Careers = Confused

As we move into the empty nest years, my children are moving into the now what do I do with the rest of my life years. The expectation is college and then some well paying job in the big city. Careers are funny things; most of us will have a career we would like to pursue and one that we do pursue. For me, the career I think I would have truly enjoyed was journalism. I always thought it would be fun to sit on the eighteenth hole of Augusta and try to recreate the drama of Nicklaus and Palmer walking up eighteen together. I even toyed with this career choice while in college. As a freshman, I declared myself an English major and off to Shakespeare and Melville I went. As I was paying my second semester tuition, however, the capitalist in me emerged and I began to wonder how I would ever recover my tuition investment with only a degree in English. I had delivered a lot of papers and washed a lot of dishes to afford this education and I didn’t see a well paying job or even a poor paying one waiting for me with English degree in hand.

My basic recommendation would be to choose a career that you feel you truly would enjoy and one that touches other people’s lives in a positive way. Do not follow my line of thinking when deciding what to do with your life. While you definitely need to find employment in the career field you have chosen, it is far easier to do that when you have a passion for your work. Personally, the last thing I want to do on a cold winter night is curl up with the latest accounting pronouncement.

To give you a little better understanding of potential career opportunities, I thought I might give a little overview on the jobs that I have held in my life.

The first job out of the blocks was as a paperboy at the ripe old age of 12. I am not certain why I started so young, but it helped put some baseball cards on my dresser. Being a paperboy in the 60s was actually fairly simple. The papers were delivered in the afternoon back then, so I would come home from school and quickly grab the stack of papers labeled 357 West. I had about 70 customers and the walk took about 45 minutes. This job taught me some basics on collections and customer service.

First, collections and bad debts were confusing concepts as a 12 year old. I actually had several customers who repeatedly asked me to return at a later date because they could not afford the 60 cents for the paper that week. As a 12-year-old this was very disconcerting. Did these people actually think that when it came time for me to pay my bill at the end of the week in cold hard cash that it was easier for me to come up with the 60 cents? Here I am doing my best to clear about $10 a week and these people in their $100000 homes are telling me 60 cents is a stretch for the week. On top of this, I had a district manager who would periodically review our collection book and strongly encourage us to do a better job. One time things got so bad I even threw a few coupons away for one customer rather than face the frown of the district manager.

Second, customer service is difficult at best. Everyone is a little different. Some people were fine with receiving their paper rolled and on the porch. This obviously was the preferred method of any carrier worth his salt. A perfectly rolled and tossed paper was a thing of beauty. Crisp folds, a glorious tuck, and a perfect launch and landing were an art form. In my day, I can honestly say I was one of the best. Rarely did one of my folds not hold or my tosses land awkwardly. Most people did not appreciate the skill involved in this method of paper delivery. A poorly folded paper would invariably open upon landing and then you would have the day’s coupon section in the front bushes. A poorly thrown paper could have even a worse outcome. The dreaded end over end landing would often result in a loud bang on the front door resulting in a dent to the cheap aluminum door and a very angry customer at 6 am. It was best to walk a little quicker when you made the bang toss. The whirly bird toss was easily caught by the wind and usually was garden bound. No, a perfect flick of the wrist would put the paper in a tight spin and allow a soft landing immediately underneath the front stoop. Today, we get our paper delivered in a plastic bag stuck in an orange tube or thrown in the driveway. Where is the art in that?

If everyone were willing to take his or her paper rolled and thrown, my delivery time would have been reduced dramatically. Unfortunately, there were always those fussy customers who wanted their paper delivered in perfect condition in exactly the spot they wanted. Some liked inside the front door, some inside the side door, some inside the mailbox, some under the front mat, some in the milk shoot. Talk about confusing. Placing the paper inside the door also required a certain skill. If you just dropped the paper, oftentimes it would slip out before you could close the door. A little toss up was the best method. This usually gave you time to close the door without chance of the paper sliding underneath. I bet you never thought delivering papers was so complicated?

