“The End of Labor is to Gain Leisure.” Aristotle

A friend commented the other day that it seemed that I had a large number of assorted  jobs over the years and after thinking about it, decided to begin writting something on Labor Day to pay homage to assorted experiences that work afforded me. When finished I’ll count them up and compare my number with that of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which states the average number of jobs over a lifetime is 11.4 different jobs for men and 10.7 jobs for women. So lets start at the beginning and work through relatively chronoligically as I remember them.

FILE CLERK

My very first job was obtained for me against my will by my father. He thought I needed some experience in the work force, so while in high school I went to work in my uncle’s  CPA firm in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Paperwork was the name of the game and I remember thinking the last thing I EVER wanted to do was be an accountant.

NEWSPAPER DELIVERY

How hard could this be? I will ride my bike to a pick-up center, fold my allotment in a canvas bag, ride my bike back to my neighborhood and throw them on patron’s lawns or porches. Trouble was the papers were more likely to break a window, or a piece of porch lighting, or land high up in a tree, or in a big puddle if it was raining. The Philadelphia Inquirer and I both agreed it would be better if we parted ways. My father was not pleased.

ROLLAR-SKATING WAITER

Once upon a time there was an A&W drive-in restaurant where you gave your order over a speaker and the food was delivered to the cars by servers on roller-skates. I was always good on skates going straight on flat surfaces. The A&W parking lot was not level. The restaurant was higher that the cars, so you were skateing down to the cars with food trays, and skateing up hill returning with trash filled trays. I would always have to thrust one arm out to stop me from crashing into the trunk, or side doors of the cars, and amazingly I spilled very little of the food. My body was bruised, but I got the job done. They also had the best onion-rings and root beer floats than any other in-town eatery.

LIFEGUARD

When I was a senior in high school, my sister was a restaurant manager for the Marriott Corporation and she pulled some strings to get her little brother a job as a lifeguard at a suburban Philadelphia location. The position was conditional that I take and pass the lifeguard’s examination. I was hired and expected to produce a certificate of completion. I was a very strong swimmer at the time and this was a pool at a luxury hotel. So how hard could this job be? I never bothered to take the course. If you remember the old Henry Fonda movie, “Mr Roberts”, there was an Ensign Pulver in charge of the laundry on a WWII supply ship,  who was terrified of the Captain and spent the entire war avoiding meeting the commanding officer. That role was played by Jack Lemmon. Well, I was the Ensign Pulver of hotel employees trying continuously to avoid the Marriott Corporation executives who were checking to see if all the lifeguard certificates were current. I managed to make it through the summer and I also had the opportunity to meet and eventually have dinner, along with the other guards, with the Duke himself, John Wayne. He stayed at the hotel and was on a promotion tour for a new movie. He came to the pool everyday and we all fawned over his every wish.

EMPLOYMENT AGENCY OWNER

Before heading off to college I was hired as an employment agency counselor for “Sales Consultants” in Philadelphia. A year later two other counselors and I formed a new employment company in Newark, N.J. A year later we were the largest employment agency in the State. and this time frame was to eventually become known as “The Vietnam Era”. I was drafted and decided to enlist instead. The Newark riots completely destroyed our business. Our insurance company informed us that riots were considered “Acts of God” and therefore, not covered. The partners lost everything.

During my college years I had four jobs that included both full and part-time positions.

BUBBLE GUM MAKER

Every night I left the factory covered in pink sugar dust. As soon as I went outside, the sugar dust turned into a sticky pink goo that completely covered me as I drove home in search of a shower. I think I always looked like a pink Gumby when I got home and said hi to my Mom.

MR. CHEER

Dressed as a walking, breathing, Cheer Laundry Detergent box, I would drive to designated neighborhoods and stop at designated addresses, and if the little lady of the house had any Proctor & Gamble product, I would give her a mail-in coupon that could be redeemed for cash. If not, I gave them a plastic soap measuring cup. A few times women who had Cheer in their home, but whose addresses were not on the list, yelled suggestive ideas to lure me across their lawns and up the porch stairs. Me, being ignorant and a virgin, stuck to the exact list in hand, and did not falter from my appointed rounds. And stupid. Did I mention stupid? On another day, after becoming lost, I was robbed in a South Philadelphia neighborhood of over three hundred measuring cups, and was warned that “Soap Boy” should never come back to their neighborhood. If you were there that day, reading this, and remember the incident (robbing a giant soap box), please know that I have always honored your command.

TELEPHONE BOOK PROOF-READER

This job was so boring, a number of us would stretch thick rubber bands over a ruler and fire them at each other to help pass the time. One night I was zeroing in on an arch proofer-enemy and just as I let it fly, my peripharal vision saw the supervisor walking  towards my planned trajectory. WHAP…a red welt immediately swelled on the supervisor’s forhead. I knew immediately my fate and collected all personal belongings.

