20 August 2006

The Hobglobin's Working Meme

When I saw The Hobgoblin's (aka BikeProf) Working meme, I wondered if doing this wouldn't lead to getting dooced. But, since I worked until 5am this morning (I'm not complaining; work for the last several weeks has been planned around this event) and now my sleep cycle is totally screwed up, this somehow seemed an appropriate exercise in the middle of the night. Most of the jobs described here were jobs I had 10 or 20 years ago. (The first job was more like 30 years in round numbers, but we're not counting, right?) Nothing in this post is about my current job, but I could tell stories.... Couldn't we all about any job we've had? But those stories are always more fun to tell when there is distance.

Emily at Telecommuter Talk has referred to this as the Resumé meme. I think I would call it the non-Resumé meme as most of these would not appear any resumé I would give to a prospective employer!

1. What is the first job you ever had? I worked in a children's portrait studio at a department store. Originally hired just to sell portraits and frames, I begged my boss to teach me to operate the camera. I thought this job was so COOL and I loved getting little kids to smile for the camera. While all of my other friends were making minimum wage, which had just recently been raised to a whooping $1.65, I was making $3.55/hr. I was 16 and thought I had hit the BIG TIME with all of that cash. At 18, they gave me a company car(!) and I traveled throughout a 3-state area taking pictures. It was a job that taught me so much about working and corporate life. I worked for this company on & off for close to 10 years. At the time, I never would have dreamed that it would be decades before I would again earn something even comparable to most of my peers, but the journey hasn't been about how much money I earn.

2. What is the weirdest job you have ever had? I've worked in the restaurant industry before and this type of work, whether it's washing dishes, working the grill, serving food, or bartending, is pretty ordinary. But, one of my endeavors in food service gave me by far the weirdest job title I ever had: 'The Jello Girl'.

Yes, this was unofficial, but since the entire part-time staff had the title of 'student cafeteria worker', the supervisor of the dorm food service made up her own titles and the fulltime workers used them to refer to us. In fact, she wouldn't learn anyone's name, so you were only known by your position-related moniker. Odder still, since I didn't live in the dorm, all of the other students, while calling their friends by name, also called me The Jello Girl.

Why Jello Girl? Because I did salad & sandwich prep and was mostly responsible for making trays of Jello every morning before breakfast. Making industrial-sized servings of Jello is weird. (Did you ever see Soylent Green? We'd joke that's what we were making. Gross!) These were huge trays of Jello, left to set in the walk-in refridgerator because the trays wouldn't fit the regular industrial sized fridge. My instructions were to make it go further by diluting it with 30% more water.

After lunch, in addition to cubing the semi-congealed jello, I would take the leftover (unserved, thank goodness!) grilled cheese sandwiches and, after toasting them again, would cube them to make croutons for the salads. My evening duties? I would show up at the cafeteria at 4pm to serve juicy steaks, real mashed potatoes, and luscious, cooked to perfection vegetables to the football team in their private dining room. Of course they called me by the only name the heard -- "jello".

Then, following my nightly humiliating servitude to the football team, for 45 minutes, I was responsible for replenishing the salad & jello bar in the main dining room before being relieved of those duties by the "Senior Salad Girl". Carrying those trays out to the dining room was always a challenge because the jello would slosh so in the pan, the cubes having both melted and congealed into a more or less semi-solid state. And, despite the grotesqueness of the nearly liquid jello, it was usually one of the more popular items served. (See grilled cheese croutons above if you wonder why!)

After 2 quarters of this, my biology professor offered me a job cleaning iquana cages, autoclaving pipettes and flasks, and making the lab version of jello: agar. Better hours, no hassles from football players, and neither the professor or the iguanas ever called me 'jello girl'!

3. What is the shortest length of time you have had a job? 9 days. One summer while in college, I was a paid political canvasser for a lobbying organization, canvassing rural neighborhoods in the Midwest, seeking signatures for ballot initiatives, and, of course, monetary donations. You'd meet all kinds of people doing this. More than one person answered the door wearing only a towel. One woman told me she 'Wasn't interesting'. (What?) A man told me to move to California where the other crazy commies who loved Nixon and Carter lived. (What? What?) Another woman told me she'd have to check with her husband before signing anything and I should come back after he returned from the Klan meeting! (WTF? This was the Midwest in the late 70's, but ...WTF?) I've thought many times of using this as a tactic to get rid of insistent sales people at my front door, but I just can't.

I probably would have collected many more antidotes if I had stayed the entire summer. But, on Day 9, our little ragtag group of canvassers was dropped off in a very small, Norman Rockwell-like town, about 3 hours from where I lived, while the main group of canvassers went to a town in the next county. Having just returned from spending the semester abroad, I felt sort of like Kirk and Spock when they had beamed down to some primitive planet where their phasers didn't work and everyone noticed they were wearing doubleknit jumpsuits. We were greeted by the sheriff who informed us that they had a law prohibiting door-to-door sales, which he considered the same as asking for donations to some wacky (sort of), tree-hugging (not really), left-leaning (a little, but in a traditional, red-state/blue-state sort of way), political lobbying group. The manager said that this could be a legal test case and that someone would post bail for us before the weekend was over. We all decided that it was better to sit in the small town park while waiting for our ride and drink warm beer (which apparently wasn't illegal in this town) than to spend the night in jail. Any radical, "let's-fight-the-establishment, wish-I-could-have-protested -in-the-'60's" feeling vanished when thinking of the very real possibility of sitting in jail for the weekend with Barney Fife or, more likely, Boss Hogg, as my jailer. Since we didn't collect any money, we didn't get paid. I never went back, but I did continue to drink beer that summer -- cold beer!

