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By Lou Lou Taylor

One day while I was greedily sampling the olives stuffed with garlic, I noticed a "Help Wanted" sign. My pending MBA applications paid no heed to my piqued interest in exploring this position at my Haven of Happiness. Business school was a fixed variable; it symbolized one of many possibilities that I could explore. In the interim, I needed something that was going to give me the youth that Wall Street had so deviously stolen. A position as a cashier checker in an "upscale" grocery store seemed to be the perfect solution. It would not be too demanding and it would give me time to think about what direction I was heading in. Plus, they all wore adorable red and white checked farm girl shirts! Wearing that uniformed attire seemed like a more thrifty solution than enlisting in the nearby plastic surgery clinic. I pulled out my Cartier silver tipped pen and began filling out the application. Surprisingly, it proved to be more challenging than taking the MCATS. It tested my knowledge of vocabulary words that only people in the "working" class industry would be privy to. The term "minimum wage" had been archived in my 16-year-old memory. Common sense told my 24-year-old mind that I could not ask for my current Wall Street salary. I highly doubted that even the store manager made as much money as I did as a financial analyst! Not knowing what the ongoing rates were, I penned the term "negotiable". After all, I didn't want to lowball myself, even in the grocery industry. I confidently handed the application filled with numerous blanks to the manager on duty.

My knees actually became weak as the M.O.D. scrutinized my resume and grilled me on such questions as, "Why do you want to work in the grocery business?" and gun-fired a slew of hypothetical questions based on different customer scenarios. I tiptoed through his landmine of questions somewhat gracefully up until the point where he looked at me for a split second in familiar recognition. Beads of perspiration started to drip under my armpits as I anticipated him remembering me as the "difficult" customer.

"You're hired. When can you start?"

Telling my father about my career change, albeit temporary, was an extremely arduous task. I was trading in the well renowned golden bullhorns for a position requiring no college degree and not much brain power.

"Hey, but Daddy... I get a 20% discount off of groceries! ...And they're gourmet!"

It took me about three months to get comfortable in my surroundings at Briccani's. While learning the grocery codes wasn't rocket science, it required an extreme amount of memorization. There were so many types of fruits, vegetables and herbs that I was required to recognize. I never realized how many different types of lettuce exist! And, when I failed to identify it correctly, customers vengefully informed me. The store was infiltrated with many patronizing and rude customers that eagerly slewed their ball of displaced aggression at me. At times, the weight of their energy crumbled my morale, more so than any of the litigious times I experienced as an investment banker. On Wall Street, I defended myself with the shield of my intellect. The grocery store, however, was a much different playing field. My little red and white checked shirt gave me no credibility to the public eye. Some customers threw their money at me. Some women seethed with anger as I so graciously told them that the 12 oz. plastic cups were intended for purchasing food, not for the use of sampling. Little did they know what massive brain power existed behind this uniform!

But, amidst all of these rambunctious shortcomings of the grocery store, I was happy. For every four bitter customers I served, there was always one "golden apple" that inspired my day. The corners of my mouth were no longer drooping. They were now organically reaching for the sun. The bags under my eyes had disappeared. My wrinkles caused by stress were now replenished with the glow of serenity.

Being a minority at Briccani's gave me a much broader and colorful perspective on life. Jose, a cashier for five years, used to be a doctor in his home country of Ecuador. Luisa, the manager of the sushi bar, was an engineer in Mexico prior to arriving in New York City. Roberta the florist had no schooling, was single and worked as a waitress in a deli at night in order to put her four children through school. Although the English language posed a barrier at times to my co-workers' interaction with customers, their humanity recognized the tone of patronization. But rather than let their egos aggressively attack bad etiquette, they always remained humble and gracious. In fact, in the entire year that I worked at Briccani's, I never saw a single worker enter that store with a negative attitude. They had an effervescent resolve that was deeply rooted in their newfound American dream. There were no required reaffirmations to their intelligence, like my ego had craved. Unlike myself, there was no boasting of their previous successful backgrounds in their homelands. There was no stigma to one's educational background, if any at all. They were happy living in the moment and celebrating all that life has to give. No judgments made.

Looking back on my year at Briccani's, I realized that Wall Street had programmed my mind to think inside the small dimensioned box of numbers and high rollin' WASPs. Even while working at Briccani's, I realized that I had let my ego take center stage amongst my diverse co-workers. Ultimately, Briccani's became the catalyst for my "reborn" perspective on life. I left Briccani's after one year to seek a new adventure in my quest for understanding life. Much to my father's distress, I never enrolled in business school and never went back to reclaim my "golden bullhorns." For the past year, I have been a front desk agent at a hotel. Okay... so it's a five-star hotel! I guiltily admit that money will always lure me with its enticing glamour. But, I now live by this credence: people are just people. And everybody in my book is a V.I.P.

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