Part Time jobs and dumb boyfriends

I miss part time jobs. Remember those? They were at the mall or the pool snack bar or your neighbor’s law firm downtown. Their sole purpose was to earn spending money. Now we have careers and earn a living. Spending money is much more delightful than a living, and is especially useful at the mall or pool snack bar.

I had some eclectic/eccentric part time jobs. I wrote press releases for a cyber-security consortium. I collected 300 lbs of human hair for a modern art installation. I house sat and was paid in cucumbers.

I also had some heartwarmingly typical part time jobs. I babysat ad nauseam. I was the receptionist at the community tennis courts. I sold knife sets over the phone at some weird office park right before you get on highway.*

*not really, but enough of my friends did

I worked as a waitress at the worst kind of restaurant: mediocre Italian. It was in a space that housed a series of indistinguishable mediocre Italian restaurants: Rigatoni’s, Pasta Pizzazz, Rotelli, Pasta Perfect, and Macaroni’s. I think I worked there when it was called Rotelli, but who can remember such details of youth.

I assumed that all one needed to be a good waitress was a perky ponytail and smiley demeanor, and therefore I would be among the best of waitresses. My ponytail was among the best, but I was a failure. There was so much to remember! People with their pesky, picky, needy needs. More breadsticks. Dressing on the side. Can I have ziti instead of penne? No onions. More onions. I’ll die if I eat a mushroom can you ladle it out of the mushroom barley soup for me? No! I can’t! I can’t remember your breadsticks!

Waitressing crumpled me.

I was much better as a day camp counselor at Camp Chip-pee-wee. I think this is supposed to be a pun that combines a Native American tribe with peewees, but I don’t know why. I do know that you should not send your children there. The camp calendar sounds stimulating, but it’s a ruse. On Scavenger Hunt Day we had them pick up trash and on Water Park Day we just squirted them with a hose.

I was in charge of a troop of ten 3-5 year olds, who changed weekly. That’s a lot of interchangable 3-5 year olds to remember in an unfenced public park. A lot of Parkers and Quincys and Elizas and Syndeys or whatever the upper-middle class fad names there were that year. When the parents came to collect their kids, I would hold my breath and count heads. Statistically, it’s not that big of a deal (significant) to loose 1/10 campers, but it is a big deal (significant) to a parent when you loose their 1/1 child. Miraculously, I always had ten. All children were returned to their proper parents at 3 pm. I can keep track of kids better than breadsticks.

The other fundamental dysfunction with Camp Chip-pee-wee was that 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds were lumped together despite their vastly different developmental stages and capacities. It is impossible to find a game that they can all understand and enjoy—except of course their favorite game, which is Run And Scream. I eventually gave up on complicated rule-based games like Red Light, Green Light or Duck Duck Goose and would lead them daily to the (fenced-in!) football stadium and say, “Okay! Go play!” And they would run and scream their little hearts out. Sometimes pretending to be Spiderman.

Some of the kids stuck out. Like Parker #3 of Summer 2005. He was a darling with soft blond curls. He brought obscure items in his unnecessary backpack. One day the contents were a book about the letter N, metal washers, and a mallard duck decoy. He always chose purple when colors had to be chosen and he didn’t want to be Spiderman when we played Run And Scream. He wanted to be a Princess. On the last day of camp, he gave me a thank-you cactus. He’s quite gay now I assume.

I had enjoyable summers at Camp Chip-pee-wee. They came to an end when I had to mature from part-time to career-oriented occupations. That’s when I got the internship at the nuclear reactor in Missouri.

At first, I didn’t have security clearance, so I was mandated to perpetual supervision by badged-employees. I would not receive security clearance until a woman, who was described by multiple people, multiple times, as cranky and self-important, got around to issuing me one. Her only job was to issue IDs and complain that she was too busy to issue IDs. It could be a while. It could be the duration of my summer internship.

In the meantime I was required by law to have a babysitter. The head of the laboratory, my internship mentor, watched me for a while. He watched me label 106 pottery fragments. He watched me photograph 105 pottery fragments (I know. I lost one. I’m sorry.). I had to pee. He walked me to the bathroom and waited outside.

He watched me cut pottery fragments into 2 cm “cookies” with a spinning-blade of death rock saw. The room alternated between deafening sawblade cutting and a silence that was just as present and oppressive.

In one of the silent intervals, I said, “I think it’s cute that you call these samples cookies.”

He said, “Hrmph,” in a tone that could have meant, “I agree,” “I disagree,” or “I don’t care.”

I continued cutting.

By cookie #74 my boss realized that he was too high ranking to babysit. He put me in the custody of the more veteran interns: Jacob, Tuesday, and Chris.

Jacob was from Deep, Missouri and liked to talk about beer, drinking beer, and how much beer he drinks. If you really got to know him, he’d open up and talk about sandwiches. Tuesday had a shaved head and listened to Death Metal. Chris, would soon become my Dumb Missouri Boyfriend. Not because he was dumb (far worse—he was pseudo-intellectual), but because our relationship was dumb. Not my dumbest relationship, but a sure contender.

I have retained no sentiment or warm feelings toward Dumb Missouri Boyfriend. At the time I swooned and adored him. I was certain we would have a future, not just a month of dumb Missouri dating. Recently we were at the same place, at the same time—an archaeology conference in Memphis. He asked to meet up for a drink and I asked to meet up for A Drink—as in, I could only swallow one. I’m really bad at talking to people when I don’t want to talk to them. Unconsciously I make a very obvious unhappy face. As we sat next to each other at the bar I faced forward, hoping my unhappy face wasn’t as identifiable in profile. I finished A Beer and scooted.

Yes, it terrifies me to consider how ephemeral my amorous states are—how suddenly and resolutely I can loose affection for romantic partners. And how just as easily some have lost affection for me.

In 12th grade French class the teacher asked us what we feared.

I responded, “J’ai peur d’être une vieille femme avec beaucoup de chats.” [I am afraid to be an old woman with many cats].

People in the class thought I was kidding, crazy, or mistranslating, but I was just precociously developing the dominant phobia of 25-35-year-old women. I guess because I watched a lot of Sex and the City.

Dumb Missouri Boyfriend was a significant relationship mirage—a nothing that you were certain was something.

So let’s get back to our courtship. It began with flirtatious banter at the nuclear reactor. Jacob and Tuesday were totally rolling their eyes. Then we went for ice cream. One night I called him while drunk with my silly hoe roommates. He picked me up outside the Jimmy John’s and then he was my Dumb Missouri Boyfriend.

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