I’ve never been a fishmonger in the Arctic, but I’ve had my fair share of strange jobs – or jobs that should have been normal but came with some endearing quirks, as all the best jobs do.
1. Sam Goody at Springfield Mall when I was 16. Some guy who always looked like he was dressed for Ren Fest asked me to marry him and I never got a raise. What’s that about?
2. Ruby Tuesday’s. If you’ve never worked in food service at a chain restaurant, you would not believe what those crazy server kids get up to. Also, a really old man told me I look like Jodie Foster. I unequivocally do not.
3. This is one of my favorites. For a couple semesters when I was in college, I worked the phones, calling NYU alumni and asking for money. I was pretty good at it, but one night I got a film school graduate and he was having none of it. “Are you f-ing kidding me?!” he screamed. “I paid $50,000 a year for film school, can’t get a job, and you’re still sending me bills for equipment I returned five years ago. Don’t ever call me again!” The he hung up on me. In my “do not call” notes, I wrote, “Tisch School of the Arts graduate.” You’d think I would have gotten the message and transferred from Tisch to the Stern School of Business, but I didn’t.
4. Probably my favorite young person in New York job: selling subscriptions over the phone for Roundabout Theatre Company. I was the best salesperson in the room and one time, this guy tried to barter with me: “I’ll renew my subscription if you’ll come to one of the shows with me.” “I’m 20,” I told him. “Oh,” he replied. “Yeah, sure, I’ll renew. Do you take American Express?”
5. While we’re on the subject of wooing men over the phone…this was not a job I ever did, but I know someone whose girlfriend at the time was the most requested phone sex worker in all of Manhattan in 2001. I don’t know where she got those statistics. Nielsen, maybe? Rentrak?
6. Tower Records in Boston. I worked in the video rental department most of the time. Tower’s movie section had a lot of, um, adult offerings. I learned some things I didn’t want to know when men returned them and tried to justify their rental histories by explaining the plot lines. Also, one time Ozzy Osbourne came in and put about 50 CDs and movies into a shopping basket. He wasn’t looking at the titles; he was just touching things and throwing them into his basket. Awesome.
7. The concessions salesperson at Playwrights’ Horizons Theatre Company, off Broadway. I met a lot of famous people, most of whom no one cares about unless they like live theatre and boring movies. Ethan Hawke came to one of our opening night world premieres and tried to trick me into giving him a free beverage by flirting with me. Fortunately, I am immune to movie stars with greasy hair and nobody lost money on that one but Ethan.
8. Another New York City job! Isn’t youth grand? This one was working either the opening or closing shift at Ecce Panis in the West Village, a now defunct bakery supposedly frequented by neighborhood celebrities like Jeanine Garafulo and David Bowie. I spent a lot of time eating lemon squares and looking out the window, waiting for the Thin White Duke to buy brioche from me. That’s when my love affair with coffee (and David Bowie) really took off. During my closing shifts, I often worked with a South Asian kid named S-something – Samir, maybe? I’m not sure what he was doing in New York City, to be honest. He wasn’t in school and he didn’t seem to have any family, ambitions, or artistic pretensions. He did have a cell phone with a lot of shady people’s phone numbers, though, and used Ecce Panis as a front for some questionable activities. He’s probably running his own company now.
9. My second (and final?) bakery job was in Minneapolis. The poet Robert Bly came in one day and ordered breakfast. When I delivered his food, I said, “Excuse me, are you Robert Bly?” He curled his upper lip at me and snarled, “Yes.” I just stood there, not saying anything, because I hate his work and you’re not supposed to tell people that.