Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Many Hats

“Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.”

- Drew Carey

My first job, besides babysitting for $2 or $3 per hour was as a tutor when I was fourteen years old. At $8 per hour, it paid big bucks. I must’ve always had the teaching bug because I loved the job. Unfortunately, after two weeks I had to quit when my mother landed in a coma and I had to take care of my eight-year-old sister for the rest of the summer. Long story.

When I turned sixteen, I began my first on-the-books job, working as a cashier at a supermarket. I recall being jealous that our dinky market didn’t have scanners like the newer ones. At least I earned double-time on Sundays.

After two years, I got sick of it and quit. My husband, who was my friend at the time, convinced me to work with him at the carnival. “It’ll be fun,” he promised, failing to mention that he did setups and teardowns, so he rarely worked when I manned a booth. There was little to love about that job. I had to call people over to play games, and one of the games was rigged so I’d have to choose a winner every $100. Working in that booth made me feel guilty, but it was the only one where I was allowed to sit.

Since I didn’t have a car, I carpooled with my friend’s ex-girlfriend. At some point, I recall her seeming interested in him again. That didn’t sit well with me. Luckily, when she asked him out, he said no. At the time, I hoped it meant there was a chance he liked me*.

Sometimes I worked in the cotton candy booth. Let me tell you, there’s almost nothing worse than sitting in a claustrophobic, sweltering booth making cotton candy. By the end of the night, my clothes, hair, and eyelashes were blanketed in wisps of sugar.

When I started college, I got a job at an instrumental music store. I (obviously) sold instruments, scheduled lessons, asked for payment from “forgetful” parents, paid the impoverished teachers, and dealt with many music teacher DRAMAS. My favorite was when the piano teacher dated one twin (trumpet player), and then cheated on him with the other twin (also a trumpet player). That got awkward.

I worked at the music store through college. For credit, I interned for a U.S. Congressman in my senior year. This mostly meant answering the phones. Remember when Bill and Hillary Clinton tried to pass healthcare? Yeah, I answered those calls. Oh, and remember a little thing called “Don’t ask, don’t tell”? I took those calls too. Apparently, “Courtesy Constituent Work” means getting yelled at.

After graduation, my mother-in-law helped me get a job at a cheap clothing store as a manager-in-training. My hat’s off to people in retail because it is hard work. On my feet for many hours, dealing with rude people, tidying a store, managing employees, and watching out for shoplifters took its toll on me.

My cousin recommended me for the car insurance company she worked at. The interview took all day and included filling out a packet, taking a typing test, and being sequestered in a room with a phone that occasionally rang with people shouting at or trying to bribe me. I must’ve done well because I got the job. I won’t reveal the company’s name, but I will mention the representative may or may not be a British lizard.

While I figured out exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I worked full-time. I started off in “First Reports”, taking accident descriptions from people. My favorite part was when I’d ask people what state they lived in, people from Brooklyn and The Bronx would always answer, “Brooklyn” or “The Bronx” instead of New York.

From First Reports, I graduated to “No Fault”. This meant I paid medical bills and tried to keep from getting demoralized at all of the ambulance chasers who had their clients rack up large medical bills to prepare for lawsuits. It was always the same lawyers and doctors. I didn’t understand why it was allowed to continue. Then again, I worked at a fixed game at a carnival, so who was I to judge?

Two years later, I began a History graduate program full-time, so I switched to part-time. While in graduate school, I also worked as a teaching assistant for several classes. I loved having my own students, office hours, recitations, and papers to grade. Yes, even the papers to grade. There I stayed until we moved to Cambridge when my husband changed jobs.

The year before we moved, I student taught. Although I received no income and dipped into savings for fifteen-weeks, it was rewarding. I knew that I ‘d found what I was meant to be. But I didn’t look for a job, deciding to wait until my children were older. I only had one child then, but figured there’d soon be another.

We moved. I got a one-semester job as a teaching fellow for a Civil War course at Harvard. That was an awesome experience! The students behaved and did the workload of graduate students. After my mean-spirited, cutthroat History department in New York, the experience was a revelation. The professor, William Gienapp gave amazing lectures, had a stack of lesson plans for the fellows to use during our recitations, and took us to the Harvard Faculty Club once a week for meetings.

First, let me say that the Faculty Club is just like you’d imagine with couches, a lit fireplace and delicious food, and even in winter, had fresh, exotic fruit. I was pregnant with my second one then, so I looked forward to these meetings like no one else. Professor Gienapp wanted to know how our recitations went, made sure our grading was consistent, and even asked for our input.

