Jobs I'd Rather Forget

Hardware Store Clerk (Jerome Avenue) main responsibilities, stocking lightbulbs / Age 15  Manager was a racist and it was the first time I was exposed to someone who used all the bad words for other ethnic groups.  He ran for local council and won.

Jewelry Store (Gunhill Road) main responsibilities: opening glass cases for young women.  Gift wrapping small jewelry boxes (15)  Like a bull in a china shop.  Worst pairing of an employee and an object to sell.  I am many things, but dainty isn’t one of them.  I did learn to wrap packages well, which still comes in handy once a year.

Summer Camp Photography Counselor (Camp Ella Fohs) age 15.  I liked working with the kids, but my boss was overbearing and I wanted to come home.  I called my father to ask if I could quit the job, and he said it wouldn’t be right.  I would have to stick it out no matter what.  It would build character.

My mind blanks on what I was doing when I was 17 and 18, but I’m sure I was either back at the jewelry store or the hardware store.

When I went away to college in my third year (first two were at Lehman college) I refused to work at all.  My father paid for tuition, but I made spending money by gambling and at one point stealing food from the cafeteria every day.  I did best playing chess for money.

Returned from college and immediately got a job at publishing firm (Shocken Books) as an order clerk.  Responsibilities: filling in ISBN numbers on order forms.  Boring job but I was infatuated with the receptionist that sat directly across the way from me and spent most of my time wondering if one of the buttons on her shirts was going to come undone.  At that time I was going to work by subway, and writing my first screenplay (Adon) with my friend Lester.  Later this would help get me into NYU Grad. Film School.

When I was laid off from the Publishing job I got a hack cab license and drove for exactly one week.  I was a terrible driver, always going the wrong way and not doing well taking directions from passengers.

Moved to Flushing Queens.  Had two jobs while there: started in a photographic lab as a chemical mixer.  Got promoted to printer.  Quit.  Got another job carrying cans in a film laboratory.  Lasted a few weeks.  For a while after this I decided to try and make a living as a scammer.  I would get dressed in my only business suit, go down to the subway and wait online.  Just as it was time to produce a token, I would turn to the person behind me, and lie that I had forgotten my wallet and could they possibly loan me a token to get to work.  90% of the time this would work.  I would buy the token, but instead of using it to get on the subway, I was leave the station, and come back to a different station and cash the token in.

It was a lot of work, and after a while I decided I might as well try and find a “real” job.

From there I got a job at Kings County Psychiatric Hospital as a Mental Health Therapy aide on the night shift.  That lasted about six months.  I went to Queens college for one semester doing the day.  I have no idea why.

Then a night job at the City Squire Motel as a bus boy.  The waitresses stole most of my tips.  The cook was drunk.  The customers were rude.

The job at the publishing house opened up again.  I moved back home with my parents (they were not thrilled with this) to save up money for Graduate School.

A year and a half of graduate film school.  I ran out of money to continue.  First time I ever felt at home in a school.  One of the best times of my life.

After film school, first job was on a film called, When Nature Calls – which was a bad comedy.  Started as a “best boy” and worked my way up to focus puller.  This started a series of free-lance jobs: loading film, focus puller, grip, electrician, lighting director, and once in a while second unit photography.  I liked this physical work a lot, but wanted to do something where more personal experssion was required and began writing scripts and treatments again.

For about 8 years, I lived in the east village, and churned out scripts (some with Lester some on my own) and somehow mangaged to scrape by, but I lived in abject poverty.  Around this time I bought my first personal computer (Kaypro).  Learned word processing.  When the last script (Uncle Lou) was killed because the star died before it could go into production, I was completely broke and took jobs as a free-lance word processor, database programmer (dbase), Lotus spreadsheet expert, etc.  I worked in banks, architecture firms (two)…

Somewhere around that time, I got a job as a secretary – yes, we were called secretaries back then, and I was the only male secretary in a pool of 20 female secretaries working at a large public relations firm.  I did all the usual secretarial crap like order breakfast for meetings; bringing coffee to the bosses.  I had three female bosses at a time when this was sort of a new thing and they were all trying to prove themselves.

Now remember.  At this point in my life I had finished film school; had the freedom of working on film shoots; and still figured that somehow I’d manage to do something great in the film business.  The boss ladies were all younger than me.  They’d buzz me and ask me to bring them coffee.  It was not only emasculating, but it was like a big black hammer had driven me into the earth.  I was beyond depression.  My dreams were dead.  I faced each day with dread.  And eventually, for the first time in my life, I went to see a psychiatrist named Dan.

How did I afford it?  He worked for an institute that trained psychiatrists, and he was in training.  I stayed with him for a year until I came to the conclusion that the secretarial job was killing me and I quit.  Man – how low can you go?

From there I went back to temping, and that lead to a  permanent job at a small architecture firm where I was in charge of all the computer stuff.  Wherever I went, I was quickly promoted, and given more responsibility. Oh – this architecture firm designed prisons.  As part of my job, I would visit prisons in New York and Pennsylvania to look at the layout and the furniture.  Eventually I was put in charge of writing a database to keep track of all items in a prison.  Crazy.  Just crazy.

