Sometimes artists work weird jobs. A LOT OF THEM.

It is the distinct travesty of contemporary western culture that one requires, to live within the circle of accepted society and to function without fear of starvation, homelessness, or general indigence, MONEY.

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Ahh, the mere word conjures up a myriad of images and emotions within all of us.  We imagine it in abundance, we imagine it in scant.  We image ourselves with it, our neighbors with it, our loved ones with it, and we imagine all of them without.  We can visualize permutation after permutation of the spread of wealth across this great green globe, and we all have such strong opinions in its regard.

If you are one of the lucky few on this orb to have felt the call of beauty and creativity within, good on you.  We of the artistic ilk can only hope that one day our contributions will earn us enough MONEY that we feel a part of the team – Team Normalcy, Team Mainstream, Team Dollars, Team Pounds, Team Euros.  More often than not, however, this is not the case.  We have to supplement.

I know, in terms of my overall timeline, I’m not too far along.  Only twenty-eight years and some change have passed since I’ve been here.  Still, I’ve been working in the world of jobs for money’s sake for almost half that time.

It all started in high school.  Hardee’s Restaurant.  I woke up every morning at four a.m. to bake the biscuits on which the breakfast sandwiches would be served.  Before I left at noon, I would put in the first batch of fried chicken.  Those glorious salad days…

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I had other smaller jobs in high school, such as a week’s worth of work at a run-down music instrument store, a stint as a bridal shop living mannequin (oh yeah), and trumpeter and chorister for several local churches.  All for the sake of money.

I got to college in Philadelphia and found I had less time to work.  I was in a conservatory acting program, after all, which took up a sizable amount of my waking hours.  Somewhere in there, though, I found the time to work as concessionaire for a local theater, chorister for a professor’s church, and the occasional shift at Hardee’s when I came home after my freshman year.

Once I hit the end of my sophomore year, however, I stayed in the big city.  It was here that I acquired two separate jobs at almost the same time:  The first was as children’s train driver at the Philadelphia Zoo.  Wearing an engineer’s cap, I collected payment from parents, settled children onto the very small train, and squired them around the circular track, all the while scolding them for reaching out the car window or trying to escape altogether.  This job was also required to help out with the swan paddle boats, holding them steady as families stepped in and out at the dock.  It was not one of my favorites.  I quit after a month.

The second job in college was a winner, however – working retail at Adventure Aquarium.  It wasn’t that great to start, I’ll admit.  I hated being trapped behind a cash register all day while hordes of children brought up sticky stuffed dolphins to be paid for with smelly, wet bills.  The day arrived, however, when the manager asked if I wouldn’t mind working in the stock room.  OF COURSE, I answered.  Thus began two glorious years where I received and tagged shipments of toys, t-shirts, books, key chains, and all other manner of gift shop goods.

And here was the best part: the stock room of the gift shop was butt-up against the backstage area of the shark tank.  So while I listened to showtunes and broke down cardboard boxes, I got to watch sharks swimming around for eight hours a day.  Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

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Out of college, I started to get work as an actor, so thankfully my need for day jobs dwindled.  Still, I spent some time working in a theater box office and teaching audition classes to children.

Once I moved up to New York, however, I was back in the game.  My first job in the city was my all-time worst job.  Planet Hollywood, Times Square.  I applied for a position in the gift shop, now having substantial experience.  I was told they were all staffed up there, but could use someone on their Visa team.  What’s that, I asked.  After they explained it, I suppose I was desperate enough for cash that I said yes.  It was, after all, completely spelled out:

I was to stand at the entrance to Planet Hollywood, right before guests get on the elevators to go up to the restaurant.  I held a clipboard in my hand.  I was to ask the guests, “How many?”  This was a sly attempt to get them to think I was the host.  “Three,” perhaps they’d say.  “Great,” I’d reply.  “I can actually save you $15 each for a total of $45 off your meal today by signing up for our Planet Hollywood Rewards card.”  Then I’d whip out the clipboard, complete with the coupons I would give them once they filled out the credit card application.

Here’s where it got good:  “Oh no thanks, I don’t need a credit card.”  “It’s actually a rewards card,” I’d answer, “earning you points the more you use it.”  “So it’s like a points card.  But then why does it look like a credit card?”  “It’s sponsored by Visa.”  Oh, those sly devils…  Once I got them to fill out the CREDIT CARD APPLICATION (oy), I’d send them on their way up to the restaurant, earning a cool tenner for each one.

It never went like that.  I think in the four months I worked there, I only got two.  The rest of the time the incoming guests would yell at me for trying to trick them, or else ignore me entirely.

After I got out of that mess, I worked at a museum for a bit, an ice skating rink (oh yeah!), then held a string of administrative positions at various small businesses.  When one company offered me a full-time job as their receptionist, I ran away as fast as I could.  I couldn’t bear the thought of being tied down to that desk day-in and day-out, riding the subway at only the busy, crowded times, and having only a few hours in the evening to myself in which to ply my artistic trade.  I resolved to being poor.

