“When you go in for a job interview, I think a good thing to ask is if they ever press charges.” - Jack Handy
After-school day care assistant. // I don’t remember this one at all. The kids were brats, I’m pretty sure, but not in such a way I recall anything about any of their brattish antics.
Dry cleaner counter clerk. // Jimbo convinced me I should actively seek out a job with the dry cleaner in our neighborhood, because when he’d worked there, all he did was sit behind a counter and read Dostoevsky. That sounded pretty good, so I applied the next week, and instead of putting me in a strip mall near my house, they sent me out to a location in an obscenely wealthy ZIP code right over the county line. It had a constantly backed-up drive-through, closed early, and we didn’t accept credit cards; essentially, an incredible confluence of factors guaranteed to create situations where wealthy people would be inconvenienced and become furious. An extremely old man once yelled at me from his Jaguar for a solid ten minutes for dry-cleaning his polo knit shirt instead of washing it, as people in line behind him honked and screamed. I remember only nodding and staring blankly at a vein throbbing in his temple. I still think sometimes of that vein, the way it pulsated, slowing and quickening as his voice lowered and rose. My last week of work I proffered my resignation to my supervisor, and she said, “Ah, you had a new job lined up this whole time. That’s why you’ve been doing such a poor job recently.” “Uh, yeah, that must be it,” I mumbled unconvincingly.
College development call center caller. // The university I was working for had absorbed an all-women’s Catholic college in the 1950s, which meant, inexplicably, that all of their alumni of that college retroactively became alumni of this university, and consequently remained on the call lists. Much of this position, then, was me calling 80-year old women who’d never attended or even heard of the university I was calling from, asking them to send me $25.
Art retail store clerk. // I have written extensively already about this wunderkammern.
Elementary school weekend art teacher. // For several years, I taught free scholarship art classes on weekends to gifted 11-12 year olds from around the city on behalf of the local visual arts association. This was particularly poignant, as I’d attended the same program when I was a gifted 11-12 year old. Some of these kids must be college freshman by now. I sometimes wonder if they went to art school and are now cool, cigarette-smoking art school kids. At least a few of them were geniuses. I heard from mom that one of them had a summer internship at the art museum last year, so maybe I was an OK influence.
Caricature artist. // I somehow got a contract with a large regional food service corporation. The president wanted caricatures of each employee framed outside their door, so I wandered around this cubicle farm for a month, drawing people with NASCARs, golf clubs and fishing poles. I remember a few of these caricatures very clearly, specifically the middle manager that wanted me to picture him standing on a beach, but, like, make the palm trees marijuana leaves, but, dude, not so that it’s obvious, just so that it’s like, you know, if you get it, you’re like duuuuuuuuuude check that shit out. One of the higher-up executives wanted a picture of himself with a rifle and a water buffalo that he’d shot on safari. I drew “X“‘s for the water buffalo’s eyes.
Art museum attendant. // This particular museum had a chainsaw artist create enormous sitting structures for the gallery floors, made from foam and covered with parachutes. I sat around for seven hours a day on these structures reading books about Andy Warhol, and explaining to visiting college girls who the Velvet Underground were and which of their albums they should buy (A: all of them). The only arm-wrestling match I have ever won in my entire career was with my supervisor, a brilliant guy named Neal that had a tattoo of the pi symbol on his forearm. Obviously, the perfect job for a 22-year old.
Pizza delivery man. // I only lasted one night. The only uniform they had was an oversized knit polo shirt with the pizza company’s logo on it, and combined with the baseball cap and my oversized art school Buddy Holly glasses, it made me look like a twelve-year old child actor from a 1950s sitcom. I was assigned to deliver pizzas to the Swisswood/Rankin neighborhood of Pittsburgh, an impossibly hilly, perplexing and poorly-lit area of town. It took me three hours to deliver my first pizza, and the guy was decent enough to still tip me anyway. I called in to quit the next day, but got cold feet, so Neal, the aforementioned supervisor with the pi tattoo, called in pretending to be me. “This is Andy,” he told the manager in an absurdly deep voice. “I am sorry to inform you that I will need to resign my position with your organization effective immediately.”
Cigar label illustrator. // I made the acquaintance of one “Farmer B.” at some point in college, a tobacco farmer who ran a small cigar company out his farm in Trimble County, about an hour outside Louisville. He paid me to drive out to his farm and make sketches of the farm, the barns and the cured crops for use on the labels for the cigars he manufactured. “I take good care of my employees,” Farmer B. told me over and over. “You’ll come on out to my houseboat party for Derby sometime. Bring your girlfriend. No liberal girls, though.” I would laugh nervously. You still see these cigars in gas stations and liquor stores all across the state, with my little Micron 005 drawings of barns and tobacco on the label.
Art retail store assistant manager. // I began working for a chain art retailer as a salesperson, and within a month the regional manager got whiff of the fact that I’d spent several years in the art retail industry. He immediately bumped me up to an assistant manager position at a floundering store in one of the western suburbs. It turns out that being a part-time college employee of a local mom-and-pop store in an urban setting and being an assistant manager in a suburban strip mall corporate retailer setting require vastly, vastly differing skill sets.
Art retail store clerk. // This was yet another one. I felt at one point that it was all I knew how to do.
Ticket retailer call center salesperson. // A number of my co-workers here went on to obtain advanced degrees in arts administration.
State Fair automobile display assistant. // I handed out beer coozies and assisted fairgoers in dubious games of skill and chance for eleven hours a day at the Minnesota State Fair on behalf of a major American automotive company. My supervisor was a motor-mouthed, impossibly charismatic corporate carnie who’d chain smoke cigarettes on our breaks and shake his head about the impending collapse of the automotive industry. “This whole business is going straight down the shitter,” he’d tell me. “These motherfuckers have no idea what’s going on. [Major American automotive company] is going to be fucking finished in four years, tops. They’re all going to have to be nationalized by the end of the decade.” He was, at it turns out, at least a third correct.
Standardized test grader. // One of the projects I was assigned to was reading and evaluating narrative essays from elementary school children in Louisiana after Katrina, and it truly remains one of the most sobering reading experiences of my life. Regardless of the subject the kids were assigned — a time they rescued an animal, a time they helped a family member — they all wrote about Katrina. Most of them, anyway, except for one kid, who wrote a nonfiction piece about a talking bear he met once. “I am sorry I frightened you,” said the talking bear to the Louisiana student, after threatening to eat him. “I care about the safety of my children, and I become scared when I think they might be in danger.” “That’s OK, bear, I understand that you love your children very much,” replied the student. Actually, come to think of it, maybe that piece was about Katrina after all. Anyway, I remember it more fondly than many nonfiction essays written by professional writers that I have encountered subsequently.