10 Jobs I’ve Had

bookseller 2

This was the Facebook Challenge:
“Post ten jobs you’ve had. One is a lie.

Here was my list:

  • Creative Director for an Innovation Company
  • Marketing Director for an Alternative Newsweekly
  • Door-to-door meat salesman
  • Proofreader at Press Clipping Service
  • Transcriptionist for Florida Spine Institute
  • Graphic Designer at a CD Replication House
  • Seasonal Bookseller at Barnes & Noble
  • Bagboy at Publix
  • Mason Tender at luxury construction site
  • Art Director at a black and white arts tabloid

My friends made a valiant effort at this game. I wrote the following (true) stories once a day as they guessed incorrectly.

1

I worked at Publix on Island Estates for a couple of years post-high school.

I scrubbed a lot of toilets, pushed a lot of carts, bagged a lot of groceries and crushed a lot of cardboard. I still remember the backroom grocery store smell — the perfect blend of mop bucket, deli meat and damp water boxes.

I also met my friend Kevin Croitz at Publix, a short, bearded painter with thick glasses who made me mixtapes of fascinating new music and turned me onto artists like PJ Harvey and The Pogues.

2

I was in my twenties when I sold meat door-to-door for one day.

I’m sure the newspaper listed it as a “marketing” job.

I remember we all met in an industrial area on the edge of town before the sun was up. They sat all of us trainees (around 40 of us) in horribly cheap plastic chairs in the center of a huge, well-lit warehouse as one of the higher-ups stood in the bed of a pick-up truck and delivered a rousing “Wolf of Wall Street”-style motivational speech. I could see the sun coming up behind him through the open roll-up garage doors.

Then, in very dramatic fashion, more pick-up trucks backed into the space as they rolled out the chest freezers and ceremoniously pushed them onto the beds of trucks and strapped them down using wide yellow canvas straps. They reminded me of caskets with magnetic signs on the sides.

In a rush, they assigned the trainees to vehicles (two of us newbies were paired up with an older, more seasoned guy) and we pulled out of there. We had traveled three cities over (to Brandon. FL) by the time I realized there was no getting out of there. There was no way of tagging out or saying, “No thank you.” I couldn’t walk or catch a ride home.

I was going to be stuck in this tiny cab with two strangers all day. Then, it got worse.

We hit up stay-at-home moms (the guy said that the highest rate of success was with women who were home alone) and verbally pressured our way inside their homes and onto their dining tables. He didn’t have a map. Somehow he just knew where they lived.

We would repeatedly pull plastic-wrapped meat out of the chest freezer, spread it out on the dining room table, talk about it while it began to thaw, and throw it back in if it wasn’t purchased (which it rarely was). I think we sold one or two bags of meat (primarily seafood). When we did actually close a deal, the other kid and I waited outside and smoked cigarettes while the senior rep wrote up the paperwork.

I felt horrible for the women who bought this stuff. Both times, we shared a look that said, “I know you’re just trying to get rid of us. I’m sorry you had to go through all of this.”

It was stressful and degrading. When I finally got dropped back off at my own vehicle and drove myself home, I drew myself a candlelit bubble bath and had a good cry. I never went back.

3

I was a Mason Tender for an amazing crew down on Sand Key.

My nickname was “Spader” because they said I looked like the character from Stargate. We worked on the Ultimar condos that are still there to this day. I personally laid one of the bricks in what is now the parking garage. Every time I drive my kids past the building, I point and shout out, “I helped build that!”

I mixed and pushed a lot of wheelbarrows of concrete around that site. One day, after getting just a little bit high with some of the guys, I was asked to walk the wheelbarrow over a plank suspended across the unfinished two-story 14th-floor penthouse. There were no walls up yet and it was an extremely windy day. With nothing but the shoreline directly below me as I wobbled the barrows to the crew, it was easily the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

And, I never smoked weed on the job again.

4

It was around 1995 when I was hired at the Florida Spine Institute as a medical transcriptionist. I think a family member had pulled some strings as a favor. My words per minute wasn’t the most impressive, but I got the job done, and I landed the gig. My interviews had gone well. I had filled out my W-2 forms. I was in the system and all set to go.