In the midst of all this, I did what any normal poor, liberal-minded artist would do – I joined the Army and became a medic.  National Guard, actually.  Weekend warrior.  Good part-time gig with student loans wiped out and some extra cash in the bank.  And now I’m a nationally-certified EMT.  Which is weird.

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That basically brings me to the present, where I work primarily in house management for an Off-Broadway theater, charming the pants off old ladies every night, all the while telling them to sit down and shut up and to stop eating during the performance.

The newest undertaking in my I-need-to-earn-money-so-I-don’t-die job hunt is quite possibly the strangest – Audiobook narrator.  I hopped on the train when my girlfriend started doing it.  There’s a great website out there – acx.com – where indie publishers and self-published authors can get their books read by independent producers (moi).  You audition for the gig, and hopefully they pick you.  If they do, you sit in your little closet with your clothes piled around you, reading aloud into a fancy microphone a chapter at a time.  Then you upload the thing and, in theory, they approve it and you get the cash.

Here’s the unfortunate part – IT’S SO HARD!

I spend my days editing these chapters, getting rid of throat clears, lip smacks, background noise, and all other sound detritus to get to just my voice saying words.  There’s fancy software, there’s fancy plug-ins, and, at the end of the day, you just can’t get it all!  Eek!

How I feel in the voice-over closet.

How I feel in the voice-over closet.

Still, it’s a very weird wonderful line of work that combines two things I really like – acting and reading.

Who knows what the future will bring to me in re: day jobs.  What crazy line of work will I end up in next?  And will there ever come a day when I’m not doing odd jobs (literally)?

The world may never know.

What odd jobs does everyone else have???  What was the worst?

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Sometimes Connecticut is the best place. PART THREE

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On our final full day in Connecticut, we woke up early.  After eating a quick breakfast, we headed up to Mystic, Connecticut.

It was Nerd Heaven.

Our first stop was the Mystic Seaport, which is an entire complex set up as a 19th-centry seaport.  SO MANY DEMONSTRATIONS.  SO MANY COOL SHIPS TO WALK AROUND.  SO MANY COOL OLD STOREFRONTS TO WALK INTO.  SO MUCH LEARNING. 

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Neat old ship! It had a fascinating history too detailed to recount here.

I cannot stress enough how much fun it was to watch an anchor being brought up or to watch an open-sea fishing demonstration or to walk through an actual old whaling ships.  Those areas that were not equipped with actual demonstrators in them doing something (blacksmiths, coopers, most of the ships) had wonderful educational plaques and reconstructions that you could read.  And then there’s the actual thrill of walking through another world – a world without computers and cellphones and electronic navigational equipment.  A brilliant place.  Just brilliant.

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That one’s mine. That cute girl there.

On that day, we wanted to stay forever.  We, however, had bought a double ticket that gave us admission to the Mystic Aquarium as well, so we begrudgingly left the seaport and headed across town to the aquarium, which was super-fun as well.

We both had grown up with the advantage of great aquariums, but this was no less fantastic than others we’ve seen.  The most entrancing animals present were the beluga whales.  I likened them to a cross between a dolphin and a dog.  They swam like dolphins – graceful, playful, upside-down, right next to the glass to show off for the kids – but there was something more (less?) there than you see in dolphins.  It was almost an openness, a simpler way of looking at things.  I know they’re not as intelligent as dolphins, so perhaps it was really just the lesser intelligence I was seeing.  But it was still charming to watch and something that I had never seen up close.

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Clarification: we saw actual beluga whales as well as plastic ones.

My one point of contention with the aquarium was the touch tank.  UGH.  I cannot abide by families (read: parents) who have no awareness of others around them. 

Yes, Ma’am – my girlfriend and I are standing right behind your child, waiting for a turn to touch the sting rays.  Yes, you’ve been there for ten minutes on your phone and your kid hasn’t even tried to put his hand in the water once since you first plopped him down there.  Yes, every other person around the tank is doing the same thing, i.e. – not paying attention to anyone but themselves.

After an extended wait, however, we managed to steal a spot and touch the ray.  After we did so, we left to make way for others who wanted to do the same.  How hard was that??

We ate dinner at a charming little place and made plans to come back the next day.

Which we did.

After a harrowing laundry experience the next morning (we may have overestimated the drying power of the standard Maytag), we loaded up the car and left our little house in Fairfield.  Then we drove right back up to Mystic Seaport.

After all, there was so much we didn’t do the first time!  The planetarium, the hauling up of the anchor, the exhibit on figureheads, the small boat museum!  We strolled the grounds a second time (AND STILL DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO DO EVERYTHING) and realized we had to head back home.

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The drive back was lovely as we listened to showtunes, refreshed from our New England vacay.

We dropped off the rental car and greeted our cat with open arms.
We were home.