I am fortunate that I enjoy my day job — I don't get that dreadful, sad, Sunday night Wonderful-World-of-Disney-is-on, that-means-the-weekend-is-over feeling I used to get when I was a kid. But every job I've had in the past hasn't been what you'd call a basket of fruit.
The very first employment I ever procured was in high school, making boxes in an old morgue, and it'd be a lot cooler were I to tell you we were making actual coffins, but we were not. I think the company I worked for just got this old morgue space for cheap. We were literally folding boxes, using old autopsy tables as surfaces, then plunking presentation materials inside the boxes, sealing them up and mailing them. This is one of those jobs that is likely obsolete today — probably everything I boxed up then is emailed or YouTubed now. I am the Pony Express of my time.
At any rate, I assure you, I was on the ground floor of this place, although not literally. The old morgue was about a block from the company's actual sort of glamorous real offices, and sometimes I had to schlep over there for something crucial, such as a Pepsi from the vending machine, and I remember having to step over sleeping homeless people to get there. An exciting tidbit that, had I actually shared it with my mother, would likely have rendered me without that $3.35 an hour summer job.
When I was in college, my father came to visit me on campus. It was late summer and I had to go for my semi-annual, absolutely awful visit to financial aid. If you did not need financial aid to get through college, consider yourself lucky. I warned my dad I would emerge from the meeting crying, and indeed I did. He was waiting for me outside the building as I sobbed, saying, as usual, they weren't going to give me enough and I didn't know what I was going to do.
"Screw them," said my dad, who'd dropped out of college. "Get in the car and come to Atlanta with me for awhile." So I did. And I applied for a job at a swanky restaurant.
A few mornings later, the phone rang. "You apply for job here?" someone asked with a heavy accent. "Oh, yes, I —" I tried to sound like I hadn't been awakened. "Be here by 10:00. Wear black pants and white shirt." Mr. Accent hung up.
Fortunately, it was the '80s and perfectly acceptable to be wearing a white shirt 700 sizes too big, as I showed up in my cigarette pants and my 6'4" dad's shirt. "You follow this girl," someone said, so I did. She'd worked there awhile, and barely noticed me as she wrote down the specials (they were fancy things this Michigan girl had never heard of, such as blackened this and that mahi mahi tuna thing). I was barely keeping up and decidedly terrified they were going to give me my own tables when something spilled, so I asked the kitchen for a rag. Someone threw one at me and shouted something in a foreign tongue.
"What'd he say?" I asked.
"Oh, he called you a whore in Arabic," someone answered.
It was about 10 minutes later that the girl I was following threw in her own towel. She quit in a huge rage, screaming at the hostess. I remember watching her out the window, nauseated, realizing I had to remember who had which blackened what and who had however many mahis.
That was my first and last day at that restaurant.
And in my 30s, I moved to California and immediately got a job editing horoscopes. It seemed like the perfect job for me, because I love all that psychic New Age vibe-y crap, and how much fun was it going to be to tell everyone this was the job I found in California?
They did my astrological chart before I even started. The owner of the company, a very old man who'd started the business in the late '60s, of course, had me come in on a Saturday for the second interview, which seemed a trifle strange to me.
"I had you come in on a weekend to see how dedicated you'd be," he said. Dedicated? To … editing horoscopes? Really?
"I'll need you Monday through Friday for however many hours I'll need you," he continued, "and then also three weekends out of the month."
Um, hello? There are only 12 signs in the zodiac. Were we inventing more?
I took the job anyway, because I am an idiot, and I was there approximately eleven thousand hours of work a day. There were no windows in the office and the entire staff was also there eleven thousand hours a day ... and they smoked ... and sighed. The carpeting was decorated with archers and crabs and virgins and twins and bulls, and every so often a fax would come in with someone needing an emergency astrological reading. People would stub out their sad cigarettes and attend to it.
When I quit that job, six days after I started, the very nice office manager told me things were dreadful there because the office was in its Saturn return. "Well," I said, "Saturn may be returning, but I'm not."
In the grand scheme of things, I've been lucky. Those were the dark spots in an otherwise pretty happy career. And by the way, "whore" in Arabic is "sharmuta." You're welcome.