Unless you’re handicapped or some kinda jerkass, you have to work for a living. You have to do it; I have to do it; the American People have to do it. It’s nothing I’m too happy about, but I take pride in knowing that about 85% of the population probably hates their job more than I do. That alone is refreshing enough to get me through the day.
I’ve got a pretty decent handle on my job. I make important decisions and change peoples’ futures by the mood I’m in. I get to write expensive checks and charge them to Wisconsin taxpayers like myself. Sometimes I have to wear a tie. On Friday of last week, I used a Magic 8-Ball I keep in my cubicle to solve a problem I was having (‘outlook not so good’).
Even though things are going fine enough, I had much bigger plans for myself than to become an Exam Administrator. I feel bad that somewhere out in the workforce, there sits a guy who’s only goal in life was to work with state codes and statutes pertaining to professional regulation, and I’m not appreciating it nearly as much as he would. It’s not fair to either of us.
Even if I could get paid boatloads of cash to write full-time, I’d probably still find a way to be miserable. It’s just the way I operate. Even the freelance stuff I do chaps my hide, mostly because it turns my hobby into a profession; which instantly sucks the life out of anything you enjoy. I don’t care what you do for a living; chances are you’ll get sick of it after a while.
Do you honestly think that Babe Winkleman likes Bass fishing every day of his life? Not even millions of dollars, Blu-Blocker sunglasses and that sweet beard can keep a guy happy day-in and day-out, especially when he’s coming home to his family reeking of dead fish and about 10 bottles of Blatz. It’s just not logical, folks.
In my life thus far, I’ve had 10 jobs. Some of them didn’t earn me a penny. Most of them didn’t earn me a penny. I’ve quit 90% of them, and I’ve never been fired. I may have liked two of them, tops. I’ve had to do things I don’t wish on anyone. I’ve also met some of the biggest weens alive.
Allow me to share my sordid employment past with you.
Job #1 – Helping Out On The Olson Farm.
Length Of Service – 1989/1994
Salary – $0.00/hr.
I grew up on a farm; so when I didn’t do a good enough job of busying myself away from prying eyes, I had to put my ratty clothes on and do chores. I fed calves, shoveled various feeds and animal excretions, herded cows and drove tractors. Seriously. Most of the time, I found various ways to almost turn myself into a double-amputee, but those are different stories for a different time.
For all the hard work, I learned a lot about a very difficult and thankless profession. I also got to hang out with hundreds of cats and bottle-feed baby calves, so it wasn’t all bad. But for every baby puppy I got to hold, there was a cow that was all set to kick the taste out of my mouth, so it was a life and death trade off for most of the duration.
One summer, my Dad caught me and my cousin using my new golf clubs to hit rocks on the road, so we were subject to a week of ‘hard labor,’ baling hay in the 90-degree heat. It was the worst week of my entire childhood. Sunburns, every muscle aching and varying rashes on my body made it clear to me early that I wasn’t going to be carrying on the family business anytime soon. I’m clearly not built to be a farmer; even hauling a gallon of milk to my car is a massive chore for me. Eventually we moved away from the farm, and I was allowed to throw away my filthy ‘barn clothes’…
Job #2 – Handing Out Flyers For Aluminum Siding Company.
Length Of Service – 1995
Salary – 10% Commission On Sales ($0.00/hr.)
Over summer vacation in the 7th grade, I went door to door, bothering people and sticking flyers everywhere for a home improvement business in Appleton, Wisconsin. I did most of my work in Winneconne, where I went to school. For those three months, I dragged around my then-girlfriend in the blistering heat, ringing doorbells and having shotguns pulled on me. I was shocked beyond words when she dumped me mere weeks later.
Every day, I would walk down every street, steaming with heat lines, as she trailed behind me with an ice-cream cone. I kept telling her how much money I was about to be making, and she did her best not to smash the cone in my face and walk home by herself. I can’t remember what I was wearing at the time, but I can figure it was unappealing and sad. I wish she would have told me then that I was getting screwed over by this businessman. She obviously knew, but didn’t feel like sharing.
