My entry onto the career ladder was unremarkable, except that if not for my best friend Cindy, I may never have climbed on at all. After an outgoing and talkative childhood, I decided to clam up somewhere around junior high. My shyness was such that if I needed to make any appointments via telephone, I actually had to write a script so I wouldn’t melt into a puddle of fear when speaking with another human being. The weird thing was that face-to-face, I was just fine.
Anyway, after much begging on my part and some disgust on hers, I finally convinced Cindy to call around to see who was hiring. And we eventually hit the jackpot. Or stumbled across a bonanza, rather. Yes, my first gig was hostessing in a Bonanza ‘steak house.’ And I use the term ‘steak house’ loosely. I was really nothing more than an unglorified salad bar replenisher (cubed ham, frozen peas, smashed hard-boiled eggs) in nylons and a disgusting brown polyester skirt. In college, I kept running into a kid I worked with at Bonanza, and our greeting was always: “Hey, bonanza!”
Six months later, I was hired by KB Toys at the mall. I still remember my first night on the job: you want me to … straighten? (What the f^%* is ‘straightening?’) I was too shy to ask what that even meant, so I just kind of wandered around neatening the shelves. When my shift ended and my new boss told me I did a great job, I figured out that I’d been straightening all night long. I worked at KB on a part-time basis from my junior year in high school through my senior year in college, so it must have been fun. I know it wasn’t the pay that kept me there, as I regularly received $12 weekly checks during the off-season.
After graduating from high school, I got a job at a cheese factory (hey, I live in Wisconsin. How could I not?) and quit after three weeks to be temporary live-in help for a great aunt I’d never met in Alabama. For the month of August in Alabama. My home caregiving tasks for 87 year-old Aunt Rae included chauffeuring her to doctor appointments, doing the weekly shopping (which included bulk purchase of Depends undergarments), cooking, cleaning, laundry, fetching her ice water and breadsticks at 3 in the morning, rubbing lotion onto her pleated and puffy ankles on a nightly basis, pulling her up out of chairs and NOT laughing when she pooted, and listening to stories of life in old Chicago. I remember being hit on by a bag boy at the Eufaula grocery store, feeling so lonely that I gave him my phone number, and meeting him for a ‘date’ at the local park. We stood about twenty feet from one another and avoided eye contact and kind of talked and shuffled around.
I also met my biological father for the first time during that trip (we went bass fishing and golfing together), which is another blog post entirely.
I held a variety of gigs in college, from babysitting to waitressing (I too presided over dozens of ketchup marriages) to teaching in a medium-security men’s prison. I’ve written about that experience before, and it was actually one of my favorite jobs. I also spent two summers as a cocktail waitress in a resort town, regularly walking several blocks from the bar to my parked car at 3:30 in the morning with hundreds of dollars stuffed in my pockets.
This was before I worked in the prison.
I’ve held my current grant writing position for nearly ten years, and it’s been rewarding, for the most part. I can’t say that I count fiction writing as a job, because it feels way too fun to be ‘work.’ But I suppose it is, because I do work at it. So when I look at it like that, it’s truly the best job I ever had. I feel so lucky to be able to say that! Thanks for sharing the ride with me so far.