“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: