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 your day isn’t the best one.

I am currently sitting on Amtrak train number 649 out of New York, NY heading to Harrisburg, PA. I am going home.
Not “home” in the sense of my clothes and my bed and my toys and my cat, but “home” as in that inestimable Homestead from whence I sprang oh-those-many years ago. Pennsyltuckey. Ma and Pa. The incubator of my impressionable younger self.
Normally, I take a rental car. Why, you ask? Well, because it ends up being cheaper, dear readers. To rent a car for five days is actually less expensive than a train ticket there and back for my lady love and me. (Oh, Amtrak, where has the hey-day of working-man train travel gone?) Plus, I get to drive right up to the house as opposed to making my folks pick me up at a train station 45 minutes away. So all in all, a better deal, no?
Oh, dear readers, today was fraught with peril from the first. I should have smelled it in the air but, alas, my olfactory organs failed me in this endeavor.
My gal and I went for lunch before I was to pick up the car (she has to work the rest of the week so she’ll be joining me and the fam on Friday eve to spend the weekend with us).
I put on my jaunty straw hat (heck – I’m going on a mini vacay!), strapped on my overstuffed backpack, and set out. Becca was dressed well because she has several auditions and meetings today in her very important arts-y life.Her hair was up and blown and her shoes were tall and suede.
We stepped outside in beautiful summer weather. This was going to be a good day.
We got on the subway and rode downtown. Then things got real.
We come up the stairs to find ourselves in the rain. Sigh. This is not what we wanted. Becca, ever-industrious, took out an umbrella from her bag. She took my poor little straw hat in hand and protected her hair and outfit as much as she could while we trudged to Panera Bread.
AFTER placing our order, our cashier informed us that all the tables were taken so they’d be giving us our food to go. Thanks, Mandy. Super helpful. I glanced out the window to see the sidewalk seating covered in water. Would we have to sit there? Or would we have to find somewhere else to go, under an awning maybe?
Luckily, the gods of NYC were still smiling upon us – or, at the very least, they were indifferent. We managed to secure the smallest table in the joint. It was at the back, crammed between the trash can and the restrooms. A swinging door about three feet led to the kitchen. By the time we left, a queue to pee had formed right beside us.
Forced out by an anxious young woman who had circled the entire seating area and who now asked us outright “Are you done?”, we left.
With the skies still spitting, my love and I parted ways. I carried my straw hat, trying to steer it clear of any noticeable raindrops. I walked a few blocks to Herald Square, where I picked up the uptown F. I got off at Rockefeller Center and walked another block to Enterprise Rent-a-Car.
Now, I’ve rented cars often before, but never from Enterprise. Kayak.com told me they had the cheapest rate this time, though, so I listened to the price-comparing boating craft and made the reservation. I paid for it with my debit card, as I always do with other rental cars.
Anthony greeted me dressed in a white shirt and tie. He shook my hand and wanted to chat about the weather. This was a far-cry different than, say, Alamo, where half-asleep polo shirt-clad workers ask for your card as a form of greeting.
(Side note: I much prefer the half-asleep ones. I don’t like chit-chat, and I don’t like smiley customer service where I’m meant to feel like I’m special. I’m of the New Yorker mindset of get-in-get-out as quick as you can.)
Anyway, he asks for my card. I give him the card I paid with. He says, oh no, not a debit card. A credit card. I say, oh of course. This has happened before. They always like that credit card. Even though one may have a million dollars in your checking account, they want the card with a twenty-dollar limit. Even though I’ve prepaid for the reservation and the money was already taken out. C’est la vie.
I hand him one. Ooh, I’m sorry – do you have another one? This one didn’t go through. Brow furrowed, I give him another. The same story.
Then I think back:
My gal and I had just come from a vacation in Connecticut (more deets on that to come), but I know neither of my cards are maxed out… I used the card on vacay since its easier to track purchases. In fact, at the end of this month, I will rectify those purchases by including extra in my credit card bill payment.
Anthony: “We need enough for a $600 credit hold.”
I furrowed my brow again. I didn’t have $600 left on either one?? Embarrassed, I stepped outside to check some balances.
One had $387 left on it. Boo. The other had $589. Double boo. If I would have spent $11 less on vacation by card, this situation would be non-existent, and Anthony would be trying to sell me insurance by now.
Then I came up with a genius plan. Chortling with glee, I called up the credit card company. I told them the situation. I asked them if I could pay off a few hundred right now. They said certainly, but the credit balance wouldn’t reflect it until next month. Curses!!
Then another idea crossed my mind. Rushing back inside, I asked Anthony if I could give him a credit card number. I know that I could get somebody to give me their card number so I could place a credit hold on it. After all, it won’t be charged (unless I total the car, that is, but that’s beside the point). He shakes his head. No. It has to be swiped. And you really can’t take this bank card, which has Visa on the side, WHICH IS RUN AS A CREDIT CARD EVERY TIME I GO TO A BODEGA? Nope.
Drat and double drat!
Curse my paycheck-to-paycheck existence! Curse my what-I-thought-was good planning by putting everything for this last vacation on the card and then paying it off. Curse not looking ahead to see this coming.
Defeated, I informed Anthony that I needed to cancel my reservation. I think he took pity on me and didn’t charge me a cancellation fee (that I know of) and said I’d get my money back in about 24 hours. (Again, since I had already pre-paid!)
Then I looked at a train schedule. There was a train leaving at 2:11that got in at 5:35, and one leaving at 2:44 that got in at 6:35. Why two trains, otherwise exactly the same, on the same track, going to the same place, travel at different speeds, I do not know. I looked at the time. It was 2:00.
I could never make the 2:11, I told myself, so I decided on the 2:44. I came to terms with the fact that I’d be getting in an hour later.
I walked the block (in the rain) to the subway station. I went back down to Herald Square (from whence I had just come, mind you). I walked two blocks (in the rain) to Penn Station. I got there at 2:13. I went down and bought a ticket for the 2:44.
Then I see that the 2:11 is still boarding. I could have gotten in an hour earlier.
SIGH.
I wait the half-hour. Then our track is announced – 13. How auspicious.
We begin to file toward the track stairwell when someone taps me on the shoulder. It is a policeman wearing body armor. “Please step aside, sir, so we can check your bag.”
Great.
I go up to his compatriots, who stand ominously beside their terrorist-detector. They wear white gloves and trace my shoulder strap with a piece of cloth. Ah yes, I think. That’s where most people keep their bombs. Of course.
The machine does not give a reading, positive or negative. The policemen look at me as though I’ve broken the machine telepathically. I watch the line of passengers all board the train before me. They’re all picking their seats, siting where they want… The machine is turned off and back on. They rub the other shoulder strap. We wait patiently. The machine beeps. I pass. I am not a threat to Homeland Security.
They tell me I can skip the line. Happily, I go up to the Amtrak employee examining tickets at the stairway.
She scowls and tells me to get to the back of the line. I say I had my bag checked. She doesn’t believe me. I can see it in her eyes. But she lets me pass.
Wet, defeated, and embarrassed, I board the train.
Now, in my seat, I watch the rain fall. My phone just buzzed. Flash flood warning for most of the east coast.
Harrisburg, my destination, is right on the Susquehanna River. The train station has closed before due to flooding.
Here’s hoping I make it there, but today’s track record hasn’t been great.
Keep your fingers crossed.

UPDATE:
Around fifteen miles from Harrisburg, the train slowed to a crawl. It took us an hour to cover this distance due to “signal problems ahead.” I arrived fifty minutes late. Still pouring rain. Oof.