We do it more than we watch TV. Or eat. Or drive. It’s loved by a lucky few. Hated by more. And tolerated by most. It consumes people. It defines people. And we spend more than half of our lives voluntarily doing it. So what is this one all-powerful thing that can completely alter the lives of almost every single person on the planet? If you answered, “Surf the Internet for porn,” you’d be close. But what I’m talking about is something different. What I’m talking about is work.
We all have to work. 9 to 5. For the weekend. My way back to you, Babe. Whatever – we’re all working. It’s a good bet that everyone who reads this column holds or has held a job at some point in life. And as much as we try to not let our jobs completely define us, it usually ends up defining at least part of us. (Doubt me? Go to a party and make small talk with 10 people. Count how many questions you get asked before, “So, what do you do?” comes up.)
Like it or not, our jobs dictate our lives. Now I’m sure your gut reaction will be to deny that, but think about it. Your job controls your free time, what kind of house you can afford, what kind of car you can drive, when you can visit your parents and when you can play with your kids. It’s a factor in how long your vacation is, who you choose as your doctor, and what kind of clothes you wear. It decides how much you owe the government, where you’re going to live and what time you get out of bed in the morning.
It should go without saying that you’ve got to love anything you spend that much of your life doing. But sometimes people are forced to do what they have to do in order to pay the bills and make a life. For example, I’d venture to say that given the opportunity, most slaughterhouse workers would rather do anything else for a living. But when I look back on my work history, I’ve got to say, I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a lot of good jobs that have been fun, fulfilling and interesting. And the few bad jobs I’ve had were enlightening and thankfully short-lived.
My very first job was when I was 12. I delivered the Daily Democrat to about 50 people in my suburban neighborhood. It’s a job every kid should have. It taught me to get up early and go to work. It taught me salesmanship and bookkeeping. And it taught me that people will spend 15 minutes bitching about not getting their paper instead of spending five minutes actually looking for it.
Paper routes however, are for kids. So the day I turned 15 and got my work permit, I quit and took a glamorous and high-paying job in the world of food service. I worked at Long John Silver's. For a day. Remember that scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where some hot woman laughs at Judge Reinhold for wearing his restaurant’s lame pirate costume? That’s basically what happened to me (minus the hot woman part). I saw no reason that, as a dishwasher, I should be forced to wear the Long John Silver's outfit. The fact that my manager said I didn’t have to wear the parrot on my shoulder was hardly a concession. I quit on the spot.
So where does a 15 year-old unemployed fast food worker go from there you ask? Simple – doing toxicology experiments for the government at UC Davis. Or in other words: I asked Dad for a job. I started off washing dishes in his lab. Within a year I was helping grad students with their theses. And a year after that I was doing experiments on my own, funded by government grants. I learned how to run gas chromatographs, spectrum analyzers, and humanely kill thousands of lab mice using only a ball-point pen. (If you really want to know how, I’ll e-mail you directions.) It was great fun, good pay, and was a hell of a lot better than asking, “Would you like Pirate's Booty with that?”
Then I spent a summer working at the UCD Raptor Center – possibly my favorite job of all time. I helped rehabilitate birds of prey like red-tailed hawks, kestrels, barn and great horned owls, goshawks, turkey vultures and even a golden eagle. I fed them, weighed and measured them, did physical therapy on wings and talons and got a chance to get up close and personal with some of the most amazing creatures you will ever find. My favorite was the clucking red-tailed hawk that had fallen from the nest as a baby and was raised with some barnyard chickens.
When I went off to college at the University of Oregon, I took a job doing what I thought I wanted to do: Journalism. OK, it wasn’t really journalism. I was the darkroom guy. Every night I’d show up at the Oregon Daily Emerald – our school’s daily rag and Oregon’s third largest newspaper. I’d develop film, print that issue’s photos, and (God, I sound old here) do actual paste-up on flats. The production crew had a great camaraderie and I left that job with only a few hundred finger scars from when that damn Exact-o knife slipped.
My last summer in Oregon, I was ready for something more. So I went from sitting in a darkroom all night to fighting forest fires. I signed up for a fire crew, took a 3-day orientation, and the next thing I knew I was hiking through the burning Cascade mountains armed with nothing but a shovel. I worked 12-hour shifts on fires that lasted as long as two weeks. And I loved every minute of it. Oh sure, there were scary times. Our crew was almost struck by lightning once, and there was the time the fire topped up into the trees and we all took shelter in a meadow as 60-foot flames burned around us. I have never heard a sound quite as eerie, scary, and haunting as the howl that fire made as I stood in the clearing. Nor have I heard one as strangely beautiful.