The man was a huge Red Sox Fan and once said, “This will be our year, but we say that every year.” Just after the semester ended, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died shortly before the season of the Red Sox’s first victory in 86 years.

I took a year off after having my daughter. Then I worked as an assistant for years. I started off in the seventh-grade, but the position was cut a year later, so the principal moved me to the fifth-grade. Although they were younger than I wanted to teach, I loved the kids. And there I stayed until last year when I hadn’t found a full-time job and began subbing.

I’m at a crossroads, but I know I won’t be here forever. At some point, someone will pay me to teach full-time and to write.

How about you? What was your first job? Your weirdest job? Your worst job?

Don't be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves.

- Dale Carnegie

*To see how this turned out:


  1. You've had a lot of jobs! And you have a lot of education. Have you thought about applying at junior colleges for teaching jobs?

  2. Geh... Worked the salad salad station in a restaurant kitchen, try making a two hundred cherry tomato roses in 15 minutes with band of hellspawn waiters screaming at you for their orders and a chef screaming at them for not placing their orders (that joint had serious organizational issues)... Did the fancy restaurant serving thing, white jacket flambé the desert in front of the customers "Oh no, I NEVER drink alcohol! Could you take the alcohol out?" "I'm am afraid not madam. Would like for me to make this dish over without flambéing it?" "No, I want it flambéed, just without alcohol"...O_o ... Did the security person for empty warehouses thing, that was nice, got to walk around and read all I wanted... Gave some private classes, not much money but it was fun... Did some freelance work paid the bills... And then landed my current job that I've been doing for some time.

  3. Wow, you've been busy!

    I think my worst job was painting houses. Scraping paint is the worst! The weirdest? Can't think of a really weird one right now but I'll let you know!

  4. Wow what a journey! I feel badly that the professor didn't get to see the Red Sox win.

    My first job was at my mother's secretarial job. I pattered around the office other times on days off from school helping out and then got paid to do something specific for a summer in high school.

    I haven't really had any weird jobs.

  5. KarenG, without a PhD, I'd get paid very little for all of the responsibility. When in graduate school, some of my friends did that and they made less than they did as teaching assistants who sat in on lectures and ran recitations. The worst amount I heard for one college class was $1800.

    Alesa, you made me laugh! Flambe without alcohol would've been some trick. And 200 cherry tomato rosettes...

    Talli, scraping is the worst! I remember when I was young helping my father scrape off paper wallpaper. It took FOREVER.

    aLmYbNeNr, I felt bad for the professor too. Plus, he left behind a wife and ten-year-old son. I wish I'd gotten him to autograph one of the Abraham biographies he'd written.

    It sounds like your first job wasn't too bad.

  6. Ha, yeah that would have been a trick. Too bad you can't be snarky in a joint like that, otherwise I'd have offered to flambee it with gasoline...Guaranteed alcohol free.

  7. I'm laughing because I was going to mention lighter fluid in my comment to you. I guess some people don't realize that all of the booze cooks out when you flambe.

  8. This lady was clearly out to lunch... Out for dessert to be more specific. I rustled up a small gas torch used for Italian meringues and gave her her no booze flambee. Yeah, a boringly pedestrian ending. Sorry.

  9. wackiest job was an off broadway theater I worked at for a year and a half after college. I made $5/hour after taxes, NEVER received my paychecks on time and ran up credit card debt so that I could eat and buy groceries. Good times!

  10. I wasn't allowed work when I was young. As the oldest in the family, my job was to help at home. There was no pay, as it was expected. So Babysitting I guess.

    You have had an interesting and varied work life. Plenty of writting fodder there. :)

  11. Wow, I'm impressed with how much you've worked, and how hard you've worked too (from what it sounds like). I agree with Ann, you definitely have a variety of experiences to incorporate into your writing.

    My worst job was retail. I worked for a certain toy store that may or may not have a giraffe as its mascot (in the same manner you described your insurance job, hehe.) I was paid almost nothing, the hours were long, and the customers were so rude, I don't know I didn't cry every day.

    Subbing is, sadly, the best job I've ever had.

  12. My first job was scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins. I would sneak and eat the hot fudge right out of the heater... so sanitary. :) My worst job was working in a Best Buy as a merchandiser for a total of 2 weeks. It was DREADFULLY boring.

  13. Alesa, she got what she wanted. The customer always comes first!

    Kathleen, it doesn't get much worse than that! Working hard for little money that you didn't always get. I agree, good times!

    Ann, my grandmother was in charge of raising her ten siblings too. Not easy.

    I'm sure these jobs will make their way into my stories. I could write an entertaining post on the music store.