It was my first day on the job, when I was placed in front of a computer screen, given a pair of headphones, and thrown into the fire of monotonous surgical dictation. Next to the computer sat a blank yellow legal pad and a blue ballpoint pen.

It wasn’t long before my eyes began to sting and my brain began to slow down, choking on the flood of multisyllabic words coming through the headset. So, I paused the recording and took a break. I had been doodling on that yellow legal pad for maybe 10 minutes (it was probably a skull or a unicorn or a dragon or something) when the supervisor walked behind me, came to a stop, cleared their throat, and asked to see me in their office.

Being caught doodling was a horrible feeling. It was like being caught in the act of … something inappropriate. I immediately felt shame and remorse.

I was sure that I was to be reprimanded for the doodling. I was convinced that I would be scolded and put back out on the floor. But that’s not what happened. I was told “we don’t pay you to draw” and that it “wasn’t going to work out.”

I was fired on the spot. And, it was baffling to me at the time. Part of me was shocked that there would be no second chance and another part of me started to think that this is simply the way “grown-ups” operate – the way adults do things. And, that maybe I wasn’t ready for a real job.

I was deeply affected by the slap on the wrist I received in that supervisor’s darkened office. I still remember the green banker’s lamp on her desk and the thick wooden slats of the Venetian blinds, angled up to create wide swaths of sunlight that sliced across the entire room.

I began to think that I would never fit in the workplace unless I stifled my creative side, that there may never be a place for someone like me in the adult workforce. That maybe, just maybe, my creativity was a handicap.

Years later, I would find my people.

5

Before the advent of Google Alerts, corporations, scientists, colleges, policy-makers and advocates relied on real people to actually read every article of every newspaper ever printed to see if they (or their work) were being mentioned in print. It sounds crazy now, but it was a built-in structure of the old media landscape. I worked at the Press Clipping Bureau of Florida — housed in a converted bungalow on Clearwater Beach — shortly after graduating high school. It was, in some ways, the strangest job I’ve ever had. The house was filled with drafting tables (at least three in every room). I’m pretty sure there were cats in the house. Everyone wore shorts and flip flops and would spend their breaks walking on the sand or down Mandalay Avenue. 

We were separated into two groups (Readers and Cutters). Readers would read (well, skim) news articles, magazines and advertisements. They usually read the same papers every day in order to familiarize themselves with the style and voice of each media outlet. If they ran across a keyword or name we were being paid to monitor, they flagged it with a Post-it note. The stack then moved to a cutter, who meticulously trimmed the article out of the paper with an x-acto knife and applied a small, white square PCBF tag to the edge of the article using a glue stick. In the case of a jump to a double-sided page, the cutters would photocopy the backside, so that the client could flip through the article in order, face-up. They looked like a bunch of floppy Tetris pieces stapled together into a stack. 

Some of the younger people that worked there had the Sony Discman and listened to music while they worked. Mary and Jay were my favorites. They were dating. They were fun. They listened to Phish and Ween. One day, Jay handed me a CD called Din of Ecstasy by an artist named Chris Whitley that would change my life (and my own music) forever.

6

I worked at Event Magazine in Clearwater from 1999-2002. We were a black-and-white tabloid covering the arts and entertainment scene in the pre-digital age.

I designed the ads and all of the pages in Aldus Pagemaker, laid the pages out on cardboard flats with a wax roller and an x-acto knife and drove the oversized flats to the printer in Pinellas Park to be shot by a big camera.

When the papers were printed, I then drove/delivered them to hundreds of locations from Dunedin to St. Petersburg in my beat-up Renault Alliance for a little extra cash.

We modeled the look and style of the magazine after the original Women’s Wear Daily (now W Magazine).

My fondest memory was covering the Warhol exhibit at the former Salvador Dali Museum — an overnight event that featured the “Silver Clouds” installation, a screening of Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and many stoned and/or tripping people sitting and/or passed out all over the museum floor.

7

I designed so many album covers while working for Total Media, Inc that I started to get requests for my design work. Country artist Brett McMullen (part of the McMullen family known to Tampa Bay locals – McMullen Oil, McMullen-Booth Rd., etc.) released four albums during the time I worked there. He insisted I design each one. Another release I took pride in was the debut of Tampa-based rap duo The Villanz. 

