Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday Listicles: 10 Things I Have Done to Make a Living

Well, it's Monday, so it must be time for Stasha’s Monday Listicles again. And today's topic came from... ME!

And, it seems, I'm being late to my own party. (And not for the first time, I must admit.) You would think with my having known the topic for, oh, two weeks, I would have had this post written long ago and ready to pop up at one minute past midnight, be at the top of the link-up over at Stasha's.

Well, think again.

It's been a rough beginning to the new year is all I can say. And my ADD is acting up something fierce. So anyway, it's still Monday here (barely) and will be for a few more hours in at least some parts of the world, so let's proceed shall we?

Today's topic (as chosen by moi) is:

Top Ten Strange (odd/unusual/funny/interesting) Jobs you have held in your life.

#1.  Well, to start with, when I was a baby my father was an advertising photographer and sometimes he needed a baby for a shoot or for his portfolio. So, for a very short time, I was a baby model. He also was a fine art/documentary "street photographer" (with work in Life magazine, etc.) and took loads of pictures of me for that, too.  Wanna see?
Jim Steinhardt: "Girl with Balloon (ME!) at Central Park Zoo" 1963
#2. Then my Dad realized he hated advertising and got out of that business, bought an art gallery and frame shop on Long Island and it grew into an international and American crafts gallery of some renown. And I grew up in the family business, spending Saturdays and many of my summer days at the gallery.

I couldn't even tell you exactly when playing there became working there, but I distinctly remember setting up and helping to serve drinks at show openings from about the age of six on. And I know that from the time I was twelve I was selling in the store and working as a buyers assistant, accompanying my parents to big national craft fairs like Rhinebeck and the wholesale showrooms in the city.

Holiday time was always busy, and as a teenager I worked full long days every Saturday in November and December, and then when the "blue laws" were repealed (yes, I'm old enough to have lived when NO businesses outside of restaurants were open on Sundays) Sundays in December, too.

When I was 15, I ran the gift wrap "department" (me & a friend of mine) on the weekends for the holiday season. To this day I can eyeball any unusually sized or shaped object, instantly figure out what size box it will or won't fit in, and wrap it neatly with nice ribbon bows to boot.

My most memorable sales interaction with a customer? It was the day before Christmas, when the desperate men who hadn't a clue would arrive, and you could sell them practically anything. He was buying jewelry. Three nice pieces. One for his wife, and one each for his two "girlfriends." He wanted to spend about the same for each. Wrote lovey notes on gift cards to be included inside the boxes. Had us put a little code on the bottom of the wrapped boxes so he could know which was which.

How much did we want to "accidentally" mess up the code for him? The whole staff was abuzz with wicked plans to do this while his gifts were being wrapped. In the end of course, we didn't. A customer is a customer, and he was a good spender. (Times 3!) But we talked about him for years to come.

#3. Away at college, through friends I fell into a summer job as a founding member of the Sunflour Bakery Collective in Bar Harbor, Maine. Of course, first I had to learn how to bake bread, which I did in a hurry that spring.

This was not a typical "job." We all lived together, communally on the uppermost floor of the building which was not in any way set up or zoned for habitation, while the landlord conveniently looked the other way. We each made little nests for ourselves using odd materials found on the second floor of the building, in what had been a woodworking shop at one point. My "chair" was an ornate antique toilet stuffed with my sleeping bag to make a cushion.

We often took in like-minded (i.e. hippie) folks who were passing through town and let then "camp out" on the second floor and share meals with us for a few hours of work in the bakery.  It was all very whole grain and natural (naturally), and actually quite delicious. I think I ate better that summer that at any time in my life before or since.

#4. The following year, I spent my summer in Cambridge / Boston with a combination of 2 jobs to keep me afloat: showing up at 5 AM on the weekends to be the breakfast chef at the very vegan Golden Temple Emporium Cafe (yes, run by people with big white turbans on their heads). Can you say "scrambled tofu" anyone?