4. What is the longest you have had a job? 3 years, 4 months. Then company was sold to another & I worked for the new company for 3 yrs, 3.5 months. So, together or separate, it's still the longest I've worked at one place. However, there was little that remained the same, except for the drab cubicles, during those 6.5 years. When I left, it didn't feel like the same place as when I started.

5. Have you ever worked more than one job at a time? Although I haven't for the last several years, for awhile it was rare when I didn't work at least 2 jobs. Most jobs worked concurrently was 6: (1) newspaper route planner, (2) researcher and typist for headhunter, (3) copyediting, proofreading, and page layout for a manufacturing company, (4) taught classes in how to use software at a business school, (5) adjunct writing instructor at a community college, and (6) publicist/marketer for a chiropractic practice. All allowed me the freedom to set my own hours and work at home so I didn't need to use costly day-care. During this same time, I edited a newsletter for a non-profit on a volunteer basis, which was more fun than all the other jobs combined. Working so many different jobs seemed like a good idea at the time, but I am skeptical of women who say that they can work at home and watch their kids at the same time. I think my life would have been less chaotic and my work more effective if I worked one full-time job. Still, I did get to be there for some wonderful moments with a toddler, such as watching in wonder the red ant/black ant battles on the patio. The work was, well, just work.

6. Have you ever been fired? Never fired or laid off until 2005. And then I was laid off from 2 different jobs within 6 months! The good part: the first lay-off was in the Spring and I took pictures every day of the trees sprouting leaves; the second was in the fall, so I could chronicle the leaves turning as well. There was a certain sort of comforting symmetry in that. One of these days I will do something with those pictures other than just store them on disk.

7. Have you ever walked out or quit a job? I had a job several years ago where tensions had been high for months. Everybody in the office was under enormous stress. Let me set the scene: I had scoped a project that should take 6 months with 3 professional resources but my boss told me I had one temporary employee, no additional funds and 6 weeks to complete. His boss (good cop/bad cop?) told me to ignore the timeline and see how far we could get in 6 months. After about 4 months of working 80-90+ hrs/week, I was leading a review meeting when the boss walks in 1/2 hr late, demanding to know what was going on with the project. Every time I started to explain the current progress, roadblocks and proposed solutions, he interrupted, demanding to know why I wouldn't answer his question. Then, before most of the organization's senior-level managers, he berated me for being so incompetent that I couldn't get the project done on time. I took a deep breath and made a split-second decision. I quietly told him that it if he didn't have any confidence in my abilities, he needed to find someone else to do the work. I handed him my project notebook, stood up, walked out of the conference room trying not to shake, went back to my desk and called the director saying I would be resigning. To this day, I've heard that this man claims that he fired me. Yet, I've been told that they were still trying to complete the project 2 years later, and I still have 'ok to rehire' in my personnel file at that company. This happened the day before the school year ended. I spent the summer having fun with my son, making up for those ridiculous hours where my son would sleep in a sleeping bag in my office so I could work. (Yes, that was totally whacked!) I started a new job the day he started school in the fall. It probably wasn't the best way to leave a job, and because I was single at the time, it was scary wondering how I would pay the bills, but I had a wonderful summer! I wish I could take a summer sabbatical every few years.

8. What was your most interesting or unusual job? As I think back on all of the jobs I've had, sadly, nothing stands out as that interesting or unusual. What I do just isn't that interesting, and is often viewed by others as part of some mysterious world with limited access, something that one must be really smart and/or really nerdy to be allowed entry into some sort of geek brotherhood. What has been interesting is that I've been able to work with people in a variety of fields and, purely by chance, not design, I've worked for several companies that involve science as part of their core business. Having studied literature and the arts, this has given me amazing exposure to an entire realm of thinking and knowledge that I would not have otherwise known about except in the most peripheral way. That said, the most interesting and usual things related to any job I've had -- whether it was working in a bar or in a Fortune 500 company -- have been the people. I don't think I could work for long in solitude.

And while it seems so cliche, the most interesting and challenging 'job' I've had has been parenting. As an acquaintance of mine, who like me was by choice a solitary parent, said not long ago, parenting leaves you so much poorer financially, but so much richer in every other way.

9. What is your ideal job? When I was a teen, I thought it would be so cool to have a talk show, where one could get paid to have interesting, intelligent conversations with people about books, films, art, and ideas. I wanted to be the younger, hipper, female Dick Cavett. The way talk shows are today in our celebrity-obsessed culture, I think this would be drudgery.

So an ideal job? One where I didn't need to work for money for food and rent, that involved interactions with other people, and somehow had a component that allowed me not only to 'teach' (probably in an non-traditional way), but also to learn. Several months ago, I inquired about being a docent at a museum. It isn't a paying job, but one that I think would be a blast! I was disappointed that they won't be taking applicants until 2007, which doesn't seem that far in the future now.

If you've made it this far, you're tagged.


BikeProf said...

Oh, you are in for it now: Jello girl + football team = googletrap for sure! You're going to disappoint a few net trawlers for sure. I like your answers, and your stories are great fun to read.

Dorothy W. said...

Wow -- great stories!

Emily Barton said...

What do you mean you haven't had an "unusal job?" You're the only Jello Girl I've ever known. Great answers all around.