In spite of the size restrictions of designing album art for the Compact Disc format (5×5.5″), there was some innovative and award-winning design happening at the time.

I was very influenced by Island Records’ packaging for Ednaswap’s Wacko Magneto which was designed to look like a pinball machine and included a ball bearing that rattled around in the spine.

There was also the Sagmeister-designed Imaginary Day by Pat Metheny that was printed entirely with tiny icons (insects, pyramids, planets and trees). The design required the owner to rotate the disc itself (with an alphabet printed along the mirror band) on a clear jewel tray against a backprinted insert in order to decode the liner notes. Wild stuff.

And then there was Mackie Osborne, who decided that 5 inches wasn’t nearly sufficient and decided that the back of the CD (and its additional .4 inches) was now the front. That changed the CD game entirely. No more trying to figure out where the ugly-ass barcode was going. 

To put it in the form of a haiku:

When life is inches
Another half of an inch
Means the entire world.

8

I worked as the Marketing Director at Creative Loafing in Tampa for a decade.

While there, I ran huge events (like Beer Fest and Best of the Bay Awards), helped launch a thriving gift certificate program (CL Deals), produced an award-winning podcast featuring local bands in the archive room (this was pre-NPR’s Tiny Desk), launched a horror film festival (Reel Terror), opened and ran an event space (CL Space), managed a very active street team, and made a mean pot of coffee.

I was a musician when I landed the job, but while “working” for CL, I became a part of the art/music/food community in a way that can’t easily be extricated from my sense of who I am today. Anyone who has spent time at an alt-weekly will know. It’s family. You found your people.

Alt-weeklies have always been about telling the stories you want to hear, from an independent or outsider perspective. It was also (at the time) about reclaiming journalism from the monolithic daily newspaper(s) (back then, we had two). Our street teams never slashed each other’s tires like the radio people did, but it got tense a couple times.

Because of CL, I covered the South by Southwest conference six years in a row. I even presented at SXSW in 2010 on the state of alt-weeklies and the rise of online journalism.

Because of CL, I stood ten feet from soon-to-be-President Obama and directed a video shoot of his Tampa campaign speech.

I was afforded opportunity after opportunity and gained every bit of real-world experience I would ever need — all for very little pay and middling health insurance coverage. But, the people — all of us moving and stretching and hyper-performing to the weekly rhythm of the deadline — were a family. And the stories were in our blood.

9

From 2015 – 2020, I was the Director of Creativity and Innovation for RIDG, a corporate innovation consultancy specializing in working with executives to lead their teams through change.

I served multiple roles in the company, including:

Graphic Recorder – Creating bold, colorful murals using .5-inch foamcore and Neuland markers in order to capture information for clients to deliver back to their employees or event attendees.

Creative Director – I led or was involved with all product development, including corporate branding and messaging, infographics, e-books, videos, webinars and online courses. I managed the company’s outreach at career fairs and tradeshows and produced signature events, including “Success Stories: Top Habits of Rule-Breaking Women,” “The Instant Innovator Challenge” and “Disruption Readiness: LIVE!”

Lead Facilitator – I was responsible for delivering much of the client-facing facilitation and consulting work. I’ve personally led multiple breakthrough sessions with high-level clients using creative, visual (and now virtual) communication tools. I was trained in facilitation and design thinking by CEO Michelle Royal and assisted in writing and designing the internal facilitator training and handbooks so that a team of skilled facilitators can follow in our footsteps.

10

And finally …

It has been my dream for many years to work in a bookstore. Any bookstore. Any time I have been between jobs, I have submitted applications to big chains like Barnes and Noble and Bookstop as well as local shops like Haslam’s and 3-2-1 Books. 

Despite my repeated attempts over the years to make it happen, my dream has been thwarted. I’m sure my resume doesn’t exactly match what they’re looking for. A father, musician and church leader is never going to be able to work holidays or weekends.

Perhaps one day I will don an apron and a nametag, strolling the aisles making recommendations and telling stories to customers about the stories I, myself, have gotten lost in.

Until then, I will continue to collect them — and write them down.

Thanks for reading. 

Post your least favorite job in the comments below!

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