Mark Terry

Friday, October 24, 2008

First Jobs

October 24, 2008
On Good Morning, America the 4 hosts took a comprehensive personality test a few weeks ago to see what careers they might be suited for. Some of them have been a surprise. Then, over the last week or so, they've been trying out one of their picks.

Chris Cuomo's was hairdresser. (I missed that one).

Sam Champion got to be a judge.

Robin Roberts was a lyricist.

Diane Sawyer was a bartender.

What they commented today was to their surprise, they thought they probably would have been happy in those jobs.

For some reason this made me think of first jobs and early jobs. I've been fairly clear that I spent about 18 years working in a genetics lab and was never terribly happy doing it. I was walking Frodo this morning and noticed that one of my neighbors was home--he gets every other Friday off--and I thought, it was pretty easy to take take days off and live for the weekend when I didn't like the job, but now I really like writing for a living and I don't live for the weekends. (I still like them, though).

My first job was as a paper boy. That's not a job you see kids doing too much any more. That's probably a good thing. The world's changed and probably not for the better, at least where letting your kid knock on strange people's doors while carrying a bag full of cash to make change is concerned.

I worked very briefly at Burger King--that sucked--and gave up and started teaching piano and saxophone, which in some ways I think I could have happily continued to do for the rest of my life (maybe). Now that I'm taking guitar lessons, I occasionally think: maybe in 5 or 6 years I'll pick up a handful of students for walking-around-money. Then again, maybe not.

I worked in food service a bit in college--dorm cafeteria, usually washing dishes or pots and pans. Hard work, but honest.

I worked in a mailroom for a while (of the Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory at Michigan State University), then I worked at a couple different laboratories over the years, some research, some clinical.

In some ways I think the most valuable jobs were the worst jobs--the washing pots-and-pans, for instance. I spent one summer working at the University of Michigan North Campus Commons washing pots and pans 7 hours a day, 5 days a week for about $3.90 an hour. (This would have been about 1983 or 1984). It was hard, hot work, but I've never had a problem washing dishes since. And it convinced me that there were definitely good reasons to stay in college and get a degree. But at the same time, there's something satisfying about taking a dirty pot and making it clean and then, at the end of the day, going home and forgetting all about your job. There's something good about a job where you can actually see progress in a finite way and that you can leave behind.

Leanne and I are big fans of the TV show "Dirty Jobs." Mike Rowe, the host, commented in an interview that he did a show on a guy who cleans septic tanks and sewer systems and found out the guy had a master's degree in psychology and worked for years as a councilor. Mike asked what the hell he was doing cleaning septic tanks. The guy said, "I used to spend all day in people's shit, just like I do now. The difference is that now I just go home and take a shower."

There might be some real wisdom there, I think.

Anyway, how about you? What's your employment history like?

Mark Terry


Blogger Don said...

My first job was picking pineapples - four summers through high school. Not bad as first jobs go.

I was a flower shop deliver driver - probably the most enjoyable job I ever had.

I also did Tech Support. One day while slogging up the stairs, I thought to myself You know, when I had my root canal done, I didn't have to come to work.

The realization that I preferred major dental surgery to the job I was doing got me motivated to polish my resume and start looking elsewhere.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Picking pineapples. Do they grow on bushes or trees?

I suppose almost everybody's happy to receive flowers, come to think of it.

Thanks for posting!

7:19 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Fence installer

Pizza delivery

Convenience store clerk

Freelance writer


Avionics technician


Carpet cleaner

Night clean up crew at a chemical plant


I long for the day when I can write "novelist" on my tax return.

7:51 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I was a lifeguard at a summer camp first, then I worked in a pizza shop, then at a museum shop, spent a week as a political canvasser, and when I dropped out of college for a semester (I'd been sick), I took a job at a law firm for six months. I went back to the museum shop when I went back to school, worked at a fitness center, and sort of graduated those out as I took on more piano students.

The number one thing I miss is the feeling of being done for the day. I enjoyed all my jobs. After a year or two, once I'd earned the trust and the knowledge to do everything, LOL, I'd get bored and hate it. I enjoy learning new things, but I doubt I have the temperament to hold any job for more than 3-7 years.

Writing is different, because every book is like a new job. At least so far. I used to say that about students.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Richmond Writer said...

Love the psychologist's comment!

Nothing interesting to say on the job front except yeah, food service sucks.

8:08 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Forgot Music Director at a church for several years.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Avionics technician. Does that mean you worked on airplanes?

9:33 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

--since I started working out at a gym I realized that's got to be one of the most boring jobs in the world. At first it seemed good, then I realized it mostly involves checking people into the computer system and cleaning the bathrooms.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Says it all, doesn't it?

9:35 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Hmm . . .