The guy in charge of the business assured me that I would see hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars in commission should anyone bite on the flyers. I know now that he was staggeringly full of crap and a total fraudulent businessman. I had no choice in the matter then, however, because my Mom was living with this guy at the time. See, this is why I don’t like to talk about the past a whole lot. I tried to quit once the summer was over, but Mr. Fraudulent Businessman had a bigger and better job waiting for me…
Job #3 – Odd Jobs, Lawnmowing In Neighborhood.
Length Of Service – 1996
Salary – $10/lawn.
Freshly dumped and living with an aforementioned fraudulent businessman, I did what any teenager with dignity would do. I took my shirt off, put on some cut-off shorts, cried and mowed lawns all day. I mowed my Grandparent’s lawn, the lawn at the Post Office where my Mother worked at the time, along with the lawns up and down my street in Appleton, Wisconsin.
We lived on a street full of duplexes in Appleton, next to a Hmong family of about 29, and a sad, single woman who used to watch me when I went rollerblading. Once, one of the Hmong girls broke her arm in front of my place. Before the ambulance got there, I took a good look at it and it was shaped like the letter ‘S’. I almost threw up. Another time, I was selling pizzas for school, and I knocked on the sad single woman’s door. She answered wearing a towel, and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen up to that point. Way better than the broken arm. Let’s get back to the story.
The first two lawns in question used a push-mower, but the neighborhood job allowed me to use a monolithic Golf Course-sized mower (see photo). I was given approximately 10 seconds of instruction on how to use the thing, then I was left on my own to handle about 60 acres of grass. Within 5 minutes, I had gone right over the top of someone’s brand-new baby tree (with them watching me, I might add), and within 10 minutes, I took a hard turn and crashed right through the fence separating the backyards from the busy highway. All true. I again got to quit once my Mother wised up and we moved out of the city…
Job #4 – Cleaning The Steerhead Saloon.
Length Of Service – 1997
Salary – $20/day.
Back in my hometown, I started working for my Dad at the bar he owned. (Doesn’t this all just SCREAM ‘Wisconsin!’ to you? I can’t wait for Sufjan Stevens’ take on the dairy state.) As it was, he also set aside the family farming business for a life of booze peddling. He needed someone besides himself to make sure the bar was in pristine condition before 8am, so it could turn into a vomit-soaked nightmare by 2am. Every early morning during the summer, I would bike a mile to the bar and get a move on.
Clearly, cleaning up a redneck bar is one of the filthiest jobs you can imagine. Stocking the coolers, wiping things down and scraping ashtrays is one thing. But scrubbing toilets and mopping up is yet another. Any and every bodily fluid was located in the bathrooms. Blood and teeth were mopped up on the dance floor. Ashtrays has spit in them. Everything was sticky. I damn near had a breakdown every morning. I took to making myself drinks and stealing quarters to play pool just to make the job seem worthwhile.
I didn’t want to do the job anymore, but it was hard to tell my Dad that I didn’t want to work for him anymore. Instead, I just started doing a progressively worse and worse job until he started to get angry. Every morning, I would plead with him to fire me, but he knew that would mean having to clean the bar himself. Eventually, we worked out a compromise…
Job #5 – Bartending At The Steerhead Saloon.
Length Of Service – 1998
Salary – Maybe $50 a week, tops.
My Dad was known for making borderline illegal business decisions, and hiring his 16 year old son to bartend seemed to be one of those choices. In fact, there’s no ‘borderline’ about it. He needed some additional help during football season, and he didn’t want to have to pay anyone anything, so I was on the top of the list, throwing caution and child labor laws to the wind.
When you work in retail, there’s a line of people who all need service. You help the people by who’s next in line, and that works pretty well. When you bartend, there is no line, just 50 drunks waving empty glasses at you. Learning to make the drinks was hard; learning to assert myself around these people was much harder. Fights would break out. Vomiting was a nightly occurrence. Breasts that were never meant to be seen again were seen by all. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and by age 16, I was freaking Superman.
