There comes a time in everyone’s life when they start to grow up.
I remember the summer it began for me. A light went on in my head—a sort of epiphany. I put aside all the Superman comic books and began reading “Moby Dick”, “Les Miserables” and “A Tale of Two Cities.” In comic book form.
I had another epiphany that summer. Actually it was my old man’s epiphany. He suggested that I might like to consider seeking some summer employment. He put it this way: “Get a job. Now.”
I began my job hunt right about this time of year: late July. I had stalled as long as possible, but my various excuses—twisted ankle, prickly heat, and amnesia—no longer worked.
A friend told me they were hiring at a camper and trailer factory. I’d be working around drills and power saws, so the job immediately sounded cool, stud-like and easy.
My friend wasn’t sure about the pay, but we both figured the money had to be huge. I went straight over to the factory—already practicing the laugh that I would use all the way to the bank after I got my first paycheck.
A big, gruff guy named Phil brought me into his office for an interview.
“You got any experience?” he asked.
“I mowed lawns for four summers,” I answered—right on point.
Incredibly, during my entire job interview, Phil never once asked if I knew anything about woodworking (I didn’t) or the use of tools (ditto).
A simple questionnaire would have been helpful:
Can you describe a screwdriver and its functions?
Where on the human body should safety goggles be worn?
How many fingers do you have currently?
A hammer is used for:
Determining one’s shoe size.
Robbing a bank when a gun isn’t available.
Do you bleed easily?
But no such questions were asked. Instead, Phil told me I was hired—immediately. I was startled. I wasn’t really ready to start so soon. I wanted to field other offers.
He also forgot to tell me how much I would be paid, and I didn’t ask. But I still assumed it would be lucrative—especially for such a skilled position.
I was led into the factory and introduced to a guy whose forehead looked like he’d taken several rounds with a nail gun.
“You’re gonna work in the sink department,” Mr. Forehead told me.
“Kitchen?” I asked.
“Bathroom, “ he said. “You’ll be right next to the guy who does toilets.” Turned out that was his name: Guy Toilet. It was French.
My specific task was to cut a hole into a big, rectangular piece of plywood—a hole into which a stainless steel sink would fit—precisely. I was shown how to measure out the exact dimensions, and then how to make the cut using a jigsaw—presumably the same kind used to make puzzles.
After I had started by miscalculating—some would say ‘ruining’—six plywood boards, Phil walked up wearily.
“Cashman, this isn’t working,” he informed. “We’re moving you to window installation.” I beamed with pride. I had already gotten a promotion.
That’s the way it went during my career at the camper and trailer factory, which lasted
just under a week. As I moved from department to department—in a quixotic effort to find my most suitable—some would say ‘any’—skill, I realized I was running out of departments.
Finally, a bewildered Phil brought me back into the office where I’d first had the job interview. “Cashman,” he began. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.“
I was unfamiliar with the expression.
“Let me go where?” I asked. “Do you have another facility? Say, Las Vegas?”
Phil handed me my first and final paycheck: $62.37. It was an honest if undistinguished week’s work. I walked it to the bank, not laughing even part of the way.
But at least I finally had something to put on my resume’—and since I had spent time in
so many departments at the factory, it all looked quite impressive on paper. Especially
the embellished job descriptions such as “precision sink receptacle creator”(cutting
plywood board holes) and “viewing-portal engineer”(window installer).
Therein lies the secret: every teenage or adult occupation sounds substantially more impressive if hyperbolically labeled:
Legume acquirer (bean-picker)
Environmental Enhancement Specialist (picks up trash along roadsides)
Motion picture director (shows people to their seats at the multiplex)
Transportation device makeover technician (works at car-wash)
Mal-vegetation eliminator (weed puller)
Podiatric implement authority (shoe seller)
And finally, Newspaper columnist (space filler).