My First Seven Jobs

 These photos are courtesy  Charles Steck ; they were taken upstairs at  D.C. Space  around 1989.

These photos are courtesy Charles Steck; they were taken upstairs at D.C. Space around 1989.


Steve’s Ice Cream: Served ice cream while on acid. Mixed ammonia and bleach because I didn’t know any better. Occasionally closed the store early due to “ice mites.”


Olsson’s Books and Music: Reprimanded for playing Big Black's “Jordan, Minnesota” on the PA. Busted by customer for spilling vodka behind the counter. Decided to “drop by” on a busy Friday night while on acid, embarrassed self. Was fired for no apparent reason, though in hindsight I suppose I see their point.


Booeymonger: Busboy at "quirky" and "fun" delicatessen. Total tips received: One dime, though on second thought maybe it was left by accident. Fired nearly instantly, possibly for having musical aspirations. The manager, in addition to being "a black belt in karate," moonlighted "shooting videos for Madonna" and was perhaps jealous of my budding "career."


National Aquarium: A one-month end of high school gig. Armed with a flimsy net, I was suspended above a shark tank on a plank to “fight them off” while a diver repaired the pump. Offered cocaine by the incongruously young manager. Forced to clean out rotting, decades-old corpses of the former exhibits when the freezer died. Took home cans of clams intended for the inhabitants and made pasta sauce instead.


D.C. Space: Left buckets of Maryland crab soup out overnight, narrowly avoided being fired. Hauled kegs of beer, cleaned up barf, broke up fights and occasionally found leftover drugs on the floor. Best job of my life?


Dante’s: Ruined untold amounts of food due to gross incompetence (pouring expired dairy products into new dairy products, making pesto without washing basil, etc.). Chased co-worker out the front door with all the kitchen knives, had knives confiscated at gunpoint by plainclothes officers parked outside. Snuck into my parents’ house, “borrowed” their knives and hoped no one would notice. They did notice.


Crowbar: Coerced into the job by my bandmate, I distinguished myself by shooting condiment bottles in the kitchen of the Chinese restaurant across the alley with a BB gun. A sheet of plywood appeared over the window the next day, but nothing was ever said. “Experimented” with the deep fryer: Slices of cheesecake, salt shakers, urine (in a glass, silly!), a dead mouse. My “Kitchen Spanish” reached an apex when I successfully communicated to the dishwasher my suspicion that the boss had a minuscule penis.


Second Story Books: Worked the outside tables with Curtis, a lovely, affable and nearly completely insane co-worker. Stole hundreds of LPs, though in my defense I was laughed at when I initially tried to pay. Career disappointment: Never discovered the identity of the Secret Bookshelf Pooper, who struck with puzzling regularity.


Octopus Car Wash: Cashier’s dumbfounded “You want to work here?!?” should have been a tipoff; after getting hired, discovered that every other employee was in fact on work-release from the local prison. Succesfully removed change from other peoples’ ashtrays, but a colleague strongly recommended I replace the shotgun shell taken from the gun in a police cruiser as a “souvenir.” Disturbingly, most congenial work relationship was with man serving time for threatening his girlfriend with a firearm, among other offenses. In his defense, he claimed: “She was a bitch, you would have done it too!” I politely demurred.


Industrial Temps: Placed in a factory producing off-brand OEM car parts; excited to engage in “gritty” and “real world” work experience. Tasked with inspecting windshield-wiper motor housings as they came down a chute, overwhelmed literally within seconds (see Lucille Ball in “Job Switching” for visual reference). Panicking, took to rejecting every fourth or fifth motor so as to feign competence. Further employment declined by management.


Food For Thought: Though an adequate dishwasher, it is safe to say I did not excel as a server. In fact, several guests’ comments to the effect of “You are a terrible server” corroborate this assessment. However, I am proud of two food-service moments: 


One evening, a wholesome, Midwestern-looking family of four (clearly having been directed there in error) nervously approached the host station just as a large cockroach (aka “waterbug”) emerged and scuttled directly towards them. Before they could notice it, I grabbed a stack of menus and shouted “Welcome!” as I took an extra-large, theatrical step, landing on and thus concealing the cockroach, then pirouetted and enthusiastically directed them to a table.


Another time, during lunch, I overheard from behind the wait station a party of officeworkers discussing in hushed voices their intention not to tip me. I remained polite—noting with interest as they stood up to leave that one of them had left her keychain on the table—but declined to inform her. As soon as they exited, I ran downstairs with the keys and dipped them thoroughly into the vat of honey kept in the basement. Returning to the table, I carefully rolled the keys in the Carter-era dust, hair, bug carcasses and food scraps stored under the table. A moment later, the owner of the keys returned, clearly humiliated after having stiffed me, and asked if I had seen her keys. Expressing concern, I suggested perhaps they had fallen under the table, and stood back to allow her access. When she located them she screamed aloud, then ran out the door, never to return.