Menial jobs of days gone by

*Tag*–I’m tagging myself and my readers, since I haven’t seen one of these in a while (soon-young, I was partly inspired by the thing you sent me, which I’ll send back to you. This post was also partly inspired by the book I spent 5 hours reading today, The Origins of the Urban Crisis. Not to say that the following were the worst jobs ever, just that I started thinking about weird jobs I’ve had in the past . . . ok, I will shut up now and proceed with the list.)
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Five Odd Jobs I’ve Had (or Five Reasons Why Grad School is Going To Be SO Worth It): (and they were all in the Kansas City area–go figure!!)

1. Coffee barista at a large mall in suburban Kansas–This was the first “real” job I ever had in high school. It was owned by a mother-daughter team, both with gray hair, both single. I somehow got the job because they were family friends of our neighbors in our cookie-cutter Overland Park subdivision. The mother used to stand behind the counter on slow nights and chain-smoke, giving me life advice in her raspy voice. The inside of the store sold whole bean coffee and loads of crap (baskets, cups, teas, etc.), while there was a drink cart on the outside. I was often relegated to the drink cart, where I had to explain over and over how our cappuccinos were not like the ones at Quick Trip. The upside was that I got all the caffeine I could consume for free, which came in handy back in those days when I was an overachiever in school. I was a pretty crabby barista, and on more than one occasion, customers complained about me. 😉 One of my co-workers also ended up being my date for my senior prom. But he was a last resort (all-girl high school), and I asked him not to say anything to our other co-workers about our date. I have this overwhelming feeling that he came out of the closet after our coffee days.

2. Retail salesperson at Lily Pulitzer boutique–Do you know who Lily Pulitzer is? I had no idea either when I started this job. I guess Jackie Kennedy first popularized Lily’s dresses, which are basically loud, pastel prints for Palm Beach socialites. Why the hell was I working there? This was during the hazy-in-between period after I left medical school and before I moved to Boston. I needed to make some money at a job I could easily quit, the store was close to my house, and the owner had been a client of my mom’s. It was a surreal experience, since going to work felt like entering Barbie’s Dream House. The place was saturated in pink and pastel green. Adding to the humiliation was the fact that my perky blonde co-workers were all current students at my old high school . . . and here I was, a college graduate! This job consisted of mostly ironing out new stock with the steamer and marveling at Johnson County housewives who would pay $80 for a toddler’s swimsuit.

3. Temp receptionist for suburban Kansas mega-church–I am not a church-goer. For a few years, I was an ardent Catholic because I got caught up in the social justice fervor at Creighton (I’ve since become a recovering Catholic like most of my other friends). But that was nothing like this Methodist mega-church that I temped at for a week. This church had three times as many members as there were students at my university. 12,000 people!! It had a “campus” that could easily be confused with a community college from the outside. Über-church people kind of creep me out, and über-mega-church people really creep me out. There were two of us as receptionists to handle all of the calls. The other lady was not a temp, and she talked about the pastor as if he were God himself. In fact, all of the ladies in the office spoke of him in that way. During that whole week, I never saw him–only heard his voice over the speakerphone, like he was Charlie or something.

4. Holiday worker for behemoth bookstore–I felt victorious when I scored this job, because the interview process had been so intense. Even though this job only paid $6.25/hour, most of the misanthropic people working there had B.A. degrees in English. They seemed very protective of their store culture, which surprised me since it was such a large, commercial chain. I remember one of my coworkers sighing, “We should only keep the store open for the people who work here.” The job was fast-paced, and it felt like a whirlwind. I must say that out of all of my retail jobs, this was probably the most enjoyable (the 40% discount didn’t hurt, either). However, putting all the errant books & magazines (a process dubbed “recovery”) was quite a chore, especially considering we always found the dog-eared Penthouse Forum paperbacks stashed in weird places throughout the store.

5. Customer Service representative at shopping/convention center in downtown Kansas City–I did this job in the summers and over holidays during college. The center is owned by a little card company. I did a variety of things, including gift-wrap, shipping packages, selling concert tickets, and doing my best not to roll my eyes. At times, I had to sit in the center’s information booth, where I felt rather exposed. Indeed, this is the job where I received the most comments regarding my ethnicity. But I really enjoyed my co-workers–it was the most diverse work environment of all my jobs in Kansas City. One of them was this ancient, snappish white woman who one day accidentally took my car keys home with her (which resulted in me pawing through the garbage, trying in vain to locate them). Everyone was afraid of her, but she ended up liking me ’cause it turned out we were “sorority sisters.” (You never know when that will come in handy, heh.)

Wouldn’t resumes be more interesting if they said what you really thought about those jobs?

So what odd jobs have you worked??

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Menial jobs of days gone by

  1. This list is hilarious! Love it. Check out my blog…I’m gonna do it too now, since it’s Friday and I am procrastinating real work.

    I love that you were a crabby barista! That made me LOL.

  2. Your description of Job 3 sent chills down my spine. Those folks scare the bejesus outta me too. I almost had to take a shower at the thought of being trapped in one of those superdomes.

    The oddest job I did was as a temp. For a while a few Store 24s started carrying computers set up in a display that resembles arcade games that were free to use. The company that produced them designed little questionnaires asking “how helpful did you find this super computer? how often do you use it? etc” It was my job to harass people into filling them out. Hostility! Swearing! Being completed ignored! I was told not to return to the agency until I had 10 filled out. Luckily the clerks behind the counter all pitched in and we filled them out ourselves.

    ps I was also a crabby barista, for 4 years straight. I had so many letters written to the Starbucks Corporation, not the manager of the store but the actual corporation, that I was eventually fired.

  3. this was fun to read…i liked the barista story and charlie over the intercom in #3…funny!
    my first job — Long John Silver’s. It wasn’t pretty.

  4. Sam

    I was a bartender at a lesbian bar……………..ummmm no I wasnt.

    you were a receptionist at a church???

    hmmm how does one answer the phone for the church??

    “Praise the lord, Jesus loves you, now how may I direct your call.”

  5. Anonymous

    couldn’t pick just one. turns out i’ve had quite a few pretty “odd” jobs. top 5 in no particular order:
    1) photo-taker at amusement park, (wearing a terribly unflattering uniform included pleated khaki shorts, and black shoes…)
    2) Money-counter in a casino vault
    3) Kennel cleaner at a veterinarian hospital, (to add on to the unpleasantness of this job it required me to be at work at 6am during college!)
    4) Interviewer about jelly fish at aquarium
    5) “ambassador” (not the cool, world traveling kind, the type that walks around a business district of a moderately sized city in a ridiculous uniform (not only black shoes and pleated shorts this time, but black socks, a fanny pack and a baseball cap) and searches out people to help or errant pieces of garbage to pick up…)
    -k.m.

  6. Hm. I was going to make a short list…but I don’t think I can top k.m.

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