I’ve had my fair share of odd jobs. In fact, in some ways I don’t know that I’ve ever really had a normal job. Of course, for some reason when I think of normal jobs I think of being an accountant. I guess any job that involves cubicles and numbers is normal. I realize my thinking is a little warped. But accountants just seem so incessantly normal.
My first job, other than being the official “channel changer” for my family, was working in a strawberry field. That’s right, I was a field worker. The pay was awful and it involved crawling across a strawberry field searching for ripe strawberries. Needless to say, I didn’t last long. Manual labor and I never have mixed well.
It wasn’t long after that when I became an illegal worker at a fast food restaurant. I was 15 when the manager, who I’m sure has been on “To Catch a Predator” twice, hired me. He lied to the company about my age and allowed me to work in the back for about 8 months. Neither my parents nor I knew that you had to be at least 16 to legally work at a restaurant in the state of Iowa. So about a week before my 16th birthday the assistant manager called me and told me not to come back to work until I turned 16, which is when I was told what had gone down. On an interesting side note, my predator was sent to jail on an unrelated (to me anyway) offense involving alcohol, minors, and sex. In retrospect I’m a little offended that I was not offered either alcohol or sex. (oh please…don’t act so shocked…)
Since customer service is my gig, it’s understandable that I quickly rose to the top. Once I was of legal working age they took me off of the bun-toaster and shoved to the front line, where I was able to present my awkward smile to every mentally-ill veteran who happened to walk through the front door. There were several that would occasionally get confused and wander through the service door and it was their loss. The restaurant was located close to a VA hospital that I seem to remember had a special outpatient mental health ward. Nice. That didn’t stop my Hardee’s “Served with Pride” award-winning attitude. Oh yes, did I mention that the name of the “restaurant” was Hardee’s? Umm. Yeah. I don’t mean to brag, but I was employee of the month twice during my stint as a front-line worker. I know what you are thinking. And it’s true. I have “front-line worker” written all over me. Thank you.
I had some really interesting friends from Hardee’s. There was Gail, her daughter Tracy, and son-in-law Bill. Gail made cakes on the side and once brought a cake to work in the shape of a penis at full attention with all the graphic detail you can imagine. I don’t remember much about Tracy, except that she was married to Bill. Interestingly, Bill was the truly odd one of the family. He was responsible for cleaning the parking lot and performing other random duties, like chasing the confused patrons out of the service entrance. He liked to invite people to come see his house. I don’t think he had anything funny in mind. He just simply enjoyed showing people his and Tracy’s fully undecorated home. I only took the tour once.
In hindsight, I’m not really sure why I was invited over to so many of my co-workers’ places. No one ever tried to give me drugs or alcohol. No one ever tried to touch me. Nothing. It must have just been my sparkling personality and award-winning smile that people could not resist. Even several of the managers had me over to their places. I know that you are probably thinking how lucky I was–those situations were dangerous. And, you could be right. But, these people actually were my friends, even if they were adults. In some ways, they were educating me on the real world. Perhaps they were just trying to show me what life would be like if I stayed at Hardee’s, instead of going to college. I chose college.
I do love a good list, so here’s a serious list of 5 things I actually learned from working at Hardee’s:
1) Smile at everybody. Even those who seem a little crazy.
2) Show up on time. If you are late, someone else has to wait.
3) Smoking is a nasty habit. Being exposed to secondhand smoke and seeing the effects of a lifetime-long smoking habit on a mentally-ill person is a great deterrent.
4) If you masturbate you will grow hair on the palms of your hands. I fell for this joke countless times.
5) Go to college. If you stay and work at a fast food restaurant in rural Iowa, you will end up living in a van down by the river. (In further hindsight, I would say that if you don’t choose to go to college then you should at least travel and expand your worldview.)