After that there was a short stint of temp jobs. Everything from deathly boring data entry to scanning 250 photos of Dan Marino for a coffee table book. I even worked as a production assistant on a Major League Baseball commercial at Candlestick Park. During the downtime we threw around the ball in centerfield.
And that leads me to my current occupation – advertising copywriter. I’ve freelanced, worked for a few agencies, and have now returned to freelance. Honestly, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I can wear anything I want. I get to collaborate with amazingly creative people. I work from home. I make my own hours. And basically I get paid a lot of money to come up with weird-ass ideas. Because of advertising I’ve met people like Muhammad Ali, stayed at $350/night hotels, eaten at some of the country’s best restaurants, and traveled to places like Hong Kong. I realize I’m no teacher, doctor or police officer, but I have managed to create some socially redeeming moments by doing work for clients like Amnesty International.
I think the best thing about my job is the one thing everyone should be able to say about their jobs – it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like I’m ripping someone off, because they’re paying me to do something that (most of the time anyway) is pure fun.
A few years ago, when my younger sister was wondering what to major in, she asked me, “What do you think is the easiest major to get a job from?” I told her that wasn’t how to approach things. I told her to find something you truly enjoy doing, then find a way to make money doing it. It might be the best advice I’ve ever given. She’s now a teacher, and I’d like to think I can take a little credit for the fact that she’s never had to go to work with a parrot on her shoulder.
Matt would love to be George Plimpton...welll, except for the being dead part. He supplies the doing and the writing. All he asks of you is the reading.
ABOUT MATT MORIN
more about matt morin
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
4.12.02 @ 1:11a
Who here detassled corn besides me?
I love, love, love my job when I'm actually making a living to call it a job.
I have to admit. I spent 13 years in radio, and I miss it sometimes. It was something I had wanted to do since I was 12 (and dream analysist/psychologist, but that's another story for another time) and by the time I was 17, I was working in it full-time. Whole lotta fun, that. Mayhem, mainly.
But desires change. And I'm glad I was able to try some different things (event coordinator) here (chef) and there (corporate marketing) in order to (travel director) get to where I am now (writer, voicetalent) because if there's one thing I've realized, I need diversity. I think I've finally hit upon the profession that will offer that to me over and over.
4.12.02 @ 10:33a
I've never been a professional corn detassler, Tracey. I consider it more a hobby.
I can empathize with the "My Day at LJS" story though. A buddy and I went to a mass hiring for a new hotel in Orlando and started the next day. He washed dishes and quit at lunch. I bussed tables and quit the next day. We spent the rest of the summer as telemarketers -- twice the pay, half the hours, so it worked out well.
4.12.02 @ 11:49a
"I've never been a pusher. I never have pushed."
4.12.02 @ 11:58a
"I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."
4.12.02 @ 12:00p
"Yeah, I'm gonna need you to come in on Saturday, yeah."
lee anne ramsey
4.12.02 @ 1:04p
Adam, you read my mind. And from across the country!!
Personally, I get to set Matt up at $350/night hotels but of course I'd never pay that rate. $300 maybe, but I tell people like Matt that it's really $350 so that he doesn't raid the mini bar and expense it.
4.12.02 @ 1:12p
Tracey, radio is SO much fun. I love producing radio ads more than anything. They're fun to write, and the voice talent and producers are always sush good people.
Lee Anne knows I'm one of the good ones when it comes to expensing things. The only time I raid the mini-bar is when she encourages me to.
A free beer to the person who has held the worst job.
4.12.02 @ 1:30p
My brother detassled. I never did. I only did inventory in an auto parts store, showed women wedding dresses in a bridal salon (thankfully, a rarely-frequented one), and helped my mom sew ruffles onto a billion bridesmaids' dresses. And that was high school.
4.12.02 @ 1:32p
So Jael had a hand in making hundreds of women spend thousands of dollars just to look ugly for a few hours.
4.12.02 @ 1:38p
Wow. For less than $20 you can buy a bunch of beers and make them look beautiful for just long enough.
Is there a difference between detassling corn and shucking it? Because I hate shucking corn on the cob.
4.12.02 @ 2:26p
I worked a 3-11 shift in the Shick razor factory, endlessly loading stacks of plastic onto a line and listening to my overweight coworker's Eagles Greatest Hits tape. NIGHTMARE.
4.12.02 @ 2:28p
Worst Job Entry #1
(I've got a few.)
Security guard for American Security in Eugene, Oregon. Kick the homeless out of warm shelter into the cold. Babysit 4H pigs overnight, and when they get out of their pens try to get them back in (ha!). Stand in a closet for two hours, waiting for a crazy old woman's ex-housekeeper to break in and "eat peanuts and watch TV." Watch cement dry, literally, to assure that kids (not much younger than I) don't mess it up. Bounce Frat parties that my friends were attending. Etc.
