WHAT I HAVE DONE FOR MONEY
Three. Three posts, and I’ve said nothing interestingly profound. I’ve bitched, actually, which goes against one of my personal-flexible-makes-me-a-better-human rules. Self-suggestions, let’s call them. Rules break, and then failure results. The failures have stacked high enough, in the eyes of the judgey world. I allow myself to bend and flow and change.
Today, a list of successes. I’ve done some interesting things. Let us measure successes by the ways in which experiences have made me a more interesting person, okay? I’ll feel better about that. We’ll start with jobs. What we do makes us who we are, says Marx.
My first job made me question my fitness to be an employee. I assembled boxes with grids of cardboard inside them, to hold circuit boards for shipping. No one else did this job. I stood in the middle of a big room, surrounded by people hunched over workstations and assembling circuit boards. I longed to hold a soldering gun. My fine motor skills were sharp, and I knew I could do that job. Papa had put a soldering gun in my hands as soon as he decided that I was responsible enough to not get hurt–at least, not badly enough to draw the attention of Gram, who would have forbidden any more soldering if I’d suffered a blister.
After a summer of brokeness, and a college semester of being not just broke but shamefully broke, I accidentally landed a job at a movie theater. My friend needed a ride to his interview. The interviewer assumed that I was there for the job, too. He hired us all, a dozen or so former high school classmates plus one former employee, on the spot. Well, all but one. I think the interviewer was homophobic, or didn’t like my other friend’s gloriously feathered hair/Black Sabbath style combo. I wore what I happened to be wearing when I got the “I need a lift” call: cutoffs and a tie-dyed tank over my wet swimsuit. Solo beach day. I smelled like lake water and sunblock, and didn’t take any part of the interview seriously, and I got the job.
We really were hired as a team. The theater had to be reopened from scratch, and we were the fresh crew. If one of us had a flat, another could come to the rescue. If one of us was hung over, any good friend would step in to help out a suffering comrade. And suffer, we did, but at our own stupid hands. Too much partying left us ragged for tomorrow’s matinee, and those of us old enough to go to bars (or to that one bar where no one knew that I was only 19 because I dated much older people), took full advantage of the very flexible schedule that an interlaced workforce allows. Shifts were negotiated over pitchers of Stag. I probably benefitted the most, being a non-drinker and owning a reliable car. Staying late and covering shifts was never a problem. While other staffers complained about thirty-dollar paychecks, I just tucked my (then enormous) hundred and twenty into my wallet. I could skip the kegger. My hangovers were brutal, and being drunk wasn’t much fun.
At that job, I learned that the people in charge of me really had no power over me. My manager, who interviewed and hired me, hid in his office until closing. He never told anyone what to do. The people who had worked at the theater under different management taught the new ones how to stock, run cash registers, how to make change at the box office without a calculator, and how to be the jerk with the flashlight who shushes middleschoolers. Management bagged the deposit and smoked weed under the projector fans, but I didn’t actually know that second bit until he quit. He had a muppet name, which I couldn’t say without giggling. His boss didn’t like my hair, which was shaved into a topknot and braided with shells and beads, and my shoes had too much white on them. I took a Magic Marker and colored the toes of my Chuck Taylors black while he finished his barrage of writeups for other uniform indiscretions among the staff. I did my job well, and my register always came out even. I showed up and spoke nicely to everyone. The writeups didn’t get anyone fired, and the manager went back to getting stoned.
I met a future boyfriend there, the boss’s replacement after being forced into rehab for slipping back into a cocaine habit. The boyfriend part happened later; he was the most boring person I had ever met, but smart. He just watched too much TV. His parents had a satellite, and he had access to porn when porn was harder to find.
My next job fell into my lap, through another happy accident. My much-older live-in boyfriend worked for his cousin by former marriage. They were jewelers. I came to lunch, and left with a job offer. A sheet of silver was handed to me, and a saw, and a hammer, with the order, “Make a ring out of this,” which is just what I did. He paid me almost nothing, but I learned how to size rings and cut waxes and make things shiny. I learned how to handle very small, very expensive things and not lose them to carelessness or greed. An opal passed through my hands that was worth more than a car. Opals crack if they’re looked at crosseyed, but it didn’t crack. I could find a diamond on the floor faster than anyone. My waxes for custom work were better than I was taught. Sizing and reshanking bored me silly, and I was fired before I got to setting stones. He couldn’t pay his taxes, so he couldn’t pay us. Both my boyfriend and I were fired on the same afternoon. I had asked for a raise the day before, and the stricken look on my boss’s face told me that the answer would be no, and worse. He cried when he looked at me, and later called me in the middle of the night to apologize; on the drive home, without income and with bills to pay for the first time, I sobbed in fear and anger and “I told myself so”s. Three months later, he had left his wife and left his business and had gone to Graceland, which was actually the Collinsville Super 8, but his wife didn’t know that. I knew he didn’t want to fire me. No apology was needed.