I took in next to nothing in tips, despite being the youngest bartender in the nation. I had to quit after the stress started messing with me, and the football season was over. I certainly didn’t want to end up like the people I saw there every night, so I jumped ship and went looking for work in the city…
Job #6 – Movie Theater Usher For One Day.
Length Of Service – 1998
Salary – $0.00 & One Free Movie.
I got hooked up to this job by a friend at school who worked there. I didn’t really want it, but anything was better than bartending. Besides, if I couldn’t find anything different, I would be right back at the Steerhead Saloon. My opinion was that cleaning a filthy theater was still worlds better than cleaning up a backwoods tavern.
The interview/training was unlike anything I’ve been a part of. It was basically 2 hours of training tapes about how movie theaters make 100% of their revenue through concessions, and that I needed to sell tons of them at all costs. Tickets meant nothing, and nobody cared who snuck in, as long as I moved product. I was offered the job, and accepted. I then spent the rest of the night taking in the luxury of a free movie, which was the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho, arguably one of the worst movies ever made. I was fitted for a sexy usher’s outfit, and was all set to return the next week.
Problem number one came up because I didn’t have my own car. Borrowing my Mom’s car every day for work just wasn’t going to fly, and I didn’t have money to buy my own. Of course, nobody around me had any money, either. Problem number two (the closer) came when I found out that I had to work on Christmas day, which is a big day for losers to go to the movies and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with a Jennifer Aniston flick. I quit over the phone, and sent the usher’s outfit back with the friend that got me the job in the first place. Dejected, I hung my head low and looked for something closer to home…
Job #7 – Clerk At A Hardware Store.
Length Of Service – 1999/2002
Salary – $6.25/hr, tops.
The Larsen Co-Op was right across the street from the Steerhead Saloon, so I didn’t make it quite as far away as I wanted to. They were opening a new hardware store, and needed a nerd to run computers and make sure nothing blew up. My Mom got me the job, as she worked at the Post Office that was also right across the street from the Steerhead (Yeah, I’m from one of those towns).
For the next four years, through high school graduation and right up until I left for college in Madison, I wasted away there. You’ve read some of my accounts of the place in the past, and I honestly think I could write an entertaining novel about the stretch of time I was there. Things exploded, people died, sexual harassment was rampant, a 17-year old was having an affair with a married man with a hook for an arm. The rotten underbelly of Anytown, USA was alive and well in Larsen, Wisconsin. I lived on a steady diet of candy bars, Mountain Dew and microwavable hamburgers until I was 20.
I worked 13 days on, 1 day off, full-time after graduation, year-round. Seriously, I put a lot into that job. I was able to buy my first two cars because of the job, and have a steady, bill-free income to spend on the future Missus. In terms of expendable income, I’ll never have another job that comes close to what I had there. I left there in the summer of 2002, and I haven’t set foot inside since…
Job #8 – College Student.
Length Of Service – 2002/2004
Salary – $22,000 debt; out of pocket.
I consider being a college student a job. Who wouldn’t? Following a long line of doing things for myself because I had to, I bought myself another reliable automobile, got a tiny apartment with the Missus, and wrote a hefty check for a two-year music, sound and business program in Madison. Sometimes I went to classes. Sometimes, I slept until noon and never wore pants. Sometimes I went to classes without pants.
I did well. Very well, in fact. I got to learn a ton about music and music business, produced a few albums on the amazing equipment the school had to offer, and eventually got some writing work based on my degree. Sure, I’ll be paying off the loans for the rest of my life (6 figures after interest), but what else could I do? The big city was calling, and I’m not down with suckling on the Government’s (or anyone’s) withered teat. I was getting sick of people thinking I was spoiled or lazy (based on what you know about me now, does that honestly sound anything like me?), and I had been taking care of myself for this long, so I have no regrets in the matter. The best way to handle things is to do them yourself, and there was no way in hell I was going to stay at the hardware store for another year.
