For most of the 28 years of my life, I’ve pretty much taken up any offer to make money that came my way. Here are 40 jobs that I remember.
1. Child model, 1988
Highlights: I only have hazy memories of this, but it somehow involved tacky clothes from some store in my hometown mall, which until 2002 was only called “The Mall.” I could not make it as a model now, except maybe in, like, weird bear stuff
2. Local Television Commercial Actor, 1988 to 1992
Payment: $50 for one commercial, all others free.
Highlights: Started out with Clean City Committee, costarring with a brown kangaroo mascot and other small children in anti-littering commercials. Later drafted to a Crime Stoppers commercial where we were handed crowbars and asked to beat up a car in a junkyard. Once paid $50 for a local pharmacy commercial which involved asking for scientific names of drugs to kindly old man pharmacist. Mom forced me to put it all in savings. I blew right through those savings my freshman year of college.
3. Self-babysitter, 1993 to 1997
Highlights: My parents paid me stay home alone and babysit myself while they finished their college degrees with night classes. This was largely a ploy to 1.) make me less terrified of staying home alone by incentivizing it and 2.) make it easier for them so they didn’t have pick me up at one of my aunts’ houses. Involved watching lots of Unsolved Mysteries and scaring myself shitless.
4. Bar Stocker, 1995 to 2002, 2004
Highlights: At an age that probably wasn’t entirely appropriate, on select Sundays, ensured that the coolers at my grandfather’s bar were stocked with beer and, sometimes during the summer, cleaned off the beer garden with a power washer. To an 11-year-old kid, $20 was a LOT of money. I have rarely felt the same sort of job fulfillment since.
5. Champ Man Mascot, 1996
Payment: I do not recall being paid. Probably chalked up to “family duty.”
Highlights: My former brother-in-law once was part-owner of a Champion Auto franchise. The day they opened, I served as the store mascot, which involved wearing an oversize Dickies shirt and a large racing flag mask.
6. Brick De-Mortar-er, 1996
Highlights: My parents bought a new house in 1992 with the intent of renovating the entire thing. I was paid to remove the mortar from old bricks so that they could re-use as many of them as possible. This was an absolutely tedious job, and I would only do it until I had $2 or whatever I needed for junk food and comics. There were hundreds of bricks.
7. Electrical helper, 1997-1999
Payment: Familial duty, Scout Camp
Highlights: Some kids spend their Saturdays mowing the lawn. I spent mine helping my dad rewire our house. There was a loose agreement of payment but also a speech that started, “I’m your father and you live in my house and something something Scout Camp.” There were a lot of tedious hours spent ensuring wire was fed between levels of the house and that electrical outlets, light switches, and light fixtures were properly wired. I’m still surprised I’m not dead.
8. Power Raker, 1997 to 2000
Payment: Cheaper Scout Camp, supposedly
Highlights: Like Neil Armstrong, David Lynch, and Watergate felon H.R. Haldeman, I’m an Eagle Scout. In order to raise money for Scout camp every year, my troop did something called “power raking,” which basically involved pulling up a bunch of mulch and cleaning it out of people’s yards. I’m convinced to this day that it was some kind of scam. At any rate, in some way this helped us pay for summer camp. It also ruined a lot of perfectly good spring Saturday mornings for a few years.
9. Tee-ball umpire, Summers of 1998 and 1999
Highlights: Charged with basically saying “safe” or “out,” and learning the important skills of shoulder shrugging when parents protested.
10. “Proprietor,” “Landscape Small Business,” 1998 to 2002
Payment: $5 and up (plus tips)
Highlights: Mowed lawns for money, mostly my parents and grandparents, but also my mock-trial coach. While driving me home from work one day, apropos of nothing, I had an awkward sex talk with my dad involving the words, “Before you make love to a woman, make sure you love her.” The week before I went to college, my grandfather tipped me hundreds of dollars, resulting in an accidental date because I didn’t want to break a $50 on a single movie ticket, so I bought two.
11. Stage Crew, Local Concert Series, 2000
Payment: Free concert entry
Highlights: Recruited for this gig at my parents’ yard sale. Styx and Dwight Yoakam played. Dwight Yoakam was only artist to need the town name (NORTH PLATTE) written on piece of masking tape on the stage. Secretly got drunk for the first time on vodka. (Sorry, mom.)
