Friday, July 11, 2008

You Gotta Work.....

I've been mired in music once again this morning--what a way to spend your time! I've said it before: if any of the jobs I'd had when I was a working stiff had been like what I do most mornings now, I'd never have complained....I might still even be working.

I never really had any idea what I was going to do once the wombs of college and the Peace Corps finally said "good riddance" and set me out into the world on my own. I'd always had a vague idea about music (actually, it was the strongest idea I ever had, but even at that, it was vague), but when I finally got the chance to do it for real I found I enjoyed the acts of composing and performing, but I that was simply not riddled through with the requisite ambition to carry through on a career. The older I got, the more I wanted nothing more than financial security and somebody to share my life with; as a result, as late as my early thirties I found myself pretty much starting at zero and building a life from scratch (having blithely acquired absolutely nothing in the way of job skills in college). I fell into my first real Peace Corps staff job sheerly by happenstance, and if that had not occurred, God knows what I'd have ended up doing.

My parents required that I have some kind of job even before I was old enough to have a Social Security card. I was a paper boy with the now-defunct Washington Star, the afternoon paper, for about three years through high school. Every afternoon I'd come home from school to find the bundles of papers left at my doorstep by Mr. Pinson, my route manager. I'd change clothes, load up my canvas paper bag, and walk the neighborhood, putting the papers on everybody's front porch, if you please. If I'd had the temerity to simply toss the paper in the general direction of the driveway, as is routinely done now, I'd have never been paid by my customers. And the customers were in a prime position to give me feedback on my service, since every month I had to knock on their door myself and collect the money they owed. If they didn't like what I was doing, I heard directly about it. In retrospect it was great experience in learning now to deal with the public--oh, I could be quite charming! But in those three years I never saved any money. As soon as I had a wad of collected dollar bills in my pocket, I'd spend my share of it on records and chocolate cokes at the Drug Fair, leaving barely enough to pay Mr. Pinson for the papers.

Once I got my Social Security card, I was allowed to graduate to summer jobs only, and my first was at that self-same Drug Fair. During the summer between my junior and senior years, I was a "utility cashier" at one of their stores, subbing for regular staff who were on their summer vacations. My favorite assignment was working the checkstand at the store's exit because it was always busy and it was fun to chat with the customers as they made their purchases. Other assignments I had were behind the photo counter, where my supervisor caught me more than once going through pictures that had never been picked up (voyeurism was an early and delicious vice of mine), and behind the prescription counter, where I'd take and ring up orders, and chat with the pharmacist as he counted pills on his drug company-supplied plastic platform and push them into bottles with this metal putty knife-looking thing. It was at the Drug Fair where I heard this story from Lois, an older maiden lady who was a full-timer at the store: once while she was working behind the prescription counter a man came up and asked her for a pack of Trojans. "Cigarettes are down in the front of the store," she said. I've told that story for close to 50 years now. God bless Lois for that eternal chuckle.

When I started my senior year I also started a job with the venerable J.C. Penney store here in Arlington that I had been visiting with my mother since I was a little kid. During school I worked at nights--I can tell you from first-hand experience that there is nothing more boring than a department store on a rainy Tuesday night. When summer came, I switched to full-time and stayed at the job until just before I left for Kentucky and college. This budding gay boy was assigned the men's department. Could have been worse. I discovered I loved doing inseam measurements (and some of the customers seemed to enjoy them too...hmmm...). The early-morning store meetings were memorable for their unintended comedic content--even at the age of 17 I had an eye for satire and was only too willing to lampoon anybody I thought deserved it. The store manager was Mr. Selman. Yes, Selman. He'd ask each blue-haired department head to report on sales for the week, singling out the most successful for special praise. All this took place under the wall-sized protrait of old Jesus Christ Penney himself. It ended with Mr. Selman exhorting us all, "Remember, folks, show 'em, tell 'em, sell 'em!!" Off I'd go, in high hopes of measuring another couple of inseams.