I don’t really talk about the college thing much, mainly because it was kind of a blur and it’s not incredibly exciting to anyone but tech nerds like myself. The most important part of those two years were me and the Missus adjusting to roommate and independent life. We pulled it off without a hitch, and that’s so much more important than my silly degree. Eventually, the loans started to take their toll and the Missus wasn’t bringing in enough cash for our lavish lifestyle, so I used my charm and zero office experience to land a position at the State level…
Job #9 – Receptionist/Mailroom At State DRL.
Length Of Service – 2004/2005
Salary – Dude, I worked in a mailroom. You figure it out.
In trying to get into state service, I blew a ton of interviews before getting the formula down right. One particular interview had me sitting bleary-eyed and delirious in front of a room full of suits. They asked me what my biggest flaw was, and I scoffed and murmured, “Modesty.” They got my ass outta there pretty quick. Eventually, my current office hired me and I started on the ground floor, answering phones and opening mail all day.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice enough job. It’s just that I’m not built to answer 300 phone calls per 8-hour day. I don’t like talking on the phone, although I was decent enough at it. Usually I did mailroom stuff, which allowed me to meet a lot of the higher-ups and establish contacts. People started to notice how efficiently and super-awesomely I got work done, and supervisors started fighting over me. Everyone, including myself, wanted me doing a job where I could use my brain and make decisions.
After a year of this, I interviewed for, and was offered a few higher-paying jobs downtown. I was loyal to my office, however, and played hardball for a job that I wanted in-house. Eventually, the bargaining paid off, and I took the position in the Examination Office that I hold to this day…
Job #10 – Exam Administrator At State DRL.
Length Of Service – 2005/?
Salary – Just enough to not have to burn my cats for warmth.
Well, here we are. This was the State job that I fought for, and I’m settling in quite nicely. For the time being, it will pay the bills and keep the household happy. I’ve talked about this before, but basically I work with state testing for professional licensing. Doctors, Chiropractors, Real Estate Agents, Engineers, Nurses, Accountants, almost anything that you pay someone else to do for you, they go through me.
I keep quiet in my corner cubicle, bringing in another toy from the rumpus room every day for flair. The crew here is good, and my Exam Office only has 4 other employees, so that rules. I work under an ‘Examination Specialist’ that’s on the verge of retirement, so if they decide I’m game to take his place, I can look forward to a salary of about $50,000 a year. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t take it even if they asked me. My job is stressful enough as is; I don’t need the damn Governor and about 10 TV stations yelling at me because a serial killer got issued a Medical license.
We had a big Medical Board hearing here several months ago in the matter of a Doctor who sexually abused patients and colleagues. He was also an honest-to-God midget. When I got to work, there were protesters and news crews everywhere, waving signs and blocking the doorway. After the hearing was over, the midget in question was drowning in microphones and lawyers, and he started freaking the hell out. He was pushing people around and shouting obscenities. Some days here are better than others.
So, what have we learned about me? Well, I’m not all that lazy. In fact, I’m very goal-driven and task-oriented. I’ve had a lot of crappy jobs, most of which foreshadow equally crappy life experiences. My autobiography is a best-seller that doesn’t exist yet, and I can’t trust anyone else to take care of me but myself. I’m not a professional writer yet, but maybe it’s better that way.
What have I learned about life? Well, I learned that Golf Course mowers need experienced drivers behind the wheel. Babe Winkleman is a fraud. A good way to die is to work on a farm. A good way to die inside is to work at a bar. All siding salesmen are terrible people. You can sneak into movies without getting into trouble, provided you buy some popcorn. Small towns are just as seedy as huge ones, if not seedier. College isn’t so bad, and Hmongs have brittle bones. Those are rules to live by, people.
So, what will be Job #11 on the list?
Bikini Inspector, God willing.