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 customers suck. All the time. Even in Army.

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I’m gonna say the point of this graphic is to show “building a bridge to the customer” or “figuring out how to reach the customer” or some other stupid thing like that.

Like any self-respecting artist who needs to buy things like food and shelter, I work in customer service.  I interface with the public.  I solve problems.  I apologize.  A lot.  I let people feel that they are appreciated and necessary.  It’s the pits, but I’m good at it.

It all started when I put on a bright red polo shirt and took drive-through orders at a Hardee’s Restaurant in my hometown.  Since then, it’s been a dizzying spiral into customer service-land that has seen me at zoos, aquariums, skating rinks, museums, theaters, and even the Army.

What?  Customer service in the Army?  You silly kitten – what the heck are you yappin’ about?

I’m talking about being a medic.

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The medic in all his glory.

Really, a medic is not all about running around on the battlefield with a tourniquet.  Sure, that’s the origin of the job.  And that’s what really gets most guys’ blood pumping.  Sometimes I’ll be monitoring a firing range and I’ll get to hear the cry of “Medic!” and I’ll have to hop to it.  But most of what I do as a medic is sitting around in a clinic doing this:

 

ImageAfter I wait for a bit like this, someone comes in with a cold.  This person tells me they are dying.  They have an upper respiratory infection.  They cannot go back to the cold, rainy field, they say.  They must stay in the barracks all day and sleep.

It is with this person that I must use the same skills I have perfected with Mid-Western families, with cranky New York City tourists, and with overly-entitled elderly theatre subscribers.  I must be an ambassador of customer service.  Somehow I must explain to this person that they’re an idiot, they’re not dying, and they’re going to have to go back outside and it’s going to suck a lot.

This is what I go through one weekend a month and two weeks a year.  These past two weeks I’ve been up at Fort Drum, NY, doing this every single day.  Here are some choice conversations from that time period:

(While out getting lunch, the medic cell phone rings.  This usually signals an emergency.)
MEDIC: Hello?
PATIENT: Hey, I think my hand is broken.
MEDIC: Your hand is broken?  What happened?
PATIENT: I fell on it and now it’s broken.
MEDIC: Is it bruised or swollen?
PATIENT: Yeah.
MEDIC: Is it bleeding?
PATIENT: What?
MEDIC: Is it bleeding?
PATIENT:  I don’t know.
MEDIC: What do you mean, you don’t know?
PATIENT: I can’t see.
MEDIC: You can’t see if your hand is bleeding?
PATIENT: No, how would I be able to see that?
MEDIC: Do you see any blood?
PATIENT: What?
MEDIC: Do you see blood?
PATIENT: Blood?
MEDIC: You know that red stuff that’s inside your body?
PATIENT: Yeah.
MEDIC: Is any of it on the outside of your body?
PATIENT: Oh!  No.
MEDIC: Ok, you’re fine for the moment.  We’ll be there after lunch.

(In the barracks, showered and changed and ready for bed, the medic cell phone rings.  Another emergency?)
MEDIC: Hello?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: Hey, do you guys have any of those asthma inhalers?
MEDIC: We do…  But what’s going on?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: I have a soldier who needs one.
MEDIC: What’s happening with them?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: She can’t breathe.  She needs an inhaler.
MEDIC: Ok, but why can’t she breathe?  What does she look like?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: I don’t know.  She’s coughing a lot and she says she needs an inhaler.
MEDIC: Does she have asthma?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: I don’t know.
MEDIC: Has she ever been prescribed an inhaler?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT:  Jesus, I don’t know.  Here, I’m going to put her on the phone.  You can talk to her.
MEDIC:  Wait, she’s ok to talk on the phone?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: Yeah, hold on.
MEDIC: So she can breathe?
PATIENT: Hello?
MEDIC: Hey, what’s going on?
PATIENT (in perfectly normal voice): I need an inhaler.
MEDIC: Ok, are you having trouble breathing?
PATIENT: Yeah, I’m coughing a lot.
MEDIC: Do you have a cold?
PATIENT: I don’t know.  Maybe.  I’ve had bronchitis for three years and I need an inhaler.  I used to have one but I don’t have it here.  It’s been awhile.
MEDIC: Ok, well it’s pretty impossible for you to have bronchitis for three years.  Do you have asthma?
PATIENT: No.
MEDIC: Have you ever been prescribed an inhaler?
PATIENT: No.
MEDIC: Ok, well for us to give you an albuterol inhaler, you need to have been prescribed one.
PATIENT: Oh, that’s a prescription thing?
MEDIC: Yeah.
PATIENT: Well, no I don’t have a prescription but I’ve used one before.  And I’m coughing a lot because these barracks are stuffy and it’s cold in there at night.
MEDIC: Ok, so there are a few things happening here.  One, you don’t have a prescription for an inhaler.  Two, you can’t have had bronchitis for three years.  Three, you’re speaking perfectly fine and haven’t coughed at all since you’ve been on the phone with me.  So go to bed and come in to sick call in the morning if you still feel like you’re having trouble
PATIENT: When’s sick call?
MEDIC: 5:30 to 7:30.
PATIENT: Oh.  Nah, that’s too early and I don’t want to go through all the trouble.  I’m fine.  I’ll just have my mom buy me an inhaler on line and have her send it to me.
MEDIC:  …ok.
PATIENT: Bye.
MEDIC: Bye.

