Props to Mrs. T for giving me something to do at this 3:45 in the morning when I cannot sleep because I am ripely pregnant and sleep is not available for the rotundosity of my belly. Aching hips accompany any sleeping position.
So I was tagged for a crummy job meme. I have worked some doozies. I started working when I was 15. When I was 15, I got my first job at a cookie shop in a discount mall. I easily burned 40 percent of all the cookies I baked, and I could not for the life of me figure out the cash register, and my coworker was positively exasperated with me for being waaaaay off every night on my till. It didn’t last long because I had to have my mom drive me to the job and back and she didn’t really even give me permission to get a job. Guess I had a bit of a ferocious independent streak, though not always well thought out.
After that I worked in one of my fondest memory jobs, the library, where I shelved books. All my friends studied there, it was very cool. But after a year I got bored and quit.
On to the weird jobs. The wierdest job I remember was being the person who dispatched people who delivered telephone books, “The Talking Yellow Pages”. Remember for a time it seemed like phone books reproduced wherever they were hidden and people were constantly coming up with all these phone books? I told the guys where to deliver at, it was a summer job. The memorable part was my boss. He had to have been about 6’8″, southern accent, about 350 lbs and always described places based on how close the were to food. He sweat profusely as he walked around the office, even though it wasn’t so hot because this was Seattle, and he had Marty Feldman eyes. Despite every reason to run screaming away from this guy, he was actually decent enough.
Another job I had was at this very hoity toity salon in Bellevue Washington at a very snobby sort of mall there in Bellevue. All the people were unbelievably plasticky, very superficial. One girl was very proud of herself for dumping Paul Mitchell’s son (he didn’t treat her nice) and another girl, at 25 tried to convince me that eye wrinkle cream was very important because “You have to start young!”. No matter how insane the salon was (I was making appointments for 90 different “artists”) we always had to asnwer the phone in the same even keel “Thankyou for calling Gene Juarez of Bellevue, my name is ___ how may I help you?” Nice and sloooooooooooooooow. Remember girls who enjoyed sounding sexy on the phone when they were 13 years old? This was a job skill here. This, gloriously, was the only job I was ever canned from. I was convinced I only ever got the job because I had naturally curly red hair at a time when Molly Ringwald was *hot*. I was always too much of an earth muffin to fit into an environment like this, but I needed the job desperately to make rent and a car payment. I was 19.
The other job that will win the award for the worst dress code, was at the gift shop of the Seattle Airport Hilton. It was a job that did many jobs at once. I cashiered for the restaurant, gift shop and took room service orders. I had to wear tan nylons, a polyester wrap around skirt and a shirt that had this little tie thingy in the front. My boss called me “poopsie”. People who work in hotels are tough. I remember the front desk clerks–one did not want to get in their way, they were ruthless. The cooks were likely to molest you in the alley after work and the morning waitresses, well they were just their own special tribe. Hardworking middle aged moms and grandmas who were getting a little too old to take their lives on a different path. Direct, no-nonsense and no time for being nice much, unless you were tipping. Both of these last two jobs, I mean who wouldn’t be depressed with these work scenarios daily? It was jobs like this that cemented in my head that I had to go to college.
Then in college, I worked the coffee industry. It felt like a step up. I moved to Portland, Oregon and at coffee people I took the bus 2 hours each way from Vancouver Washington to Lloyd Center. I became a “bean expert”. The Coffee People crowd was a step down from another major retailer of coffee, we were the red-headed stepsister with the piercings, dyed hair and tattoos. At one point they stuck me in a back room with a couple guys and my job was to count out tills, making sure they had $125. These guys were cro-magnon men in Birkenstocks. They made lewd jokes that I could have gotten them canned for if I hadn’t been on survival mode myself. I was ok leaving that job too.
Before I was hired at the pinnacle of all coffee retail, I worked for a short time in a small one man office which sold packaging and packaging equipment. I had just started college. The guy collected Jaguars and wanted to get himself a personalized license plate reading “Jag Stag” but decided against it when he considered how that would fare with the ladies. He wanted me to become a packaging salesperson too. I ran screaming away. The hardest part about this job was trying to keep myself busy. He had me full time but there was really only about 1/2 time worth of work. I was bored, and he got annoyed when I did homework. So for a bit there, I could have been a packaging salesperson. The dynamic with this guy in the office was weird, he alternately made fun of me and hit on me. Another job that compelled one to get through college, and stayed there just to make the rent. I was 21.
