414. Day Jobs

I  have had a lot of jobs in my life. The shortest lasted one day. I took a job as a rough carpenter, and spent a day putting blocking between rafters. I had a rough time of it. I had just spent four years indoors working in a naval hospital followed by a year in grad school, and I was out of shape by the standards of the farm boy I had once been. It was a hot summer day in California and I probably wasn’t worth my wages that day, but I would have gotten better. I had the skills for the job, but it was a physical challenge and I was up for it. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the boss said that tomorrow I was to go to a site in Sonora to work. That was a town fifty miles away, not the state in Mexico. I realized that if I had to drive my dying car that far every day to get to work, it would cost me more in gasoline and repairs than I would make at minimum wage.

If you end the day with less money than you started, that isn’t a day job. That’s a mistake. However, when you write your first about the author for your first book or for your website, having worked at a lot of day jobs is an asset. It makes you look worldly and interesting.

Farm worker. That’s a job I didn’t get paid for at all. I started at age eleven and continued until I escaped to college.

Trim carpenter. That sounds skilled, and I am that skilled now. I wasn’t when I did the job, one summer between college terms. I was hired because the wages were so low that people who had the skills wouldn’t apply. I took the job because I was newly married and needed money to carry me through my last year of college.

Horticultural agent, peace corps. That’s a job I applied for, was accepted to, and really wanted, until Nixon did away with the deferment and I had to face my low draft number. I can’t count that one, since I never made it to India, to my eternal disappointment.

Cabinet maker. Another minimum wage job in a local shop to keep body and soul together while waiting for the Navy.

Surgical technician. Yes, really. I spent my naval career in the dental service of a naval hospital, stateside during the Viet Nam war, and happy not to be shot at. Since I was the only enlisted man with a college degree (the recruiter said, “College man? We’ll make you an officer.” Riiiiight!), I became head surgical tech. That meant standing across from the oral surgeon during about 2000 extractions of wisdom teeth.

Surgical nurse. I never count that one, because no one would believe me. The person who stands next to the doctor and hands him his instruments during an operation in the main OR is written down on the report as surgical nurse, whether they are a nurse or just have OJT. I did that maybe two hundred times while I was in the navy, usually on broken jaws, but occasionally on some pretty sophisticated maxillofacial reconstructions. Fascinating, but it didn’t make me a real nurse.

Writer. Nope, not a day job. A lifetime job, but you don’t make minimum wage.

County Red Cross Director. I earned that job. I had become a full time unpublished writer when I started as a Red Cross volunteer. I became a first aid and CPR instructor and taught hundreds of students, then became a member of the board of directors, and finally went full time for fifteen months. There weren’t a lot of applicants, since the job didn’t pay much above minimum wage. Non-profits are like that; they have to get money from donors, and it goes mostly to providing services, not cushy salaries — and that’s as it should be.

I was proud to work for the Red Cross and considered making it a career, but the bureaucracy is brutal. Besides, my first novel came out from Ballantine and I thought I was going to make a living at writing.

Stop laughing. It seemed possible in 1978. more on Wednesday

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