Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Life in Odd Jobs

At the age of 25, after insisting time and again that a lot of people go to college for seven years, I finally graduated a couple weeks ago.

Since then, of course, I've been on the great job hunt. For a guy with a degree in Creative Writing in this economy, I have to say I'm somewhat pleased with my prospects so far. It could be much, much worse.

While working on my resume and cover letters, I've had to spend a lot of time thinking about my old jobs, and how I can work that prior experience into a line of cover-letter-bullshit just clever enough to fool a prospective employer into thinking that I know what I'm doing. It's really the ultimate practical form of creative non-fiction.

The thing is, I've had a lot of jobs. I doubt there's very many people at my age who have held as many jobs as I have. I like to think of it as a mediocre badge of honor. I've had so many jobs now that it's hard to keep track of all of them in my head. In fact, about three jobs ago, I had to undergo a full background check, and part of that was providing them with the phone numbers and addresses of all my previous employers. Simply getting all that information together took a good week.

Anyway, here's a list of the jobs I've had, starting at the age of 16:

1. Stock Clerk, Osco Drug
2. Inventory Dude, RGIS
3. Video Store Clerk/Manager, Moore Movies (mom-and-pop place)
4. Production Assistant, City Channel 4 (Iowa City)
5. Camera Op/Deko Operator, small-market CBS affiliate (Cedar Rapids)
6. Cafe Manager, Borders Books
7. Banker, Mohegan Sun Casino
8. Bartender, Cafe Luciano (small Italian restaurant in Evanston)
9. Content Developer, CognitiveArts

And I still feel like I'm missing something. I've only held two of these jobs for longer than a year (#1, #3), and I've never been fired.

The worst job: DEFINITELY job #2, the inventory specialist gig for RGIS. Let me tell you how this job went. You were given a scanner gun to scan UPC bars, which connected to this giant 1970s calculator-looking thing on your hip. You'd go as a team into a retail store (either before the store opened or after they closed, so the hours were always god-awful), let's say a Kohl's, and you'd go to a rack of clothes, push the clothes to the back of the rack, then pull the first garment forward and scan. Pull the next garment forward and scan. Repeat until every item in the whole damn store was scanned. Just the most god-awful, mind-numbing brain torture you can put yourself through.

An honorable mention goes to the Cafe Manager job at Borders. I only did it for about a month. I basically walked into a chaotic situation. I learned later that the three managers before me had abruptly quit, which caused a certain amount of mayhem, and a failed health inspection shortly before my arrival. I don't even drink coffee, so I sure as hell had no interest in fixing all of their problems.

The easiest job: Store manager of Moore Movies. Man, I did a LOT of reading during my time at Moore Movies. Basically, they just needed someone to be there and man the cash register. During the day, that was usually me. So I'd come in, have about 30 minutes worth of actual managerial work to do, and then sit on my ass the rest of the day. You know when you walk into a store, and see a guy that's doing absolutely nothing, so you say to your friends, "Boy, I'd like to have that guy's job [Possibly not-work-safe]." Well, I was that guy.

The best job: It's a toss-up betweent the Bartender gig and the Content Developer gig. Being a content developer was my first "real" job, so it was nice, on the ninth try, to finally get it right. Plus, it was a writing job, albeit rather boring (at times) corporate writing. But bartending was a lot of fun, and the place was small, so I got to know a lot of regulars. It also paid a lot better than the TV gigs, and didn't crush my soul in the same way that working in TV News did. (For an experiment: watch the same 30-minute news program five times each day for about 6 months, and you will understand why I nearly turned into this.) The only problem was that the restaurant wasn't busy enough, as they ended up closing it down one day without informing me. Bummer.

There's kind of a strange creative non-fiction thing that happens when I think about each one of these jobs individually. I know I did them, but I think about them as if it must have been somebody else doing them. This probably has something to do with the fact that the earliest jobs came as much as a decade ago, but it also has to do with the fact that each one of these jobs brought out a different person in me. They also took place in geographically different places (Aurora, Iowa, Connecticut, Chicago) and at different stages of my early adulthood (high school, community college, I'm-ruining-my-life, and I-decided-to-get-my-act-together-and-go-to-Northwestern). For example, the Osco-Drug me is the high school me who made friends with as many co-workers as he could manage. The Mohegan Sun me is the extremely introverted me who became jaded at the sight of millions of dollars cash every day. The content developer me is the me who really winged it in order to not screw up probably the best professional opportunity I had ever had. And none of them seem like actually me. It's similar to the way you feel about two days after returning home from vacation. You know you did all that fun stuff in a foreign place, but did you really? Or was it someone else?