SHORT-ORDER COOK

Telling a small fib to an interviewer that I had experience as a short-order cook, I was hired for the graveyard shift at the Louisville Municipal Airport. My very first customer’s order was two “eggs in the hole” and a cup of coffee. At that moment, whatever the equivilent to today’s WTF was in 1964, that’s what I thought. After that job ended, I never worried again that I might someday either starve to death or have a steady diet of sandwiches. I could cook and this would prove to be an advantage many times over in the future.

INFANTRYMAN

After flunking out of Officers Training School, I was sent to Fort Bragg in North Carolina (a.k.a Hell on Earth) to armored infantry training. Overseas I managed to fanagle a fuel supply sargeant slot and stayed behind the lines where it was much harder to get shot. While stationed in Korea, I took a thirty day leave to get married to the mother of my children. (That is an entire bizarely wonderful story previously retold on this blog.) At the end of my three-year tour in 1969, I was stationed at the Pentagon and was offered a double promotion to re-up and become Army Liason to Nixon’s White House. What possibly could have gone wrong with that scenario? I respectfully declined, and became a civilian.

TELEPHONE OPERATOR

Imagine Ernestine from the show “Laugh-In”, and you have a visual of the switchboard in an E.J. Korvettes Department Store. Things were going along swimmingly until the night I had to page our store manager, Mr. Deutch. I pressed the storewide intercom and spoke very professionally into the microphone…”paging Mr. Douche, Mr. Douche, please call 55. A few minutes later I collected my personal belongs and left the premisies. An honest mistake made into a mountain.

POTS & PANS SALESMAN

In Arlington, VA in the late sixties, the Federal government owned city blocks of apartment buildings to house young single women who were primarily secretaries in the Pentagon and Department of State, etc. I sold waterless cooking pots and pans, and would   use them before ten-fifteen women in a single apartment demonstration. I stacked the pans one on top of the other and cooked an entire meal. If anyone bought an entire set, they would receive a free cedar hope chest. I was top salesman for that company for fourteen straight months, and my wife was the proud owner of a new cedar hope chest. (Yes, she rolled her eyes but used it for many years)

TIRE CHANGER & CREDIT MANAGER

I started as a tire changer at a Firestone retail outlet and was eventually found to be  generally incompetent at manuel labor, so I was promoted to credit manger. At that time, tire stores also carried other products; refrigerators, vacuums, and hair dryers to name a few. One Christmas I bought my wife one of those bubble top hair-dryers with the long handle to the motor, that she would sit under. I thought it was very cool and she would love it. She took one look at it, and warned me if she ever got another similar Christmas present, I would collect my personal belongings and leave the premises. Message received. It was always jewelry after that.

CHINESE RESTAURANT COOK & OWNER

In the early days before the term “chinese take-out” became part of our normal lexicon, my chinese brother-in-law, textile engineer by trade, decided he wanted to own and operate a chinese restaurant whose main business volume would be take-out. He asked me to be his partner. We both took a six-month training exercise in his relatives’s Philadelphia restaurant and eventually opened our own in Albany, N.Y. It opened to much fanfare and people seemed to like being able to order and take the food home with them. Eventually we had two storefront operations and two roving food trucks that serviced summer parks and “China Tom” was the very first food vendor permitted to operate outside Albany’s capitol building. Today, weather permitting, they are packed one next to the other on two separate streets. It was tough work with very long hours and I had a young family that I hardly ever saw, so when I got a request to interview for a state job, I took it and left the restaurant business after eighteen months. I must have made ten thousand wontons over that period.

NYS LABOR EMPLOYMENT COUNSELOR

Based on my previous private sector experience, I was hired by New York State to assist others in finding employment, however this job lasted less than a year because it was federally funded and the program eventually ran out of money and I was laid-off from the state…laid off from the state! Whoever thought that was possible?

NYS LEGISLATIVE STAFF

A social friend of mine was chief of staff for the Assembly Ways & Means Minority and one night at a social gathering my wife told him I had just been laid off from the State (he couldn’t believe it) and could he help me find a job? I was hired as a summer intern and liked it so much, was sucessful in staying with the Assembly committee for twenty-three years, mostly in the majority party. I began as a tax and fiscal anaylst until I couldn’t take it anymore and begged to switch to being a budget analyst. I stayed until I couldn’t take it anymore and asked to switch to local government finance. Under my tenure in that position both the city of New York and the city of Yonkers almost went financially belly-up and financial control boards were established for both. I’m sure the timing was just coincidence, and no one can prove otherwise. Also coincidentally, shortly thereafter I took over the administrative oversight of state funded local government grants, commonly referred to in legislative slang as “pork barrel projects”. I ask you, is a “cheese museum” pork barrel? Is it pork barrel for the construction of a handicapped ramp for a building owned and operated by lesbian witches? I rest my case.