I had one more summer job between my freshman and sophomore years at college: I went back to the Washington Star and became a substitute route manager for regular employees on vacation. For two weeks at a time, I was the paper boys' Mr. Pinson. That was a pretty good job. I was paid Teamsters wages, so I made a lot of money, I developed good muscles in my arms from driving those panel trucks that didn't have power steering, and I got to know a couple of areas of suburban Maryland--Kensington and Takoma Park--very well. And music was never far away in anything I ever did: I first heard the Beatles' "Hey, Jude," and Aretha's "Baby I Love You" on the radio as I drove the truck that summer.

After that summer I became more involved in life in Kentucky and more adept at spending my parents' money: I stayed in Kentucky the following summers and did some three credit-hour courses to make up for the mere 12 hours I started carrying during the regular school year. Oh, I shamelessly gamed the system--and had the time of my young life doing it. I may not have learned much about what I would do in life when I was in college, but I took giant steps towards learning who I was. Who can say that's wrong?

Anyway, my parents forgave me.

6 comments:

Zoey & Me said...

I'm just wondering if sometime between our blogs we might find that we crossed paths back in DC. I too delivered the Star, had a route in Mt Vernon, then a friend moved away and I picked up his Washington Post morning delivery which I did every day before heading off to school, twice the money. Then there was another afternoon paper called the News?? Can't remember. One summer I delivered both and mowed lawns. When I got my SS card I got my first real job as junior life guard at Little Hunting Creek Pool. It's privatized now. I went by it last year when I was up for a visit. And ya know, I also went by houses I delivered papers at and remembered who used to live in them. Especially the corner house on Kenyon Drive who had a beautiful red head daughter. She got me thinking about sex.

Ralph said...

Z&M, there's no doubt we trod very similar paths at least in some things. But you seem to have been much more of a jock thanI was--I'd never have dreamed of lifeguarding, at any age. And you were quite ambitious, with three paper routes (that's old Washington Daily News, the tabloid, you're trying to remember). The Sunday morning Star was enough for me. When I drove the truck, I'd actually get to the Star building to pick up papers around midnight and then work literally all night.

And you remind me that carnal stirrings did begin long before the Penney's job. There was the occasional interesting greeting when I knocked on a door or two to collect. Oh my.....

Zoey & Me said...

Two paper routes, I dropped the Star and did the Post and yup, Washington Daily News. Old people bought that rag for the puzzles. My other point being, if you are 62 and I'm 60 and I lived in NoVA from 1958 to 1987 (29 years) that's a long time. I mean every time you write something about doing whatever up there it mirrors some of my experiences. And yes, I loved swimming and Tennis and so became a Senior Life Guard at Rehobeth, Bethany, VA Beach, and Kitty Hawk and Ft Lauderdale beach, anywher Dusty Hennent had a concession. I worked every summer starting in my Junior HS year for him. Z &Me

Ralph said...

So our teenage time here coincided from 1958 to about 1967, when I stopped living here full time and then again when we were "adults" from about 1973, when I came back, to when you left in '87. That is a long time. I'll bet we did run into each other at least once. maybe you came through the Willston Drug Far or something.

BTW, I've had a recent report on that restaurant you liked so much, down at the marina on the river on the GW Parkway. It's recently under new management and is supposed to be excellent and reasonable. We'll be going there sometime soon I hope, and I'll give you a report.

Zoey & Me said...

Thank you, thank you, I would love to read what the new restaurant is like. If good, I'll buy you guys dinner there when I'm in town. I drank coffee and ate donuts in the parking lot my last morning in VA last November as I arrived too early to wait it out at old National Airport. So I pulled into the Marina and enjoyed talking to joggers coming by and feeling like a kid again. The guy who used to cook hamburgers and hot dogs in that restaurant back in the 60's was also named Ralph and back then, we called him "Raff" as I call you sometimes mostly in his memory. He was a short order cook for the White Tower on King Street before getting a better job cooking at the Marina. We knew his wife Mary and his three daughters, the oldest took the sailing course I taught. It was truly fun, growing up there, and frankly my fondest memories of life are in DC. That's why it's my vacation destination at least once every year. Let me know! Thanks again, Z & Me

Ralph said...

You're on. And I was wondering where "Raff" came from--although this name of mine does get batted around quite a bit. I'm glad I represent a good memory