Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Working for a Living

I had a pretty rotten day at work today.

There I said it.

As I've written before, I work at a bookstore.  Retail.  At least it's full time work with benefits, and I really like the people I work with.  That helps.

I've held many jobs in my life, as I've been working since I was 12.

I was texting recently with my dear friend, the gorgeous Olivia Loren, and we were discussing jobs we've held in our lifetimes.  We had one in common: we both delivered newspapers back in the day.  That was my first job; I delivered the Evening Phoenix in my home town of Spring City.

With Olivia at Keystone 2015

I didn't start this job voluntarily.  You see, my older brother had the paper route.  But he also went out for Football.  So all of the junior high football season, I had to deliver the papers on his route.  He would deliver one day only: Saturday.  That's when he did the weekly collection.  You see, back then, collection was done by knocking on the person's door and asking them to pay up.  Usually they did, and would give you a little something extra for the effort.  From the few times I worked a Saturday, I knew that the paper route cleared over $40 a week in tips, usually. That was good money for a kid back then.  And my brother did the collecting.  So he worked one day a week, and I did the rest.  And how much did I get?  $5 a week.  And I usually had to force it out of him.  Why only that amount?  That's the number my parents set.  So I did 5/6 of the work, and he got 7/8 of the money.

I didn't think that was fair.

Eventually I decided to get my own route.  And I ended up with the biggest Phoenix route in Spring City when the guy doing it before me gave it up.  It was three times the papers, but it was also three times the money.  And the following fall, I did my route AND my brother's... and still got only $5 for that.  Why didn't I refuse?  My parents were adamant that the papers MUST be delivered so I HAD to do it, as he needed to keep the job while playing football.

I held onto my route for a few years.  I remember delivering papers during the whole Three Mile Island disaster.  Gas was only 81 cents a gallon then.  I remember that clearly.  Candy bars were a quarter.

In 1982, I quit the paper route, and got my first "real" job.  Burger King opened in 1981 in our town, and every kid wanted to work there.  To us provincial small town types, this was a glamorous job!  I met many really great people there.  It took a while for me to be accepted, as I was very shy and introverted.  People thought I was weird.  But one of the "cool" guys took me under his wing: Chuck Tyson.  And we became good friends.  Chuck vouched for me, and I was in.  Chuck died in the mid-90s of lung cancer, despite having never smoked a day in his life.  I saw many of my BK friends at his funeral.  In fact, it was the last time I'd seen most of them.

By the summer of 1983, all the "in-crowd" guys from my grade worked at Burger King- and I trained them all.  I had a window in what the popular people were really like.  A few of them were genuinely nice people.  They included me in after work antics, like jumping the fence at the local swim club for midnight swims.  And when school started again (after I'd been fired and rehired for yelling at a manager), they acknowledged my existence in school as well.

By this point, I had started dressing.  And I used Burger King money to mail order things from the Sears catalog (remember those?).  I saved most of my money though- I knew I'd need it for college.

During this time I was also volunteering on the local Rescue Squad and Ambulance as an Emergency Medical technician.

I was fired from BK again after I graduated high school in 1984.  By then, I'd found a job working at a sewage plant, and even though I'd signed off work, they wanted me to come in for a shift while I was at the other job.  I couldn't do it, and they fired me.  I lasted a week at the sewage plant before the stench made me switch jobs, to a summer job at an old age home.  It didn't smell much better, but most of the residents were wonderful people.

I worked many jobs through my college years.  I even volunteered to be a human guinea pig for scientific research.  The most I made from one of those was $5000 in one day, for allowing them to test a portable defibrillator on me.  (This would eventually become the defibrillator you see at almost every store and mall: the AED.)  I used this money for textbooks and other college related expenses.  I also bartended a lot.

After I graduated college, I was unemployed.  A couple of short jobs later (including one at a school), I was hired at TGI Fridays in King of Prussia, PA on September 14, 1989.  That was a very stressful job.  I met some truly amazing people there, and we as a group became close.  Foxhole mentality: us against the world.  I have worked many jobs since then, but when I have work nightmares they are almost always that I am back at Fridays, either waiting tables or bartending.  It could be truly miserable.  But I did meet Wife there, when I waited on her and her grandmother.

From there I did 13 years in the Hobby Game industry, first at a wholesale game distributor, then for Games Workshop (GW) in Baltimore.  My coworkers at GW became like family.  They came from all over the world, and all we had was each other.  It was also a high pressure job- sales with high targets.  But it had benefits as well- I was able to travel a lot, like to the UK.

GW eliminated my position, and I moved back to Pennsylvania with Wife, into her mother's house.  I was unemployed a few months, then in November 2003 I found work at the bookstore.  I've worked other jobs during my bookstore years as well, like at Vanguard and Penn State, and earned my Masters degree as well, but I've been at the store steadily all those years.

July 2015

So what does this have to do with being TG?  Nothing at all.  Except this: I've been in customer service all my life, and I've seen the worst people can dish out.  Or at least I think I have, but it seems that daily someone proves me wrong.  I think everyone should have to work a retail or food service job.  Not only does it teach hard work, but it teaches humility... and how to treat people.  I am regularly appalled by the way customers treat workers.  This has been the common thread through ALL my jobs.

I CHOSE my career path to serve others- through Education.  I didn't choose a path through Wall Street or some other well paying position.  No, I felt helping others was a higher calling.  My reward?  Having days like today.  Poverty.

If I could do it again, would I do it differently?  Probably not.  Steel is forged by fire, and I doubt I would have the thick skin necessary for transition without the daily thrashing I've taken through my working life.

I'm very lucky that my current employer has supported my transition.  Of all my other jobs through my life, the only other one that would have done that was Penn State.  All the others?  They would've found a way to get rid of me.  I have no doubt.

The times they ARE a changing, and maybe someday I'll get back into a position where I make a living wage (maybe even at the bookstore), and I will do so as my True self.  I've been told by many people that I'm so much easier to work with now.  I don't doubt it.  I'm at Peace.

And maybe, just maybe, that will translate into marketability...

Be Well.

1 comment:

  1. Loved it Sophie!

    I too worked at BK in the early 80s. It was hard work, but it was a good life lesson too. I too was fired from that job. As a stupid teenager, I thought my life was over. I think it helped prepare me for the rest of the potholes in my existence.

    Great read. You are a great storyteller!