02 March 2006

All the Jobs I Never Loved

When I was in high school I baby sat. That's it. Just baby sat. For a lot of different people and only $0.75 an hour. The most outstanding memories I have were of the couple who had first adopted an adorable little boy named Ben. The father was from Vermont and the mother was the first person I'd ever known from further south than Connecticut. She was from Georgia and had a delightful southern accent. Just like in the movies. Anyway, they spoiled Ben rotten and loved him to death. Until he was about 4 or 5 years old. Then she got pregnant with a child of their own. And Ben got forgotten. It was heartbreaking. I'm also fairly certain that the dad was an alcoholic. My parents hated it when they called for me to babysit in the winter, because it was pretty likely that my dad was going to have to pull him out of the snowbank when he dropped me off at the end of the evening (usually after midnight). I almost always ate popcorn and watched "Love Boat" when I babysat at their house.

During the summers when I was in high school, I taught Red Cross swimming lessons and was a "life guard" (I use that term loosely) at the local swimming area at the local pond. And continued with baby sitting. I could walk to work and walk home on the dirt road. I was always given the problem children ... the children who didn't want to put their faces in the water!

Then some very rich folks moved to town for the summers and asked me to be their mother's helper. So I became the au pair for four children for three summers. I made good money and could still walk to and from work. And keep babysitting some evenings when I wanted to.

All of this and I still didn't need a driver's license!! By this time, I was in college and had started to work at my work study jobs there. I was one of the few really impoverished students at my very snotty private liberal-arts campus and so there were very few work-study jobs. I had one of them.

My first job was as an assistant in the Chemistry Lab. I got to put together the potions, I mean formulas, for the lab experiments and test the experiments to make sure they worked. That was a lot of fun. My boss was the guy in charge of the Lab and while he wasn't a professor, he had that typical absent-minded professorial mien. This was one of my favorite jobs, but when I came back to school my sophomore year, they had to give it to someone who was an actual science major and I was political science. It made sense, but I mourned the loss.

They gave me a job working as a waitress and short order cook in the campus snack bar.
It wasn't bad. I liked the short order cook part and learned how to make a mean grilled cheese and tuna. I had a circle of friends who worked there and we all slipped each other free food. Which was technically stealing, but we rationalized it at the time. It was, after all, mostly free Cokes.

During my sophomore year, I decided I needed to have a real job that summer. So I applied for a job as a counselor at a summer camp in the Berkshires. Oh the horrors. I was the head counselor for a cabin full of 8 year old Jewish girls from New York City. There were about 12 of them. Every single one of them had a better wardrobe then than I do now. I have only one good thing to say about that summer. One of my days off I took the bus to West Springfield, Mass to visit my grandmother and my favorite uncle was there too. He sat for a while and listened to me whine and cry about how miserable my life was. Then he said this, "When you get to the end of your life and you're writing the story, how many pages do you think you'll give this summer?" Which stopped me cold and did then and continues to give me perspective. Thanks, Uncle Ralph.

My junior year of college I spent at two different universities doing off-campus programs. I went to Drew University because they have a program where you study at the United Nations two days a week. That semester I got to work at a tiny little diner in Paramus, NJ as a waitress for a really crabby boss because my work-study money didn't transfer. But I also got to go to Simon & Garfunkel's reunion concert at Central Park so it kind of balanced out. And I had a suite mate that everyone else thought was my twin, but she was from Chile, so we both thought that was very funny. The second half of the year I was at American University here in DC and didn't have any job. It was the only time I was in college and didn't work. I didn't do much but schoolwork, but it was still fun because school involved going around to all of these foreign policy think tanks and interviewing high ranking people. I also volunteered at the American Society for International Justice and helped organize their moot court competition. That was a lot of fun, especially since the competition was held at the same time that my major paper was due. My research paper was about the viability of the Camp David Peace Accords.

That summer I was one of two paid interns in my senator's office here in Washington DC. I worked for Senator Robert T. Stafford, (R) of Vermont. Yes, I worked for a Republican. You heard it here first. But he wasn't a Republican like they are now.

Then I went back to my small private college for my senior year. Back to being a short order cook. Back to parochial, snotty small college blues.