12. Store Clerk, Souvenir Store, 2001 to 2002
Payment: Minimum wage, promoted next summer to 10 cents above minimum wage
Highlights: Worked at the same souvenir store where my grandma worked, my mother used to manage, many of my cousins and my sister spent at least one summer clerking, and all the old ladies knew my name. Store featured a hand-carved Miniature Wild West show, a two-headed cow, and a Michelin Man dressed up as a Native stereotype. Spent much of the time talking to my boss about the decline of The X-Files in post-Mulder era.
13. Law Office Courier, 2001 to 2002
Payment: $6.25 / hr
Highlights: Worked for my attorney uncle delivering papers to the courthouse. Burned some CDs of hold music. Created new filing system out of boredom. Moved a lot of boxes around. Learned the fine art of pretending to be busy surfing the Internet.
14. Housecleaner, 2002
Payment: $150/day, usually divided three ways
Highlights: Very short-lived Saturday gig deep cleaning a man’s home. Job ended when came down the stairs in his underwear after encouraging me to bring more young male friends to his house.
15. College Newspaper Reporter, 2002 to 2007
Payment: $12/article, to start
Highlights: Screwed up a lot of stories. Totally nailed some other ones. Proceeded to get bored and do every job they’d let me do short of redesigning the newspaper.
16. Sports Score Taker, Local TV station, 2003
Highlights: Ran the score ticker for area football and basketball games on a local television station. Pretended to care about area sports and sports in general. Would sometimes call rival station to hunt down unknown scores, and the anchors laughed at me for this.
17. Electronics Salesman, Sears, 2003
Payment: $6.50/hour base pay, plus commission (rarely earned)
Highlights: Sold electronics. At Sears. Didn’t do it very well and rarely made above commission, but did learn the intricate mechanisms of various televisions and camcorders. Signed up for in-store credit cards, which I didn’t pay off until 2009. Ruined credit score and experienced first bonafide panic attack.
18. School Closings Intern, Local TV station, 2004
Highlights: Ran the school weather closings ticker for same station I once took sports scores for. Got up at 3 a.m. to get to work by 4. Was bad at this. On days when schools were not closed, wrote secretly inappropriate web headlines to Associated Press wire stories and learned video editing. Discovered Wikipedia.
19. Web Intern, Local Newspaper, 2004
Highlights: Job one of the Four Job Summer of 2004, which, when not working, was spent with ill-gained beer obtained by a friend with a fake ID and plenty of terrible movies. Uploaded paper’s content to the web. I got proofs of paper the night before it comes out, and joked that I was living the TV show Early Edition. Created terrible Photoshops for a web feature summarizing the night’s TV offerings.
20. Security Guard, 2004
Highlights: Job two of the Four Job Summer of 2004. Security guarded at power plants and high schools hit by tornadoes that summer. Secretly spent most of each shift devouring various books. Lamented that instead of a gun, I was forced to fend off would-be intruders with a Mag Light. Got to wear a goofy uniform.
21. Blockbuster Clerk, 2004
Highlights: Job three of the Four Job Summer of 2004. Showed up to interview 15 minutes late and still got the job. Was the best part-time job ever because: free rentals and the opportunity to cultivate my own my own Blockbuster Recommendations shelf.
22. Freelance Writer, 2004 to present
Payment: $.07/word to start, haven’t gotten much past that
Highlights: Job four of the Four Job Summer of 2004. My first assignments were covering local music, and I branched out into other topics.
23. Features Intern, 2005
Payment: $12 / hour
Highlights: Moved to Arkansas for this internship, and did surprisingly well, despite these actual pitches: “How many deadly spiders are in Arkansas?”; “I wonder if anyone here draws comic books …” ; “Please pay me to review fireworks.” Got an A1 story covering the Miss Arkansas pageant when the theme was “A Salute to Billy Joel.” Discovered the distinct joys of Arkansas’ drive thru liquor, lax open container laws (as long as I was sitting shotgun), and Waffle House.
24. Wiki Site Editor, 2004
Payment: $12/hour, theoretically
Highlights: For three days, worked for the math department as a web editor despite having failed college algebra repeatedly. Showed up to the job interview with a mohawk. Did not know what I was doing. Quit pathetically by email by basically throwing my hands in the air and giving up because of my inability to generate a file type (or anything else) correctly.
25. Barnes and Noble Bookseller, 2005 to 2006
Payment: $6.25 / hour
Highlights: Worked at Barnes and Noble as a “bookseller” after nearly flunking out of college. Spent most of my time working the register alone. Experienced weird world of competitive low wage work places. Quit to “devote more time to my studies.” Used employee discount to buy regrettable books of Bukowski poetry.
