No. 13, Multi-Restaurant Delivery Girl (Age 17)

CHARACTER ACTOR: An actor who lacks some of the admittedly subjective physical attributes associated with movie stars: too tall, too short, unattractive, overweight, or somehow lacking an ephemeral “star quality.”

Most incoming freshman have only a vague idea of how dining services operate, how to register for classes, what those classes should be, or how to schedule those classes around Days of Our Lives and All My Children. Ideally, parents travel with eager new students to a summer orientation where said student is tossed into a sea of colored pamphlets and information overload. Hordes of preppy, soon-to-be sophomores guide them around singing praises of the school, zealously demonstrating their membership in Brown Nosers of America. Students unable to attend summer orientation catch a last-minute session a few days prior to the start of fall classes (sans parental units). I was one who waited until the later orientation, and so had to register for classes over the phone. Somehow, I wasn’t instructed to sign up for freshman English—who knew? Talk about poor planning. I was doomed.

If your parents didn’t go to college—and mine didn’t, in fact, my Dad only made it through the eighth grade—then there is little or no concept of the college experience. Orientation? Care packages? College savings? Huh? Mom filled out the financial aid forms and, after that, I was on my own. On campus I got lost trying to find this magical orientation and so dismissed it entirely, losing out on vital information about securing work-study positions to supplement my student loans and non-existent savings. I was up crap creek without a paddle or a lifejacket or any ability to swim. I swore I wasn’t going to work in a fast food joint again, and I wasn’t sold on the idea of wearing a hairnet in the cafeteria. It was bad enough I had braces on my teeth and a body I cried about every night before I went to sleep; I didn’t need a hairnet and fry-pimpled skin to completely rule out any chances of companionship. But I was fortunate enough to have a car, and just down the street from my dormitory was a place advertising several delivery positions with flexible schedules and lots of tips. Tips. I gazed to the heavens, dreaming of bulging pockets and endless trips to the vending machines for Twinkies and cheese sandwiches. I would get my tips.

The business was brand new, started by a former student bored with having been limited to pizza and sub delivery while in college. He created a service that delivered food from a large selection of restaurants—even diners and ice cream shops. My Le Car would be a trusty steed for delivery. Young women have strange relationships with 4-cylinder engines and stick shifts. I felt as though I ruled the world, zipping and darting and shifting and beeping and laughing at my auto-efficiency and self-proclaimed bad-assery because I could drive a manual transmission. So I zipped and darted down the street to Hungry Cyclone’s headquarters for my first shift as a delivery driver in a city I had lived in for less than ten days.

I ended up with just three delivery runs that night and $7 in tips. Ouch. That was far less than the thirty or forty dollars I had been hoping for—even if I figured in $4.25 an hour plus ten cents a mile.

Apparently the owner didn’t think about the fact that the rib restaurant, the ice cream shop, and the cookie store had no experience in high volume takeout service. Drivers were left waiting while rib juice leaked into our upholstery and French fries stunk up our cars. It was chaos for everyone involved. I got lost without exception and each time showed up with cold food (or warm, whichever was least desirable). Lobbing burgers to last-call drunks from behind the safety of a stainless steel counter sounded like paradise as the hours passed and the pizzas chilled.

After my first night I arrived at my dorm room in a cranky mood. My roommate Beth was all smiles.

“A package came for you today, Sandy. It’s really heavy.” I looked at her pale face. An unknown stress had manifested itself as cold sores that circled her mouth and crawled into her nose. I wondered what she looked like at the end of a semester.

“Thanks.” I took the box and set it on the bed. “Hey, this is from my Granny Idela. It’s a care package.” I could only imagine what was inside. As a child, I thought all grandmas had faux-leopard walls and faux-leopard furniture, and dressed in sequined gowns and blonde wigs and looked a lot like Dolly Parton. I thought all kids went to dive bars on the Jersey Shore to hear grandma sing and play drums in her country band, Idela and the Country Cream. I even tried to emulate her musical prowess that semester by auditioning for and landing a spot as a snare drummer in the university orchestra. I loved walking to campus with drumsticks hanging out of my back pocket. Maybe I should become a classical snare drummer? That would be cool. Except I quit—rather, I quit showing up—after just two rehearsals, mortified that I had to count in silence through 117 measures of rests, only to play a single par-a-diddle or flam before counting 60 more. Ugh. Boooring.

