Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Publishing deadlines and odd jobs

Some rotten flu thing hit me last night and is making me utterly miserable. Nonetheless, here I am, parked in front of my work computer. Why? I had a book deadline today -- and deadlines must be met, by gosh, come hell or high water. Well, the deadline’s been met, so now I can relax a bit, drink more tea, and slug down more vitamin C. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to call it a day early and crawl home into bed.

Oh, the book’s topic? Investing. Yes, investing. Go ahead and laugh. I will. AH, HA HA HA HAAAAAAA! Now I know why my great-grandmother hoarded gold coins and hid her money in a cigar box.

Ahhh, I’ve had weirder publishing experiences, to be sure. There was the author who tried to insert a chapter about UFOs (complete with illustrations) into his technical book on electromagnetic frequencies -- and got mad when I told him most students at ITT wouldn’t be able to apply the UFO information. Then there was the author who tried to convince me that a book published with all blank pages would be a great gag book. (No, in book manufacturing, that’s what we call a journal.) Oh, well. That’s publishing for you. I’ve certainly had worse jobs.

Oh, jobs …! Lots of people these days are complaining about not being able to find jobs. I wonder how many of them are splitting hairs between jobs that make them “look good” within the aesthetic parameters of Western civilization, and jobs that just do what they’re ultimately supposed to do, and that’s to put bread on the table.

I look back at some of the jobs I’ve had and wonder if I could ever go back to doing any of them. I’ve been working in publishing for eighteen years now; but prior to entering the publishing industry, I went through quite a few employment experiences in the name of making cash. Some of them were real doozys.

My first job, at the tender age of 14 (and many people who have grown up in the Midwest will know exactly what I’m talking about here), involved working as a corn detassler. A corn detassler stands on an extension arm of a very big, very noisy tractor and is driven through rows of corn while pulling the tassled tops off of the corn stalks BY HAND. The purpose of this is to force the corn stalks to produce SEED corn, for growing future crops. It’s very hot and dirty work, and by God you’d better have good gloves and bug repellent! It was my mom’s idea to have me do this, so I could adopt a good work ethic and learn how to earn money. I lasted all of three days before I violently rebelled and said I’d rather be poor. Hey, I was only 14.

My second job was working as a summer camp counselor out in the Indiana wilderness (yes, we DO have a wilderness). For two-and-a-half months, I literally lived in a cabin in the woods and organized FUN (yes, FUN!) week-long camping excursions for kids aged 8 to 15 years. Hey, it was free room and board, and it got me out of my mom’s house for the summer. I did it every summer through high school and college.

Being a counselor was a fun job, though I did have to keep chasing teenage girls and boys out of each other’s cabins. I also once had to behead a huge copperhead snake with a shovel (snake got into the lodge kitchen and almost bit one of the cooks -- and back then poisonous snakes were killed without question. No Steve Irwins available!). Oh, and there were no flushing toilets, and the lodge was the only building with running water and showers. Still, fun job. It kept me in GREAT shape, too. Super-hero body, all the way.

Third job, during evenings and weekends while I was at school: pet store clerk. This was for a little store that sold pet supplies, birds, fish, reptiles, and rodents -- and that’s it. Working in a pet store probably sounds like fun, right? Not when you’re constantly dealing with morons who really have no business having pets. Oh, and there were the horrible little brats who kept scooping fancy goldfish out of their tanks and dumping them in with the piranhas.

I also once got in a fight with a toucan over a piece of cellophane tape. The toucan won. Don’t ask.

I also worked in my dormitory cafeteria when time allowed, wrestling with heads of lettuce and drink dispensers. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to working for the food industry.

Still, all the odd jobs paid off. I managed to get through Indiana University without getting a student loan, and without racking up a bunch of debt. (But I also had to live, for a time, in a one-room apartment with no TV and no phone, and only an old sofa to sleep on.)

Then there was my first job out of college. I was READY, man -- armed with a journalism degree and ready to make my mark on the world. So, what was my first job? I was a window-dresser in a high-end department store. Yes, I basically dressed dummies for a living. Hey, at the time the economy was lousy -- I couldn’t find a job in my field until someone quit, retired, or DIED. So, I dressed dummies. For some reason, the department store put me in charge of the men’s department, so I basically wrestled with giant Ken dolls on a daily basis.

The job was fine -- it was the CUSTOMERS who were a pain. Man oh man, it’s amazing how many BORED little old ladies there are with nothing better to do than harass department store employees. One lady hit me with her purse once when I was trying to change the pants on a dummy in the suit department -- she thought I was attacking a man lying on the ground. Another lady pulled her pants down in front of me when she thought I didn’t know what she was talking about when she asked for girdles: “Like THESE, honey! Like THESE!” She also happened to be standing right underneath a security camera -- which turned and halted right overhead, so I KNOW the boys in security were getting a good show.

I said to the old lady, “Ma’am, there’s a security camera right over your head, and they can SEE you.”

She replied, “Oh, they’re big boys, they’ve seen it all!”

Then finally -- FINALLY -- I found a publishing job! It was with a very small company, and it was only a foot in the door, but I was finally using my degree! I was working with writers and authors! I was manipulating virgin text destined for publication! AND I was discovering that my job path wasn’t going to get any less weird -- because my first publishing job was working as a proofreader for a bunch of professional astrologers. Yes, I proofread horoscopes for a living. It was weird, and the pay really wasn’t all that great, but my gosh what a FUN job. And, like I said, it was a foot in the door. I’ve been in publishing ever since and I’ve managed to climb the ladder to a respectable level.

Now I spend my days parked on my butt in front of a computer. When I look back on my job history, it seems downright surreal. Did I REALLY do all that? Yes, yes, I did. How odd. Still, I never starved, and I always managed to keep a roof over my head. Could I ever go back to working like that? I like to think so. I don’t really WANT to, but I think I could do it if necessary.

6 comments:

Kevin T. said...

Little old lady stories are so wonderful!

Gosh sea, I can only hope to have as colorful a working history as yours.

I'm glad everything worked out for you after all the odd jobs, and I hope you get better soon.
So stop reading this and get some rest!

Tomfoolery said...

Man, I was sick last weekend.
Now that' I'm better, two of my classmates are sick, my mum is sick, my dad is sick, Flòki (who lives in Iceland) is sick, Emily (who lives in Kentucky) is sick...

now you?!
*the grandson from Princess Bride* WHAT IS THIS? *the grandson from Princess Bride*

I have cyber virus?
:-(

If so, sorry.

SallyP said...

I have to admit that the window dressing job sounds intriguing. And having to deal with the general public can be SO frustrating. Not to mention mindboggling.

It is not a bad thing to have performed a variety of jobs. Gives you life experience, and you'll be able to drive Mighty Mite crazy when she's a teenager telling her how tough things used to be,and how pampered she is, in comparison!

Sea_of_Green said...

I was gonna say that NO ONE should have to have a job history as "colorful" as mine. However, I did get some good stories out of every one of those jobs. I could probably fill a novel or two with stories from each job position.

plok said...

Ah! I've had some jobs like those...fortune teller at a rave, corporate Santa Claus...

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