An Illustrious Career Path

I don’t mean to brag, but….I’m kind of an amazing gift wrapper. Now, now, don’t be jealous. It’s a skill one must hone over time. The precise measuring, cleanly folded corners, perfectly aligned overlap, the use of only 3 pieces of tape, expertly covering the seam with your decorative ribbon. It’s quite the science, I assure you. Then again, your first job probably wasn’t as a holiday gift wrapper at the local jewelry store in your town.

For a girlie-girl who just turned 16, this was actually kind of a dream situation. I got to eyeball all kinds of sparkly, diamond-encrusted little baubles and then wrap them up prettily in silver foil paper. All the while I’d be dreaming of the day that I’d be the recipient of such a gift, oohing and aaahing as my dashing young hunk clasped that twinkling tennis bracelet around my wrist.

“Ohh honey, I’ve never received anything so beautiful before in my life!”

“My darling, it pales in comparison to your breathtaking beauty”

Smoochy smooch smooches.

Did I also mention that I read a lot of romance novels around that time and was still in the market for a boyfriend?

And so I packaged delicate parcels for about 3 months until Christmas passed and I “wrapped up” (haha, get it? should I take these jokes on the road?) my first job. It had been a good experience. I made friends with some middle-aged women and got to wear dress clothes to school on days where work immediately followed, constantly inviting questions from my fellow classmates about whether I had just come from, or was going to, a funeral. I even used my employee discount to buy a tiny Swarovski Crystal porcupine. I wonder where that little fella is today?

Employment options for the 16 year old set are somewhat slim-pickin’s. That’s not a judgment, I understand that most employees aren’t super gung-ho about a bunch of ornery, hormonal, first-time-on-the-clock teenagers in charge of the well being of their company. I mean, my bestie and I used to go apply for jobs TOGETHER. We’d walk into some sort of retail establishment, request applications, and then simultaneously fill them out side-by-side while checking in with each other about certain, baffling questions.

“Wait, are you putting down that you babysat before this? Does corralling my snotty nephews count as previous employment?”

“Um, what is our area of study at Millard North High School? Like, stuff, right? Like, reading and stuff? Is that what they want to know?”

“Hey, why did you just spell your name like that? It looks so funny with that “fer” at the end. Hey, Jenni-FER. Hahaha, why is that so funny? HAHAHA”

Thus the confused clerk or manager or current employee watched the two of us fumble, stutter and laugh hysterically throughout our application process. Oh, ya. HIRE US.

Surprise! They did hire us, three different times! My first three jobs (after that quick foray as a holiday wrap-artist) were hip-to-hip with her, making that $5.75/hr minimum wage I was earning so much more enjoyable. First up, I introduce to you: Jennifer, your hostess with the mostess at Fill-up’s restaurant.

Did the name confuse you? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. The restaurant’s attempt to resemble an old timey filling station was lost on most of the patrons as well. Overall it was an eating establishment with a bit of a personality disorder, attempting to attract families with young, messy, noisy children as well as patrons would would want to belly up at the bar and drink ‘til they were singing Piano Man in rousing unison. Is it any wonder the restaurant closed after only a few years in business?

Either way, she and I hit the scene as their newest silverware-rollers, window-washers and waitstaff-villains, constantly berated for either over, or under seating their sections. What I remember most about the job was how one of the owners (a trio of brothers) fell in love with Dana and let her sit down on the barstools while folding napkins…a luxury not bestowed upon us other lowly fools. We also had access to the kitchen, and depending on the night and what cooks were working, we could sneak back and steal pepperoni from the prep-bins. Clearly I was learning valuable lessons about business ethics, hygienic food prep, and workplace flirting.

Having checked “restauranteering” off our list of future careers dabbled in, it was time to hit up another well-worn adolescent pastime. Retail. Yes, folks, we were ready to take on that gum-chewing, hair-twirling, snarky-raised-eyebrow, big-sigh-because-I-hate-dealing-with-customers persona that accompanied many teenagers in the retail hemisphere. Good news is that we picked a store that any human over the age of 17 would be loathe to walk inside, so at least the angsty, pierced, brooding clientele was similar to that of the staff. Welcome to, Gadzooks.

Our boss was a munchkin from Oz. I’m not saying she was an actual little person, but she couldn’t have been much past 5’1” and her voice was similar to that of Michelle from Full House. There was no real dress code, (just show the world your individual personality!) so she mostly wore mismatched pajamas and denim overalls. I guess her personality was that of a very tired, rural toddler.

Primary responsibilities included:

  • Folding mass amounts of graphic t-shirts spouting inspired jargon such as, “Old, ornery & obnoxious” “I’m not a gynecologist, but I’ll take a look” or “Nice new girlfriend, what breed is she?”
  • Sitting on top of the halved-out Volkswagon Beetle and greeting people walking into the store with “It’s a crazy, cool day at Gadzooks! How can I help ya?!”
  • Untangling mass amounts of neon string bikinis left in a pile on the dressing room floor where 15 year old girls just spent a half hour posing for each other and taking photos.

The last hurrah, and the job with my longest tenure during those teenage years, I fondly refer to as “the bagel shop”. 300 sq feet, one glass bagel case and a long prep counter were pretty much all it consisted of, and can I tell you? My mouth actually started watering when I thought about the toasted, chocolate chip bagels I devoured for breakfast, the towering turkey sandwiches on jalapeno cheese bagels for lunch, and the colossal rice krispie treats devoured for dessert every single shift. I barely even remember working…most of my time was spent preparing delicious eats for myself.

Our boss was a 22 year old guy named Jed who worked 90 hour weeks and was really just looking for a little company. He’d do all the real work—mopping floors, restocking bagel bins, slicing onions and tomatoes—before we even arrived for our shift. Once we got there it was time to play, and we’d sit in one of the booths for a game of chess or blackjack or scattegories, only hopping up on the off chance a customer came in for an everything bagel with schmear.

Additionally, he was totally willing to buy us cases of beer and leave them out back by the dumpster to pick up on the way to Friday night parties. He also made good with the smoothie shop ‘round the corner, so we could always exchange bagel sandwiches for delicious blueberry, banana kiwi smoothies on hungover Saturday mornings.

While all of the above paints the picture of a couple girls who maybe didn’t have any work ethic whatsoever, I’d now claim honestly that both of us are dedicated and enthusiastic about our professions as adults. But it sure is nice to think back sometimes on those days of lowly, grunt labor where you really were just workin’ for the weekend.

And there is also the fact that I can now slice bagels symmetrically without ever cutting myself. Finger-space my closet to such perfection that even a district manager would approve of. Blindly roll a basket of silverware in under 10 minutes. And, of course, blow your mind every holiday season with the stunning perfection of my gift-wrapping skills. Did someone say, it’s the thought that counts? Nope. It’s the packaging.