O Lord, Thank You that You made me a writer and, I hope, a conduit of good stuff to my readers. But sometimes, on tough writing days like this, I wonder: OMG, maybe I should have been a plumber?
“What do you do?”
You’ve been asked this quintessential icebreaker a million times, right?
Has your answer made the questioner blink? Twice?
We Midwesterners like others to think we’re normal. Occasionally, I regale a cornered listener with tales of my jobs during college days. One summer, my brother and I cleaned our county’s 86 phone booths. We also cleaned telephone companies, creameries and lumberyards. I learned the value of hard work, fortitude, and singing high operatic scales while cleaning men’s restrooms.
I also worked as a nurse’s aide in a county home for patients like Glen, who pantomimed shooting the staff. I combed the grounds for booze James had smuggled in for resale purposes.
After that job, even a secretarial position in academia seemed tame.
Other workers push occupational limits too. Cleaning seems safe — but washing skyscraper windows? Ulp. Few adventure films feature dusting, but consider the heroism of a cling-to-the-scaffold IMAX screen maintenance guy.
I’d rather be a paper towel sniffer, paid $19,000-$52,000 per year.
According to Reader’s Digest, airplane repossessors make big bucks. However, considering some foreign governments’ possible displeasure, a million-dollar paycheck (and funeral) hold little appeal.
Nor do I aspire to be a lion keeper, snake milker, or caregiver to other dangerous animals — though my mom experience running children’s birthday parties would qualify me.
Those who prefer underwater excitement can work as divers, inspecting oil rigs. Or they can dive for pearls, establishing meaningful relationships with passing sharks.
I’d rather become a “Keeper of the Cup,” a Stanley Cup-sitter who accompanies the coveted hockey trophy wherever it goes.
Modeling appears an equally cushy job. However, consider the stresses of smiling for hours while starving. Even at my wedding, I, well-fed as always, grew tired of posing my pearly whites.
Wouldn’t we all like a career as a bed tester?
Some consider that snoozy job equivalent to my writing profession. I do spend hours in my PJs, as defined waistbands stifle creativity. When I’m parked in a comfy chair with my laptop, the necessary daydreaming (we writers call it brainstorming) sometimes morphs into nap-dreaming (subconscious research).
Like William Faulkner, I work when inspired. He claimed he was inspired at nine every morning. I am inspired anytime from 6 a.m. on — depending on deadlines — six days a week and, occasionally, seven.
I have experienced peril in my job, climbing a fire tower so I could write authentically about my characters’ acrophobia. I’ve spooked myself riding a nighttime ferry to an Ohio River pirate cave, experiencing terror my nineteenth-century heroine felt. I’ve even faced editors who couldn’t find a Starbucks.
Still, I’ll take this job and love it.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s the best job you’ve held? The worst?
Nostalgia washed over me. My father helped me get my first job at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant. Because the boss knew Dad — a charming southern gentleman in work coveralls — he hired me, sight unseen.
No wonder you don’t see many Howard Johnson’s restaurants anymore.
I learned more about human nature there than if I’d pursued a Ph.D. in psychology.
I also waitressed one summer in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The town’s welcoming sign read, “Kill your wife in Klamath Falls, the Murder Capital of the World.”
My mother helped me get this job — were my parents trying to tell me something?
I worked night shift, serving inebriated cowboys who wore the menus and pulled me onto their laps. Thank goodness for the 4:30 a.m. arrival of gentlemanly garbage guys!
I switched to janitorial work, often a solo job. Cleaning men’s rooms, I, a college music student, sang loud, high operatic scales. Few guys attempted to use the facilities with Madame Butterfly on the premises. My brother and I tidied lawyers’ offices whose open bottles of whiskey smelled like floor stripper. We also cleaned Klamath County’s 86 phone booths. We ate greasy hamburgers, laughed, sang and spent our best time together.
Then I worked at a nursing home, caring for Alex, an elderly schizophrenic with light-bulb eyes. I also met gentle 90-year-old Minnie, who daily fried imaginary chicken for imaginary threshers, and Freddie, once a dapper young stagecoach driver. I often ducked John, who thought I was an island girl during World War II.
Gradually, I became accustomed to Stan’s Bath Ceremony. Each line of his accompanying song began with a string of profanity in Bohemian, followed by:
“Take off da shoes. Dirrty, loussy, rrrotten, no-good VOOMAN!” He removed his shoes.
“Take off da socks. Dirrty, loussy, rrrotten, no-good VOOMAN!” He removed his socks.
“Take off da shirt. Dirrty, loussy, rrrotten, no-good VOOMAN!” He removed his shirt.
“AAAAAHHHHH!” This prelude to verse two was accompanied by a swing of his fist through the air. Once he donned a robe, though, Stan followed me docilely to the shower room.
My first permanent office job didn’t involve serving eggs to menu wearers or bathing Bohemians. Finally, I had arrived.
Within ten minutes I discovered summer jobs were only warm-ups for the real world. …
My daughter snare-drummed her fingers, bringing me out of my reverie. She repeated, as if I were mind-impaired: “Mom, how do you get a summer job?”
“Don’t worry, honey,” I assured her in my most motherly tone.
“I’ll help you find one.”
What was your most memorable summer job?