My next job was a real step up from paperboy. I became a dishwasher and short order cook at a country club. The biggest problems with dishwashing were footwear and those darn wine glasses. My first day dishwashing at the “Club”, I showed up dressed fairly nicely and with slippery shoes. It was just a coincidence that my nice shoes were also slippery. After all my Aunt said, I was working at a country club and I needed to look nice. She didn’t think that maybe in the plush dining area no one really cared how I was dressed. As long as their silverware did not have yesterday’s pot roast still attached they would be pleased with the dishwashing. Well, after scrubbing pots and pans for over two hours and making a general mess of my nice clothes, I decided blue jeans would work just fine.

I am not sure if I should relate the actual means of dishwashing or not. The general lack of cleanliness might make you very hesitant to ever eat in a restaurant again. The basic operation was fairly simple. Plates and glasses were moved in one direction to be stacked on these rubber trays, briefly squirted and then run through the automatic dishwasher. The automatic dishwasher was basically a conveyor system, much like a car wash, where you hoped enough hot water and soap was sprayed on the dishes to at least give the appearance of cleanliness. Any dishes failing the cursory inspection as they were removed from the dishwasher could either be run through again or touched up with a dirty towel or the seat of your pants. The silverware was tossed in a huge bucket full of what was once clean soap water, but which soon became a floating collection of the evening’s meal. After a little soaking, the silverware went the way of the dishes.

On my third night or so, I finally drew wedding duty. Weddings were fun because everything pretty much happened at once. The dishwashers even got to help serve the food in assembly line fashion. (I think we were told to wash our hands.) We tended to have time for a fairly leisurely dinner and then spent the next two hours digging out from 300 place settings. For one particular wedding, the fine wineglasses were required. As the wineglasses were returned, I was not instructed as to any special handling. Seemed pretty straightforward to me. Load up a tray and shoot them into the dishwasher. As I was loading my third tray, I began hearing a certain distinctive noise. I thought this seemed rather odd since I was pretty much by myself in the kitchen and the cook usually swore when he dropped something. Then it hit me. The curtain covering the exit from the dishwasher was very effectively knocking every wineglass over and breaking most of the stems off. Whoops. The cook wasn’t going to like this. I hit the panic button and did the best I could to salvage any intact glasses still inside the monster. Needless to say, this minor problem generated a few unruly words from the cook who seemed to spend most of his time grumbling anyway.

During my dishwasher days, I met the daughter of the local roller skating rink. Well one thing led to another and soon I was following her to the newly opened rink in the coveted position of skate boy. Of all the jobs I have ever had, this one had the catchiest title and most side benefits of all. Thirty minutes of each shift was spent passing out skates and the remaining time those boys with any flirting skills would have a regular stream of girls stopping by to take a break and listen to their lines of the week. I did my best to study this behavior and acquire some of the required skills, but with very limited success. One girl who dared to stop by while I was guarding the skates alone finally determined, after some very small talk, that I was indeed boring and proclaimed this fact in no uncertain terms. She was at least kind enough to limit the news to her large circle of friends and keep the announcement off the general PA system. Additional benefits included all the free skating my tush could handle, discounted popcorn and ice cream, and a fully trained German Shepherd attack dog should the need arise.

The one slight problem with roller-skating was that it tended to draw a lot of people with limited skating ability into a relatively small area. These factors lead to a fair number of fights. Most of the time the floor guards controlled the scuffles fairly quickly. Because of the hand to hand skills and skating ability required, the floor guard position was one position I was not qualified to handle.

I remember one Monday evening, “Soul Night”, when the fighting proceeded beyond a few wildly thrown punches. A scuffle began and before I knew it several people were running out the door with their rental skates still attached. At the same moment, I heard someone say “knife” and I immediately decided the skates could leave along with the knife. “Soul Nights” were discontinued soon thereafter.

That was basically it for my jobs pre-real life. These jobs were enough to pay my way through 3 ½ years of college and a Toyota Corolla. My highest rate of pay was $2.00 per hour and all the sticky buns I could eat.

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