  14. Shelley, oh subbing is the best job you've ever had. Well, I'll admit subbing isn't the worst job I've ever had.

    Ah, the toy store with that spotted animal with the long neck. My mother-in-law may or may not have worked there as well. And she may have quit because after the rush of Christmas it didn't get much easier.

    Halpey1, working at Baskin Robbins must be dangerous. I would've been tempted to do the same thing with caramel. When my father was a teenager, he worked in an ice cream shop.

  15. Hi! I've been substitute teaching for about eight months, and I (and a friend/fellow substitute) decided this week that we'd like to start blogging about our various subbing shenanigans. I found your blog this afternoon and I already love it to death - I can relate to so many of your experiences! So I've added myself as a blog-follower if you don't mind, and of course if you ever have a spare second we'd love it if you'd check ours as well. :)

  16. At various points I have been a waitress. That job is not and never has been meant for me. :)

  17. Oh Wow.

    You've ran the whole gamut of jobs there - how wonderful!!!! I particularly like the cotton candy making job! Good grief. That's just brilliant!

    I'm quite boring compared to you. Two weeks as a cashier in Tesco when I was 15 and two weeks at a cafe for a friend when I was 16. Then uni then this job sector where I've been ever since! Even my Sunday job is in academia.

    Gosh. I love your job experiences!! They're amazing and such fodder for story ideas too - particularly that period where you and your future hubby were still friends...


    Well done you!

    Take care

  18. Rosy and Charlotte, I love sub blogs because they are full of shenanigans. I follow a few myself. I'll definitely check out your blog. Thanks for following!

    Sarahjayne, I would be the worst waitress. I'd get overwhelmed when it got busy and mix up orders. And how do people memorize the orders? I'd break a lot of glasses too. Because I know it's a lousy job, I try to tip well.

    Old Kitty, cashier is pretty standard while we're in school, I think. As you can see, I didn't have much to share about that either. Once the power went out and we had to total by calculator. That was a pain!

    I guess I've been in academia for the most part too.

  19. Wow - you have worked a LOT of jobs! I'm a teacher and love my job :)

    One of my weird jobs was working at a food shack in the middle of a golf course. Our big sellers were hotdogs we had to boil up - at a guess as to when people would want them. Drove me nuts!

  20. You sure have worked a lot of places! So much experience must be great for your writing.

    I love the quote for this blog!

  21. I agree - I'm sure you could use a lot of those memories for great fodder for stories ;)

  22. I'm still laughing at the quote!!! How flippin funny!

    I have had a lot of jobs and I wouldn't change them for the world, each one of them brought me to where I am today. In fact if I got rid of the one I hated the most I wouldn't have met my husband, can't get rid of that now can we!

  23. Jemi, a food shack where you boil hot dogs in the middle of a golf course does sound like a bad job!

    I'm glad you get to do what you love now.

    Tiffany, the quote made me laugh. I wish you shared your jobs, since you have three of them right now!

    Jaydee, thanks!

    Jen, if you met your husband then a bad job isn't such a bad job.

  24. Fascinating! I loved reading about your job history!

    Carnival games rigged? I KNEW it! which one was it? (We're about to embark on carnival season and with three kids, they can't be avoided)

    My first real job (not babysitting) was at McDonalds. They wanted me to go into management, but I didn't want to get stuck there. It's not a bad deal if you can get your own store, but I didn't want to devote my life to fast food!

    After that I became an administrative assistant and I'm still there. I've worked for a travel & broadcasting school, law office, cookie company, software company, and an investment management firm. Kinda diverse.

  25. You have worn a lot of hats, haven't you? My first job was babysitting, I can't remember any weird ones, the worst was probably my first job out of college - working as an electrical engineer for an oil company for one year. By the end of the year, I still had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. Lucky for them I got married and had to move away!

  26. I've been working since I was 11 in every job imaginable. I'd have to say my weirdest job was working as an assistant to a Jewish matchmaker. I loved it.

    I also love the Faculty Club. Nothing made me feel quite as "Harvard-y" as when I had a drink or bite to eat there.

  27. I think what KarenG said about how you had a lot of jobs and a lot of education was definitely true; I think that any job, no matter how good or bad it is, is definitely a learning experience.

    As a graduate student, I have to work several jobs in order to support myself. I am grateful that I get to teach at different schools, but I do wish that I could just focus on one job or even just on my graduate work without having to struggle to make time for everything.

  28. So, the games are rigged. I love when my suspicions are confirmed.

  29. Working the nightshift as a commerical cleaner for the City Council offices. Four hours scrubbing toilets, urinals and showers, then the next four hours washing their desks and dusting. You wouldn't believe the disgusting messes white-collar workers make in the toilets. If I had my way I would have rubbed their noses in it!!!!!

