I am told I am bright and have a pleasing personality. I am kind to animals. I bathe regularly and floss. The worst crime I've committed is jaywalking. And, yet, my employment history is as unstable as a bounce house in a hurricane.
The longest I've lasted at any job was three years. I credit my longevity to the fact that I worked at a diplomatic mission in which the majority of conversation was conducted in Urdu. The shortest time at a job? I suspect that was my stint behind a luncheonette counter. Apparently, I put too much chocolate ice cream in the milkshake machine and sprayed the patrons like I was Jackson Pollack. I was out of there in 45 minutes. No tip.
I blame my inability to hold down a job on my genes which are decidedly entrepreneurial. My grandparents, and I can only assume my ancestors stretching back to the Plague, were all self-employed. Tailors, shopkeepers and horse thieves. Or so I am told.
My first job, at the age of eight, was stocking candy in my grandparents' pharmacy. After the arduous task of making sure there were enough Hersheys, Dots, Almond Joys, Chunkies, Charms and Good & Plenty on display, I would retire to the soda fountain and spend the rest of the afternoon sucking up Cherry Cokes and reading cartoons in the Saturday Evening Post. Eventually, I graduated to operating the gargantuan National Cash Register and reading Vogue. The pay was generous and I could do no wrong. You could say, I had found my niche.
It was a cash business before credit cards and every night when he'd count up the day's take, my grandfather would say wistfully, "Sweetheart, it's only money."
Watching him put rubber bands around thick stacks of five, tens and twenties, I realized that being your own boss was the way to go. I knew this because my aunts and uncles worked in bleak factories and office buildings, chain-smoking their lives away for bosses who gave them Russell Stover Chocolates at Christmas.
In spite of this, I have had more jobs than a longshoreman and pride myself on quitting before being escorted to the door by armed guards. There's an art to "giving notice." Case in point, I once worked as an assistant to a film producer in Santa Monica. My job consisted of answering the phone in a glamorous office on the 21st floor of a building with a floor-to-ceiling ocean view. The producer had agoraphobia (fear of Los Angeles) and never left her Malibu home. If this sounds implausible, then you've never spent time in L.A., where reality is something you throw in a blender and hope it tastes good.
Given my anathema for servitude and my fondness for ocean views, it was a good gig. I spent my days stretched out on a white leather sofa, reading and watching videos. If I had wanted, I could've sublet the office to another company or opened up a brothel. My employer would never have known.
Everything was going well until an earthquake hit at 5 a.m. A big one. It sounded as if a subway was rumbling under my bed. Homes on my street lost entire walls, exposing their interiors like doll houses. Three hours later, my employer called.
"You need to go to the office and tell me what's going on," she said.
I knew what was going on. The ground was still trembling. Buildings were shuddering, roads were threatening to collapse.
"I can't go there," I said. "It's too dangerous."
"You have to go. It's your job," she snapped.
"Are you going?" I asked.
"No. It's too dangerous."
I was trapped in a Marx Brothers' routine of dubious outcome. Reluctantly, I drove to the office building and took the elevator up. The view was still splendid. Catalina Island shimmered on the horizon. Everything seemed to be in order. I called my boss as instructed.
"There's no visible damage," I said calmly.
Just then, the ocean view started to slowly tilt as if I was on listing ship. First, one way. Then the other. Then the overhead light fixture started to shake and rattle like a brass band.
"Holy crap!" I said. "I gotta get out of here!"
"WHY? What's happening?" screamed my boss.
I didn't answer. I was too busy scrambling out the door while the carpet undulated beneath my feet. There were a lot of things I was willing to do to earn my $12.50 per hour, but riding out an earthquake in a skyscraper wasn't one of them.
My boss was furious. But my ancestors were cheering me on.