Perhaps the strangest point of all this, though, is that even though all of these jobs had their own odd quirks and characters, I have never written about any of them - non-fiction, fiction, or poetry - until now in my cover letters. And the only one I really write about in the cover letters is the last one, because that's the most relevant to the jobs I am pursuing.

So my (very long-winded) question is three-parted:

Should I write about my old jobs (in a creative piece)?
Which one(s) would you want to hear about?
Which medium (fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry)?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Alexis Arguello (1952-2009)

Former featherweight, superfeatherweight, and lightweight champion of the world Alexis Arguello was found dead in his home in Nicaragua this morning, after he apparently shot himself in the chest.


The majority of Arguello's career took place before I was born, and long before I became a fan of boxing only a handful of years ago. Nonetheless, I have watched a number of his fights on video, either on ESPN Classic or on Youtube, and have been a fan of him ever since I watched my first Arguello fight.

When I think of Arguello as he was in the ring, it makes the circumstances of his death (an apparent suicide) extremely hard to comprehend. Inside the boxing ring, there has never been an individual who displayed more professionalism and class than Alexis Arguello, both in the way that he fought and in the way that he carried himself before and after a fight.

Before a fight, Arguello was calm, quiet, and collected, seemingly immune to the nervous, bouncy energy of so many fighters in the moments before the opening bell. During the fight, Arguello never showed emotion, never became rattled when his opponent put pressure on him, never lost his footing, never found himself in a position where he couldn't, at any moment, unload a devastating blow. And after the fight, most of which ended with his opponent on the canvas (65 of his 82 career victories ended in knockouts), he was often the first to his opponent's side, congratulating him and his cornermen on a valiant fight. (For two examples, fast forward to about 3:00 of the first video below.)

His road to stardom was unusual by boxing standards. For starters, he lost his first professional fight in 1968, and then his fifth, before winning 23 of his next 24. In 1974, he had his first fight for a world championship (featherweight), and lost, but came back to win the title nine months later. In 1978, after a number of successful defenses of his title, Arguello moved up to super featherweight and won that world title. In 1981, he moved up again, winning the lightweight world championship. That made Arguello only the sixth man in boxing history to own world championships in three different weight divisions. (On top of everything, he became a political exile of his native Nicaragua after the Sandinistas took power in the late 70s, after a complicated dispute that I won't get into here, but you can feel free to research if you'd like.)

Arguello tested history one more time in 1982, when he tried to become the first man ever to own championships in four different weightclasses by fighting Aaron Pryor, the undefeated light welterweight champion. The fight went down as one of the best epic battles in boxing history (which you can see here, here, here, here, and here). In an all-action fight from the opening bell, Arguello stole the momentum in the middle rounds, scoring one particularly nasty right hand on Pryor, which he later said he expected to end the fight, cocking Pryor's head straight back until he could see the stadium lights. Pryor made it through the round, fighting on, and unleashed a barrage of punches on Arguello in round 14, forcing referree Stanley Christodoulou to stop the fight.

The last significant fight of Arguello's career came a year later, when he again fought Pryor for the light welterweight title, this time losing by stoppage in the tenth round. The younger, faster, bigger Pryor (an all-time great in his own right) simply proved too much for Arguello, a man then past his 80th professional fight.

In his retirement, Arguello faced the kind of demons that many fighters do - namely, alcohol and drugs. At times, he spoke openly of having suicidal thoughts. Recent years had seemingly brought some peace to Arguello. He became mayor of his native city Managua, the capitol city of Nicaragua, in 2004. More recently, he was the honorary Nicaraguan flag-bearer during the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Every time I see a cocky young boxer (or MMA-guy) these days, I think about what would happen if they had to look across the ring at Alexis Arguello. More than likely, they'd absolutely piss themselves. For a nice guy, he must have been downright frightening to face.

As one close friend said about Arguello: "He was one of those champions who acted like one outside the ring. You don't hardly see those kind of fighters around today."

He was a bad, bad man. But a true gentleman at heart.