Looking down at the box, I noticed her usual salutation: To the Most Beautiful and Talented Granddaughter in the World. Each of we granddaughters was the most something, it depended on her mood. Grandma employed a ruler to guide her handwriting and all the letters were flat on the bottom, the tops were curls and swirls. I used a knife to cut the half-dozen layers of tape. “Are you ready?” I asked Beth.

“Sure, whatever,” she said. “I just hope there’s chocolate.” I removed the contents of the box one thing at a time and piled everything in the center of the room. Three-fourths of the stuff was wrapped in tissue, wrapping paper and ribbon. Beth’s eyes bulged as I removed the following from the 16″ x 16″ x 22″ box:

  1. 1 wire-bound college-ruled notebook, 50 pages
  2. 1 wire-bound wide-rule notebook, 40 pages
  3. 1 wire-bound college-ruled notebook, 50 pages
  4. 1 wire-bound wide-rule notebook, 40 pages
  5. 2 5-pack index dividers w/tabs
  6. 1 wire-bound college-ruled notebook, 5 pages
  7. 1 8-ounce pack Gevalia coffee
  8. 2 13″ x 7″ x 4″ plastic Sterilite storage boxes w/lids
  9. 1 cassette tape “Kings of Swing” big band swing
  10. 1 miniature screwdriver set
  11. 1 Electrex quartz travel alarm clock
  12. 2 lightbulb magnets (blue and yellow)
  13. 2 self-adhesive plastic hooks
  14. 1 purple pencil sharpener
  15. 1 chip clip
  16. 1 100-tablet Walgreen’s multi-vitamins (expired)
  17. 1 Golden Choice sesame cookies with honey
  18. 1 rose petal perfume (1/2 oz)
  19. 1 silver-tone bracelet
  20. 1 silver-tone ring with abalone hearts
  21. 1 silver-tone ring with oval abalone
  22. 1 silver-tone mesh bracelet with abalone ovals
  23. 1 small denim pouch
  24. 1 brown beaded necklace with faux pearl doves
  25. 1 pair brown beaded earrings with faux pearl doves
  26. 1 silver-tone necklace with half spade decor
  27. 1 small powder-blue washable feather duster
  28. 3 6-packs AA batteries (expired)
  29. 1 giant bottle Eau de Jontue fraiche cologne
  30. 2 toothbrushes (1 soft, 1 medium)
  31. 1 pink and teal vinyl pouch (reversible)
  32. 1 nightlight
  33. 2 mini spiral notebooks
  34. 1 pack Blackhorse Tavern playing cards
  35. 1 strawberry Kissing Potion
  36. 2 loose AA batteries
  37. 1 pair high-tech toenail clippers
  38. 1 tube Hair Away
  39. 1 bonus pack (30% more) Thin Mints
  40. 1 Belwood alarm clock radio
  41. 1 pack loose-leaf paper
  42. 1 flower-embossed leather purse
  43. 1 bottle 100 tablets Theragran M (expired)
  44. 1 bottle 30 tablets Theragran M (expired)
  45. 1 flowery compact with mirror
  46. 1 auto maplight
  47. 1 auto spotlight (plugs into lighter)
  48. 1 plastic hanging hosiery caddy
  49. 1 red, yellow and blue placemat
  50. 1 threaded sewing needle
  51. 2 pins with purple and blue heads
  52. 5 safety pins
  53. 4 mini threads
  54. 1 pair scissors with rubber finger guards
  55. 3 packets powdered Alpine spiced cider
  56. 2 packets Carnation hot cocoa mix
  57. 1 Revlon white plastic comb
  58. 1 wooden back scratcher with brass hand
  59. 1 bag rubber bands
  60. 1 one-cup coffee brewing device
  61. 4 shopping list coupon caddies
  62. 2 pencils
  63. 1 shower clip with plastic handle
  64. 1 Quantas travel toothbrush w/ paste
  65. 1 vinyl travel bag from Time Magazine
  66. 1 even bigger vinyl travel bag from Time Magazine
  67. 1 tan wash rag
  68. 1 tan hand towel
  69. 1 white hand towel with Christmas tree
  70. 2 moss-green bath towels
  71. 1 pink and black alien-head key chain

