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)?


rb said...

i like the movie joint the best... surfing the titles of the movies from the back room... i totally forgot about that job... and how much time we spent there with you... haha... good times...

Nathaniel said...

I can totally relate to the "I'm ruining my life" feeling that came with working at KGAN. I look it as a necessary step to get to this point in life, and now that I'm teaching, I have found that any previous work in "show business" gives you a surprising amount of street cred with little kids.
I hope you're doing well, man. I'm sorry it's been so long.