And I’m not talking about Steve.
Vacation is just about over. The alarm will ring at 0530 tomorrow morning and I will begin my new old life as a worker bee after a lengthy hiatus as a retiree. Do I still have what it takes? I admit it is of some concern since I’ve been out of the game so long. But I’ll take comfort in the warm embrace of cliches–fish to water, riding a bike, etc.
My impending re-employment has also led me to think about all the other jobs I’ve done in my lifetime. If memory serves there’s been 25 occupations all told. Here’s a brief rundown:
1. Paper Boy, Westminster, CA (1967) Hell of a lot of responsibility for a 12 year old. It was an afternoon paper (plus Sunday mornings), the now long defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, which I delivered from my bicycle 7 days a week. Had to collect from my customers each month and I was expected to knock on doors to gain new subscriptions as well. I recall it being a major pain in the ass.
2. Car wash, Huntington Beach, CA (1971). A summer job in high school and probably the hardest physical labor I ever performed. I think the pay was $1.35 an hour. This song came out around the same time:
3. Flagman, Huntington Beach, CA (1971). This was at a motorcycle race track. When there was a crash I’d wave my flag like a madman to warn other riders. It was hot, noisy, and dirty work. I lasted maybe three weeks.
4. Ray-o-Lite, Huntington Beach, CA (1972). You know those reflective lane markers on the highway? Well, someone has to make them. I did one summer. What I remember was falling hard for one of my co-workers who, alas, had a boyfriend. I finally got her to go out out with me to a CSNY concert. She was into the music but not into me. Years later I found myself delivering mail to her house in Anaheim which made me a little sad.
5. Blinky’s Pizza, Westminster, CA (1972). The closest I ever got to the fast food industry, but this was a full fledged pizza restaurant. The job had it’s perks–I’d always take a pie home at the end of my shift and sometimes we’d sneak some beer out too. Whenever I eat out I try very hard to not remember some of the stuff that went on in the kitchen, which even after all these years is still too gross to recount.
6. Pacific Coast Publishing, Garden Grove, CA (1973). I got to use the skills I developed as the editor of my high school paper putting together church directories for area Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) congregations. I seduced one of my SDA co-workers out of her virginity which was probably the highlight of my tenure (oh hell, it was definitely the highlight!). The owner of the business was apparently embezzling money from the church and he killed himself (and my job) when he was exposed.
7. Newspaper delivery, Orange County (1973). So, I got back in the newspaper business, but this time I was feeding those vending racks you see in front of the store. It meant getting up at 0400 or so seven days a week. My car at the time was a piece of shit clunker and when it quit so did I.
8. Stop-n-Go Market, Cypress, CA (1973). Ah, who doesn’t aspire to be a convenience store clerk at least once in their life? I worked the graveyard shift (11-7) until the night I got robbed at knife point. Decided then that my life was worth more than a couple bucks an hour.
9. Teledyne Cast Products, Pomona, CA (1973). This was a foundry that made cast aluminum parts for jet aircraft engines. My job was to monitor the temperature of the molten aluminum so it was just right for pouring. As you might imagine things got more than a little hot and I was always paranoid that some stoner would spill some on me. Never happened though. I actually didn’t mind the job, but the foreman wanted to hire his nephew so he fired me.
10. Adco Plastics, Santa Ana, CA (1974). Leaving my life in aluminum behind, I entered the realm of vinyl plastic fabrication. Our main product was the Boat Bath, a device in which rich folk would park their boats so as not to have to clean off algae and other maritime growths (the boat bath would be filled with chlorine or something similar) . I still have a nasty scar on my finger from an unfortunate accident with one of those razor blade knives. The memory still makes me cringe.
11. Modern Messenger, Orange County (1975). In this job I provided the vehicle (my 1974 Datsun pickup) and the company provided the two way radio. I’d be dispatched to banks, law offices and the like to pick up important documents and deliver them to their intended recipients. Sorta like being a mailman without the pay and benefits.
