Welcome to The Serial Worker

Our value as people isn’t determined by the color of our collars or by how we pay the rent. Just because we’ve cleaned toilets or worked in fast food doesn’t mean we’re unintelligent or lazy or that we haven’t tried hard in our lives.

I mean, really; since when has a crooked path indicated a lack of direction? Who ever said nebulous goals mean an absence of passion? Who decided a fancy title is the epithet of happiness?

After all, somebody has to work the overnight shift at the beef-packing plant; somebody needs to be the janitor in your building; somebody needs to collect tolls on the interstate; somebody needs to be the lunch lady at your children’s school. And of course, somebody needs to clean the toilets.

The Serial Worker speaks to the worker in all of us. More importantly, it gives cause for celebration that we don’t have to be somebody to be somebody.

That being said, the 70 or so jobs to be discussed on this site don’t include those chores we all do as children, like babysitting, or mowing the lawn, or earning quarters for emptying dead mice from snap traps during winter infestations. Nor does it include my (surprisingly lucrative) adolescent hairstyling era: when in junior high, I cut, styled, French-braided and permed the hair of my mother’s friends for a few dollars a head. Neither have I felt the need to include the paltry amount of money I made playing in bands (I only mention it here because it makes me sound cool).

It’s conceivable that someone somewhere might discount a temp job or an internship that I’ve included, thinking it can’t be classified as a job because of its temporary status or lack of payment. What typifies a job is indeed a definition of the most slippery sort. Since I’ve had dozens of occasions in which to come up with a standard for applying this label, you’ll have to trust my judgment. Even so, excluding temp jobs and internships, I’ve still had well over 60 jobs, allowing me to graciously accept the designation of Serial Worker. The evidence defending that title can be found in the greasy creases of my jobs. They have truly shaped the shapeless person I am today.

I imagine few would want this distinction of impermanence, to be known as an ungrounded job-hopping gypsy, one of the original “free agents.” But sticking around at a job you hate doesn’t define control—it defies it. And vocational rebirth is hugely underrated.

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Here Comes the Fuzz: A Beginning

TaxitestWhat is the feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? –It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”

“Here comes the fuzz, Mom!” My sister shouted from the back seat of our powder blue Impala. “Here comes the fuzz!” Mom hit the brakes but the trooper’s lights were flashing before the garbage on the dash had time to hit the floorboards.

“Son of a bitch, girls, I think he got us.” Mom pulled off the road and yanked on the parking brake, then took a drag of her cigarette and forced the smoke through her nostrils. She was pissed. We were only in Ohio and had two more states to cross. Cash was tight and two girls under the age of five weren’t the best traveling partners. The last thing she wanted to see was a cop.

Mom had gotten out of the Big House the day before. Within hours of release, the Impala was packed and our dog was shedding hair in the front passenger seat. She’d swooped into the foster home where Lisa and I were living and, after gathering our meager personal belongings and making small talk with the parents, lifted us by the waist and wedged us among the debris cluttering the back seat. “Mommy’s so happy to see you girls. I missed you so much.” She kissed the tops of our heads and closed the door, then slid behind the wheel and revved the engine as she lit a cigarette. The car backfired. Lisa and I giggled. “How’d you like to go on a little trip?”

The officer approached the car. His face appeared in the window and my mother, her brown eyes bloodshot and filling with Oscar-worthy tears, looked out from beneath her hippie locks. He was practically a child himself. His round face was flushed the color of cherry Kool-Aid, and perspiration had made his blonde hair curl around the brim of his cap. A long silence passed as he took in the carnage of an impoverished family in transit.

Two young girls in pigtails stared at him. Our faces were smeared with peanut butter and jelly, our knees raw from crawling around on torn upholstery. A box of rotting fruit from our maternal grandmother gave off a faint aroma of overripe bananas and had encouraged a couple of fruit flies to make the trip with us. Toys were tossed about, some wedged under large garbage bags filled with our clothing. Lisa and I sat perfectly still, holding hands while we pressed as close to each other as possible. Mom hadn’t bothered to put out her cigarette and the car was filled with smoke. Lisa’s cough broke the silence and the officer returned his gaze to my mother. He puffed his cheeks full of air and allowed its slow escape as he consulted his conscience about what to do with this frazzled woman and her daughters.

