Saturday, October 27, 2012

On The Job

"Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho, it's off to work I go..."
~The Seven Dwarves
I got my first job when I was sixteen.  I'm fifty-one years old now and I'm working on job number eleven.  
This week, I decided to list all the jobs I've had in my life and figure out how long I had each one.  This is what I came up with: 
Jewelry Store - Five years.
Antique Mart - about 6 months.
Jewelry Store (again) - Two or three months.
Call Center - 1 day.
Gas Station - About two years.
Paper tube factory - A year.
Car Rental office - 1 day. 
7-11 Graveyard Clerk - About three years.
Film Distribution Library - Four years or so.
Legal Photocopy Service (1st Company) - Three and a half years.
Legal Photocopy Service (2nd Company) - Eighteen years (and counting).
I was a little bit surprised when I looked at the list.  I would have told you, before writing it up, that I was a pretty steady employee.  Once I took a job I held on it it.  When I do the math, though, it comes up to an average of three years and a couple weeks per job.  That doesn't sound like a long time to me, but then I was raised in a different era.  
You also might think that I found my "calling" when I got into the legal photocopy field.  Over twenty-one of my thirty-three years of my working life has been spent in that field.  After bouncing around from one job to the next, it would seem I finally found the job I was meant to do.  
I don't think that's the case, though.  I can say that because I know how I came into the field.  Actually, you can divide my jobs into three categories:   
"Career Opportunities are the ones that never knock,
Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock."
~Career Opportunities by The Clash
"Now that you got your license and can drive, I think it's about time you started looking for a job for yourself."  
That's how it happened.  My dad just came up to me while I was sitting in the living room of our home and said it just like that.  
He went on to explain to me that I wasn't going to get an allowance any more.  Nor was he going to pay for the gas I used in the car when I borrowed it.  I was going to have to get my own car to drive myself around, but he would hold off making me buy one until I got a job and saved some money (Thanks, Dad).  
AND...  He took particular care to emphasize this point, he wasn't going to make me pay any rent for the room I slept in as long as I was in school working for a diploma, a training certificate or a degree.  "I'll do that much for you," he said.  
Suddenly I was a stranger in my own home.  Not even "my home," any more. I was just staying there.  I nodded.  I said, "Yes, sir."  He walked out of the living room.  I sat there, thinking how much I hated worked, even though I had yet to be employed a day in my life.
The first set of jobs I had, the Jewelry Store, the Antique Mart, the Call Center and the Gas Station, were purely mercenary experiences.  I needed money.  I needed to get my dad off my back.  I found people that would hire me while working around my school hours.  That's all they were for me.  Plain and simple.  
The most fun job was the Jewelry store.  I found it through a notice board they had at the high school I went to.  I went to a Catholic school and the owner, raised Catholic, posted a job notice at his church's community board, which got forwarded to my high school by a priest that worked at that church.  
One reason I liked the job was because, on Saturday, when I worked a full eight hours, I got to drive into downtown Los Angeles.  I would go to pick up the supplies the jeweler needed, including precious gems, gold, pearls and what have you.  It wasn't lost on me, even then, that I was snotty-nosed teenager carrying around tens of thousands of dollars in the pouch they gave me on my shoulder through the downtown streets of one of the biggest cities in the U.S.  I probably looked like I didn't have more than a couple bucks in my pocket, which was why I was never stopped by any potential criminal.  
It was cool, though.  I'd walk into these secure buildings, something I didn't know existed in those pre-9/11 days.  The first time I went, ever security guard behind his glass enclosure called my boss to verify, "THIS is who you're sending?"  After that, they'd recognize me and buzz me through.  Even after that, though, I'd get watched by cameras, buzzed in through doors and watched closely by guards with guns.  I felt like some top-secret government agent, carrying plans for global domination.  
Plus, there was this restaurant in the basement of Woolworth's, when it existed, that gave you free vanilla custard for desert when you ordered their soup and sandwich plate for lunch.  It was awesome custard.  
The second thing that made it cool was the jeweler teaching me how to make and repair rings and chains and stuff.  I have no interest in jewelry, not then nor now.  But I was fascinated by how the gold would melt and run into the groves of a chain, making it look like it hadn't been broken, when you touched the flame of the torch to it just so.  It looked alive in that moment.  Like an alien bacteria melding itself to your body.  
