I drink a little beer in the tavern
And sing a little bit of these workingman blues
In 1978 I had 12 jobs. That made the evening of April 14, 1979 a ball of confusion as I turned over couches and emptied drawers looking for all the W-2s. I found half of them; the funds I missed from my tax return would be enough in today’s money, even if compounded, to buy a hooded sweatshirt and a bag of corn chips from Wal-Mart.
12 jobs is a ton of interviewing, first day impressions, learning the lay of the lands and less than sentimental good-byes. I quit all of the jobs; I was not fired from any of them. I suspect though that my arrivals and departures were quickly forgotten. Such events in the realm of Menial America often go unnoticed except by the poor bastard who ends up with a little extra work for a day or two.
I started this odyssey as a copy machine attendant at the National Academy of Sciences and ended up as a rather inept DC cab driver. These two prestigious jobs bookended a series of other such low-level marvels: cemetery worker, landscaper, construction laborer and the like.
The NAS job was actually a better job than I had any reason to aspire to. I was benefitted and “home” as they say around the District where if you get a government job you’re suppose to stay for the 30 or so years required to get the pension(home). This position had me in windowless room with an armada of copy machines that were constantly flashing – ASK OPERATOR FOR ASSISTANCE. As the unlucky operator, I would fill paper, check toner and fix jams for the scientists and their assistants.
There were no moments of “the Einstein-a-rama, the theory-of-relativity-ster, making copies”: that brilliant bit came later or, I’m sure, some of that act would have been expected from me.
I was a prideful wretch who could not accept directions from anyone much less the folks there who I deemed, in my unchecked arrogance, to be helpless, petty and demanding. Even the machines pissed me off.
You see, I thought I was smarter than all of them.
I’m not about to do a travelogue of this dismal dozen. There was one standout among the heap. My favorite. The shortest tenure. The one that brought me the most pain. Delivery driver for a warehouse that serviced beauty salons.
The guy who hired me seemed so desperate for help that I took the job despite my twin aversions to driving and beauty shops. I felt sorry for him as he was swamped with orders and had trouble keeping a driver on board. I didn’t see the red flag. He started me the next day.
He gave me a list of 40 stops and some vague instructions and sent me on my way. As this was Northern Virginia these places were mostly located in malls and shopping centers congested with traffic. To find a spot to park the Dodge Maxi Van was a major task unto itself. After following some byzantine directions and winding my way through the labyrinths, I would roll my delivery into the shops.
The Smell. That smell! Cooked hair; that most foul of odors! The godawfullest stench brought me right back to my days in the foster home when neighbor Mrs. Lily Belle R and her hillbilly accent, would come over and she and Mrs. G would compare notes on their foster kids. One of Mrs. R’s kids was Danny so I was Big Danny and he was Little Danny and Oh! How I hated that whole scene. The memory overwhelmed me when I would roll in clueless with my boxes.
Then there were the men. At stop #5 as I stood in the evil vapors holding my breath and looking for somewhere to drop my delivery with the hope of a fast exit, a sharp effeminate male voice commanded me to “Put those boxes over there” and he pointed. I dropped the boxes and asked to use the phone to get directions to the next stop. “No!” and I was dismissed with a short, dramatic wave of his hand.
This didn’t sit too well with me. I determined after maybe stop #10, and a few more such encounters, that I was not cut out for the occupation. I decided to quit that day when I brought the van back. I struggled to make it through the route.
At hour 11 (I was paid for 8) and at stop #35 I crashed the maxi van while attempting to parallel park (those extra 3 feet of van was a bitch). I opted not to quit that day. I felt sorry for the guy back at the warehouse and that was compounded by denting his van. So I finished out the rest of the week.
I’m not particularly proud of this dubious accomplishment (the 12 jobs). I had a lot to learn. But, at least, I didn’t stay in any of those jobs and let my superior attitude simmer. I moved on. I didn’t stick around and boil in resentment like that jerk at Yale who killed a scientist and stuffed her body into a wall.
Those scientists earned their positions with long years of study and serious work. That hairdresser earned his clientele with great service and years of applied effort as well. Humans are often persnickety with each other and that is just a fact of life; education, brains and position are not involved.
Hard effort and deserved years in the service area of the economy will teach you that.