Looking away he said, “Ma’am, it seems you were speeding. I’m only giving you a warning this time. Please, just slow down some, especially since you’re traveling with these little girls, here.”

“Thank you so much, officer. Thank you.”

Lisa and I chimed in, “Thanks, officer! Thanks, Fuzz!” My mother popped the Impala into drive and we started to move before he had time to react. We were off again, headed for a new home and our new father, filled with the humble expectations of the nomadic.

The Serial Worker’s Job List

ESTHERVILLE, IA

1.   Housekeeper (Age 12-14)
2.   Corn Roguer (Age 13)
3.   Ice Cream Counter Girl (Age 14)
4.   Family Restaurant Counter Girl (Age 14-15)
A Bit of Background: Part I, Serial Movers
5.   Sales Clerk (Age 15)
6.   Drive-thru Counter Girl (Age 16-19)
7.   Home Health Aide #1 (Age 16)
8.   Home Health Aide #2 (Age 16)
9.   Fast Food Counter Girl (Age 16)
10. Bus Girl / Pizza Maker (Age 16-17)
11. Coupon Book Delivery Girl (Age 17)
12. Corn Detasseler (Age 17)

A MOVE TO AMES, IA

13. Multi-Restaurant Delivery Girl

(BACK TO) ESTHERVILLE, IA

14. Egg Factory Worker

A MOVE TO STATEN ISLAND, NY

15. Dental Office Receptionist

(BACK TO) ESTHERVILLE, IA

16. Bean Walker

A MOVE TO NEW YORK, NY

17. Abortion Rights Phone Solicitor
18. Nightclub Pass Distributor
19. Student Janitor
20. Display Setup Grunt

(BACK TO) ESTHERVILLE, IA

21. Tour Boat Bartender

A MOVE TO IOWA CITY, IA

22. College Cafeteria Worker
23. Grocery Cashier
24. Medical Records Filer
25. Caterer
26. Newspaper Intern
27. Artist-in-Residence
28. Preview Arts Writer
29. Research Assistant
30. Arts & Entertainment Editor
31. Grocery Deli Worker
32. Overnight Grocery Stocker
33. Test Scorer #1

(BACK TO) NEW YORK, NY

34. Assistant Historical Romance Editor
35. Waitress
36. Dog Walker

(BACK TO) IOWA CITY, IA

37. Bartender
38. Pizza Delivery Girl

A MOVE TO PORTLAND, OR

39. Cocktail Waitress
40. Independent Living Guide

(BACK TO) IOWA CITY, IA

41. Motel Desk Clerk
42. Eldercare
43. Curator
44. Taxi Driver #1
45. Taxi Driver #2
46. Golf Course Flower Girl
47. Test Scorer #2
48. Prep Cook
49. Line Cook
50. Food Co-op Cook
51. Bread Baker

A MOVE TO WEST DES MOINES, IA

52. Bread Baker/Retail Manager

A MOVE TO BOSTON, MA

53. Cable Company Receptionist
54. Biotech Receptionist
55. Retail Bakery Manager
56. Software Company Receptionist
57. Gift Wrapper
58. Ice Cream Counter Girl #2
59. Executive Assistant
60. Women’s College Receptionist
61. Agency Liaison
62. General Contractor Receptionist
63. Office Cleaner

A MOVE TO WILTON, CT

64. Eldercare #2
65. Dog Sitter
66. Seamstress Assistant
67. Gift Wrapper #2

A MOVE TO FAIRFIELD, CT

68. Jewelry Store Bookkeeper

(BACK TO) NEW YORK, NY

69. Executive Assistant #1
70. Executive Assistant #2
71. Executive Assistant #3
72. Executive Assistant #4

A MOVE TO GREENFIELD, MA

73. Light Industrial Employment Specialist
74. Office Manager