promise. I’m just as good as a ticket. And I’ve seen Tyler make a thousand touchdowns, so it’s alright if I miss a few if that's what you're worried about.”

Pretty Mrs. Riley walked down from the bleachers, her skirt swaying just slightly as she walked towards us. “Oh Barbara, ya know she’s right. She’s just as good as a ticket. I’ll swear by it. Go on. Let her do her thing.”

I blushed at Mrs. Riley’s words.

Barbara grunted, giving in. “Okay, then. You can stand over there, just opposite me. If I get in trouble missy," but she didn't finish her sentence, just let it hang there.

“Great idea. Good plan. I’ll have a good view of the people you let through,” I said. Then, I added with a little bit of cheek, “In exchange for my work, I’d like one adult ticket and two children’s tickets, please.”

Barbara sighed, “This money goes to the booster club to support this field and those boys.”

“Yeah. I know,” I said, but persisted.

“Fine,” she agreed.

I turned to Dad standing in line. I waved him over, “Dad, Han. Come on.”

Dad and Hannah slipped through the gate, and they hurried to the bleachers. They had boys to root for.

Due to my quiet nature and soft tone, Barbara announced to the long line of my role, “If you’ve already paid and have a ticket, please stand over here by this girl, uh, Tyler’s sister, as I'll be taking the money. She'll be keeping on eye on all of you."

As I hoped, five families wiggled out of line with tickets in hand. The line significantly shortened, and faces weren’t so red anymore, and eyes weren’t so narrowed. And best of all, Hannah, suspiciously without her jacket, ran back with details of the game.

“Third down. On the forty yard line. 0-0,” she yelled. Like me, she was quiet-natured and soft spoken, but Mr. Bob from Mr. Bob’s Meat Market replayed her words for those standing behind him.

As each face zoomed through the gates, as Barbara no longer fumbled with tickets, I remembered each one.

Some were cute and would turn to me, and say, “Now, remember this face. I’ll need a pee break around half time.”

Others simply rushed to their seats because they had boys to root for.

At the end of the game, I successfully stopped one man from entering the field. He had not paid, but said that he had. I knew he hadn’t because I knew him from the bank. Mr. Clarkson, the bank manager, was also my neighbor. If he had paid, I would have remembered. The snark.

I didn’t take pleasure in kicking out Mr. Clarkson. He eventually paid for a ticket and said with mimed quotation marks, “I’ll gladly pay for a ticket as a charity donation.”

My memory helped me win spelling bees, whizz through vocabulary tests, and ace history lessons. But my favorite benefit of a well practiced memory, well, I got to play bouncer at my brother’s football game when I was ten.

I had earned 5 dollars, three football tickets, and one of those big sour pickles. I wasn’t needed for any other home games, as Barbara somehow never forgot to bring an extra ring of tickets.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed my slightly exaggerated retelling of my first job. I definitely am still trying to live up to ten year old me's tenacity and initiative. Would love to hear about your first job experience!

Wishing you all brown bananas for your banana bread,