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September 8, 2017

i started working at 14 with a job at hempstead public library
when NY state minimum wage was $3.35/hour. i shelved books
in the foreign language section, which was interesting because of
all the different publishing styles represented by the countries of
origin. i also prepared books for circulation--laminating covers,
pasting pockets in back, inserting security strips, and stamping
the library info on page 75. a lot of the greek books arrived with
their pages uncut, so there i'd sit in the basement with a letter
opener, slicing them open one by one, working through a stack.
it was pretty tranquil down there with fellow teen part-timers
darryl, michelle, diane, and eventually my best friend chet.

i started lifeguarding at swimming pools as soon as i could
at age 16. summers were spent twirling a whistle at
hempstead golf and country club, where over the years
i worked my way up to the lofty position of aquatics
director. the pay was good and the work congenial,
though i finally had to give it up because it felt plain
icky working at a whites only club in the heart of a
black neighborhood. apartheid, anyone? winters i
lifeguarded at buttle's, hofstra, and the long island
, where i got my first whiff of patchouli when
the dead played nassau coliseum across the lot.

at cornell i worked in noyes dining hall, doing it all
but mostly working the line in the 'shroom (dishroom)
where the challenge was to clear up to 2,000 trays
coming through on a rubber belt each 3-hour shift.
i was the first 'shroomer to ride through the conveyor
dish machine; only got a little bit scalded. as a rower,
i also worked in the boathouse with my good buddy
the future olympian. there was a lot of goofing off.

my first job out of school was canvassing for an
environmental lobby group. i was good and made
quota my first time out but i quit the next day after
realizing what a scam it was. a desk job for a high
end audio magazine fizzled fast. book store jobs
filled the gaps, then in grad school i taught as an
adjunct english lecturer and graded papers poolside
lifeguarding at same old marriott, where i'd often
be tapped to play racquetball with guests or lead
conference groups in meditation and stretching.
i taught a couple of classes after graduating
but gave up on academia because i didn't
want to bother with a PhD and the ivory
tower ethos left me cold. too insular.

by now it was 1996 and i was worried
the computer revolution was passing
me by, so i jumped at the offer to be
an admin assistant for a DC non-profit,
where i got my first inside look at
corporate america. pretty soon my
role expanded to communications
coordinator and webmaster. when
i moved back to NYC to pounce
on a cheap apartment in manhattan,
i took the website part of the job
with me. then i found a high tech
job through the NYT classifieds--
as in, i circled the listing in pencil.
when i quit that job at CTW after
six months to follow my heart to
seattle, i became an early tele-
commuter for a spell, then barely
hung on through a variety of web
design contracts. i also took any
oddball opportunity that came
my way, including living statue,
body-painted devil for playboy
channel video, and rollerblading
. i was up for anything.

one thing i knew by then was i
didn't want to work at a desk any
more; i get enough screen time
right here. so i started picking up
day labor gigs in landscaping
and construction with friends.
oddly, i got my real start in the
building trades while my wrist
was still in a cast from a skate-
boarding crash
. a demolition job,
i cradled the heavy 60" prybar
on my cast as i popped stubborn
floorboards up, my first view of
how houses were put together.

i was into it! i was so green at
first and made some hilarious (in
retrospect) mistakes. that's been
my main gig since 2003, doing
remodels, new construction, and
one comradely spell of salvage.
that, plus intermittent interludes
where i cooked and served at a
resort restaurant, edited an agitprop
, and booked a nightclub
where beer magically flowed from
a tap in the wall. add to that two
years as a tractor-driving caretaker
on a remote Maui 50-acre hobby farm
with 20 beehives and 120 laying chickens
and my resume is almost sort of complete.
with all that various experience, the thing i still
find most satisfying is holding a tool in my hand
and having everything go as planned. it's not just
the satisfaction that comes when you stand back
at the end of the day to survey what you've
accomplished, it's every tiny step along the way--
the problem solving, measuring, snapping the
chalk line, and the long straight cut guided by
nothing but the eye and a steady touch.

i'm grateful for all the opportunities i've had, and
all the people along the way who shared their
knowledge and gave me a chance to learn by doing.