The whole thing started out innocently enough. In high school I went to the comic shop I had been frequenting for a few years and asked about working a few hours. (When given the school assignment of job-shadowing, I asked for mail carrier or comic shop guy. The mail carrier was federal and I was underage, so I learned all about comics. For class. This is just a preview of how wacky my résumé is.)
I had acquired a few years of knowledge. There was a fellow there who was not much older than me. I thought I just might be able to make a go of this whole weekend-job thing. I asked, they pondered, and eventually I was given the task of working the basement.
(Please note that is the cleaned up, one quarter of the collection, version of the basement. This is the suitable for photography version. I assure you, my workspace ten years prior to this photo had much more “character”. But the complete and utter lack of natural light was replaced by thousands and thousands of comics.)
So it began. Saturdays, for about four hours, I was that kid downstairs who filed comics. And I was paid in comics. All was well.
Two years later, I started college a few cities away. I quit the comic shop, got a job at a movie theater, and became a full time student. I had a full load of classes every quarter. Yet, I decided I wanted to actually make some money at the same time. (Gasp!)
I worked Tuesday nights, Thursday nights, Friday doubles and Saturday doubles. I projected films, I ushered films, I cashiered, I supervised cashiers; the whole nine yards. Forty hours of school and thirty hours of work; such was life.
Later I would add five hours a week at the comic shop. The original owner had sold the store to one of his old employees. The new boss asked me to come back and work for her. On Mondays, she got the day off and the store was all mine. I was on my second tour of the comic shop, and this time I had sunlight!
Finally, after years of making myself go to school (I am still not sure college was for me), I was free. After a month or two, I decided to revisit my professional dream. I was going to live the life of that friendly fellow who knew all the homeowners and smiled in the shows I had seen broadcast on Nick at Nite. I was going to be a Casual City Carrier for the United States Postal Service.
I quit my projectionist job and the comic shop (again) but still ushered movies on nights and weekends. If you really want to learn how to overextend yourself, I cannot recommend this routine enough. After my route I would catch a bus (or pilfer the car that I shared with my brother), and work another five to ten hours. I was a temporary worker for the post office, so I worked six days a week all summer. I was allowed one weekend off because it was my brother’s wedding, no more. In short, after two months of work, I decided that forty-five hours of mail carrying and twenty hours of ushering was not for me.
Let us pause here and all show gratitude to those that carry the mail. Those bags hurt your shoulders like a son of a gun. Also, that whole expedited delivery thing on Sundays?!?! What? Working that job only made me respect those that make a career out of it all the more.
Thankfully, my boss was kind enough to give me my projection job back. In no time at all, I was ushering or projecting forty hours a week. However, I was not hired as “full time”. Every seventeen weeks, give or take, I was required to take a vacation so that I would fall beneath benefit requirements. Now, this did not sound like the best arrangement so I went and visited a temp agency.
The temp agency folks set me with a job at Amazon.com. I was not Amazon’s employee, but they would host my training and oversee me in the day to day. My tour would last only six months. However, much to my delight, I was allowed some flexibility with my hours. I picked the earliest shift I could possibly have: 6:15 a.m. until 2:45 p.m. This made it so that I could still get to my ushering job by four with no problems. Also, unlike the postal job, I was not required to work weekends. I still had my Saturday double to fall back on. Voila, forty hours a week in an office job and thirty or so hours a week in the movie theater.
That job taught me a valuable lesson. I should never, ever, ever, work an office job. Argh. The people were quite nice. And I found out I could be overly flirty with a particular vendor and not get into trouble. However the fluorescent lighting was awful. Some folks wanted them off. Some folks wanted them on. Desk lamps, sectors being turned off or on; there was no winning.
I had never sat in front of a computer for eight hours a day before. The job was not that hard and this was before I had Facebook or MySpace or Gmail to distract me. I got to know Yahoo and the comic websites really well.
Clearly the office environment is not the life for me? The desk? The dark ambience and the computer monitor? No. No more desk jobs for me. Every time I have a customer that makes me want to scream, I remind myself, at least I am not in a cubicle.
My tour of duty there, oddly enough, ended on my birthday. Being free of that job may very well have been the single greatest birthday gift anyone has ever handed me. “Why don’t you apply for a job with us? We’d like you to stick around and we’re hiring. We pay more.” And my vendors all loved me, or so they said on my last week.
Even with all that, it was time for a change. I even took a little break and only just the theater job. From April until November I “only” worked forty hours a week. However, Cobra is not my idea of great benefits, and I was still officially “part time”. So in December, I overdid it a wee bit.
In December I started my job as a barista at Starbucks. Starbucks is great in that they will give you benefits if you work twenty hours a week. And, for variety sake, I went to work for the city as a theater usher. I think that month I worked about an hundred hours a week. Forty to forty-five at the movie theater, twenty to twenty-five at Starbucks, and twenty at the theater. (At least I had variety; I was employed by a non-profit, a major corporation, and a government agency all at the same time.) I drove a lot, I walked to stay asleep a lot, and I sighed at all the money I was making but did not have time to spend a lot.
