The last post was called, “The Hair” why not call this one “The Jobs”. I’ve had some jobs, and then I’ve had some JOBS. I’ve had a lot of jobs actually. If I really sat down and counted, it would probably be like 40. One for almost every year I’ve been on this earth. Some I miss, most I don’t.
Have been thinking a lot on this lately – one, because I’ve got friends getting laid off, others trapped in jobs they hate. Me included. Well, I should scratch that. I don’t *hate* it exactly, it just doesn’t feed my spirit so very much. I never thought I’d find myself at 41 STILL answering phones and typing up correspondence. Preparing UPS packages. Ordering lunch. Doing work a temp might do. Work I used to do to put myself through school. While earning my graduate degree. I only have myself to blame for not “furthering myself along” as they say. I guess I just like doing my own writing too damn much – of course not enough to actively pursue making money at it. Is it wrong to want the job that pays to feed you the way the stuff you do at home does?
As a result of having so many jobs over so many years, I’ve collected a lot of work-related memories. I was an office manager at an architectural firm in 1995. I remember the entire city street below our high rise being completely deserted because people were huddled around televisions, watching the O.J. verdict. That was the same job where one day I got up and walked out at lunch because my esteemed co-workers started disparaging MLK – shortly after discussing last weekend’s NASCAR outcome. Eventually I walked out on them entirely, leaving only a note, packing my bags, and traveling to Scotland to live on someone’s couch until the money ran out.
I sometimes can’t even fathom all the jobs I’ve had in my life. My first job was as Chuck E. Cheese. Yeah, really. I didn’t just work there, I WAS Chuck E. Cheese. My mom made me get a summer job at 15 even though I didn’t want to. I preferred to stay at home, loaf around, and read Stephen King novels. I was Chuck E. Cheese, sometimes Houndog Harry if I was lucky (his costume wasn’t as cumbersome). For exactly 10 minutes, twice every hour, I would don the costume, a huge hulking thing with fuzzy feet and a big head that smelled awful because countless summer job teenagers would wear the thing and stink it up. It had never been washed to my knowledge. I dreaded becoming Chuck E. like someone going in for a root canal.
Not only was the costume uncomfortable, it was almost impossible to see anything out of that monstrous hulking head. Inevitably you’d have to get another employee to guide you around. You’d be led into the Pizza Time Theater with much fanfare, and immediately 20 screaming kids would wrap themselves tightly around your legs til you couldn’t walk. You couldn’t even move. “Chuuuccckkkkkeeeeeeeee!” they’d scream like you were The Beatles, wrapping their little parasitic arms even tighter, cutting off all circulation. Oh god, someone please save me from this torture. I’d wave and attempt to move. Counting the minutes. Holding my breath because it smelled so awful. Sometimes I could bribe one of the other bussers to be Chuck E. but not often. I was the last hired, so in essence, I had drawn the short straw.
I bussed tables and dressed as Chuck E. until I was promoted to ball crawl attendant. I’d take tokens from the little tykes and sometimes jump in and save kids who were drowning. One little arm sticking out from the sea of red, blue, green, and yellow, waving frantically and a little voice screaming bloody murder. I hated working the ball crawl too – we never cleaned the balls, well, maybe we would if a kid got puke on it or something. Sometimes you’d fish out stuff that would make YOU hurl a little – a dirty diaper, a snotty tissue. Yep, it was a putrid sea of plastic ball covered germs that one. Which is why most of the tokens I took from the kiddies ended up in my pocket – all the better to play video games with my dear. I figured it was hazard pay.
Working ball crawl was actually a promotion from bussing tables in the Elvis Room – scraping pepperoni off the floor. Pepperoni that was glued onto the scratchy indoor/outdoor carpet because thousands of little feet had ground it into its very fibers. Wiping tables with a dirty rag, then shaking the rag to get out all the crushed red pepper and parmesan cheese while a giant lion dressed like Elvis sang hits if you put tokens in the machine. Songs like Kentucky Rain, Heartbreak Hotel, In the Ghetto (my favorite), and of course, Viva Las Vegas. This lion was dressed like old fat Elvis, complete with white sequined jumpsuit cut down to there and a big honkin’ cape.
I know every word to Kentucky Rain to this day because of working at Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but there it is. They only played the song umpteen times an hour for my entire 8-hour shift so you can’t help but know it. I used to sing it in my SLEEP. I can remember wiping tables, praying the little kid walking over to the lion was NOT going to put a token in the machine, because if I heard that damn lion play Kentucky Rain one more time, I was going to go postal. There I was in my brown and red polyester uniform with a flimsy plastic bowler cap that had a headband going around it that lit up, lights flashing on and off thanks to a 9-volt battery, and I just wanted to die. Oh my God, is this really my life? Milky-mildewy smelling parmesan, ground-in pepperoni, and Elvis? Kill me now.
There was one perk – free video games. Or at least “Free free for me” because I used the stolen tokens from the ball crawl. I’d come in before my shift and kill time perfecting my score. These were the days before hand-held anything. Video games were behemoths with names like, Joust, Centipede, Dig Dug, and Galaga. I’d eat gnarly pizza, play Joust and skeeball (which I still suck at) then wander over to watch the older employees try and beat the newest, most cutting-edge video game of 1983. It was this Disney-themed game that ran like an animated movie. The prince rescues the scantily-clad princess. The first time someone defeated the game was an event – everyone crowded around to watch. People came running in from the kitchen. After that it was no big deal. Eh, so what, I saw a guy beat the game twice last week.
I didn’t stay at that job long – maybe a year. I guess you can only take so much of drowning snot-nosed kids and stinky mouse costumes. To this day I look at Disney World characters and think, “Bless your heart.” For years I had a huge sack of tokens that I slowly got rid of by sneaking in to play games. I eventually got tired of Joust, so I gave the rest away to friends. They thought I was the coolest. I even remember giving a guy I had a crush on a huge quantity of those damn tokens just so he’d talk to me. What you won’t do for love, right?
So what brought me from Chuck E. Cheese to mind-numbing office work? Why am I thinking about all this now? It’s certainly been a journey. I don’t know that what I do now is all that different. I still deal with snot-nosed brats (of a different variety certainly) and I still have to “dress up” to do my job. Wear a mask that isn’t me. And I still look for perks where I can find them. But maybe now, at this point in my life I’m looking for something else besides tokens.