Dead End …

Dead end could mean a dead alley wherein one can be bludgeoned to death … or it could mean the hilarious “dead end job” cozy mystery series by Elaine Viets.

dead end job.02

Amazon link

Here … dead end means gainful employment  … and not what we did until we were old enough to be legal … period.

At the opening of Finds of The City, I mentioned that I would provide a list of the many and varied dead end jobs I have used for gainful employment.

In total, I have worked over three dozen part time and full time jobs, failed at three … count them … three business ventures . These days my resume work history begins with one wonderful word …


Gainful employment?

That is having a job that brings in a  paycheck that you can slap down on the kitchen table, lest your parents put your bed in the backyard with the landlady’s bull dog.

It wasn’t that our parents were insensitive to our passionate desires to express ourselves as artists or musicians.  Nor where they blind to our need to find our true calling.

They simply expected us to pay our way and no one pretty much bothered to ask if we loved our work. Work was to make money not have fun.

We were told that we were lucky we didn’t have to leave fourth grade to work in cigar factories, or labor for endless hours on conveyor belts, or wait tables with Flo or Flossie.

I would not have to die my hair carrot red and wear a huge hanky in my breast pocket fashioned like a flower in direct view of my low cut, tight uniform. Nor would I have to earn my tips by bumping my hip against a bald headed man with garlic breath.

I didn’t have to scrub floors in the local hospital or dole out cones at the Dairy Queen on Route 9 in Poughkeepsie.

They reminded us daily that we were blessed and lived a charmed life. And none of us would embarrass our parents by becoming blue collar laborers. We were to earn those pay checks wearing white shirts and ties for the boys,  and proper suits and pumps for me.

It started with the hyper active kid who talked in line and got whacked with the ruler at least twice a day by the Penguin. The kid who earned her keep running errands.

Enter the high school junior. The “sweet sixteen” who got put on the bus to downtown Brooklyn with instructions on how to obtain her working papers.

Me, the one who never sat still or remembered to keep her comments to herself. I was sent to work. Ah, but what better work for the kid who also had her big Italian nose stuck in a book?

You got it.

My first gainful employment was shelving clerk at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Did I consider the hallowed stacks of books a dead end? Pretty much, yes.

I didn’t want to shelve books. I wanted to read them.

It was a magical kingdom, a three-story regional library surrounded by the bustling economy of Borough Park, a Yeshiva, a Catholic grade school, two public grade schools, the Jewish deli, the corner pizza shop and me all alone behind a push cart of books.

How did I ever get so lucky to be paid for something I loved to do?

Actually, the head librarian and her assistant explained. I wasn’t being paid to read the books.


No. I was being paid to shelve them, to check in and check out books for the library’s lenders.

To smile and greet visitors, to clean up the magazine and newspapers stands, and put the encyclopedias back in proper order.

I was paid to work with four exchange librarians from four different countries. Not listen to their stories or ask endless questions about what they loved to read …  but to learn about book bindings and book distribution to smaller libraries.

Each month I was handed a tiny yellow envelope with my pay. Real money. Gainful employment at the amazing rate of 75 cents per hour.

Each month I slapped the little envelope on the table and complained. “I don’t even have time to read anymore.”

My mother, “You aren’t being paid to read.”

The sad lesson was learned. Gainful employment means you get paid for doing a job that is only half of what you love.

After one year, the head librarian suggested that perhaps I wasn’t truly happy in her magical kingdom and wouldn’t I really like to find something more suited to my hyper active tongue?

Enter the girlfriend. “Blow them off and come to The City with me.”

Ah, work in The City?

Take a subway and not two buses and a five avenue climb in the cold of winter to the dead end job of shelving Ernest Hemingway instead of reading him?

I didn’t know yet that a pattern might have been building. Although my high school counselor did suggest I might want to go to a college with a theatre program.

My mother, “Are you crazy? You need to take a business major and make money. You can make jokes on your own time.”