  30. ps We call cotton candy 'candy floss' here :o)

  31. Miss V, it was five-pin bowling. All of the other games weren't rigged. So shoot the clown in the mouth, dart to balloon, ring toss, and the rest are fine. Have fun!

    I don't think I'd like working at a fast food place. The smell would get to me. You have worked in a lot of different places!

    Susan, you made me laugh. An electrical engineer that doesn't know what she's supposed to be dong? That can't be good.

    Rebecca, an assistant to a Jewish matchmaker? You have to write a short story!

    I'm so glad a reader commented on the Faculty Club. I think they've recently closed it for good because people got sick. I

  32. Neurotic Workaholic, I had the same torn feeling when I was in graduate school. The insurance company took big demands on my time. I couldn't dip below 15 hours, and at some point they made it 20. I still had to read a book a class per week, and most of them were BIG books. And my teaching assistant duties kept me busy too. Then I got pregnant, which just added to the fun.

    At some point, you finally graduate!

    Missed Periods, just one. See my above comment to Miss V.

    Niki, when was a supermarket cashier, I periodically cleaned toilets too. Horrid. You made me laugh about wanting to rub their noses in it. How can people be so messy? How?

    I can believe you call it candy floss because making it made me feel covered in candy "floss".

  33. First for me was the graveyard shift at Steak N Shake. Not fun, but it did bring in money for that summer. During college I got the sports photographs for my school's paper, and did some event photography for the school (which I still do). I also worked at a preschool/daycare thing around my school in the after school program.

    And now I sub. I like that.

  34. Chris, graveyard shifts must be the worst. I love the name "Steak N Shake".

    It's good that you like what you're doing.

  35. My first job to help pay the university bills was for a fertilizer company on delivery. Back then it involved a good deal of lifting of 50 pound bags.

  36. I was a cashier at Hannaford's and I hated it! I used to scan all the food as fast as I could and not pay attention to anything. I bet I charged everyone for wrong produce and taxed the wrong bakery items.

    And then I worked at Fashion Bug, which was way more fun, but I only made $40 a day and then spent it on clothes at Fashion Bug!

    The worst job I've had was a telephone survey caller. Everyone got so mad at me I started using a different name so I wouldn't be tracked down later.

  37. Paul C, lifting 50 pound bags must've kept you nice and fit!

    Aubrie, Fashion Bug is similar to the clothing store I worked in, but I the quality of your clothes were probably one or two notches up.

    I feel for telephone survey callers. That's must've been the worst!

  38. Wow. You've had so many jobs. I enjoyed reading your post. Looks like the whole work thing's gonna be hard.
    BTW, I am unemployed. I am a student... hehe
    Have an awesome day!:)

  39. When I had my bookstore, a young customer once remarked after I had told him of some of my jobs, "Gee, Mr. Roland, you've been everything but a pirate."

    I didn't tell him that during my university days, I had worked for a tax preparation firm, so I guess I've even been a pirate -- for the government.

    May the right job opportunity open up for you in such a way that you know it is the one to take. Roland

  40. Mr. Stupid, I hate to break it to you, but this whole work thing is a drag. Why people don't pay us to blog, I have no idea.

    Roland, at least by being that kind of pirate, you're more likely to keep your teeth and less likely to come down with scurvy.

    Thanks for your last line.

  41. I quess I always wanted to work with children in some from so I have always had varies jobs working with kids.

  42. Choices, it's good to know what you like and to stick with it.

  43. Wow Theresa, you have had a lot of jobs my sweet friend. I worked in retail my first four months as a teacher assistant....and made double what I later made as a teacher. But, like you, I loved kids and knew teaching was what I wanted to do....and I have been doing it ever since!!

  44. VKT, if I'd stayed at the insurance company, I could've become an upper level supervisor or maybe even manager, but it wasn't for me.

  45. You've had some interesting jobs! Your Harvard one sounded amazing.

  46. Lani, it was a great experience. I wish they'd had opportunities more often. It was an odd year they didn't have enough Harvard graduate students to fill the positions.

  47. When I get asked that question (since I've never had an actual job) I always end up thinking of this episode of NCIS where McGee and Abby are comparing old summer jobs.

    He's telling her he worked at a factory picking burnt potatoe chips off a conveyor belt and she's not believing him. 'Have you ever seen a burnt potatoe chip?' He asks. To that she has no answer.

  48. Brooke, that sounds like a summer job. Quality control must be boring.