12 Monkeys: Jobs I’ve done…

As promised, below is my list of jobs blork has done, in roughly chronological order. It does not include babysitting my nieces and nephews when I was 15. It starts with my first real paying (summer) job and proceeds to my current position. It includes a few volunteer jobs, but only those ones which I consider to be, or have been, of some value.

This is an interesting exercise, because I’ve always had a phobia about being stuck “without options.” I’ve always envied these people who manage to find a way to scrape out a living wherever they are, doing whatever it takes. I’ve always feared that I can’t do anything worth getting paid for, that I was condemned to a life on the margins of employment, getting by on unemployment insurance cheques and under-the-table pizza delivery jobs.

Then I look at the list. While few of the jobs have a lot of career potential, I find it amazing that I’ve always managed to find work when I needed it.

Please join in and make a similar list on your blog. But remember: this is not a meme, it’s a monkey!

  • Glider pilot training school: ground crew. Best perk: free flying time!
  • Part-time sales clerk: electronics shop. I was still in high school. It was great for beer and gas money.
  • Waiter: rough & tumble tavern in Sydney, N.S. (The Shingle Inn.) This job only lasted a couple of months. Then I went back to being just a customer.
  • Newspaper circulation gopher. Don’t ask…
  • Encyclopedia Salesman. One day. I swear it was for only one day!
  • “Auditor”: small town cable TV company. Climb utility poles and bust cable pirates. Best perk: learned how to pirate cable.
  • “Under the table” construction worker. Hey, I’m a Nova Scotian who was unemployed at the time. It’s a rite of passage.
  • “Director of Internal Publicity” (read: poster-maker) for UCCB Student’s Union. Lots of fun, and free tickets to events!
  • Part-time kitchen helper in a mental hospital. I sometimes wished the inmates had been running the asylum.
  • Part-time sales — Men’s wear (The Bay). A dirty job but someone had to do it.
  • Delivery/setup/operator for college audio-visual department. I did this part-time while I was a student — and simultaneously doing the three jobs mentioned above. It was a busy time.
  • Photo editor — university student newspaper. So rad!
  • Photo editor — university student yearbook. It’s not like I wasn’t already taking photos. I swear, half the photos in the 1985 St. F.X.U. yearbook are from me…
  • Tree Planter. Flies! Damn flies!
  • University housing office clerk (summer). A dull job, but it produced a number of good drinkin’ tales (as in, tales to tell while drinkin’.)
  • Videographer for a pilot project from the Nova Scotia Hearing & Speech Clinic. It’s amazing what you can do with no money but a dedicated team.
  • St. F.X.U. Student’s Union President. More free tickets to events!
  • Communications coordinator for a student lobby group (SUNS). Basically a summer patronage job for having been a good SUNS supporter during my year as Student’s Union Prez.
  • Photographer’s assistant/portrait photographer. The job that brought me to Montreal.
  • Industrial kitchen ventilator cleaner. Under the table. And very, very stinky.
  • Human pharmaceutical guinea pig. Don’t ask. Really.
  • Asshole. Which is to say, telemarketing agent. This didn’t even last half a day, and the whole time I was dreaming of being the heroic whistle-blower.
  • Shipping clerk/truck driver: lingerie factory. Woo hoo! Bras! Slips! Fuzzy pyjamas!
  • Photo researcher — stock photo agency. I don’t think I’ve ever had a boss who infuriated me more than that one.
  • Proofreader/editor (systems theory books). The dullest books on the face of the earth. But at least it got me going down the editorial road.
  • HazMat technician. I got to travel to the (*ahem*) pristine Canadian arctic — and to mop up hazardous materials when I got there.
  • Totally illegal and unqualified food inspector. I’m really not going to say anything about this because I don’t think the statute of limitations is up yet…
  • Travel guide writer/photographer. One of those things that’s a dream job when you apply, a nightmare when you’re doing it, and a dream job in retrospect.
  • Forum moderator, online community (Café Utne). I’ve been doing this since 1995 so that makes me, like, way cooler than you.
  • Technical writer (four different companies). This one qualifies as “career.” And I’m ready to change. Any suggestions?
  • Webmaster (volunteer) for the local chapter of the STC. This is how I learned about making Web sites.
  • Technical/Marketing writer Technically, this is included in the “four different companies” mentioned above, but I thought I would list it separately since marketing writing is so different from hardcore tech writing. Still… any suggestions?

So? How about you?

Revenge of the Google…

Like many people, I am slightly obsessed with Googling former acquaintances such as people I went to high school with. In the case of people I didn’t like, there’s a nasty part of me that wants to find out they’re in jail or otherwise miserable.

Some people I Google are from more recent times, like the guy who gave me my first job in Montreal. It was 1987, and this guy hired me to be a “photographer’s assistant” in his studio. He specialized in high school graduation photos. He differentiated himself from the other photographers by providing (for an extra fee) a second set of “casual” portraits outside of the traditional “cap & gown” stuff.

