I was talking with a friend the other day about silly jobs we’ve worked. Most of my jobs have been fairly normal and anything odd never lasted more than a week [setting up the audio for a gay new year’s party was interesting, but having to move out the day after wasn’t]. I had to think hard on this one and then I remembered back when I was nine years old. That was what I would consider my first job.
I was in elementary school [Lawton Elementary to be specific] and it was the year that busing started. There was lots of turmoil going around most of it in class or on the school yard and I was this nice clean cut white boy who just should have had a kick me sign glued to my back. My mother was even told by the Principal that the reason I was getting into so many fights was because she dressed me too nice for school. I didn’t like school back then because in a couple of years I would be working out organic chemistry at classes I took at the Academy of Sciences that I learned more from than the prune faced teachers of yesteryear that would just scowl at you and put on the TV so we could watch an episode of Sesame Street or Electric Company while they went to the “conference room” to suck down have a pack of cigarettes.
I needed a way out and a friend of mine Cornell told me there was an opening for a dishwasher in the Cafeteria. Cornell and I because friends because I think I told him he was cheating at four square which I didn’t realize was a challenge or slang for, terribly sorry, but would you possibly mind kicking my clean cut white boy posterior? Afterwards we became friends and he let me in on the little secret.
When you worked in the Cafeteria you got to leave class before lunch. Lunch was split into two sections where the first group would be eating then go out to play and they’d shuffle the second group in. We got our lunch for free and there was almost two hours out of my school day I only had to deal with Mrs. Dixon who scowled at everyone except us, Cornell and one other person who I can’t remember his name. For getting the trays and washing them [I had the dryer detail putting the trays into and pulling them out of the dryer and stacking them] we were paid 25¢ a week plus the free lunch. I’m sure we could have asked for more, but six nine year olds going on strike doesn’t exactly make anyone suffer. In some ways I felt a bit like Oliver from Oliver Twist, without all the filth and suffering.
These were the days when your parents would scare you with threats that if you didn’t do better in school they’d expel you and no other school would take you and you would wind up broke and on the streets. Well at least that’s what my Mom would tell me. Being broke and on the streets would have been tough for a nine year old so I worked at school which wasn’t much of an effort and if I did wind up on the streets I could at least be a dishwasher.
What I remember the most was Mrs. Dixon [who I just can’t imagine what Mr. Dixon looked like if he did exist] would reward us at the end of the month if we did a good job with an ice cream bar. I never understood why she had them since none of the other kids got ice cream [note bragging sound in my voice]. It wasn’t really that much and I could probably go home after school and at least three days out of the week I could grab an ice cream bar out of my own freezer, but I guess because I had to work for it made the difference. Cornell always used to work hard because once a month was about the only time he would get ice cream and he’d run out the door showing that ice cream bar to everyone in the school yard. The quarter didn’t mean much when you got ice cream at the end of the month.