That was combined with my weekday job of slinging the greasiest of burgers and fries (while wearing hot pants!) to a lunch crowd of finance guys at The Saint, which happened to also be the local lesbian bar at night, which I frequented... frequently. And the irony of all this was not lost on me, I laughed about it constantly.

#5. Then I landed in California for a few years. You may have heard me mention this one before, but yes, in 1981 I actually WAS a Bean Sprout farmer in the wilds of Mendocino county.

We were a womens collective on 160 acres on a ridge with a number of odd buildings on the flat land at the top, and among them 3 geodesic domes. One of these was given over to the business of hydroponically growing bean sprouts that were sold to restaurants and in health food stores in Northern California.

My tasks included washing the sprouts daily, cutting them when they were the right length, bagging them, and assembling the "mixed sprout" salads. Also driving up & down the coast for delivery. And yes, we had to remember to put shirts on when driving off the property.

Looking back, I don't think we had a license and can't ever remember a health inspection. But those were different, looser, freer times. And I don't THINK we ever gave anyone salmonella poisoning.

#6. Also in California, now living more conventionally in Santa Cruz, I became the assistant manager of the Polar Bear ice cream shop in Capitola. And my right (scooping) arm became twice as strong as my left. I was living with a woman who had a 6 year old daughter who was THRILLED to be able to come in and order anything she wanted for free.

And no, I wasn't stealing. The owners wisely gave us a monthly allotment of free ice cream, which kept us all honest about what we ate or took home or gave away. And made us very popular with our friends.

#7. Back on the East coast and back in college, I found occasional work as an artists model. Yes, nude. And people this is HARD work. Holding a pose that seems just dandy at 2 minutes will feel like torture by minute 10 with your muscles screaming for release. And, totally exposed, if you twitch, they will see. And yell at you to keep steady.

#8. My main job while in college was at the local pottery gallery (using my family business talents at last) but on the summers, to not lose me during them, the gallery owners - who were 3 potters themselves - had me come out to their studio to do odd jobs for the seven potters who worked there and shared kilns.

I was not a potter, and it quickly became clear that my natural talents did not lie in this direction, but everyone found things for me to do to help out that did not require actual potting, including wedging clay (great anger release), packing orders for shipping (I still have nightmares about plastic peanuts), and, most terrifyingly, carrying precious fragile pieces to and from the gas kiln which was outdoors, out back, DOWN a little hill. No, I never dropped anything, but did have daily palpitations, thank you.

#9. 1988. Out of school and back in New York City, while working my way into jobs in the film and television industry and also directing and stage managing plays and performance art off-off Broadway, I landed a regular gig with the brand spanking new World Financial Center as an assistant stage manager for their arts and events program, including a month of opening galas.

As I was a bit more mature and put together than a lot of the kids they had working for them, I was usually assigned to babysit the talent, including escorting them to the "stage," which was always rigged in different places and often far, far from the holding areas.

This also meant that I would be seen in the "front of the house" and had to work evening events in formal wear and heels. On miles of marble floors. (Ouch!) Highlights included: a frantic search for one of the coconuts of Kid Creole & the Coconuts who had decided to go look for a friend in the audience, minutes before their call and watching Grace Jones go into makeup and be transformed into... Grace Jones.

Best of all was escorting Cab Calloway up onto the stage itself because he was rather elderly and unsteady on his feet and the steps didn't have a handrail.

This was also the first time I was given a newfangled "cell phone" thingy - about 8 pounds of equipment with a handset connected to a rectangular box that hung from a shoulder strap - this was 1988, people!

1988 Cell Phone. Really.
#10. Fast forward many, many years (see the calendar pages whirl by) and come to my current occupation: Autism Mom. I am an amateur neurobiologist, behaviorist, teacher, translator, pharmacologist, allergist, gluten & casein-free chef, and deep hug giver. In my 9th year of an ongoing experiment in radical sleep deprivation.

Definitely the strangest "job" I have ever had. But the most fulfilling. Worth every minute of it.

And, believe it or not, (believe!) I could go on and on. But I'll stop here at ten.

See y'all next week!

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