Thursday, January 08, 2009

Things We Do For Money

My first job was babysitting my younger brothers while my mother and aunts would go to see The Commodores, Stephanie Mills, or Teddy Pendergrass in concert. A few years later, my sixteen year-old frame was pushing a wet mop that weighed more than I did at McDonald's. I can't remember how long that gig lasted, but the next in a series of odd jobs was busboy at a chain restaurant because my mother knew the manager. I was the youngest and only black busboy, surrounded by a sea of Mexicans, who felt I was encroaching upon their territory.

I learned the fine art of marrying ketchup bottles, diluting floor cleaners, and saw how much food Americans wasted daily. I think I worked there for an entire summer before I came to my senses and found a retail job in the swanky Galleria Mall in River Oaks.

I transitioned from bleach and gift bags to auditioning for a modeling class, and shortly thereafter booked local anti-drug commercials/public service announcements for a grocery store, followed by two national 30-second commercials for McDonald's with a then unknown Renee O'Connor, who'd later star with Lucy Lawless on Xena, Warrior Princess.

I remember an Italian named Aldo who schooled us on the skincare and healthy living. This was long ago, before metrosexual was added to a global lexicon. Back when men were supposed to be men, and any guy who put green mud on his face was thought to be queer. Armed with my new buzz words: exfoliate, scrub, moisturize, and Borghese Fango, I continued to audition for commercials and plays, and landed a small role in To Kill A Mockingbird at a local Houston theatre.

The next stop on my chameleon's journey was as a credit authorizer and then credit collections agent at a then major department store. Talk about schizophrenia. I initially approved and set credit card limits, and then however many months later, my role was to demand payment on delinquent accounts that I'd probably previously approved.

(sounds of harps playing)

I relocated to the East Coast and continued my work with the same parent company as a credit authorizer/collections agent for about a year, and then (spiraled?) through a series of odd jobs: sample and fragrance model, curbside promotions in the middle of a NY winter (hey, I should've been discovered by an agent or producer), food runner, rollerskating host in an outdoor café, but the creepiest job of all that I refused to take was a personal assistant/caretaker for this Jabba, the Hut-type man on Fifth Avenue. What was I thinking? If didn't know then, but know now that I've guardian angels.

He wanted someone, preferably male, to cook, clean, and bathe him. All three hundred plus pounds of his hairy, mole-covered body. He was gracious enough to offer said guy Friday to climb into the tub with him (where would one fit?), swimsuit if shy, otherwise nude, in order to thoroughly bathe. The nooks and crannies under the folds of his arms and belly. I fled that interview as other would-be boy toys filed off the elevator. I'd be better off hosing down elephants at The Bronx Zoo.

With wit, acting skills, and determination, I was hired as a traveling software trainer teaching MS Office, which was my foundation and motivation to increase my earnings and keep my feet on the ground as a helpdesk agent at Lehman Brothers, followed by a dual stint as a helpdesk agent/desk side trainer at a Dutch Bank.

All told, every job I've had has taught me valuable customer service, marketing, and technical skills. Those past gigs made me realize I'm meant to be self-employed, even if I have to scrape by a few weeks or months eating cereal and tuna sandwiches. I work best as a team leader, not a subordinate. This isn't to say that I'm rebel without a cause, just that I've accepted that God has had better things in store for me all along, and I've ignored or been afraid to embrace my true self: entrepreneur, community organizer, and mentor. What some might view as reckless, was in fact necessary for me to be exactly where I am today.


Erick said...

I can relate to trying to be your on boss. Taking life by the horn, and seeing where it takes you. A lot of people fail to realize that!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this.