I sat back on my heels and looked at Beth. “Have I mentioned anything about my grandma?”

Granny IdelaGranny Idela

I coasted down the street to my second shift at Hungry Cyclone and grudgingly loaded empty cold bags and a hot box into my car. The hot boxes were kept warm with a Sterno; a tin cup holding flammable gel that warms when ignited. A few hours into this second shift of zipping, careening and pissing people off with lateness, my mighty LeCar filled with creamy smoke. The Sterno had tipped over and its weak blue flames had ignited my car seat. It quickly burned through the upholstery and started melting the foam underneath. The acrid smell caused me to swerve around corners, barely missing blurry pedestrians as my eyes burned and squirted tears. I managed to pull over and pound out the flames, tipping a pizza on its side and spilling hot Sterno gel as I threw the hot box to the floor. I immediately headed back to the shop and—like a true drama queen—explained my plight to the owner, cut my shift short, and raced out the door.

I didn’t take another job that semester; instead, I tried to be frugal with the tiny amount left from my student loans. I partied like a true freshman. I wanted to recreate my earliest recollections of getting drunk, when my body hummed and my face felt sparkly. Unfortunately, I seemed to continue skipping over the fun part and went from slightly buzzed to passed out cold. I spent entire weekends with crippling hangovers. Halfway through the semester I quit going to classes because I decided I was going to be an actress. Why not, I thought; I was in plays in high school. Sampson was already in New York City and was urging me to audition at the theatre school he was attending (I think he just needed a roommate). And Granny Idela needed a grandchild to gain the fame and fortune that had somehow eluded her.

I figured I would need to lose some weight if I was to be an actress (I had packed on 50 pounds in the past year). But instead of abstaining from excessive eating or engaging in exercise, I borrowed twenty dollars from my roommate to buy laxatives, thinking I could shit out all the donut calories. I went so far as to spend an entire afternoon lying in bed, dangling a hammer over my face, thinking if I broke my jaw just a little I could get my mouth wired shut. Liquid lunches would guarantee a stage-worthy body.

Only I couldn’t do it. Not only was I was afraid of the pain, but having a hammer fall on my face would require a fairly elaborate explanation, not to mention a lengthy trip to crazy town. I’d just have to be a character actress. So after a single semester of college I returned to Estherville to prepare for my audition at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. In the interim I’d have to return to McDonald’s and apply at the local egg processing plant where they always had openings.

I told Mom about the new plan and she said, “Whatever you want to do, Sandman!” Her habit was to always tell me I was the smart one (I wasn’t), the one who could do anything I tried (I couldn’t), the one who would be rich and famous (I’m still hopeful) and—I always found this a curious declaration—the one who would buy my own jewelry. What little guidance I’d been provided had long before been withdrawn. I knew only what was expected in the end.

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A Bit of Background: Part I, Serial Movers

My first few jobs took place in the 80’s, a time when everybody in our family and circle of friends was either broke or had just bought their tickets. My parents had a good run when the Estherville beef-packing plant was open, with my mom slicing and dicing the cows and my dad hauling them off in his eighteen-wheeler. Still, they were not immune to a failing economy, and right around the time I started job number four my parents’ money troubles got the best of them, and they lost our house on South 10th Street. We were doomed to be renters, again. The house we moved into on North 8th Street would be the fifteenth place we’d set up residence in our short lifetime. Lisa and I were well-seasoned movers by then, and generally looked forward to once more reassembling our belongings.