RADIO & TELEVISION TALK SHOW HOST

I had always dreamed of being a radio morning drive talk show host, and after completing  a three hundred hour training course and receiving my FCC license, I quit my job in the legislature, my second wife quit her job working for NYS Division of Housing and we took off for Florida to find, in her case a new job; in mine, I was looking for fame and fortune. Over the next five years I eventually hosted two different radio morning drive talk shows, and additionally, hosted a similar format on a local cable network TV station. Money was far from abundant and fame was elusive but I was living my dream and having fun every single day.

DISC JOCKEY

On weekends I would be a party disc jockey, and because of my age, specialized in weddings. My strangest wedding was held in an Alabama school gym and I was told to set up next to an open doorway where twenty feet away, two whole pigs were slow-roasting over coals. I don”t know which one of us had it worse, the pigs or me. Meanwhile the music was playing while the bride stood at half-court awaiting two lines of men who individually would take a shot of vodka from bottles on stools, then walk up to the bride and scotch-tape money to her. The men loved doing this because they would get in line again and again as the more evocative placements were still to come. Very classy.  As a rule, I found brides to be extremely wound up prior to the ceremony and almost always drank too much too soon after the ceremony. My advice to “eat something” went mostly unheeded, which was too bad because in Alabama the pork parts that weren’t staring at me were absolutely delicious.

AUTOMOBILE VALET

I spent the better part of one year valeting cars for a hospital corporation. I took the bus to and from work. If you really want to know what people are thinking, ride the bus with the same people twice a day; you get an earful  of opinion. The outdoor valet service was positioned next to a cancer treatment office to one side, and a mamography office on the other. I found it astounding how many people would come from receiving a cancer regimen and immediately light a cigarette. and the ladies would drive up frowning and fretting, and then an hour later come out all jovial and joking. To help ease their anxiety when they arrived, I sometimes would tell them I was in doctor training and I could do the same procedure with my portable machine in the parking lot and would only charge them half of what the hospital would. It was only a matter of time before someone complained and I was told to report to the head of valet parking (ouuu, I wasn’t scared) where I was properly admonished and ordered to stop being funny on the job. Being funny had no place in the art of parking cars, I was emphatically informed. I promised the gentleman I would  not be funny ever again and returned to my duties head held high.

MORTGAGE LENDER

After limited training, I opened a local office for a mortgage lending company headquartered in a different part of the state. I lasted a year dealing with the public and realtors, and appraisers. I think I was the only mortgage lender in the country that did not make a lot of money during the early years at the turn of the century. I didn’t have the fire in the belly needed to make a successful career in anything dealing with real estate. I really like easy things…easy things given to me…that’s ideal. Time to move on.

CHILD ADVOCATE

The most important, amazing, satisfying and rewarding job I ever held was becoming a court-appointed child advocate in which a charge of abuse, neglect or abandonment were alleged. Over the span of ten years, both as a volunteer and as a staff person, I advocated for over three hundred children, children whose names I keep as a reminder of what went before. The last few years, I specialized in the most difficult of cases alleging sexual abuse.  The lack of passion I displayed being a mortgage lender was reversed a hundred times over in the attempt to ensure a child was safe, thriving and receiving needed services. I didn’t make a lot of friends with the various cast of characters involved n the process, and I pushed people’s buttons to the extreme if I thought the process was not being well served, but on the other hand, all the frustrations quickly evaporated when children were retuned to their original homes, or if that was not possible, to witness a child being adopted by a loving family. For me, there is no greater reward than seeing a child happy and laughing.

RETIREE

It’s been five years this month since I last received a paycheck. I don’t miss working at all; what I do miss is the social interaction with people that jobs often provide.

So there it is, twenty-two different money-generating situations so far over my lifetime. Twice the national average. I suppose the difference is not surprising to me when I realize I never had a plan or goal, simply a desire to go with the flow and discover what awaits me around the next corner. I’m still discovering.

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About Alan G Billingsley

My career has been varied, including time as a newspaper deliverer, lifeguard, bubble gum maker, door-to-door detergent promoter, telephone book proofreader, short order cook, private employment agency counselor and owner, office and credit manger, infantryman, pots and pans salesman, Chinese restaurant cook, Chinese restaurant owner, public employment counselor, budget analyst, tax analyst, grant administrator, radio announcer, radio and television show host, disk jockey, automobile valet, child advocate, and now retiree. I've seldom been bored.
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