How grocery store Monopoly cost me my job
A tragedy in three game pieces
Game Piece 1: The Sweepstakes
Summer in Chicago is an exciting time: beach days, street festivals, and Jewel-Osco’s Monopoly-themed grocery sweepstakes. In my tenure as a grocery consumer, I’ve managed to win a small saucepan and a large fajita skillet I have used twice. But those wins didn’t come without some hard losses, one of which sticks out. One year, a grocery store sweepstakes cost me my job.
It was my second year playing Jewel Monopoly, and I was still bitter about not winning anything last year. The rules were the same. During the promotion period, for every 10 dollars a customer spends at her or his local Jewel-Osco, she or he receives a Monopoly game piece, which affixes to the complimentary game board. A customer can also score additional game pieces by purchasing certain promotional items each week. Prizes included free cars, Bahamian vacations, groceries for a year, and a nice selection of smaller hauls like a 50-buck gift card or $10 worth of groceries.
My boyfriend and I bought what was required to amass maximum game pieces. A free game piece for 5 bags of shredded cheese? We’re making lasagna. A free game piece for an 18-count egg carton? Bring on the frittata. We shopped only at Jewel. Groceries, hygiene products, cat food. We stopped eating out. Every dollar spent outside of Jewel was a dollar wasted in our mission to win Monopoloy. One of those 1,000s of prizes would be ours.
This year, we had a new approach. Instead of opening the game pieces as we earned them, we waited until the end of the contest. This way, any disappointment during the promotion period wouldn’t deter us from collecting as many as possible. I’m pretty sure this is how professional gamblers operate. On the day before the final contest deadline, we had over 300 unopened game pieces.
I spread them out on the bed and began the opening process: folding at the perforated edge, unfolding at the perforated edge, tearing, opening, assessing, and, when appropriate, affixing. Fold. Unfold. Tear. Open. Assess. Affix when appropriate. Two hours later, when the last game piece was opened, our future was revealed:
We. Won. Nothing.
Game Piece Two: The Photograph
We were pissed. I won’t say we deserved a free car or a month of free groceries, since it was a game of chance, but we certainly felt cheated. Why didn’t we win? Does anyone actually win? Was this a giant, corporate-sponsored, rigged game of Three Card Monty? Stewing in my disappointment, and surrounded by a pile of opened game pieces, an idea came to me.
There’s a sequence in the Oscar-winning film “American Beauty” where Kevin Spacey’s character imagines the young cheerleader next door with rose petals conveniently covering her NC-17 parts. The idea was to recreate this image. My bed would replace the ground. Jewel Monopoly game pieces would replace rose petals .My body would replace the pubescent girl next door.
I stripped down and positioned the game piece petals over my bathing suit areas. I coerced my boyfriend into standing on a chair at the foot of our bed. With fewer game pieces than I imagined, I relied on the game board itself to cover my netherest of regions. BF of the Year snapped a series of photos and asked if he could please stop.
Why was I doing this? Well, I thought it was funny. But something else was at play. Nine times out of ten, when I have an idea, I don’t act on it. It’s impractical, silly, or just plain dumb. My self-doubt demons appear to yell, “You’re not funny! This is stupid! You are stupid! We’re your Self-Doubt Demons.” So taking this picture changed from a silly idea to a symbolic one. Like Kevin Spacey’s character in “American Beauty,” I was taking action in my life to find my happiness. I am an artist! I will manifest my idea in reality!
With the photos to my liking, I made the strategic decision to wait to post them online. I thought up a clever caption that would let me post a few of the poses, and filtered them so I didn’t look too fat in any of them. I’ve always been incredible self-conscious about my body, which is probably why I’m prone to do things like this.
During their Monday morning commutes, my Facebook friends got a little taste of Zach Zimmerman’s pale flesh in their Newsfeed.
….scroll down to reveal
Piece III: The Fallout
“Got a minute?” my boss messaged me online.
I’ve been in the corporate world for a few years and I’m a bit of a catastrophizer, so I knew I was being fired. Hell, whenever I log onto my work computer and mistype my password a few times, I usually assume I’ve been immediately terminated, my password changed, and a man in a black Brooks Brothers suit is en route to escort me immediately out of the building. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect $200.
I began mentally packing up my desk, considering what files I’d want to save from my computer, and play-acting some tearful goodbyes to my colleagues. I checked my boss’ calendar to schedule time when I saw he had just come from a meeting with our HR director. The title of the meeting was “Zach Z.”
I doubted that I was being promoted.
I hopped on the phone, ready to be fired. For what, I had no idea. Budget cuts, board-mandated profitability, the hard truth that people only really work 50% of the time at any job? I wasn’t sure.
“Hey Zach, so we need to talk about your headshots.”
I laughed. Relief washed over me. That’s what this was about? I thought I was being fired.
“If a client were to see those, it might reflect poorly on the company.”
“So are you saying I need to take them down?” I asked.
“We’re not requiring you to do anything, you’re not being fired or threatened, but we’d prefer if you made your Facebook profile private.”
The short conversation ended, and I sat processing what had just happened.
At first, I laughed. The idea that co-workers and managers were spending working hours discussing a photo of me with grocery store game pieces over my privates was laughable:
“Alright, team, three points of discussion today: our sales figures are strong this quarter, we’ve got two major deals in the pipeline, and we saw a lot of Zach’s flesh on Facebook.”
After the humor of it faded away, I started to question their logic: how is my silky smooth skin a threat to the business? Is our relationship with clients so tenuous that a photo of my exposed nipples threatens their trust in our web development and hosting capabilities?
Then, I started to feel shame. Co-workers I wanted to take me seriously had seen me being goofy. My boss’ boss’ boss saw me nearly naked.
My approach to the corporate world up until that point had been to keep my work self and my “true” self separate. The former is smart and says the right thing in business meetings, the latter cracks jokes. This photo put the two in direct conflict, exposing (pun intended) my “true” self at work. Like Adam in Genesis, I became aware of my nakedness and filled with shame. Shame not for being naked, but shame for being a comedian, shame for creating, shame for trying to make people laugh with my ideas.
That day, I made my Facebook account private and started looking for a new job.
This photo cost me my job, not in that I was fired, but in that it revealed to me the gap between who I wanted to be and what the corporate world wanted from me. I still struggle with this gap — who I am from 9am-5pm and who I am from 8pm-2am, and how I can succeed in the former while striving for success in the latter? Can I have a brilliant idea about customer acquisition and also make a sex joke? Can I devise a consumer insight-driven marketing campaign and also talk about my butt?
I got a new job a few weeks later, and decided not to Facebook friend any of my new colleagues. Juggling the two halves of myself is easier when each hand is only juggling one ball. My boyfriend and I don’t play Jewel Monopoly anymore, either. He says we’re still cleaning game pieces out of nooks and crannies in our apartment.
But not those nooks and crannies.