I should pause here and point out that there is one thing that kept me sane in all this. I have never worked a Sunday in my life. There have been some “almosts”. I heard I oversold a movie by about fifty people so I came in to type an apology e-mail. I have worked until 4 or so on a Monday morning, but then my Sunday just started a little late so I let it end a little late. I have always had that guaranteed twenty-four hours at the end of the week to escape it all. I use it to go to church, but I think everyone needs that break regardless of what they do with it. I hear coworkers working thirteen, fourteen, nineteen days in a row and it makes my soul hurt. I refuse to go down that path. Six days a week. No more.
A year passed with me working three jobs and I thought that was enough. I called it quits after my second season of ushering Nutcracker. (I am glad that you enjoy that holiday tradition, but I have more than met my quota, thanks.)
More projection hours opened up at the movie theater, so I would have to usher less. Forty hours at the movie theater, twenty-five as a barista; so it went.
Then, as they often do, comics decided to play a prominent role in my life again. The boss was moving her shop to a higher-profile location. She would need to be open more hours to pay the rent. That meant she needed a part-timer again. So it was that I started up my third and current tour of being the comic shop guy. (I still find it amusing that I have yet to interview for this job.) The hours shifted in response: thirty-five at the theater, eight at the comic shop, and twenty-five at the coffee shop.
Four or five years passed like that. There would be a theater remodel. Movies would be popular or quiet. Cute gals would distract me and then move away. In short, life kept happening so I kept working. But familiarity breeds contempt. I grew entirely sick of 3D glasses. Midnight shows became more popular with studios. Movies became much more violent.
The guy in his mid-thirties needs a bit more downtime than the kid in his early twenties. I felt my fists clench with each inane question.
(As I would hand them a pair of 3D glasses, they would ask, “Is this movie in 3D?”, and then expect a serious answer. Sigh. When asked, “Where’s the best place to sit”, I offered, “In a chair.” The patron was less than enthralled by that comeback.)
I knew it was time to quit the theater. Now all I had to do was figure out what would be my new third job. I spent many a month on Craigs List, had an interview or two, and never really came across anything that would suit me well enough to change my life. This new third job would have to be fun and would have to fit into a weird time frame that allowed me to keep my two other jobs. It worked before so I believed that I could make it work again.
No jobs looked interesting to me. Or the hiring folks were not interested in me. I looked for a full time job or two to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Nothing. At some part during the process I got the little nudge from God. Nobody ever said I had to work too much.
And it is true. I have no mortgage, no school loans, and no kids to support. It is just me and other than a DVD here or a stack of comic books there, I really do not buy much. Rent and groceries are my two big costs, just like everybody else.
Yet I had put it into my brain that I had to grab as much income as I could. Maybe too many comic books had taught me to be superhuman. Maybe I was too overzealous in occupations. Slowly, I came around to the idea that I just might be able to make it without finding a roommate and without working so dang much.
Thus, on the last Saturday of December, I walked out of the movie theater a free (well, free-er) man. As of 2015, I now have a full time job and a hobby job. The comic shop has never really felt like work. This last week, I spent about five hours reading the newest comics and catching up, an hour filing and pricing comics, and two hours surfing the net and watching Arrow. I got paid to do that. Pick your favorite hobby and picture someone paying you to do that, including supplies, and all you have to do is show up each week. That’s not a job, it is a gift.
There is no villain in all of this. I was the one who made things interesting for myself. When The Dark Knight opened I worked a forty-one hour shift (dressed as Batman, naturally). I slept at work more times than any sane person would, but it beat driving home, struggling to stay awake behind the wheel, and getting three hours of sleep before the next shift. I had at least one thirteen and often a seventeen hour shift a week, but nineteen hour days were rather common. Again, it is a young man’s game and I am embracing the less disturbing work schedule. No bosses made unreasonable requests of me. I was the one who decided to work that much and I was the one that felt it was time to stop.
Now all I have to do is be nice forty hours a week. That is much more doable. I have stopped falling asleep in church. I took a sick day today, and instead of trying to get three shifts covered, I only had aim for one. My cat likes me a lot more than she has over the last decade.
I will not lie to you; the whole money thing has me a little paranoid. I want to believe that I have enough money to get by even as my car surprises me with matters that need attending to. Groceries are expensive. Being a barista (let alone a comic nerd) will not make anyone rich. Yet I still hope that it all works out. When I get old and creaky, I know I will not be worrying about whether or not I put enough hours on the time clock. But I will wish that I spent more time reading and being outside.
I like being able to afford things. I like having a respectable job. I like having some savings in my bank account. In the end, I like being a sane person more. It took me over fifteen years, but I have found that there is plenty to be said for the much simpler life. I know one is supposed to strive to keep climbing that ladder in our society. As for me, I find myself happier with less work and more living.