He was very good at it, and his business was thriving. So he had decided to expand — quickly. By my third week on the job he was sending me off to schools on my own. I was no longer the photographer’s assistant, I was the photographer.

As I said, the guy was good at what he did. He was a natural clown, a hit with the teenagers. He would photograph a dozen or more people every hour, each getting three or four cap & gown poses and another three or four casual poses. He made a huge profit by selling armloads of highly-priced prints. It bought him an expensive house on Nun’s Island, three cars (including an antique two-seater roadster), a trophy wife, a sailboat, and real estate investments all over the West Island of Montreal.

So there’s me — with less than three weeks training — expected to go out and produce portraits at the same speed and quality as he did. Right.

It was tough work. I’d be at the studio at 7:00 AM, loading up the van with equipment, and at the school by 8:00. I’d be shooting by 8:30. It would be busiest at lunch time, so I’d inhale a sandwich during a ten minute break before noon, and would work through until 3:00 or 3:30 in the afternoon.

Then I would pack up and head back to the studio where I would deal with the exposed film and do paperwork. I wasn’t allowed to leave until 5:00 PM, even if I had done all my work, because “business hours are from 9 to 5” (regardless of the fact that I’d been working since 7:00 AM and had only taken a ten minute lunch break). Sometimes there was so much administrative work that I wouldn’t get out until 6:00 PM or later.

One day, just before 5:00 PM, he announced that he was really tired and didn’t want to go shoot the photos for an award ceremony at one of his high schools that night. (He had agreed to shoot the ceremony in exchange for getting the portrait contract for the school.) So I had to go. I had 90 minutes to go home, change into a suit, get back to the studio, pack up the equipment, and go find some auditorium in Laval. I didn’t get home until almost 11:00 that night, but next morning at 7:00 I was back at the studio gearing up for another day.

I didn’t get any extra pay for that, nor even much of a “thank you.” Although the guy was really popular with the students, he was a self-centered prick with a massive ego and a complete lack of empathy for those around him. He initially paid me only $250 a week for that gig, but after a few weeks he bumped it up to a whopping $375 after I mentioned I was starving. You see, he was one of those “entrepreneurial” types who figured he had to drag me down and then build me up again in his image, and that I had to pay my dues. If I survived, maybe I’d have a crack at a big and rich life like his, or so went his logic.

I stuck with it because I needed the job and because part of me thought I might actually learn something. I clung to it even when his ego was unbearable and he made me feel utterly stupid. Nothing I could do for this guy was ever good enough.

I didn’t complain about the long hours because we had a “gentleman’s agreement” that I would work my ass off from September until school closed for the Christmas holidays, and in the new year (the slow season) I could take it easy and work part time (at the same pay) until things got busy again in the late spring.

But sales dropped. I tried to do a good job, I really did. And I didn’t do so badly. Most of my work was decent, some of it even good, but I couldn’t match this guy. While I’d be at one school struggling, he’d be at another whizzing through it like it was nothing. He expected that with double the photographers he’d get double the profit. His plan was to hire even more people to follow in his footsteps so eventually he could just sit back and rule his empire. “I won’t be doing this in ten years” he said to me from behind the shutter one day.

But it didn’t work out, so a week before Christmas he fired me and that was it.

I few years later I noticed that he had closed the big expensive studio and moved to a smaller one in a cheaper part of town. I’ve never seen any advertising or Web sites for his operation. I saw him once in the early 90s at the Atwater Market but I did a quick 180 and went the other way.

Today I Googled him. I found a handful of references to other people with a similar name, but only one hit referred to him. It was from some kid’s blog, dated 2001, in which the kid complains about something stupid that the grad photographer had done — something about retouching the posing chair or whatever. The kid then wrote “stupid <that guy’s name>.”

And there’s my nasty little revenge. Fifteen years later, in a world transformed by the Internet, where a Google search of my name returns more than 150 direct hits, this guy is still snapping grad photos in obscurity and his only presence on the Web is a one-liner where someone calls him stupid.

It all makes sense now

Remember my dream in which a komodo dragon was sniffing my crotch in a room full of monitor lizards? Well, I just took the Office Flirt Test, and here are the results:

The Lizard
Retiring, friendly and totally laidback, you lounge around the office and tend not to be regarded as a player when it comes to office sexual politics. But then that’s all part of the act isn’t it? You know all too well who you fancy in the office but you never come right out and show it. That would just be too obvious. You prefer the slow build-up, using your easygoing approach to make sure potential targets are totally relaxed in your company before you make any moves. And when the moves come they are more likely to be outside the office and outside office hours. Not that you aren’t putting in the groundwork all the while you’re at work.

That doesn’t really apply where I currently work (in a small office surrounded by a dozen rumpled men), but when I think back…