Opportunities for Greatness, Averted

red-jell-o1-300x200At the Debutante Ball, we’re really into firsts. We’re first-time authors, you see. And the work we’re doing in the labor of our first novels is, while overwhelming at times, a labor of love.

If you’re lucky in life, maybe all the work you do is a labor of love. But most of us didn’t start out that way.

My first job, ever, was babysitting. Typical.

And then I had a very short stint as a table busser in a restaurant in my hometown. I would work a dinner shift on a Friday night and then my (patient) parents would pick me up and take me, recently changed into clothes without baked potato smeared down them, to the high school to catch the remainder of the football game and after-game dance. I smelled like prime rib. You’d think that would have attracted a dance partner, but no.

And then I worked as a cashier at a big box retailer in the next town. I remember very little about that job except that I worked with mostly adults and was entrusted far beyond my ability to count back change. I had to take a personality test to work there. I suspect that test is not a very good one, because I passed. I was not suited at all for retail. They wanted us to take a look at the customer’s ID and to call them by their first name. I couldn’t do it. I used their last names, which of course led to different problems, but at least seemed more respectful.

And then I worked at a short-lived amusement park out near the highway. All the kids at my school and the neighboring town’s school worked there, so it should have been a fun time. But I got stuck as the solo operator of a fry booth sitting forlorn on the midway. This time I smelled like corndogs and French fries. My friends came by on their breaks and tried to get free stuff out of me. The job was boring and paid badly, but I spent the time by myself writing stories.

(And in that way, the corn dog booth was far more successful as a day-job than some of the higher paying, higher-faluting jobs I’ve had since.)

The summer before college, I worked at a chain salad buffet restaurant. It had a uniform. This was my first encounter with a uniform, and I didn’t like it. They made me a cashier based on my vast experience (three months) at the big box store. I had to upsell. Hey, the chopped steak meal is only thirty cents more than the salad buffet by itself. I also had to scrape yesterday’s whipped cream product off the desserts and replace it with today’s whipped cream product.

Don’t order dessert.

The next summer I worked at factories—which sent me straight back to college with some perspective.

And in fact, most of these jobs—and the career ones that came after—have given me something valuable besides a paycheck. For writing, for life. I don’t have a uniform at my current place of employment, but you know what? I remember what it was like to wear one, and that’s something I’ve already put to use in my manuscript-in-progress. I won’t be going back to the retail or food-service mines to research this project, thanks to having to get my hands dirty all those years ago.

I mean—my hands were clean, y’all. I swear. It was the whipped cream that was iffy.

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

11 thoughts on “Opportunities for Greatness, Averted

  1. Did you have to sing happy birthday songs at any of the restaurants you worked at? I always feel so sorry for servers when they have to do that.

  2. There has got to be a story in the old amusement park out by the highway! Or is that too Scooby Doo?

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