Eventually, though, I started wanting more than just money from work.  It was during this time that I decided I wanted to become a writer of science fiction.  When I got into college I took acting classes to learn how to create better characters and got hooked by theatre.  The type of job I needed to have, which still included getting me enough money to pay for what needed paying for, changed.  
"Just because they sign my check
That don't mean they own my soul..."
~A Good Life, by Joe Grushecky
When you're trying to become an actor, you need your days free.  You have to take classes during the day.  It's also when they have auditions.  You need to be free at that time, or have a job where your hours are flexible (the reason why so many waiters in L.A. are aspiring actors).  
The problem with this from a getting money standpoint is that jobs with this type of flexibility often pay very, very little.  You can find yourself working hours when very few people are up and awake, and the ones that are either expecting you to serve them and let them continue having fun, or get on their way home, or their expecting you to hold up your hands, open the cash drawer and not call the police as they run out the door.  
The 7-11 I worked in was that type of place.  It was the first "real" job I had after getting back to California after spending a year in North Carolina (you can read about how I ended up in North Carolina in my eight part Road Trip series I posted at the beginning of this year).  
I actually enjoyed working at the 7-11, even though while I was working there David Letterman put it on his Top Ten List of Least Sexy Jobs in America.  I can't tell you how many friends called me to tell me they'd seen that list.  Glad the internet didn't exist then.  It paid better than working there during the day (because you had to pay more to get someone to stick around from 11 PM to 7 AM, and because we had so few people working the store I often got overtime and even double-time covering shifts), and it let me take acting classes and go out to auditions.  
There was a dangerous side to it.  I was assaulted once (some guys who wanted beer after 2 AM, when it's illegal to sell it.  I got a can of soda thrown in my face), and I had someone rob me of the contents of the cash drawer with what he said was a gun in his pocket (I tried to foil the robbery by faking a heart attack.  Did I mention that before?).  But it paid enough to live on and let me pursue my dream.  
But dreams change.  And so do needs.  My acting career, such as it was, was not getting me anywhere close to what I wanted it to be.  And I was wanting to live more in keeping with my age.  During this time it seemed to me that I was always living a step behind where I was in life.  In college, I was living like a High School student, in my parent's home, getting part-time jobs.  After I graduated, I started living like a college student, with a roommate in a cheap apartment, driving used cars, working odd hours.  I wanted to start living "more like an adult."  
"Now, all of my paychecks aren't worth
The paper they're printed on.
I get 'em Friday,
By Monday, they're all gone."
~I wanna Be the Boss, by Stan Ridgeway.
I'm in the Third Age of my Employment history.  
Work is what it is.  It's something I need to have.  In these times, it's something I'm glad I have.  
Most of the people I know in my life I've met through work.  This strikes me as odd, but it's true.  Colleagues, past and present, greatly outnumber family and friends, past and present.  I think people meet a wider variety of people through work than anyplace outside of their local DMV.  
Many of the people I've met at work have been used as the basis for characters I've written about in my stories.  I'll let you guess who you might be if you've read anything of mine.  
I was once told that a surefire way of coming up with the idea for a science fiction story was to take what you do for a living and imagine how it would be done 50 or 100 years in the future.  I've written stories about trying to serve a subpoena in outer space, and how going through hyperspace might legally make you dead based on that premise.  They haven't sold yet, but I still write them.  
I have a love/hate relationship with work.  I'm good at what I do, but I often feel like I'm fooling my bosses and colleagues into thinking I'm better than I actual am.  I feel needed on the job, but I know that no one is irreplaceable, and a change of events, or a slip of the tongue, can put me on the street.  I don't "like" being in the office, but I hate the idea of not having a job even more.  
I'm writing this blog entry in my office on a Saturday.  I came into the office to finish up stuff left undone from the week.  I'm doing this more and more often as time goes on.  I discovered when I got here that the system's database was unavailable, and there was nothing for me to do.  
Which is worse, feeling the need to work on your day off, or finding out that you can't do what you came to do when you get here?  I think it's the later, but not by much.  But even knowing that, I would do it again next week if I needed to.  
I'm "Taking Care of Business," just like B.T.O. 


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