Then I graduated and moved back to DC. My first job was as a canvasser for US Public Interest Research Group. I raised money to get this left wing Nader group off the ground. There was a core group of us who stuck with it through that summer and into the fall. Pounding the pavement and knocking on doors. I still hate knocking on doors ... even of people I know. Some stuck with this shorter and some longer and we hung together for a couple of years. One of our number went on to become a lobbyist for the NRA. Go figure. A regular feature of this job was Wednesday nights at Millie & Al's, a bar down at 18th and Columbia Road, NW. We'd have pizza with jalapeno peppers in the middle of them and drink beer peppered with shots of ouzo.

My next job, since I needed actual money to survive, was as a secretary at a construction company on Wisconsin Avenue. I rode my bicycle to work from Mt. Pleasant. I learned a lot at this job. Things like never use regular dish soap in a dishwasher. And, I should never eat candy bars in the middle of the afternoon because first I get really, really silly for a brief period of time, then I get really, really sleepy. The Vice President in charge of new construction smoked Captain Black in the white pack and sometimes I went out to purchase his tobacco for him. The scion of Donohoe worked in the department and besides being devastatingly handsome, he was one of the nicest people to work for ever. My supervisor dated his brother. That was weird. Our offices were in the basement of a hotel (Holiday Inn on Wisconsin Avenue). After learning good office skills and how to back up computers with back up disks the size of a cookie sheet, I left that job in under a year.

Then I finally landed the one and only job I ever had that .... "used my degree." I worked for an organization that administered educational grants to from the U.S. government to college students studying here from the Middle East. Woo hoo ... using my degree. I loved it. I used my tiny little bits of Arabic that I still remembered. Unfortunately I had two bosses. One I adored. One I could not get along with. There was no pleasing her. It didn't matter the subject, we did not see eye to eye. For every 10 things I did correctly, she could only see the 1 I did incorrectly. So, after two years, I decided to move along and take another career path.

Banking. That's right. I decided to try the corporate route. And go for corporate banking. So I got a job with a fairly prestigious bank as a secretary in the corporate banking department. One of my bosses was named Byrd. This person was a man. One of the other secretaries was a Jehovah's Witness. She was very nice, but totally unreliable because she was always getting sick and couldn't take full advantage of modern medicine. I felt badly for her children too because whenever there was a party in their classroom she phoned the school and made sure they got sent to the library or something else so they didn't participate in anything fun. It was here that I started to really learn about personal computers, decide that the corporate life was not for me, and that I wanted to go back to graduate school for a masters in Education.

While I was in graduate school, I temped. I had many assignments. There were a few that stand out in my memory. One was for a private institute. Those ladies sucked me into soap operas. They had lunch hours organized around the soap opera schedule so that someone was always taking lunch when a soap was happening, so that it could be watched and then reported on to everyone else. They watched the line-up on ABC. One of the ladies saved all her dimes, so did her husband. Together, one year, they saved enough dimes to repave their driveway. Another assignment was for a warranty organization. I had hardly any work to do. I did all my homework at work, including writing research papers. I was very open about this. They didn't care as long as I looked busy. Eventually they offered to make the job permanent. But I told them I was in graduate school, they needed to look for someone who wanted this job.

Then I had a seizure while we were out in Colorado. And my whole life changed. Mostly because some nasty uneducated lady at DMV in Manassas grabbed my drivers license from me when she shouldn't have. But ... there you have it. We were living in house we'd just bought out in the burbs where there was no public transportation and I had no drivers license. So ... I got seriously depressed. We almost declared bankruptcy. But somehow we made it through and I didn't commit suicide, even tho it was seriously considered more than once. I've since discovered that this was partially a side effect of getting used to the new drugs I was taking.

Then I did my student teaching. That was tons of fun. I love teaching. LOVE it. There is nothing that jazzes me more than teaching anyone, anything. Well ... except really little children. I don't do so well with little, little children unless I'm one on one with them. But boy oh boy, did I love being the classroom with those high school kids. Once I was allowed to drive again, I had a 1967 midnight blue Mustang and I loved life. I was doing some cool things with the kids and they were having fun learning. My mentor teacher loved me.