26. Student Film Maker, 2005 to 2006
Highlights: Made two student films, entered them in student film competitions, won second place in both. One was a Burger King commercial parody in which the Burger King King steals the kidneys of Ronald McDonald, the other involved sock puppet zombies. Both can still be found on YouTube. I’m not linking to them.
27. Stripper, 2005
Payment: Six-pack of Old Style.
Highlights: Was paid a six-pack of beer to dress up in my old security guard uniform and take off my shirt while dancing and lip-synching to R. Kelly at a bachelorette party. Drank all six beers in order to bring myself to be able to take off my shirt and dance/lip-synch to R. Kelly at a bachelorette party.
28. Dorm Desk Clerk, 2006 to 2007
Payment: $8 / hour
Highlights: Checked students into dorms. Watched many X-Files reruns. Only fell asleep once (a fireable offense), but it was thankfully only for like, two minutes.
29. Staff Assistant at state banking regulation office, 2007
Payment: $10.15 / hour, -$75
Highlights: Wrote some really awful, truly terrible rejection letters to would-be stock brokers in the state of Nebraska. Often realized after the fact that they were full of clerical errors (ADD makes things hard). Lost a key fob and had to pay $75.
30. Phone Center, 2007 to 2008
Payment: $9/hour, plus employee discount
Highlights: Moved to Philadelphia with the intent of becoming an awesome web designer or writer or both. Instead worked at a catalog call center taking orders for doo-wop re-recordings, $5 monster movies, and softcore porn (one memorable title: The Gestapos Last Orgy).
31. Internship at media reform organization, 2008
Highlights: Went from placing porn orders to lobbying congress for a fairer media. Drank a lot of coffee because that’s what people on campaigns do. Grew my first beard.
32. Ghost Tour Guide, 2008
Payment: $12/hour, infrequently
Highlights: Applied to be a ghost-tour guide not realizing that most of the job was handing out flyers to tourists, not giving ghost tours.
33. Data entry for a union, 2008
Highlights: After data-entry project ended, they were nice to enough to make up random tasks for me to do so that I could stay employed for another month.
34. Website monkey, Criminal justice non-profit, 2008 to 2010
Highlights: Did website monkey stuff. Kept track of statistics on executions and other criminal justice statistics. Made a Real Adult Salary while also Wasting It By Paying Rent In Washington, DC. Managed to pay off credit card debt and medical debt from an uninsured appendicitis scare. After realizing living in Washington, D.C. and not being overly self important were mutually exclusive, quit and moved.
35. Betting Ticket Writer, Horse Track, 2010 to 2011
Highlights: Worked 15 hours a week writing betting tickets for horse racing. The job became significantly more fun once it wasn’t my only source of income. I learned to dread the smell of beer and cigarettes on customer’s breath on 100 degree days. Also learned how to gamble to infrequent success. Spent meager tips on really pathetic groceries (corn tortillas, cans of beans).
36. Paint Stocker, Box Hardware Store, 2010
Payment: $7.85/hour, minus cost of uniform vest, box cutter, and tape measure
Highlights: Worked exactly one night of training and one morning stocking paint at a place that wasn’t Home Depot or Lowes. Got a better job the afternoon of my first day and left a rambling, apologetic voicemail that I wouldn’t be back Monday.
37. Invoice Processor, State Gambling Office, 2010
Highlights: While still working at a horse track, also worked for a state office processing invoices for gambling counselors. The irony was not lost on me.
38. Press Release Writer, State Dental Office, 2010 to 2011
Highlights: Worked for a state dental office as a perma-temp writing press releases, managing Google Groups, and reading dental blogs on Google Reader. Once blared Minor Threat and Fugazi in a state car while travelling 150 miles to do a tech training. Learned the pains of high deductible insurance plans.
39. Americorps, 2011 to the end of June 2012
Payment: $5.05/hour on weeks when I work only 40 hours, which is not illegal if the government calls it a “living stipend”
Highlights: People trusted me to do their taxes for a few months, and when tax season was over, I got really bored. By the end of my service, I will have paid off my student loans (my last remaining debt).
Question Writer, 2011
Payment: $50 and a lot of beer
Highlights: Paid to write rounds of trivia for a trivia night that did not draw much of a crowd. Was eventually sidelined and told the event was going weekly instead of monthly. Was never called back.
John Wenz has probably missed a few jobs here or there. He is currently looking for lucky jobs 41 and 42, likely to be worked at the same time.