How do obligations and responsibilities cramp our creative bent? 

And if you had a magic lamp, what would you have wished to be first and always?

fOIS In The City

Note … reprinted from  Elaine Viets has actually worked those dead-end jobs in her mystery novels, just like her character, Helen Hawthorne. Over the years, Elaine has been a dress store clerk, phone book proofreader, babysitter, telemarketer, bookseller, and weed puller at fifty cents a bucket. She is also the author of the Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper series and numerous short stories. Elaine has won an Anthony Award and an Agatha Award. She lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with her husband, author and actor Don Crinklaw. Please visit her blog: The Lipstick Chronicles.



Filed under Ramblings

34 responses to “Dead End …

  1. Oh, those early positions that ‘made’ us who we are today–I’ve often wondered why I worked so many years before I discovered a career. Another great thought provoking post. Thanks.


  2. Ever since I was seven, I dreamed of being a writer. These days I’m living that dream. Life is good!


  3. My parents were like yours, Florence. Get a career that will pay the bills, then, in your spare time, do the artsy stuff if you must.

    But you know, I think kids today could benefit from some of that stark reality. Yeah, I didn’t start writing until after 40 — but I supported myself, and sometimes my entire family on what I made as a bean counter.

    And I’m with you on retirement – it’s like I’ve paid my dues, and now I get to do the fun ‘artsy’ stuff. If it turns out it pays a few bills, all the better!


    • That’s the truth, Laura … we did our “jobs” and not we can truly get down to work. One of mine is a work-a-holic like me and his dad, but both kids know how to have fun and keep a roof over their heads.

      Good thing, since my roof is too small for all of us 🙂


  4. It’s unfortunate that other people set expectations for us that may not mesh with our true selves, but the real tragedy is how willfully we listen, and accept those expectations and limits as gospel.

    That said, this shy girl would have much preferred the low-contact position of shelving books to counter person at a fast food chain. Perhaps life had something to teach us both.


    • Sad, but true, Sherry. We often live out other’s expectations of who we are. It took me a long time to learn that I “could” have followed my dream and still support myself.Not to worry … I am doing what I love now.

      Oh yes, I can see you in the library for sure. You might have had the same problems I had, however, and spent more time reading books instead of shelving them 🙂


  5. I’d like to say that cleaning the women’s bathrooms at the flea market after it closed on Sundays helped make me who I am today but that sounds kind of gross! Seriously, yes it did have something to do with perseverance, in my opinion. I wanted to earn money, especially when I decided to go to Spain forever. I did all kinds of boring jobs (stuffing envelopes for six weeks? AACK) before I found my calling – writing. And at this point in my life I’m not doing it to earn anything. If I did that would be nice but so far….not so much.


    • Patti, I hope you got to go to Spain after all that gross cleaning you did !! Oh, I did the envelopes as well. And I’d agree that although we aren’t making big bucks when we get pub’d we are at least doing something we love and that is often payment enough … well maybe not enough … but I’d be happy with whatever 🙂


      • Yes, Florence, I went off to the University of Madrid to study in their Courses for Foreigners. We were taught by the same teachers that taught the rest of the university students, hence no one spoke English. Our connection was the language and we had History and everything else – all in Spanish. I learned a lot. When I left I told my parents I wasn’t coming back. I wanted to live in Europe. Well, that lasted about five months. Then I went on a tour through Eastern Europe for the following summer with a Canadian girlfriend I met in Madrid and came back to the states after that. Kissed the ground at the airport when we landed in Bangor, Maine. Wow.


  6. christicorbett

    I laughed out loud at this line…

    I wasn’t being paid to read the books.


    Being a grown up cramps my creative bent :). What I mean is, no longer is it acceptable to stay up until 3am writing or doing whatever I want because now I have two little ones to shuttle through their morning routine. Staying up late would mean sleeping in late, which is no longer possible.