To me, it seemed we were always moving, always hurrying, always packing up and getting the hell out of somewhere fast. I look back and wonder if the kinetic fallout of such urgent change was among the reasons I continually hurled myself from job to job. It is fitting, I suppose, to enumerate the many places we lay our heads and greeted the day, if only to illluminate the reality that whether you are an adult or a child, life has the ability to just drag you along behind it. Sometimes by holding your hand, and sometimes by clutching onto your hair while you play dead.

That being said; Where we lived and a wee bit of how . . .

Lisa and my first home was near a United States Army facility in Kaiserslaughtern, Germany, the second in Vogelweh, Germany, followed by several towns in Pennsylvania: first Hulmeville and Bristol, then, when Mom divorced our father and hooked up with a new guy, we moved in with the new guy’s mother in Langhorne, and later into a two-family in Plumsteadville. Leaving Pennsylvania, we spent a short stint with our maternal grandma in Bordentown, New Jersey. In the midst of all this, my mother began having fainting spells and was prone to blacking out at work.

After one of these fainting spells a coworker stood over her. With his thin face, plank straight hair and scraggly beard, she thought she had died and was lying before Christ (Seriously, he totally looked like Jesus). He turned out to be her savior nonetheless, volunteering to take her to the hospital and then—after a whirlwind courtship—asking her to move to Iowa once he got settled there with his parents and six younger siblings (See Prologue). Most 18-year-old men would run screaming from a 24-year-old divorcée with two small children. But this scrawny hero was destined to be our Dad.

Then came Iowa, but not before Lisa and I were sent into foster care where we remained for a year, from Christmas through Christmas, while Mom detoxed and spent some time in the clinker. Does it really matter why? Let’s just say she couldn’t vote anymore.

After arriving safely in the Midwest, we first stayed with our new father’s family in Estherville, Iowa. We only stayed with them a few months, but Lisa and I would spend many summers on their farm, building forts, riding horses, playing Land of the Lost, and exploring the mysterious miles of forest in their backyard. Our first official home in Iowa was on South 9th Street, the second a house near the City Swimming Pool, after that a place on North 6th Street, then on to a glorious farm in Dunnell, MN, where Lisa and I played hard and sleuthed through the dozen empty barn buildings and acres of gooseberry bushes and mulberry trees.

In the third grade, my parents picked us up again and returned to Estherville, Iowa and moved into a run down two-bedroom on South 2nd Avenue. It had a big yard and was close to school, and the brick garage had cool nooks for Lisa to hide her cigarettes. It was really a dump, but it felt like home during family epidemics of chicken pox and scabies, and it was the last place my parents rented before buying their very first home located just around the corner—the one on South 10th Street that they’d just given back to the back to the bank.

Site User Manual: What to Expect

My intentions with this site are to post individual narratives from each of my 74 jobs. These tales will be posted one-by-one at a pace I’m unable to predict or even contemplate at this time. I might do them in order. I might skip around. I might take requests. I might go on vacation. The majority of the text will be cannibalized from a book project I’ve kept tucked into a drawer for the past few years (a very, very large drawer). The format of this site will always be a work-in-progress. You’ll have to keep checking back or subscribe to receive email updates . . .

Whatever methods I choose to unfold the details of my serial work, The Serial Worker should remain a venue for fellow workers of the world to read about or discuss the tragicomical realities of the chronically employed. And what shitty, horrible realities they usually are.

Shitty, yes. Horrible, perhaps. But also hilarious, and insightful, and rife with the very passions and anger and fears which make us human.

You never know, perhaps The Serial Worker will help others find clarity in their toil, or reveal new ways to find humor in the stupid, asinine things our employers make us do for money.

At the bare minimum, The Serial Worker will slowly reveal the clandestine truth which keeps us workers smiling, a truth that toes the line of revenge (or at the very least, complacency), and that truth is:

The average Joe Worker does some really strange things when no one is watching.

Enjoy.

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