(During sick call)
PATIENT: I have a lump on my ovary.
MEDIC: And what makes you say that?
PATIENT: That’s what it said online.
(This patient had an ingrown hair on her crotch.)

(Also during sick call)
PATIENT: I’m pregnant.
MEDIC: Ok, when was your last menstrual period?
PATIENT: Years ago.  I’m on the birth control where I don’t get periods.
MEDIC: When did you stop taking it?
PATIENT: Taking what?
MEDIC: The birth control.
PATIENT: I haven’t.
MEDIC: Then why do you think you’re pregnant?
PATIENT: Because I had sex about two weeks ago and now I have really bad cramps and nausea.  I’m pregnant.
MEDIC: Ok, but you never stopped taking birth control?
PATIENT: No.
MEDIC.  Ok…  Let’s take a pregnancy test.
PATIENT: I don’t need to.  I know I’m pregnant.
MEDIC:  Let’s just do one for shits and giggles.
PATIENT: Ok, whatever.
(The pregnancy test comes back negative.)
MEDIC:  So, it doesn’t look like you’re pregnant.  What else is going on?  Has your diet changed at all?
PATIENT: That test is wrong.
MEDIC: Nope it’s not.  Do you have any flu-like symptoms?
PATIENT: No, I told you – I’m pregnant.
MEDIC: Let’s just pretend you’re not for a second.  What else is going on?
PATIENT: Well, I haven’t pooped in a few days.
(This patient was constipated.)

(Out to lunch.  The medic cell phone rings.  Must be an emergency.)
MEDIC: Hello?
MOTOR POOL GUY: You have to get back to the motor pool right now!  Someone just broke their leg!
MEDIC: Ok, what happened?
MOTOR POOL GUY: She was walking around the motor pool, and then she fell into a big hole, and then her leg was broken.  She says she can’t feel her leg!
MEDIC: Ok, is it bleeding?
MOTOR POOL GUY: No, but she’s on the ground screaming in pain!  I’ve never seen anyone like this!!  Oh my god!!!
MEDIC: Ok, we’re on our way.
(After we leave our lunch, the phone rings halfway back to the motor pool)
MEDIC: Hello?
MOTOR POOL GUY: Hey, don’t worry about coming.  Her leg just fell asleep.
MEDIC: Her leg fell asleep?
MOTOR POOL GUY: Yeah, her leg fell asleep.  She’s up and walking again now.
MEDIC: You’re sure?
MOTOR POOL GUY: Yeah, she’s fine.  It’s never happened to her, apparently.
MEDIC: Awesome.  And how old is she?
MOTOR POOL GUY: I don’t know.  40’s?
MEDIC: So of course her leg has never fallen asleep before…

And there were so many more.

But don’t worry, folks.  No matter how stupid the customer, no matter how inane the complaint, I shall always be there, using my customer service skills, standing tall, and looking studly like this guy:
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HAPPY VETERAN’S DAY, EVERYONE!!!!!!

 

Sometimes you walk past a dead body on the banks of the Hudson.

At 9:15am today I saw the new Star Trek at Lincoln Square.  At 1:00pm I saw Belvedere Castle as I walked north through the park.  At 2:45pm I saw Memorial Day picnickers when I transferred to the Greenway.

And at 3:05pm I saw a dead body in a bag.

The scene was idyllic:  a lovely sunlit path by the Hudson’s waters, cyclists in family groups laughing at inside jokes, and a light breeze rustling the leaves in the maples.

And two police cars.  And three policemen.  And a slew of purple medical exam gloves tossed haphazardly to one side.  And a large black garbage bag with a slightly swollen foot sticking out.

Ah, and yes – the breeze that was rustling the leaves brought with it a fragrance too fine to put into mere words.  A fragrance that yielded a lush bouquet of various bodily functions and sun-ripened processes, all having matured while marinating in the green-grey waters of the Hudson Valley.

Who was the owner of this water-logged hairy leg, I wondered.  Some poor kayaker bashed against the shoals upstream?  A jilted lover who had had enough of the world?  A drug deal gone awry?

Later, as I reflected upon this event, I was reminded of a time when I had thought I would see another dead body mere inches from me.  Journey with me into the past…

The year was 2011.  Barack Obama was the president.  The world had not yet been introduced to the Internet memes of Lil’ Bub or Grumpy Cat.

I was working (as I still do today) as an Assistant House Manager at Second Stage Theatre, a job that allows me the opportunity to witness the inner soul of humanity on a daily basis and run screaming in the opposite direction.

It was a Wednesday matinee, and we had a school group coming in:  High school.  Inner city.  Tough kids.