At one of the architecture firms, a notice came to my desk by accident about the adult computer programming at Columbia University.  I enrolled in that for three semesters and graduated (rare for me) with a degree of some sort in programming.  That took me to…

Mira Corporation in Princeton NJ.  I worked for about a year as a programmer.  The hours were grueling.  Whether the firm went under, or I quit, I don’t know.

Again – I had a bunch of freelance jobs, though some of these were very odd.  I had one job proofreading medical books.  Every other word had to be looked up as a lot of the terminology wasn’t computerized yet.  I got paid by the completed page.

Back to New York where I got a job at Liz Claiborne in NJ.  I was now considered a senior programmer and put in charge of rewriting the payroll and cash register system for all Liz Claiborne stores.  It was at that point that I noticed a black and white print hanging in someone’s cubicle, and talked with the guy who printed it, which lead to a pretty long friendship, and my getting back into photography in a serious way.

I worked incredible hours at Liz Claiborne – and there was so much responsibility because if something went wrong with the system employees checks weren’t cut – so I was always on a beeper and constantly being called out to Moonachie where the firm was located.

From there I finally ended up at an advertising firm WCJ where I stayed a very long time.  I liked the work for the most part, but I was ambitious and while I was there I started a small software company on the side to support installation of Lotus Notes.  My two cohorts in this project also worked at WCJ and we did all our business through IM.  Once in a while we had to go out to a company to fix something.  Things went downhill when IBM wanted to license the software.  Lawyers got involved and soon whatever profits we had had evaporated.  Around this time I began the photography website that you’re on now.

I seemed to get a lot of promotions at WCJ and was soon vice-president, and had more responsibilities.  I continued to work on the photography business in my spare time.  Eventually, I wanted to do it full time but was afraid of being pulled back into poverty, so I arranged to work only three days a week at the firm.  It was during the time when the web was getting big in corporate America, and a new team was brought in to modernize the systems.  They fired people left and right.

One of the people they fired ended up working in the World Trade Center and was killed on Sept. 11th.

Meanwhile, I hoped to get fired so that I could get some sort of severance package, but they wouldn’t do it.  For several months, I sat in my office with absolutely nothing to do.  This may have been the worst period of my job life.  I started to see a shrink around this time to help me figure how to get out of there.

After a year on the couch (actually it was a comfy chair), I quit the corporate job, and went full tilt into the photography business.  And that, is how I ended up here writing this.

Reading this over, I see that I left out three other jobs, and I’m sure that if I look back at this in a week I’ll remember other jobs.  Can you imagine using this for a resume?  Not a good idea.  Employers are looking for some sort of stability.  At least they used to.  During interviews, I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, what do you see yourself doing in five years.  I just gave back the answers they were looking for.  But the truth is, until I started with the photography business – I couldn’t picture where I wanted to be in five years.  What I did know – what I always knew – was that I wanted to be my own boss and I wanted to do something creative.

Voila.  I have reached that point.  But what a path.

And so the kids come to me and ask for advice about getting into the photography business.  What do I say – don’t do what I did.  Don’t ask me – I never knew how to do it.  And frankly, without the internet – I don’t think it would’ve ever happened.

Summary

Worst Job: Mental Health Psychiatric Aide at Kings County Hospital.  (They recently busted a whole bunch of staff for stealing and selling drugs and abusing the patients.  That’s been going on for more than 20 years).  The so-called staff had more criminal tendencies than the patients.  Worst memory from that hell-hole: having to put socks on the feet of an old guy with syphilis.  Most of the time, syphilis is caught early these days, but if it is allowed to progress – the results are disgusting.  On our first day at the hospital, we were taken up to the room filled with advanced cases of syphilis.  Many potential hires never returned after that.

Best Job (besides the present), grip on independent films.  I really did like that life style.  I always wanted to work outside, and it was exciting work.  I made a lot of friends on those shoots, and although I couldln’t do that sort of physical work any longer (too old) – I have fond memories of those days.

You know that line in the Billy Joel song Piano Man: They put bread in my jar and ask man what are you doing here?

That was my life.  Wherever I went – people asked me: man what are you doing here.  Why – because I was a smart creative guy who just couldn’t find a niche in this world. It took close to 45 years for me to find where I belonged in the world.  Man.  That’s a drag.

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Dave

My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a photographer and programmer working in New York City.

2 thoughts on “Jobs I'd Rather Forget”

  1. The worst thing I had to do in any job I ever had was when I worked for a butcher. I thought I was hired to just make deliveries, but the butcher hated to see me standing around doing nothing, so he made me go into the walk-in freezer where all the meat was stored and clean the coagulated blood and fat from the walls.

    Years of accumulated fat is almost impossible to clean. Even with Brillo pads and Comet, all I could do was slide globs of fat from one spot on the wall to another. I think the cold temperature inside the freezer made it impossible to dissolve the fat.

    The butcher would come in to get a shank of lamb or something and see me on my hands and knees scrubbing hopelessly at the same spot on the wall and start yelling that it was taking me too long. I prayed that someone would call for a delivery so I could get out of that freezer.

    Fortunately, today there are hardly any butchers left in the world. All meat and chicken products somehow come automatically wrapped in styrofoam and plastic and you just pick it out of an immaculate freezer in ShopRite.

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