4.12.02 @ 2:32p
Sometime I realize that everything that's made was designed by someone.
At a party somewhere in America this conversation takes place:
Her: "I'm the head pediatric neurosurgeon at the UCLA Medical Center, what do you do?"
Him: I design toilet seats.
Him: I manufacture the machines used to make Twinkies.
Him: I handpaint Ronald Reagan's portrait onto Franklin Mint limited edition plates.
4.12.02 @ 2:54p
Him: I manufacture the machines used to paint numbers on volume knobs.
Him: I do proof sets of pogs.
4.12.02 @ 2:57p
I have done proof sets of pogs.
They were not ALF pogs, though.
4.12.02 @ 3:07p
I guess you can buy me that beer! My job isn't exactly insipiring by any means.
4.12.02 @ 3:10p
Welcome to Intrepid Media, Ingrid.
4.12.02 @ 3:16p
Yeah, but Ingrid you get paid a lot, so you're automatically disqualified.
Him: I'm an electrical engineer who designs battery-operated sex toys.
Him: I write the copy on vacuum cleaner bags.
Him: I design aluminum shelving systems for supermarkets.
4.12.02 @ 3:22p
Adam, there is a huge difference between shucking and detassling corn. Shucking is easy. You sit on your back porch, yank off a half-dozen or so husks, and pick away the silk. Takes about 15 minutes. Detassling is eight hours, day after day, in the hot sun (or hot rain), reaching up above your head and pulling the tassle (which resists) off a stalk of corn far taller than you, while the nearby leaves cut the skin of your arms and your dirty shoes sink farther into the soft ground.... or worse, mud.
Oh, I am soooooooo from Iowa.
4.12.02 @ 3:23p
I would love to design battery-operated sex toys. Who wouldn't?
4.12.02 @ 3:24p
4.12.02 @ 3:47p
4.13.02 @ 8:21a
Awakened at friggin' dawn, thrown a meager sack lunch by your mother who delighted in this torture and loaded onto a flatbed filled with other insolent adolescents, then trucked to an endless field of stalks. You had to wear long sleeves because of the aforementioned cuts and scrapes, but in most corn country, the corn is that tall around the first of August, and it's a sauna beginning at 8:00 a.m. And it's like that allll day. All for, maybe, $3-$5 an hour, which at least was better than the $2.41 under-16 minimum you'd get at La Burger King.
Ugh. Which was also better than loading hay for nothin'.
I am soooooooo from Michigan.
4.13.02 @ 8:24a
Him: I manufacture the machines that make paper drink umbrellas.
Him: I'm a funeral director.
4.13.02 @ 11:33a
Her: I'm the quality control technician along the final conveyor belt on the machine that makes paper drink umbrellas.
4.13.02 @ 2:07p
Hey, I once spent an entire day bucking hay in shorts and a t-shirt. The tops of my thighs and the backs of my forearms looked like hamburger when I was done. Ouch.
I don't think Funeral Director would be all that bad. Bad would be the person who has to put make-up on the deceased to make them look nice.
4.13.02 @ 7:08p
Meandering home after school, check hair & make-up, and walk to work (across the street), plop down and start the meet and greet as a part-time receptionist in a hair salon. Anxiously await paycheck so I can rush to Macy's and like, shop. Grab some Parisian sourdough on the way home. Fer shur. Oh, I am sooooo from San Francisco.
4.15.02 @ 5:31p
Him: I sell biscuits and gravy all over the Southlands.
Oh, wait, that's a Grosse Pointe Blank quote.
4.15.02 @ 5:35p
Specifically rural south-central Illinois?
michelle von euw
4.16.02 @ 10:02a
Matt, I had a paper route, too. Talk about a painful lesson in human nature.
4.16.02 @ 1:05p
Paper routes were the best and worst of business all rolled into one. The best part was you really got to find out who were the crazy people in your neighborhood - the old lady with the 40 cats, or the one who dressed her chihuahua up like Santa.
4.16.02 @ 1:09p
All the women in my neighborhood dressed their chihuahua up like Santa. I grew up in a weird town.
4.16.02 @ 1:20p
The best part of my brother's paper route was all the treats people made for him at Christmas. I swear we had 5 dozen cookies on the kitchen table when he collected around that time of year.
Matt, did you ever chase someone on your bike while yelling 'I want my two dollars'?
4.16.02 @ 1:26p
Down a ski slope even.
No, but as a little kid, there is no more powerful feeling than having some pissed off neighbor call you because he didn't get his paper, and being able to say, "Well, Mr. Johnson, that's because you haven't paid your bill for two months."