And the last stop was that large coffee retailer, where I stayed through thick and thin for about 5 years while I slogged through college. I worked with at least 1/3 of all the lesbians in Portland, got hit on by a few 45 year-old men, met at least 2 boyfriends there, got really good tips and worked in a fun, hip part of town.
The down sides were there aplenty, the coworker that sold weed over the counter, the lesbian boss who would make out with her gf in the backroom and ask us to leave so she could do this, the snarky managers that rotated through at mach speed, each needing to establish their bossness over you.
Overall, all I remember are the funny stories. The coworker who played Italian Opera cranked full blast to make people leave for the night. A hairy, squat coworker named Steve who after seeing the Greek God Aki sweep and mop without his shirt on decided he would do the same. We all howled STEVE PUT YOUR SHIRT BACK ON!!! Giving the nice people from the country a hot chocolate when they asked for a “grande expresso”. We didn’t mean to be mean, just were aiming to please. How many times I was burned by boiling hot coffee that I no longer screamed, only trembled a little.
Smelling like a cuppa joe every day after work, and of course that strange place I inhabited when I worked opening shift. The night owl who went to bed early at 1 AM after studying, arriving at 5 AM to open by 5:30, sleep deprived and held up by caffeine until 11 AM when all sanity seemed to leave and food and sleep deprived, I was a coffee automaton who couldn’t be asked to do much more than say “Room for cream?” or “Want whip on that nonfat mocha?” Milk, beans, espresso, pastries, coffee–just don’t ask me to think. Once talking to my brother in that twilight state he told me he couldn’t talk to me in my current state, I was giggling too much.
Luckily, they mostly allowed me to leave at around 9 AM to go to class, before I was utterly useless. Those were the days when food tasted the best, because I could barely afford it. I rode my bike through the city before the sun came up and flirted with any handsome young fellow to whom I served espresso. I was surprised when I left for Peace Corps, there were a couple fellows who seemed to be sad they hadn’t gathered the nerve to ask me out.
When I came back from Peace Corps, I still identified people around town by their drinks. “Oh there’s double tall nonfat latte crossing to go to Powell’s”, or seeing the grande extra dry nonfat cappuccino buying shoes. She seemed to take pleasure in how ridiculous her drink was –hard to make, expensive and mostly air. There were plenty of these ladies.
There is something about counter jobs, where the automaton stands behind the counter serving the general public. After five years there, one reaches a zen state where the goal is just to make it to the end of the shift with as little perturbance as possible. It’s like doing time.
I have gone on this long and I still haven’t even mentioned the fish house I worked at in grad school. I worked with a bunch of alcoholic waitstaff and a boss who told me that waiting tables was too hard for me, I was relegated to hostessing. I was 30, trilingual, pursuing a Master’s Degree and the manager insisted that the alcoholics who were current waitstaff were more capable than I. Ninety percent of them came in hung over to work almost daily. I was supposed to wear a khaki miniskirt. I managed to find one in November in this small town, but I washed it, it shrunk –it was demeaningly short. I opted to get in trouble for wearing my long, elegant black Nordstroms skirt instead. The depth of my indifference was profound. They fed me and paid rent, it was all that mattered, that and it would soon be over.
Recently J and I were tossing around what I might do to earn a little money while I was staying at home with kids. I look at the jobs that are on par with these jobs I held at certain points in my life and I don’t consider the option of going back, ever.
“You could throw newspapers,”
“I am not throwing newspapers,”
“What, are you too good for it? It pays well.”
“I have had enough unskilled labor jobs. I pay money every month still to pay off what I learned in college. I have years of teaching experience behind me, I may not be perfect, but I am not going back there, tossing newspapers.”
“A bit elitist,”
“Haven’t I earned the right to say no to a job I don’t want after all the schooling I have been through? I have worked every crummy job I was ever offered to get to a place where I don’t have to do them anymore. If I had to go back to working fish restaurants and being told waitressing was too hard for me, I can’t imagine the mental numbing I would have to put myself through. Suffice it to say, you would have a very grouchy wife.”
That was the end of the conversation.