my first seven jobs
- Waitress at a burger joint. This place served one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve been chasing that beefy dragon ever since. All the other waitresses were retiree age and Czech or German, with thick accents. The oldest of the women only had one breast, and she let the still-existing, quite large and pendulous one hang free. We’d end our lunch shift with a meal they called “dinner” (this was at 2:30PM), and they ate the same spread every time: rat trap cheese, hard salami, saltine crackers, Fritos dragged across a stick of butter, sweet tea and pie. We’d chat during these meals, and one time we got in an argument because I said something about when we landed on the moon, and the one with the swinging breast called me a “heathen” for mentioning it. I think this job gave birth to my love of absurdity.
- Checker at a grocery store. I worked this job through most of high school. At closing, when my much older coworker swept behind the counter, I’d hoist myself up in the air so he could sweep under my feet. And he’d say, “If I sweep under your feet, you’ll never get married.” Ha. One day the manager mentioned his brother Tiny who was coming to visit. It’s common for people in the country to have ironic nicknames, so I assumed Tiny would be 6’5” and 300 pounds. Then all 3’5” of him walked through the door. I was holding it together until he turned around and I saw TINY stamped on the back of his little leather belt with western braid around the edges.
- Clerk at a college bookstore. Office supplies and books should have been a slam-dunk perfect job for me my freshman year of college, but they put me in charge of the Greek section. So my day consisted of making sweatshirts with Greek letters on them for sorority princesses and frat bros.
- Telemarketing bastard. Calling alumni from my university to ask for donations. I did this two nights before deciding it was the devil’s work.
- Waitress again, this time at a national chain restaurant. I learned a lot at this job: the value of teamwork, how to multi-task, that you can memorize the order of dozens of classic rock playlists without even trying, that it’s always a good idea to get along with the hostess, how to drink Jäger and how important it is to not piss off your waiter or bad things might happen to your food. I still have stress dreams about waiting tables, and I’m also still friends with a lot of the people I met through this job.
- Bartender. This job stands as the longest I’ve worked in one place (7.5 years). One of the members of ZZ Top lived down the street, and sometimes he’d stop in when it wasn’t busy. He’d play country music on the jukebox, and I’d two-step with him. Awkwardly. I got regular obscene phone calls that I always hung up on. Then the owner suggested I talk dirty back to the caller and see what happened. The next time he called, I said something remarkably nasty—and he hung up on me. Never called back.
- Waitress for the final time. I was still bartending but needed a side hustle. I applied for a job that mostly employed students from the nearby private university (I was attending the large public one), and the interview included a lot of history questions because the manager was a pretentious twit. They made us wear boat shoes and khaki skirts as part of our uniform, and I only lasted maybe three months. (Unrelated to my tenure there in the ’90s, the place is closing this month after more than three decades in business.)