3.4.8 Odd Jobs

Originally written Feb 2020

For the past 35+ years, I’ve been a teacher for various sorts of students with the majority of the time spent teaching mid-career professionals and the second most time at the tertiary level, plus about a year at the secondary level and a bit of time at the primary school level. What’s left that I haven’t done is to teach preschool and older adults. The latter is called gerogogy. Like gerontology is helping with the health of older people; geragogy is helping with the education of older people. Most of my teaching has been either teaching teachers about teaching or helping students – both native speakers and second language learners – to become more proficient at English. As you may have seen in some of the other chapters of this memoir, over these 35 year, I’ve also done lots of volunteer work of various kinds, such as making smoothies using an exercise bike – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohmNabt0ocQ – but this chapter is about my paid work.

Before I became a teacher, I had all sorts of other jobs. When I was in my early teens, I did a lot of jobs typical for my age. For example, I had a newspaper route, getting on my big black bicycle to deliver the afternoon paper to people’s homes. I think I demonstrated fairly good diligence on that job, even delivering the paper when it was raining heavily (I like jobs that don’t take much thinking). I also did some babysitting. These were special cases. In one, the child in question had some sort of special need and was rather low functioning. I was fairly patient but had zero understanding. What stands out in my memory is that he made a gesture with his hands whenever he was anxious, bringing together the fingers and thumbs of each hand. Even today, I use that gesture when I feel nervous, although I usually check to be sure that no one is watching.

Another case of babysitting (I didn’t do much of that) was visiting with the younger brother of a friend of one of my younger brothers. The boy was recovering from a fairly serious but not life-threatening illness. Teenage boys aren’t famous for being enthusiastic about spending time with little kids; all I wanted to do was play ball games, and this boy was bedridden. Anyway, I think I did a decent job of making the time pass. What was uncomfortable was when, after my last session, the kids mother came to pay me. The boy had thought that I had been visiting him because I enjoyed his company, which wasn’t completely untrue but was not 100% accurate. I could see the disappointment in his eyes. The situation is a bit like when I teach. I do enjoy teaching and interacting with students, but I very likely wouldn’t be there if I wasn’t being paid.

Another job I had was mowing other people’s lawn. At my home, we had a gasoline-powered mover, but the people who hired me had an electric mower. The first or second time I moved their lawn, I ran over the cord, and that was the end of that job.

Playing sports didn’t leave much time for jobs. My parents gave me a small allowance each week, and I didn’t have much to spend money on. Every August, before the school year started, my mother would take me to buy clothes and shoes. I didn’t buy records. The only hobbies I had were collecting coins and buying baseball cards, and I only did those a little. Collecting coins just meant checking the coins I encountered in my purchases, and I didn’t buy many baseball cards, although I was passionate about sports stats.

Later in my teens and into my twenties, my jobs got more interesting. Where I worked included (not in chronological order):

  1. A hamburger place. It was fun working with other teen boys, especially playing music while cleaning up after the place had closed for the evening.
  2. A pub in London. I was a horrible bartender, partly because I almost never went to bars and didn’t know how to mix drinks or even the names of drinks. The manager gently let me go after about a week or so.
  3. A drive-in movie theatre. I enjoyed having an outdoor job, and it was fun making popcorn. One night I had an upset stomach which was soothed by drinking some of the syrup that was used to make Coca Cola. But I was bad at squaring the accounts from the snack bar at the end of the day.
  4. Being a porter at a hotel one time during term break at university. One of my customers was “kind” enough to point out that I would be wise to study hard, as a was unlikely to have a successful career in a hotel.
  5. A coffee shop. Through some back luck, a promised university teaching job didn’t happen, and after unsuccessfully searching for similar jobs, I decided to just take anything. What I got was work washing pots and cleaning restrooms at a place that I guess was a Starbucks precursor.
  6. Loading delivery trucks early in the morning. This was another job with lots of other young men, in the days before employers needed to open such work to females. Music was blasted over loudspeakers, and the packages meant for the truck I was loading (based I guess on postal code) came sliding down a wooden ramp. We each had our own truck to load.
  7. The longest non-teaching job I had was working part-time for my uncle who had a small business supplying restaurants and small grocery stores and fruit stands with eggs and cheese (ironic given that I was already a vegetarian and would become of vegan). Here are some memories from that job.
  8. More truck loading, and also unloading. The cheesecake my uncle sometimes carried was really yummy. Another favorite memory from back then was driving to the customers to collect what they owed. Not surprisingly the customers were not in a hurry to pay, but at the fruit stalls, I was happy to wait, just standing there eating fruit.
  9. A less happy memory was one day I was driving the company van on an errand and was hit by another vehicle. The very minor accident was definitely the other guy’s fault, but I allowed myself to be duped into not getting all his information, which allowed him to get out of paying for the repair. Fortunately, the damage was minimal. Three other incidents at that job involved Chicago police, and make good stories.
  10. One time, my cousin (my uncle’s son) needed to make a deposit at a bank, and parked illegally leaving me to keep an eye on the van. I was just sitting there daydreaming when I heard someone shout at me, “Do you think you’re f***ing Jesus Christ?” I was perplexed, as I took the F word to be a verb, not an adjective. Anyway, I apologized and the officer let me drive away.
  11. Another time, I was driving the same van one evening when a police officer pulled me over and politely asked to see my driver’s license. He informed me that one of the van’s lights was out, which was a traffic violation. He asked if I was a student, and when I said I was, he expressed concern that I would have to miss class to appear in court to pay the fine. I finally figured out what was going on, gave him about $15, and went on my way.
  12. One of the perks of working for my uncle was that I could live in the business’ warehouse, which had a cooler in the basement, which I used as a refrigerator. One evening, I needed something from the cooler for my dinner; so, carrying a small knife to cut some cheese or something, I went downstairs. When I arrived, I saw that I wasn’t alone. I was greeted by a police officer pointing a gun at me. Apparently, someone had tried to break into the warehouse and the police had been called. “Good thing you’re not a nigger; or else I would have shot you,” the officer informed me. I didn’t reply, but when people talk about white skin privilege, I think of that incident. In fact, stories C and D above also make that point, as in both those stories, the police officer was white.
  13. To end on a happy note, one day after I had made a special delivery to a supermarket, I saw a group of people who had formed a chain to unload a truck full of watermelons at the same supermarket. That looked like fun; so, I joined them. Ever since, whenever I see a truck full of watermelons I’m tempted to follow so I can join the fun when it is unloaded. Indeed, I enjoy doing manual labor as part, not all, that I do. My ideal job would combine the two.