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 you list all the things that this post isn’t about. Like community theatre, Hershey Park, Frances Ha, hiking on the Hudson River, hating interpersonal communication with strangers, and loving your family to death.

This post is not about any of these things:

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1. I took a trip home to small-town America to watch a community theatre production of THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE that featured several friends and family members.  It was a ridiculously good time and the show was super fun.  Also I learned how to spell “floxinoxinihilipilification.”  For all those times I need to remember how to spell it.

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2. During said trip to small-town America we spent a day in Hershey Park, where I have gone almost every summer of my entire life to ride roller coasters and eat chocolate in the Sweetest Place On Earth.  It rained thrice during the day, but only for about fifteen minutes each time, so by the end of the day everyone had been scared away and we had the run of the place.  I think the best way to experience roller coasters is to walk off them and walk back on three times in a row.

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3. The trip to Hershey Park included admission to ZooAmerica, which only has animals that exist in North America.  (So really – only animals you can already see outside your back door.)  But my brothers are fun.  We were bears.  Which is helpful.  When you need to be bears.

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4. I saw FRANCES HA last night.  It was quite good.  I’m totally on board with this burgeoning genre of showing how awful and terrible and wonderful and frightened and crazy and ridiculous and amazing young people actually are as they haphazardly make their way through their poverty-stricken twenties.  Good on you, Lena Dunham.  Good on you, Greta Gerwig.

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5. My girlfriend and I went on a kick-ass hike today.  North of the city is Mount Taurus in the Hudson Highlands region.  1400 feet elevation, 7.5 miles roundtrip.  Sometimes more rock-climbing than hiking.  Gorgeous views.  Also the ruins of an early twentieth-century estate by a former president of the National Lead Company (which sounds like a super fun job, by the way).  So that was amazing, completely un-ironically.

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6. I learned (or rather, verified) that I hate communicating with other hikers as they walk past me.  No sir, I do not want to discuss the difficulty of the trail.  I do not want to speak about the weather.  I left the city to get away from people.  Let me live in my I’m-living-two-hundred-years-ago-and-there’s-only-deer-and-badgers-and-raccoon-and-slugs-and-birds-and-squirrels-and-newts-hiding-behind-all-that-nature fantasy.  

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7. Apparently my family went hiking today too.  Because they’re awesome and we all think alike.  We were hike buddies from two hundred miles apart.  I love them.

8. Also, this post is 100% NOT about how sometimes you just can’t think of enough about one subject for a weblog post, so you just detail several things that come into your head.  Not at all.

Instead, this post is about Independence Day.
Happy Fourth of July everyone.  🙂

Sometimes being a Sergeant in the Army is exactly like being a zookeeper.

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I’m a medic in the Army National Guard.  It’s a great part-time gig, I have no more student debt, and I have an exorbitant amount of interesting life stories.  Plus, now I’m a nationally-certified EMT, which is a fun random thing that I never thought I would ever say about myself.  So, all good things.

About a year ago I was promoted to Sergeant, which means – for the layman – that I get paid a little more money for a lot more work.
Also it means I’m in charge of other people.  Oy.

There are few other jobs in the world that can compare to this, a member of the Non-Commissioned Officers Corps, the “Backbone of the Army.”  Except for maybe Zookeeper.
Why, you ask??

  1. You are given charge over a certain amount of living creatures (i.e. Privates).
  2. You have to feed and water your charges three times a day, because they never remember to do it themselves.
  3. You have to herd them where you want them to go, which is no easy task because most of them like to keep pace with their pet snail.
  4. Once they’re where they need to be, you have to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t wander off, which they often do. (Anything shiny is highly distracting.)
  5. If they wander off, you have to go get them, which makes you late for something you personally need to do.  (Yes, you have tasks as well – your entire life is not nannying.)
  6. Once they’re back, you have to scold them and punish them so they don’t do it again.  (After which, they will hate you.)
  7. When they do it again, see steps four and five.  Repeat as many times as necessary.
  8. You have to teach them tricks like saluting and standing quietly in formation without pulling out their cell phones and texting their boyfriend.  (And shaking hands and rolling over and playing dead for treats.)
  9. You have to keep them from interacting too much with the general public.  They might very well frighten small children.
  10. You have to take responsibility for anything they do wrong, and you’re the one who’s punished, because you’re the one in charge.  After all, they don’t know any better…  Right?

Finally, you have to train them to one day take over your position.  I can only hope that I’ll be gone when that day comes – the idea of the animals running the zoo is a little unsettling.