My first seven jobs

The Twitter trending topic got me thinking – and laughing.


I got working papers the summer when I was fourteen. My childhood friend Earl’s family owned a local restaurant and they were kind enough to hire me even though I had never worked. The restaurant didn’t serve alcohol which is part of why I could work there. In my home state of PA, you had to be at least eighteen to wait tables in a place with a liquor license (at least then; not sure about now).

Jen cheerleading

I wasn’t the most attractive hire. My parents wanted me to learn about responsibility and “the value of a dollar.” But Mom also didn’t want me working more than ten or twelve hours per week. Additionally I had an active schedule between summer dance workshops and performances and cheerleading practices, not to mention chasing boys.

But the owners, as mentioned, were family friends so they made it work. At least until I came down with mono, about ten days into my tenure. Oops.

Oh! One other Mom rule: I could only work during the summer so that was the short life cycle of my first job.

My second job was more of the same minus the mono and minus the cute guys in the kitchen (darn it). I’m still not sure how I got caught up in this but for one summer, I was a grocery checker.

Given that the ten hour rule was still in play, I’m pretty sure I was only given the job because the manager of the store was hot for my mother. We shopped there every Sunday after church (!!) and the little twerp and his dyed black hair never missed an opportunity to try to chat up Mom. Gross.

Just about all of the other checkers worked twenty-five hours per week or more so someone was always grumbling about a fifteen year old messing up the schedule. In spite of that, I came away with a huge amount of respect who work as checkers full-time. They’re on their feet all day, forever identifying some new obscure organic vegetable or hearing complaints about melting ice cream or shopping carts that dented their cars.

In this job, I learned about food stamps and W.I.C. as well as the scorn with which some of the checkers treated people who used them. Although I was a young, somewhat spoiled teenager, something inside me recognized that people are, for the most part, just doing the best they can at the time. When I saw food stamps or W.I.C cards, I tried to be extra kind, even as I was screwing up their grocery bagging, putting cartons of eggs on top of loaves of bread.

Some of my jobs provided more comic relief than others. For job #4, I worked at a now-defunct men’s clothing store called Dejaiz at the height of the Z. Cavaricci craze.


Not me in the pic, but I had these exact jeans

(OMG Cavariccis still exist to some extent)

I used to stake out the expensive items locked with security cords because we were eligible to make commission. Of course it was summer so I never did sell a single leather coat.

My employee discount worked at sister store Merry Go Round so I kept myself attired in all manner of cheesy clothing. In fact, I probably spent double what I earned that summer, even though I was allowed to work fifteen to twenty hours per week by this point.

My fifth job came with some real life lessons. Still too young to work in a restaurant with a liquor license, I got a job waitressing in a department store restaurant. Yep, I served elderly women tiny glasses of soda while they waited for the bus home and at times, got tipped as little as a nickel.

(Typing that sentence, I feel like I’m talking about living through the Great Depression.)

I had to wear a sad grey polyester dress with a white apron tied over it, something I hated because the guys in the kitchen were hot. I ended up dating one of them, in addition to two other flirtations I had going that summer. All three had names that started with J so it was a very confusing time for my parents to answer the home phone.

Anyway. I wasn’t the greatest waitress. Among other things, I didn’t understand that when people ordered coffee they meant RIGHT NOW. That was a key learning.

One night, this weird guy who always came in solo ordered the haddock dish. If you know me, you know I’m a somewhat picky eater who doesn’t enjoy cooked fish. As a teenager, I was much, much worse.  I always steered people away from haddock so I didn’t have to carry the smelly fish, sloshing around in a pond of fishy butter, to a table. Ugh.

“How about our signature French dip?”

But no such luck with this guy. Whether I spilled the meal in his lap on purpose or by accident, I couldn’t tell you all of these years later, but it definitely happened.

I also got in trouble repeatedly because at the end of my break meal, I always got chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. The manager told me “cake plus ice cream is two desserts. Pick one.” I tried to educate her that cake a la mode is, in fact, one dessert to no avail. But I still ate it. I’m rule-oriented but also stubborn. If I think you’re wrong, you won’t win.

Eventually someone suggested I become the hostess. I was PSYCHED, mostly because I could wear my own clothes and look cuter in front of the kitchen guys.

But Mom was disappointed. “Hostesses don’t get tips, Jen.” Oh well.

I wish I could remember how I got a gig working in day care other than my parents always telling me “you’re so good with kids.” But somehow I did. And I loved it. The fun parts, the messy parts, all of it. And to this day, I don’t think any other job has given me as many life skills.

More on jobs 5-7 another day. This post is long enough. 😀


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