I’m at the crossroads right now in terms of how I make money in the world. As much as I would just love to write, perform Clearings, host Salons and fuss in my garden, the truth is I need to make some money. I’m a very grounded mom and wife. I own a gorgeous (albeit simple and very small) house with my husband. I contribute to worthy causes and am in several courses of study that require money. I have to eat and pay basic bills. At some point I need to make real money again. Because the job I just left paid the bills, people. Paid them well. It put two kids through college. It erected a new nine foot privacy fence on our property. It paid off all our lame ass debt. The job I’ve just left also gave us a small stash of cash to live on for a short time. But that same job almost cost me my freaking sanity. The Mercury Retrograde here at the start of 2022 (mark your calendars - January 14 through February 3) is the perfect time to reflect, revisit and dare I say celebrate all the ways I’ve made money over the years.
Here goes. Technically, my first “job” was ironing my father’s work shirts. He was a Methodist minister and the ironing of his shirts was seemingly endless and my step-mother needed help! So she paid my brother and me to do it. As a result, my brother and I can starch and iron a shirt to perfection. It’s been a helpful skill to have over the years but at $.50 per shirt, it certainly doesn’t qualify as a real job, now does it?
My first “real job" was at the mall in Odessa, Texas at a certain orange and white burger place that we all know and love. I was 15 at the time and was trained to work all the positions: cashier, janitorial support, fry cook, produce prep and the grill. For some reason I was really fast at cooking. I could flip a burger, dress it according to the instructions on the paper bag and get those orders out in freakishly fast record time. When we were busy I was inevitably at the grill station.
My coworkers were lovely and I got along with all of them. My uniform was navy pants, a light blue pinstripe shirt, an apron with the logo on the front and of course a visor. (I looked and looked for a picture of me in that burger joint uniform and alas, I can’t find it. But above is a picture of my mother and me during that time period. More about her later on. The Stories are a’comin’!) I have several funny memories at this job. For example, one time this gay couple came in and I’d never seen an openly gay couple before in my life until that point. (It was a different era, the early 90s in West Texas.) I was working at the register that day and I leaned into them after they placed their order and said “May I ask you two a question?” They nodded and looked at me expectantly. “Are y’all…. you know, lovers?” They bust out laughing and said “yes of course!” I was a little embarrassed because I couldn’t bring myself to say the word “gay” for some reason. Anyway, we laughed and thusly my gaydar was activated by the two nicest gay guys in the Odessa mall.
I remember that song Achy Breaky Heart playing on the country radio station in the break room. I remember using my time to chop onions in the back as time to really get into it and cry about something, anything. I remember hauling grease out to the trap and scrubbing the disgusting public toilets. I made about $6 per hour but once I got a $.07 raise!
And, importantly, blessedly, one of the most profound pivots of my life happened at this job. I remember this one evening when I was working as the grill cook and it was at the end of a very long day. The meat patties are stored in a refrigerated drawer under the grill after they’re pulled out of the deep freeze. That way they stay nice and cold while they slowly defrost because a frozen patty doesn’t cook as well. It's something you only learn through experience but there really is a sweet spot that the meat reaches in terms of temperature for optimal cooking. (#chemistry) Anyway, this one particular evening I reached into the drawer to grab one of the last remaining patties and had to swish around in a pool of defrosted blood to find it. I threw it on the grill. I watched it cook. I watched the blood bubble and spatter on the hot surface. I looked at my hands and they were covered in blood. I wiped blood out of my fingernails onto my apron. I ruminated on what was happening in front of me in real time. I’m not sure why, but I never really thought about what meat actually was before. It was an actual animal I realized at that moment. And to eat it wasn’t something I wanted to do. But there I was with its blood on my hands... I finished cooking that patty and sent the burger out. I cleaned up for the night and by the end of my shift I vowed to never eat meat again. It was just too cruel. I became a dedicated vegetarian in the moment. Still am 31 years later! Thank you orange and white burger joint!
Moving on, I knew all the people working at all the other stores in this mall because of this job. Fans of the orange and white burger place are really devoted, it turns out. One of the folks that would frequent our restaurant was the manager of the local athletic footwear store. (The green and white one, not the black and white striped one, just in case you’re a connoisseur of these things.) We chatted and at some point he asked me to come apply for a job since I’d shared that I’d become vegetarian. I guess he was serious because apply I did and promptly got the job.
I sold footwear for a while and as the only female employee and I made more commission than any of the guys. Turns out that a pretty, high school aged shoe sales gal is attractive bait at the athletic store. (I also ran track and cross country so the discount was awfully appealing.) Who knows, but it paid a little more than the burger place because of the sales commission. And for once being a female paid MORE in this environment. I roll my eyes now as I remember the guys huffing and puffing about it, LOL.
I didn’t last but six months or so at the footwear gig and I moved on to perform my first real grown-up service industry job. It was at the Red-themed Lobster place that has the delicious cheese biscuits. (Come on, you know the one.) It was here that I learned how to bank the money I’d make. Waiting tables in a midsize West Texas town at one of the nicer restaurants meant the tips were actually pretty exceptional. At least compared to minimum wage burger joints and the small-scale commission at the footwear place.
Working at this restaurant ensured my newfound vegetarianism took root very strongly. Crab legs, shrimps and even live lobsters couldn’t entice me away. In fact, I dug in deeper and completely astonished my family. Back then being a vegetarian wasn’t normal, it wasn’t easy and it was a huge pain in the ass for all of us. I’m pretty sure they all thought I would “grow out of it” but hey, I never did. I saved and saved my money and soon enough I was off to college with a nice little savings to get me going as a full time student in the big city. The year was 1994.
Periodic updates and observations from Aurah in the Field.