From the Cabbage Patch

In Episode #55 I talk about working at Toys “R” Us. There’s a lot more detail there for another time, but I’d rather talk about my strange work history. Here are a few of the highlights.

Some of my early jobs were gas station attendant (I lasted only three hours—really not my thing), and telemarketer for circus tickets (I did quite well, actually, and utterly hated it). My first real job was as a busboy at San Carlos, an upscale (for York, PA) restaurant. My pay rate was $1.00 an hour plus a share of the servers’ tips. One busy Saturday night there were only two of us working and we worked our butts off. A week after that, I came in to check the schedule and discovered I was no longer working there. I was told, “When you learn to work faster, we’ll have you back.” I don’t know how I could’ve worked any faster that night, and also don’t know how I could learn to work faster without working there again. My only lingering question is: did they ever kill that super roach that was in the kitchen?

My next real job was as a shoe salesman. I cover some of this in Episode #10. Here my pay was $1.90 an hour plus commissions. At this point I feel it necessary to point out that I do in fact support the $15 an hour minimum wage; perhaps you can see why.

After graduating from high school, i finally got hired as the janitor (not maintenance engineer) at the Historical Society of York County. In addition to cleaning off dusty exhibits, I learned a lot of valuable things besides history: I assisted the conservator in building the conservation lab, so I gained some carpentry skills; I helped set up art exhibits in the meeting room and so learned a little bit about lighting; and I observed some people who really didn’t know how to deal with other people, and so I learned a lot about the management of employees. Notably, the two I learned the most from in this regard were both fired by the institution.

Along came college and some work study jobs: building sets, working on a library card catalog (blissfully never in food service), and in grad school working in scene shops, and then finally becoming a teaching assistant. Here I got a glimpse of my future: working with students, creating exam questions, and learning how to navigate the wilds of academia. This was truly on the job training.

College did not stop the flow of low-paying jobs, however. While still at Berkeley, and finished with exams and my dissertation defense (more about these in Episodes #51 and #52), while working on my dissertation, I was not enrolled in classes and therefore was not eligible to be a teaching assistant. To provide some income, I became a Kelly girl!

Kelly Services supplies businesses with temporary workers. After taking a typing test and filling out the forms, I was sent off on an assignment to spend the day at GE Supply in Emeryville, CA (the original home for Pixar), xeroxing documents for a legal case. I was an automaton for eight hours, copying a huge stack of papers, and apparently I impressed a manager with my work ethic and efficiency, because when they needed a data entry person, they requested me.

I spent the next couple of weeks doing data entry: again, an automaton, sliding the next form toward me, typing the data into the system through the numeric keypad on the keyboard, and then pushing that paper off to the side. At some point I realized that what I was doing was in one way completely redundant, and I suggested a change in policy to the manager. She told me, “That’s the way we do things.” And so, vital lesson learned: Just do the job, shut up, and don’t make suggestions.

By the way, a discussion of this job would not be complete without mentioning Frank. Frank was a salesman who sat across the aisle from me in the cubicle farm. He was constantly on the phone, and constantly repeating “Hello, this is Frank from GE Supply!” The timbre of his voice and the cadence of the sentence set my teeth on edge. (You have to hear my imitation of it to truly understand. Suffice it to say that the word “supply” had three syllables.) I tried to drown it out but it always intruded with every one of his sales calls.

Back in Pennsylvania, I did some copywriting for commercials and some video work. But from then on, my main focus was teaching. Again, a salary comment: when I was an adjunct at Penn State teaching three courses at two campuses, and driving quite a distance for one of them, I was making less money than I did as a teaching assistant at Berkeley. Are adjuncts underpaid? Most definitely.

At a private college in West Virginia, I finally got a full-time gig, mostly due to laziness. No, not mine: the Mass Communication person suddenly decided to leave, and instead of doing a full search for a replacement, someone suggested the administration hire me because I used to be a speech communication major in my early days of college. This worked to my advantage, and although I was pretty overworked advising 36 majors, creating new courses, and teaching the entire curriculum of the Mass Comm program, that position really helped me lay the foundation for future courses that I would teach at my real job: the University of Pittsburgh of Greensburg.

After decades of hoping for a full-time theater position, I finally had one. Here I was teaching playwrighting (an adaptation of my screenwriting class from WV), directing—finally—after wanting to do that for years, along with a variety of other courses including a theater technology class which included aspects of the digital audio and digital video courses I had taught in WV. And just to be crazy, let me show you the list of courses that I taught during my time as a college professor.

So now, after 17 years in that last position: retirement. I no longer have the daily struggle with teaching. I do miss directing, and I’m working on ways of reaching my career goal of 100 plays directed (I’m currently at 88). Most importantly, I shouldn’t have to worry about just getting a job. My retirement funds should be keeping me nice and comfortable.

So let’s try to avoid a zombie apocalypse or complete Armageddon and let me enjoy retirement. [Insert graphic of Frank as a zombie on the phone in a cubicle here. 😉]

And listen to Episode #55 here!

Published by stephenschrum

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts; interested in virtual worlds, playwrighting, and filmmaking. Now creating a podcast called "Audio Chimera."

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