But it's very nearly impossible to get a job teaching social studies in this county unless you also coach football. So the next fall we tried to make it while I substitute taught. But ... we couldn't. So it was back to a place I'd worked for a short period of time while temping. A persian carpet auction house. Very shady. When you see ads in the Post for auctions selling stuff that has been released from customs ... don't believe a word of those ads. They are lies. I know because I've written those ads and placed them. I've worked the auctions. I've been a shill in the auctions. I've signed the insurance appraisal forms for persian carpets about which I know nothing. I lasted about 4 months here. I did nothing illegal but nothing that was terribly ethical either.

Back to the temp agency and I ended up in the HR department of a defense contractor in Tyson's Corner. Eventually here I ended up as a systems administrator of a resume processing system that ran on a UNIX processor in a Sun computer system. I learned how to write code in UNIX. I taught the rest of the HR department how to use the system and oversaw inputting/uploading/sorting/blah blah blah thousands of resumes that no one but no one ever used or wanted as anything but fodder to say "See what we can do." After about a year they did away with my position and ....

... I got the same job for a small subsidiary for a Ma Bell that put in phone systems overseas. This was a contract job. My contract lasted for exactly 3 months. At 4:50 p.m. on the day my contract should have been renewed I was told it wouldn't. I was not unhappy except that I wanted to tell them, not have them tell me.

Back to the temp agency for my last job. I ended up with the best job I ever had. I worked as a typist in the word processing pool at at a prison ministry. I loved that job. My boss was the best. We had a good relationship with the computer department and whenever they wanted to try out new software, I was their guinea pig. I always got to type up Chuck Colson's BreakPoints. It really was the best job ever (except for teaching). I had no worries. I just got there on time, did a good job and went home every day and they loved me and I loved them. But then I had LightGirl and all my priorities changed. So I stopped working ... at least for pay.

Ever since then I've worked really hard and not earned one red cent.


Blogger kate said...

Aaaahhhh... Toasted cheese and tuna melt...
Wow! You've done a lot of stuff. I always thought working through a temp agency would be a little wild. In that, "What the heck will they have me doing next" kind of way.
Thanks, lady. Interesting stuff.

3/02/2006 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

OK, wait one darn second... why didn't you tell me you went to Drew? I was there the semester Simon and Garfunkel had their reunion concert in Central Park! Which Suite were you in? My ex lived in the Suites, I was in New Dorm.

And how the heck did you end up in a Paramus diner??? That was one heck of a commute! I thought you didn't drive... BTW, which one was it? I spent a lot of time in Paramus diners because my ex grew up in Ridgewood.

This is just too freaky. First the banana seat bike... now this!

3/02/2006 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger ArborSam said...

I love this, just to hear all of this background. I gain so much perspective and respect. All of those different jobs and working your way through school, growing up in a rural area and moving (and thriving) to the big city. It shows you can do anything and all of those life experiences allow you to be the gracious person I know...you can empathize with people (or at least understand them) the Senators, the short order cooks, the stay at home Mom's working as hard(or harder) as they ever did before kids.To see people for what is inside, as opposed their employment of the moment. Asking what you do...the classic polite party question is pertinent but perhaps imperfectly insightful at best. In some way all of the jobs, roles we play are temporary and the wisdom of Uncle Ralph is simply beautiful. I always think about that guy working in the toll booth or some such "dead end " job...he's probably a recent emigre with a master's degree working his second such job to support his family till he can get a job for which he is truly qualified...assume nothing...respect everyone. Ok...I've said enough. Thank you again.

3/03/2006 01:25:00 AM  
Blogger aBhantiarna Solas said...

Wow, Liz!! Did you go to the concert? Drew provided a bus. That's how I went.

And now that you mention it ... the diner wasn't in Paramus, it was in Parsippany, which is right down the street from Drew ... and I could walk.

I have NO idea what dorm/suite I was in. I was only there for a semester. And all of the students who were in the UN program were in the same dorm. We took up a couple of floors, and there was an extra floor with regular Drew students in it ... but we all looked at one another funny.

3/03/2006 07:52:00 AM  

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