In Spring 1993, I got a job at Chevys (yes, that’s without an apostrophe) Fresh Mex. I wanted to be a busser–for the fame, the money, but most importantly, the women. But first, I had to do my time as a dishwasher. Okay, no problem, right? Well, mornings and afternoons I spent at swim practice. And I grudgingly attended classes during the day. But I was expected to work until midnight; my boss didn’t give two crusty ramekins that this was in clear violation of labor laws. So, after two shifts, I quit.
Lest you think I was unwilling to wash dishes in order to reach the coveted bussing position, I landed my 4th job after a few months of pestering the owner at Tony Roma’s. On lunch shifts, I was janitor, dishwasher, and busser. I worked there until I graduated high school in ’95.
Up next, it gets a little weird. An old man and thousands of cancelled checks. Stay tuned.
This was not an allowance job (more like a smart way for my parents to reduce the cost of the landscaper. Isn’t that why people have kids?). I had health benefits, room, and board which, like taxes, were not deducted from my $4.50 an hour (yet I still found a way to rib my parents about the low wages until a shamefully recent time. Isn’t that why people have kids? So they can grow up to be assholes?).
I typed up, printed, and submitted invoices to itemize the time it took to jackhammer a 14×10 slab of concrete, cut down and chop up a couple plum trees (I have a shin scar as proof of my first wrestling match with a chainsaw), tear out dead crab grass (which never really dies and clings to your rake when you’re trying to clear it out), dig trenches for cement stripping and a sprinkler system, level dirt, and lay sod.
Radio hits like Annie Lennox’s “Walking On Broken Glass” and Guns N’ Roses “November Rain” accompanied my labor in the sweltering Modesto heat.
As you read through these over the coming weeks, the name of the restaurant at my first job seems oddly appropriate, given all the jobs I had in the service industry.
In the summer of 1991, I bussed tables at a restaurant called Déjà Vu in Roseburg Square in my hometown of Modesto, CA. My mom frequented this restaurant and helped me land the job shlepping dirty dishes and setting tables. The job must have been under the table, because I was fourteen and a half years old at the time.
NOTE: Since I don’t have pictures from every job I’ve ever had, I will often give a nod to the music of the time. Up first: Jesus Jones (“Right Here, Right Now).
How many jobs have you had? Share in the comments. Rules are listed here.
In honor of just starting my ~24th job in 32 years, I’m posting this pic from my favorite teaching gig. I’m drawing a blank on my Korean student in the back, but he, Naif, Juan, and I volunteered to direct traffic and support Osama at a charity 5K in Malta, IL (June 2013).
Over the coming months, I’ll be documenting each of those jobs with ~50 words each. Stay tuned for some (comedic?) tales of the chronically re-employed.
How many jobs have you had? The Rules: Any “allowance” job (e.g. mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage) that you did for parents/relatives doesn’t count. Definitely be sure to include under-the-table and volunteer work.
“… If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
Thus says the famous miser in Dickens’ 1843 novella. And it is in the gloom embodied by this statement that the creators of the recent BBC production must have taken their inspiration. The paces that Scrooge is put through have the clear intention of boiling him in all the consequences of his own exploitive and inhumane practices.
For the first time in my life, I have read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Throughout my childhood, I experienced this story mostly through watching my uncle play Marley or Scrooge or Bob Cratchit in a variety of on-stage productions. I was also well-acquainted with Dickens’ famous ghost story through the 1984 production with George C. Scott as Scrooge.
Reading the story in its original form was rewarding in its own way—e.g. the vivid descriptions of the sights and sounds of Scrooge’s little pocket of London in the 1840s were a gift to the numerous stage and screen directors who have treated the story over the years. But what was truly rewarding upon finishing the novella yesterday evening was watching the 2019 production of the tale, starring Guy Pearce as Scrooge. The show was originally presented as a 3-part miniseries. But since my Christmas shopping and wrapping was done, I watched the entire 2 hours 53 minutes in one sitting. And it immediately occurred to me that this ain’t your mother’s A Christmas Carol.
Suffice it to say that this version leans all the way into the ghost story and goes even further to depict the absolute horrors of human misery at the hands of imperialism, a legacy the British and American audiences still grapple with—hopefully in meaningful ways. In a stroke of genius, Steven Knight (writer) takes great liberty at filling in the novella’s ambiguity about Scrooge’s past and present business exploits; the result is a stunning frankness about the depravity of humanity.