12. Brown’s Distributing, Anaheim, CA (1975). With the birth of my daughter I was looking for some stable work and I found it in route sales. My company made a product called “Picnic Sandwiches”. My job was to keep the convenience stores on my route stocked with fresh sandwiches. There were also incentives for getting new customers, and I proved to be a pretty good salesman. Go figure.
13. Letter Carrier, United States Postal Service, Anaheim, CA; Prescott, AZ; Fort Smith, AR (1976-1985). Ah, the sweet memories I have of my days as a mailman. Hiking around outdoors, meeting lonely women, and being a union agitator. Good stuff.
14. Softball Umpire, Prescott, AZ (1981-1983). I used to be big into softball. Even founded an organization called “The Mile-High Softball Club” (an intentional double entendre–the elevation of Prescott is 5400 feet). We sponsored an annual Cinco de Mayo tournament which was a pretty big deal. The Parks and Recreation Department asked me to join the umpire cadre, it was a paying gig and so I did. A pretty thankless job, no matter what call you made someone was unhappy. I remember one player after unsuccessfully arguing that he was safe telling me “ah well, you are still the second best umpire in town”. I said “oh yeah, who’s best?” He responded “everyone else is tied for first”.
15. Safety Specialist, United States Postal Service, Fort Smith, AR (1985). The only real problem with carrying mail was it eventually got mind-numbingly boring after a while. Also, them Arkansas winters were brutal. I had met a woman on my mail route who was smart and well-connected and she saw in me some potential I really didn’t see in myself. Anyway, she provided the motivation for me to apply for a management job. I knew nothing about safety, but the HR Director knew me from our labor-management meetings and I guess she wanted me on her side. Twelve weeks of training at the USPS Management Academy in Potomac, MD and I actually learned how to do the job.
16. Labor Relations Representative, United States Postal Service, Columbia, SC (1986-1993). Once I had made the jump into management I got the urge to use the skills I had acquired as a union steward and branch president. I figured it was the same collective bargaining agreement, I’d just be approaching it from a different perspective. So I started applying for every vacancy around. I finally got interviewed for a job in Charleston, SC. After that interview, one of the panelists said he had a vacancy in Columbia he wanted to talk to me about. He asked me some technical questions and the only answer I had was “I don’t know, I’ve never done that”. I figured that was that, but when I got back to my office in Fort Smith there was a message waiting for me that I’d been selected for Columbia. When I asked my boss later why he’d picked me he said “because you didn’t know anything, you wouldn’t have to unlearn any bad habits.” True story.
17. Acting Director, Human Resources, USPS, Roanoke, VA (1988). I guess I was doing pretty well at my job in Columbia because one day I got a call from the big boss asking me to go to Roanoke, VA and clean up a mess. The HR Director there had been fired for sexually harassing a member of his staff. When I arrived on the scene I found the staff in complete disarray–half supporting the former director and half supporting the victim. By the end of my assignment I had everyone pulling in the same direction again and the big boss said “well done”. It was a good experience and I loved Roanoke.
18. Labor Relations Specialist, Mid-Atlantic Area, USPS (1993). The Postal Service had a major reorganization in 1993, going from five Regional Offices to ten Area Offices. I scored a labor relations spot on the Mid-Atlantic Area staff. It was probably the sweetest gig I ever had in my career. I remained domiciled in Columbia, but I had responsibility for the entire Mid-Atlantic (offices in Philadelphia and Arlington, VA and the states of Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, and the Carolinas). So, I was generally on the road three weeks a month (racked up a kazillion air miles with US Air). And I was basically a hired gun–I’d blow into town and kick the union’s ass in arbitration, then get out of Dodge. Sweet!
19. Manager, Labor Relations, Mid-Atlantic Area, USPS (1996-2000). My boss got promoted into a Postal Executive position and he wanted me to fill his old job. I told him no thanks, I’m loving the job I have now (see above). One day he called and said “John, I need you to do me a favor”, which was his way of saying he wasn’t asking this time. So, I got promoted and moved to Northern Virginia. It was a helluva lot of responsibility–six people working for me, three major unions whinging and agitating for the 80,000 employees within my sphere of influence. Long hours and a long commute, but I never got bored. I was also selected for the Advanced Leadership Program, which was designed to develop future Postal Executives. Lots more classroom time at the Management Academy and a Masters program at Marymount University. Hell, I’m tired just remembering how tired I was during this period.
