posted Sat, 30 Oct 2004
When I was eight, a friend and I went door to door selling our services sweeping doorsteps for a dime. I don’t remember if we had any takers. My next business venture was making doll clothes and selling them door to door. Again, I don’t remember if I sold anything.
My dad used to pay me half a penny for every dandelion I dug up from our yard with the entire root intact. If I washed the car and cleaned the interior, I could keep any loose change I found. My mother would pay me a dime for polishing the big brass candlesticks and copper kettles Dad had bought in Turkey. You had to use a toothbrush on the copper kettles to get them clean because the surface wasn’t smooth. I polished one of those candlesticks a few years ago – they are four feet high – and told my mother I wanted more money.
When I was eleven, I started to babysit. I charged only 50 cents an hour, 25 cents less than the going rate, which was really stupid, because it’s not like there is usually an oversupply of good babysitters.
When I was 14, my best friend Julie and I would earn $5 each to clean up after her parents’ parties. Her dad was wing commander and had to entertain a lot. We would do all the dishes and sip at the leftover drinks. Rum and Tab does not taste good, in case any of you were wondering.
I got my first W-4 job when I was 15 – I was a lifeguard. When I was 16, I got a job as a cashier at Woolworth’s. I worked three hours after school every day and all day Saturday. Friday night I would get sick to my stomach thinking of spending all day there, having to face all the rude customers. We were paid every week in cash at the back of the store. I would walk past the record section with my sixty dollars and buy a Neil Diamond record every week. (I told you I was a total nerd.)
When I was in college, I worked during the school year as a lifeguard my freshman year. After that, I worked as a waitress at the faculty club.
I was a cocktail waitress at a divey bar over Christmas break my sophomore year. I don’t even think I was old enough to drink. This must have been illegal. The owner of the bar lived down the street from my parents. I think I worked for tips.
Waiting tables is very easy if you can do math in your head and remember what people are drinking. I can do both. I learned very quickly always to ask women for ID – not for legal reasons but for flattery reasons. I also learned that my tips were higher the nights I wore skirts.
One night, a man grabbed my butt. I was not – am not – accustomed to having my butt grabbed. I was so startled that I didn’t react at first, but after a few minutes, I marched up to him and said something about how inappropriate his behavior had been. He laughed and responded that it had just been so cute. I asked, “How would you feel if someone treated your daughter like that?” He told me he didn’t have a daughter. “Well, if you did have a daughter, how would you feel?” I sputtered, then walked away.
Before he left, he found me and gave me a $20 tip. I took it.
I worked summers teaching swimming in the morning and as a lifeguard in the afternoons. I worked every single day, 12 hours a day, for the entire summer, for minimum wage. Teaching swimming was really fun, except when the kids threw up on me.
One summer, I worked at a city pool. Part of the lifeguard duties included cleaning the bathrooms. (And you thought it was all glamour.) A group of boys thought it would be really funny to poop on the floor instead of in the toilets. We tried locking the bathroom and requiring users to get the keys from the lifeguard at the front desk, but the city told us we couldn’t do that. So for the whole summer, for $3.25 an hour, at least once a week, I had to clean shit off the floor.
I’m very grateful that now I get to work inside an air-conditioned office at a desk.
The working life: The rat race
2 days ago