I was upstairs in the theater, watching the audience take their seats, when I heard Jenny the ticket-taker’s voice over the headset (it’s in a Welsh accent, P.S.): “Artie, we need you downstairs right now!  Medical emergency!”

Now, for those of you who may not be aware, I’ve served as a medic in the New York Army National Guard for a few years.  Nothing too crazy or outlandish, but I have my EMT certification and a basic skill set for helping those who are in immediate need of medical attention.  Although I have this certification, however, I’ve never really had to use it.  Sure, I’ve given the Heimlich a couple of times, and I treat minor burns, bumps, bruises, and bellyaches when playing Army, but no “real-world” experience, per se.

So you can imagine my total soul-crushing fear upon hearing those words being screamed at me through a two-way radio.  Suddenly I was the one who was responsible for whatever was going to happen.  Suddenly I was the one who was supposed to do something.

My first thought as I ran down the stairs was that it was one of our subscribers.  Bless their little hearts, most of them are geriatric timebombs waiting for the one day that something doesn’t go quite right so they can leave us all behind.  In my head, I went over the steps for CPR: “30 compressions at 100 per minute, two breaths, check pulse.  Or is it two breaths, then compressions?  Or is it pulse?”  I got out my phone from my pocket, holding it at the ready, waiting to hand it off to somebody and shout “Call 911!” in their face.

When I reached the lobby, I scanned the area.  I saw no dead body, so that made me feel a little better.  (Although, let’s be honest – if someone’s already dead, there’s nothing I can do so there’s a lot of pressure that’s taken off my shoulders.)  I saw no blood.  I saw no guts.  In fact, nothing seemed out of place.  There was very little in the way of audience activity down there, as most were already up in their seats.  I spotted Jenny and sprinted to her side.  With a sigh of relief, she directed me to a young man by the front doors.

“He says he feels like he’s going to die,” she told me with a slight tremor of fear.  Then she quietly resumed her tearing of the tickets, reminding audience members to please turn of their cellphones.  I ran to the boy, which didn’t take long because he was only two steps away.

He was definitely from the high school, as he couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old.  He was thin and gawky – as high school boys are – and was showcasing his fly fashion sense by allowing his beltloops to droop down to about the lower-thigh region of his leg.  His arms were crossed and he was pacing in circles by the box office window.  His eyes were wide and his head was shaking.

After greeting him and asking him how he was feeling, he responded with “I dunno man.  Something’s wrong.  Something’s wrong.”  Not to worry, young man.  I, proper medic that I was, went through a prescripted evaluation in the hopes of coming across his ailment.  He continued his pacing while I interrogated him.

When did you start to feel like this?  What exactly do you feel like?  Are you in any pain?  Have you ever felt this way before?  Would you feel more comfortable sitting down?

About halfway through, he apparently got tired of answering my questions.  Brusquely, he grabbed my arm and pulled me out onto the street. “Look,” he whispered. “Can you keep a secret?”

I responded with the ever-elusive “What is it you want to tell me?”

Nervously, the youngster looked around.  “I bought some brownies, man.  Across the street.  I think there’s something bad in them.  I think I’m dying.”

I nodded my head, solemnly.  “And where did you buy these brownies?”

“From a guy.”

“You know this guy?”

“My friend does.”

“Where’s your friend?”

“In the theater.”

“But he had some brownies too?”

“Yeah, and he’s fine.  So’s all the other guys who bought some.”

I continued to nod, ever the medical professional.  I put my phone back in my pocket.  I didn’t think I’d need it at the ready anymore.

“What was in the brownies?”

“Pot, man.  Weed.  But I don’t know.  I don’t think I’m supposed to feel so weird.”

“Have you ever had marijuana before?”

“No.”

“Have your friends?”

“Yeah, they’ve all smoked it before.  Said I should try it.”

“So you tried the brownies?”

“Yeah.  But now my body’s doing weird things and I don’t feel like I felt earlier.”

“Before you ate the brownie?”

“Yeah.”

“You feel different?”

“Yeah.”

“Not normal?”

“Yeah.”

“Hmm.”

“Also?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m really thirsty.”

I got his teacher’s information, and made the kid sit on a bench.  I radioed for them to send the teacher down.  I told the concerned woman what was going on.  She looked at me with incredulity.

“So he’s just high?”

“It appears so.  Yes.”

She punched the young man’s arm and laughed.

I recommended that she take him to the hospital if he really felt like he wanted to go, but that it would probably pass and all would be well.  And that the next time he ate a similarly-baked brownie, he would probably be a little calmer about the whole thing.  They remained in the lobby for the duration of the performance.

I saw him again once more – at another show.  Apparently his school comes to most of them.  He saw me and shook my hand in a very cool way that the white man I am dares not replicate.  “He talked me down,” he bragged to his friends.  “I was mad trippin’, yo!”

And then they entered the theater to witness the beauty of the spoken word.

I had to tell him and his punk friends three times to stop texting during the darn show.