History of a Laborer
I love Labor Day weekend – not for itself, particularly, but because it kicks off my favorite time of year.
I love the fall. I love the way the air seems emptier, cleaner, sharper. I love apples and pumpkins and hay bales. I love new back-to-school notebooks and pens. I love when it’s still warm enough for t-shirts but not so hot that you burn your arms in the sun or your feet on the pavement. I love the smells of leaf piles and fireplaces and pencil shavings and cider and sleeping with the windows open. I love, love, love the fall.
Labor Day was started by labor unions to honor workers, but the only workers who might get any honor this weekend are the ones selling charcoal briquettes and beer. It seemed like a good reason, though, to think about work, and the jobs I’ve had – because I believe one of the most important things any kid can do is work.
You become responsible to somebody who doesn’t love you.
You develop an identity outside your family.
You interact on an adult level.
You realize how much harder it is to make money come in than go out.
You become forevermore, on a different level, appreciative of every “menial” laborer whose work you did.
I’m grateful for every job I’ve ever had, even the awful ones. Here’s what I did before I “got a real job”. What about you?
- Babysitter. Dozens of families, starting when I was only about 11. I wonder now how desperate for a date night those young parents were, to turn their wee babes over to clueless little me?
- House cleaner. It’s hard to have an ego when you’re wielding someone else’s toilet brush. Invaluable.
- Christmas-present wrapper. Both at a mall and in-home. I am an excellent giftwrapper.
- Santa’s helper. I was 16 and got a costume with a hoopskirt. It was awesome.
- Discovery Zone. This lasted three days. I wore a polo tucked into parachute pants and a whistle, and herded children who were too hyperactive and germy for their parents to want them. Diabolical.
- Caldor. I spent three years – 15 to 18 – working at this low-end department store. It took 10 years until I could wear red again – the smock color – without twitching. I did everything from assembling furniture to selling engagement rings. And while calculus and economics and Latin are no longer in my brain, I’ll never be able to forget every word to give the store-closing announcement.
- Pharmacy tech. One of my favorite jobs. It was at a small independent pharmacy in a tiny neighborhood. I learned so much, I met my “big sister working there,” and it was the sweetest bunch of folks ever. Sadly, the place isn’t even there anymore. Progress.
- The Store of Knowledge. Best college job ever. It was a toy store at one of the poshest malls in the country. I played with toys, worked with friends, and sold overpriced gifts to excessively snooty parents. Occasionally, someone semi-famous that I unfailingly did not recognize.
- Painter. I painted store logos, designs, or congratulatory messages onto wine or champagne bottles. It was great work that I could do late at night in college.
- Factory worker. I wore a hairnet and steel-toed boots and worked in an enormous windowless room on an assembly line for a summer. And it taught me the value of an education like no class ever could.