Monday, September 15, 2008

Strange Jobs I've Had

I thought I'd spend some time telling you about the various part-time jobs I've had.

When I was a freshman at UCLA, before I worked in the student store, I drove my car for a living as a delivery person for Turtle Messenger Service. It was a business run from someone's run-down house somewhere in the Hollywood area, a guy and a gal who spent most of their time sitting by the phone smoking pot in waiting for orders to come in.

I'd report there first, receive an assignment, drive like crazy to deliver it since we were paid per delivery, then call in to get the next assignment. Yup, we were the proud Turtle Messengers. I remember the company symbol, a picture of a turtle standing on its hind legs, package in paw and wearing roller skates.

Some of the more well-known recipients of packages I transported included:

Doctor Demento. He lived in Highland Park somewhere near the Pasadena (now called the 110) Freeway in a modest house that was literally filled floor to ceiling with records.

Robert Q. Lewis, who asked me if I, or anyone I knew, would be interested in a houseboy position. That was pretty racist of him, haha. Later I found out he was gay. Yecch.

Barbara Streisand's house. Just the house, not the Barbara. I met her maid, though. And got to use her phone. I should have memorized the number to impress my friends. "Hey Barb, whatcha doing this Saturday? Are you free for an anti-American demonstration?"

I didn't last too long with Turtle; too much wear and tear on the car.

I also did a brief stint selling Los Angeles Times subscriptions over the phone. Several of us worked in an unmarked building on Sepulveda near Jefferson in Culver City, sitting at desks with a phone, working the leads we were given. The leads were cut-out sections of pages from the white pages of the telephone book. An elderly woman sat at her desk, snipping out small portions of pages, which she then distributed to the rest of us who were busy calling our victims.

There were an amazing number of people I spoke with who informed me that they had already spoken to someone from the Times, they weren't interested, and please take them off the list. Of course I told them I would be happy to oblige and I did mention it to that lady who was producing snippets of papers like eggs from a queen ant, but given the system they used, there was no way to really take someone off a list like that.

Most of us didn't do very well but there was one guy, a high school student, who racked up a lot more orders than the rest of us. He was high pressure. Whenever anyone got an order, he or she was supposed to wave a sign in the air and the rest of us would give kudos to them.

I actually managed to get a few orders but after a week, I quit. I couldn't push something on people like that and feel good about myself. I'm not cut out to be a salesperson.

Since I was a stereo nut I figured I would try my hand at selling it as well. I applied in person for a sales position with Now Sound Stereo, a small chain that was based in Montebello. The manager asked me how I felt about people buying things on credit. I responded honestly, saying I didn't think it was a good idea because they often wound up committing themselves to more than they could really afford.

Needless to say, I didn't get the job. But I did get a short education from the manager as to why credit was a good, and not a bad thing. After that experience I knew I would make a lousy salesperson because I could never try to talk someone into something that they either didn't want, wasn't a good product, or that I knew they would have trouble affording.

J.C. Penney at the Fox Hills Mall in Culver City was where I spent one summer. Amy's sister Grace worked there and told me they had openings, so I went to apply. They hired me to work in the cafeteria bussing tables and doing dishes. After speaking with the human resources (then called "personnel department") director, she took me down there and I met the supervisor of the cafeteria and took an instant dislike to her. On my break I went back to personnel and asked for a different assignment. I told them point blank I didn't like that woman because she was too bossy. The personnel director looked a bit exasperated but then took me to the Package Pickup department.

The role of the Package Pickup specialist was to get merchandise from the stockroom that was too large for customers to take to the registers (televisions, mattresses, etc.) and haul it upstairs to the Package Pickup door, where customers would drive up and we'd put the items in or on their cars.

A word of advice: never assume that employees who put stuff in or on your car know what the heck they are doing. Luckily most of the items fit inside the car fairly well so it didn't require much ingenuity, but putting a mattress on the roof of a car stumped us so we just did the best we could. After the customers drove off, we'd then take turns guessing how far the customer would drive before it flew off.

Only once did anyone offer me a tip. I shook my head and refused to take it. He told me, "I'm from New Yawk - back there everybody expects a tip." I told him no one ever tipped us and he didn't have to, either.

Most of the time we didn't have much to do since sales of large or unwieldly items were uncommon, so we would walk around the store or hang out with the undercover security guys until we were paged. One thing we all noticed about the security: they never seemed to catch any shoplifters. People were probably stealing them blind, but none ever got caught. Strike that. I did see them catch one person, a kid about ten years old. I can still picture them proudly leading this frightened little kid away to who knows where.

Thankfully summer ended and I quit. Grace stayed on and told me that the woman who ran the Package Pickup area got arrested and fired because she got caught taking all kinds of merchadise out of the pickup door and putting it in her car.

What an aimless person I was - those jobs bear no relationship to one another except for being menial and mundane; I should have been applying myself in a more career-oriented manner except the notion of what career I should be working towards escaped me.

And that's a summary of the strange part-time jobs I've held. None is as strange as my present job, though. You would think it would be fairly conventional, but it's not. Never a dull moment. You'll hear about it down the road.

Sometimes I think I should've just stuck with Easy Livin'.




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