The country, scratch that, the WORLD is going crazy at the time of this writing due to COVID-19, affectionately known as the Coronavirus, (or the China virus depending on your US politics). I know I’m late getting out another story and I just did not want to write a serious episode so I had to dig deep in the memory banks for one that is lighter, given I’m almost tapped out after 250 accounts. So here goes…
Each year and every year for the past 45 years I have been preparing my own tax returns. This year it got me to thinking about my professional ‘W2’ journey and how I was plopped into the workforce.
I actually love working through tax returns. In addition to our own return, I do those for our children too. Off an on, over the years I’ve also done returns on a professional level. No one’s ever said ‘you’re fired’ to me while doing their return, but I did get to hear it on my first real ‘W2’ job.
All of you out there who have grown up poor or at least understanding that you were not born rich likely felt what I felt as a young person – that you needed money to get the things you felt you needed to get by. For me, the pressure to blend in with my junior high peers was a compelling force to get a job, to earn money. I wore the same two pairs of pants almost every day, (until they needed patches).
My earning experience began with being a paperboy (link). I was a paperboy with 3 routes for several years. As I approached my later teen years, I began wanting more than just money for underwear (note – sorry, but you’ll have to read the paperboy story to understand that reference).
My dad and mom were divorced by now. One day Dad was having some concrete work done at his house by a handyman named Shelby. Evidently Shelby and dad had a conversation and Shelby must have mentioned that he could use another helper because dad called our house and asked if someone could drive me over to his house to talk to this handyman about my ‘career development’.
I don’t recall how I got there but get there I did. It must have been my amazing interviewing skills, for getting a job I did. For 4 weeks, I was a helper in training. Apparently Shelby must have missed the class on how to keep employees happy via their compensation because I kept asking for my pay and Shelby had a handy excuse for every week, (as in, forgetting the checkbook). I finally had to get my stepfather Joe to drive me to his house to collect. We left with check in hand, but it was time to move on to the next challenge.
The next challenge was again to be short lived. Enter, Rob the mover’s helper. You need us to move a piano? No problem….oops! You can get a new door, right?
Well, that job lasted all of two weeks. I was 16 now and able to work at a ‘real job’. Enter Rob, the barker! Yep, you read me right. I was one of those guys who worked at the carnival and tried to suck you into playing my game. If you are able to toss your softball into this milk can, you can win this huge, extremely flammable and cuddly teddy bear. It might end up costing you a week’s wages but hey, you’ll be the envy of the crowd as you are now forced to carry around a big green, (extremely flammable), bear all day.
I only had my learner’s driving permit so was dependent on someone helping me to get to work. Back then my mom’s car was an old AMC Rambler – standard shift, 3 speed, a gold old ‘3 on the tree’. I’m sure you millennials have no idea what that means. You just don’t see these anymore but back before the mid 70s, it was somewhat common for the gearshift to be located on the steering column. The column became the ‘tree’ and so a three speed, (which was also common in those days), became fondly known as 3 on the tree.
Learning to drive can be tough enough; learning to drive a standard shift, even more difficult. Oh, and the clutch in those days could be tricky too. The Rambler was no exception. You could hear my shifting all the way to Nebraska. My mom would let me drive her car out to LeSourdesville amusement park. That was my first ‘real’ employer – LeSourdesville Lake Amusement Park. They needed kids to work the booths and we were expected to learn how to ‘bark’ at all of them.
They’d start us off on something simple, like Ring Toss. You know, toss a goofy set of plastic rings onto six ounce Coke bottles and you might win a small stuffed turtle. After an hour or so, someone would come along and tell you where to go next. Maybe next would be a squirt gun, shooting water into a clown’s mouth. Who wouldn’t want to waste, I mean invest a quarter there for a chance win a 14 cent plastic squirt gun?
Things were ok for a couple of days, but then came Saturday. It was the busiest day of the summer and Hamilton area was relatively small so it was natural that a time would come when we barkers would see someone we know, right?
My ‘someone’ was a two week girlfriend from the ninth grade. Her name was Kim. (No, it’s not the same Kim who has been written about several times here). She recognized me first and shouted “Robbie”! Surprised, I quickly reached out for a quick hug. We chatted for only a couple of minutes when another barker told me I was needed in the office.
And there was where I received my first taste of what it felt like to receive serious discipline – my first firing. The barker boss was an Ed Asner looking guy, only a little sloppier looking. It was quick and simple and went something like this:
“We don’t need you anymore. Here’s the $42.78 that we owe you. Don’t spend it all in one place.”
So what now? Well, my mom wasn’t scheduled to pick me up for a few hours so I decided to catch up to Kim and her friend. I told them what had happened and Kim felt guilty as hell, thinking it was her fault. I quickly explained that it was ok, there will be many more crappy jobs, I’m sure, (and there were). We walked around, rode a couple rides and ate cotton candy.
These days I now am semi-retired and have taken up a job in a large animal clinic. I don’t take care of the doggies, I’m a finance guy. But that doesn’t stop me from playing with the kittens every day in our adoption area. Though our patients all have fur, we still have to make certain that we are every bit as clean and sanitary as a hospital. Naturally, this virus scare is testing all of our boundaries.
Getting fired and eating some cotton candy is sounding pretty good these days.