20. Acting Human Resources Director, Little Rock, AR USPS (2000). My boss retired and I thought I was in the running for his Postal Executive position. However, I was deemed “not ready”. Now, I suspect this was because I had pissed off all the right people at Postal Headquarters (including the guy who eventually became Postmaster General) by not appropriately kowtowing to their superior wisdom and calling bullshit when they dished out bullshit. Anyway, I realized that I had gone as far as I was gonna go with the USPS, so I started applying for jobs in the federal sector (which paid substantially more than the postal service does). In the meantime I took an assignment as far away from L’Enfant Plaza as I could find, which happened to be Little Rock. I actually enjoyed going back to Arkansas where my management career had begun. I even considered staying permanently. And then one day I got a phone call.
21. Labor Relations Specialist, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC (2001-2005). I got offered a job as the number two labor guy with ED, an agency with a total of 5000 employees. It was a GS-14 with maybe a third of my previous responsibility and a $25,000 per year increase. It was an easy decision to make, and even my commute got better because I could take the train to work rather than spending hours in the nightmare traffic of I-95. Oh, but the boredom I experienced! The few issues I dealt with were all so silly and there weren’t that many of them. The politics were marginally interesting. The political appointees (Bush Republicans) liked my hard-ass style and my boss was a go along to get along kind of guy. So, I’d get the call to attend meetings on the 10th floor which understandably pissed off the guy I worked for. We managed it, but by my fourth year I was on the verge of going insane.
22. Human Resources Specialist, 8th U.S. Army, Seoul, Korea (2005-2007). Things were so bad that I started applying for every vacancy I could find, including Iraq. The then-wife was certain I had lost my mind, and she was probably right. Well, Iraq didn’t want me, but Korea did. I had absolutely no clue about what I was getting into, but I was certain it had to be better than what I was getting out of. And obviously, I made the right call. I had two big adjustments to make, learning about Korea and learning the ways of the Army. Hell, I’d come out of meetings with a list of acronyms to look up. The Army language was as foreign to me as Korean. But the work was good and exciting and different. The Koreans I worked with were outstanding, even the union leaders. And this job is where I’ll be going back to the future tomorrow.
23. Deputy Director, Human Resources Management, 8th Army/USFK, Seoul (2007-2008). My supervisor got cancer and died, and the Director asked me to fill his shoes.Being a Deputy is basically just making sure the staff gives the Director what she wants, when she wants it. As easy as that may sound there was a learning curve. A couple of times I had not understood precisely what she required and I’d get blasted with “this is not what I asked for”. Before too long we got in sync and I came to really enjoy working with her.
24. Director, Human Resources Management, 8th Army/USFK, Seoul. When it came time for my boss to return to the USA she encouraged me to apply for the job. I was a little ambivalent given that I expected to retire in less than two years myself. Still, I figured I’d rather be the boss than work for a bad one, and I wound up getting the job. I actually enjoyed my time as Director. Given that I knew I was going to retire I had a certain freedom to “speak truth to power” and somewhat surprisingly, the brass seemed to appreciate my honesty. Most of the time anyway. Anyway, it was a great way to finish what I assumed was going to be the end of my career. Obviously, things change.
25. Admin support, MES, Seoul, Korea. When I retired on December 31, 2010 I figured my working life was over. The plan was to spend six months in the USA and six months in Korea. After doing that for 4 years, Jee Yeun balked at returning to the states. I decided I’d rather be with her here than without her back home. To facilitate my return I started beating the bushes for a job. It’s easier to have a SOFA visa and base access than it is to be without it. So, I briefly became a Wal-Mart greeter of sorts at the K-16 Airbase Multi-use Learning Facility. The job was as boring as it sounds and the pay wouldn’t cover my month bar tab. But it got me back here, and for that I am grateful.
And now the circle is complete.