Almost all my work was in bars and restaurants. I also worked as a blackjack dealer. I liked being a dealer--liked it better when I worked near an army base because I always found soldiers were actually the nicest guys at the table. They all tipped really well, too.

I worked, briefly, in a bank. It was the worst job experience of my life. It was the 80s and the excesses of the Reagan years, and I kid you not, it had echoes of Wall Street today. Excess and corruption in ways that were dizzying.

As a volunteer, I have mentored unwed teen moms and taught ESL for years and worked with war refugees. I, too, saw the GMA segment (only saw Diane Sawyer as a bartender). It dawned on me I could easily tend bar again and be happy with it. And it also dawned on me that had I decided to teach ESL or work as a social worker or as an activist for migrant rights or for refugees, I would have been happy with my life, I think. Don't get me wrong . . . I like being a writer. But I also liked other things.


10:18 AM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

hahaha my employment history is about 33 jobs long. And seriously, unless my only other option is living under a bridge, I don't intend to have another job.

I'm clearly not cut out to work for other people. I don't do well in "employment."

I had a job where I got so fed up, I told my co-worker I was going to get something to drink. I never returned.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Like I said, I worked in food service a lot, but usually as a dishwasher and quasi-janitor. Both Leanne and I have thought that getting experience as a waiter or waitress would be a practically guaranteed job skill. That and short-order cook, I suppose. I knew a guy who went to "cook school" (versus Chef School) for a year or two and was always able to find good jobs while he worked his way through college to get an education degree. I suppose bartending is a similar skill.

My Dad spent most of his career in a bank. Sounds like a shitty place to work.

The problem with being a social worker, of the few I know, is that job's usually pay crap and you're practically eligible for the benefits you're helping other people get.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I can understand that. One of my friends took his work ID badge, wrote I QUIT in permanent marker, dropped it on his desk and walked out. I haven't been in touch with him since, and it was probably a stupid way to quit a job, but I can appreciate how you can get to that point and just want out.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

Paper boy, caddy, janitor, factory worker, cook, bartender, soldier, cartographer, ESL teacher. My favorite was line cook, because the time went fast and I didn't take my work home with me.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Well . . . I was speaking of being an acitivist or social worker in a hypthetical sense. With four kids of my own, I can afford to volunteer to do work like that more than I could afford to actually DO that work. Which is a shame--some professions are very honorable but you can't support a family on it.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Cartographer? What did you make maps of?

11:11 AM  
Blogger lucidkim said...

I only have about 2 minutes to respond - but I saw the Diane Sawyer/bartender thing this morning AND I NEVER WATCH MORNING TV/GMA. Weird. Mostly I was listening about Anne Presly (sp?) attack - how she was doing, etc.

I've been a babysitter, salad maker, dishwasher (at college) as well as general clerical for a secretary in the accounting department at college, secretary, receptionist, AP clerk, accountant and director of finance. Oh and some odd summer jobs working in doctor's offices - and hospital, admissions clerk. Mostly I liked none of those jobs. Right now I'm not working - but likely will again soon. I prefer writing to any of it - but the bills have to be paid so it'll be back to accounting, I'm sure. :)


12:01 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

A salad maker? That's a job title? I assume at a restaurant. What skills does that involve? Hmmm, I can see the main character in a novel now... she slices, she dices, she tosses, all while keeping the dressing on the side.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...


Yeah, Navy P-3s.

1:47 PM  
Blogger lucidkim said...

Mark - yes, it was at a restaurant. I got to use a big knife and chop lettuce...good times...good times. I was in high school and got paid something crazy, like $2.85/hour. Anyway, maybe not a main character but a villain who gets too enchanted with the big knives and slices and dices...people. :)


5:45 PM  
Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

Working for (what was then) the most prestigious custom cartographic firm in the country, I made maps of EVERYTHING.

I know how to tell people where to go.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Richmond Writer said...

Stephen LOL

9:15 AM  
Blogger B. Nagel said...

Yardwork and Furniture mover

Barbed Wire Fence Installer

House boy for a sorority

Asst. Mgr. - salvage grocery store

Delivery Driver/Installer/Salesman/Customer Relations - office furniture store

(currently)Library Associate - MSU library

All I've ever really loved is books. And my degree is in English and Religion. Which is why I worked two years at an Office Furniture and Supply Store.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Your comment made me laugh out loud!

3:28 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Michigan State? My alma mater?

Houseboy for a sorority? Hmmm. They pay you for that? (How come I missed that at Career Day?)

3:29 PM  
Blogger B. Nagel said...

Mississippi State, the Other MSU (like pork).
As a houseboy I was paid in free food, and, I suppose, in the high honor of basking in the glory of serving the ladies. But the food was pretty good.

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11:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6:19 PM  
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8:52 PM  
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