The themes starkly depicted in the 2019 rendition—exploitation, unsafe labor practices, unethical business practices, the consequences of unfettered capitalism, slavery, and sexual coercion—would have made Dickens both proud and appalled: Dickens would have applauded the 2019 production’s way of speaking truth to power; paradoxically, Dickens would have loathed to see that the themes he treated throughout his literary career are just as relevant today.
I am not a religious man, at least not in the traditional sense. So my playlists around this time of year look a little different than in past lives; and #1 doesn’t fit the mold of winter holiday song. To hell with it, though. There are people who call Die Hard a Christmas movie, so… And #2 does what it can to break down a traditional song into something far better than the original. My top five holiday songs (in rank order) bring joy. And I’m positive my little nieces and nephew across town will say the same thing. And that’s all that really matters. What are your top 5 holiday/Christmas songs? Leave them in the comments below.
Honorable mention: “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” – The Everly Brothers. I mean, it’s all in the title. Kat mentions it in chapter 3 of The Emergent as she starts to relate Alma’s particularly harrowing holiday:
“Yet I could relate to Alma’s desire to flee the sinking feeling she always had throughout most of December. We somehow became infused with the same sense that something fantastic was supposed to happen. But the alternately high-spirited and depressing tunes of the season led us to conclude that the hope in the season was all an illusion. Over the years of sad Christmases, we had grown used to the feeling. But that particular Christmas, by the time Alma reached her grandparents’ mountain home, Hosanna and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” were just too much. So she did something I would never have done: she ran into the woods. Before she knew it, night was coming.”
Could you survive on just three days of Christmas?
This year, putting up the tree and a few lights kept getting bumped down the list of priorities. Professional concerns and artistic pursuits have taken precedence. And now, three days before the big day, there will be no lights, no tree.
And, dare I say, no stress, no FOMO.
It helps that there’s snow on the ground and a -30 wind chill; these things serve as a reminder to slow down, to hibernate, and reflect on the things that I have. I can, in fact, do that without the glow of Christmas lights. But today I will probably watch the first 30 minutes of Empire Strikes Back and the first two installments of the Die Hard franchise to get me in the spirit. And perhaps I’ll re-read the passage in The Emergent that fairly well sums up the expectation and disappointment of the season…the melancholy satisfaction, if you will.
“…I could relate to Alma’s desire to flee the sinking feeling she always had throughout most of December. We somehow became infused with the same sense that something fantastic was supposed to happen. But the alternately high-spirited and depressing tunes of the season led us to conclude that the hope in the season was all an illusion.” –Kat Campos, The Emergent
In general, I’m trying to be present with pain–to give it space to just be–before moving on with healthy coping mechanisms (e.g. swimming, jogging, continuing to work on my art: my writing). I’m told that being present for pain is as important as being present for joy. But it sure as shit is a lot harder work. To sit with disappointment means recognizing the uncomfortable physical feelings and stories your mind tells you without trying right away to fix the hurt or to “buck up” or “move on” or even to find a lesson from the experience. Sitting with anger and sadness is really fucking hard (largely because we have been taught from a young age that there’s no time to sit and just be with any sort of intense emotion or, worse yet, that it can and should be fixed). All told, being present for pain is like sitting with an inconsolable wailing 5-year-old without doing anything but acknowledging that kid’s hurt.
Masochism is a writer’s catechism. You voluntarily subject yourself to likely devastation that is not unlike that of your first middle school heartbreak.
Receiving rejection notices from literary agents or literary journals never gets easier. It’s all part of the process, but the stories your mind tells you after each form letter are truly dark and try to convince you to stop writing, to stop fooling yourself. Those thoughts are summed up like this (click image below for more of these poems):
But after all the years and dozens of rejections, I still find a way to use the ruins of each hope to kindle the fire that powers me onward.
“Unknowns can be handled in two ways. You can stay on the beach and watch, imagining what might—but probably won’t—happen. Or you can offer up your mere physical existence for the chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”
These are among the last words that Kat hears from her lifelong friend, Alma. The Emergent opens at the dawn of the internet era, and nineteen-year-old Silicon Valley native Kat is alone.
Haunted, she wonders if her actions drove Alma-and the rest of her family-away. Soon after Alma’s disappearance, Kat finds herself in New York City with a new companion. In an apparent attempt to understand why she ended up across the continent, Kat relates her family’s story. Set in places like the shores of Oakland after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Depression-era farming communities of California’s Central Valley, and cold-war Santa Clara Valley, the family history and its ghosts also seem to shroud who Kat really is. But a series of mysterious injuries compel Kat to reveal more about herself. Will these revelations save Kat from her past? Or will they forever define her future?