    But, I think I still got a great deal because I get to shuttle two little ones through their morning routine, and then put them on the bus with a kiss and a wave 🙂

    I’ve just had to readjust when I do my writing, which now is during the kiddo’s school time.

    Christi Corbett


    • Christi, you are at the beginning of a great adventure with your twins. And the fact that you can find any time at all to write is a major accomplishment. After all, who needs sleep?

      When you are at my stage of life, you’ll have a string of books and a grand time plotting the next string 🙂


  7. vicki batman

    Hi, Florence: I had the same library job as you and it was for credit in high school. I found all kinds of books to read and even enough material to write a masterpiece of a research paper.

    I’ve had weird jobs too and now, like to think of them as fodder for my writing. I wish I made more money in my writing.

    My mother said of my college degree-Bachelor of Science in Home Economics, Clothing and Textiles Retailing-what a worthless degree. I worked in the buying office for three years and totally loved it until politics stepped in. I still think I’d make a great handbag buyer.


    • Thanks, Vicki. The library was my sister-in-law’s idea. It was her first job also. To make matters worse, my regular section was fiction A-L and M-Z. I loved it, but the time I took writing down titles or skimming pages, probably cost me the job 🙂

      And what woman doesn’t love handbags … they are our portable suitcase, over-night case, and all around if you can stuff it in a bag, you’re good to go !!


  8. annerallen

    Love this. I think most writers have had a whole lot of dead end jobs. I worked as a retail slave for a lot of my life. Mostly in bookstores, but in antique shops as well. I’ve been a receptionist, file clerk and generally office slave. I’ve processed insurance claims and proofread court documents. All of them good fodder for my writing, but also a lot of tedium. But there’s something to be said for being able to leave work behind when you clock out. And that paycheck. Small as they were, they were pretty regular. I do miss regular paychecks.


    • Oh dear, Anne … the paycheck not coming in was something I had to think long and hard about. I chose to be “poor” again because it gives me the riches of time … and time is the best commodity we can have 🙂


  9. My passion would have been, of course, to write full time, but alas, there was a mortgage to pay and kids to feed. I spent all of my adult working life crunching numbers or in my spare time, building websites. I loved accounting and web design, so I was lucky in that I couldn’t wait to go to work every day. But still, the writing always called me. 🙂


    • Sheila, you work tells me that the waiting was well worth it. What is it about number crunching and writers? You, me, and Laura Drake all earned our keep taking care of numbers. But the web design is a great talent and something that can fuel your creativity and make others happy 🙂 Thanks, you do have a way of making others happy !!


  10. Florence,

    For years I taught 6 or 7 writing classes a semester because I’d been raised to earn that paycheck and have a retirement. Also to support my young sons. But in my head I created stories and said some day.

    That day is now and I’m loving it.

    But before I taught? Well earning that education I took care of children, took in ironing, cleaned houses, worked as an nurse’s aide and camp counselor, also worked in an office and did typing on the side. But I dreamed about characters…

    And look where I am…;-)


    • Casey, it sounds like many of us had a string of those jobs. I know you were a talented writing teacher and yes, those dreams you kept have made a wonderful searies of books. I love where you are now 🙂


  11. 3 wishes . . . too hard to narrow it down! I think I’ll just keep letting God lead me, for he knows best:-) I’m lucky that I took the profit margin off the table a long time ago, so I’m a teacher and writer and LOVE both jobs!!


    • Yes, Jamie … and I can see that you are a loving teacher and a talented writer. What a grand combination. Isn’t a true blessing to love what we do? Thanks … God has lead you in the right direction 🙂


  12. Now that’s a great concept for a cozy series! My first dead-end job was flipping burgers at Carl’s Jr. until they realized I had a head for numbers and put me on the cash register. Can’t wait to add “Retired” to my resume, which isn’t a dead end but a grand beginning…you’ve truly captured the whole ethic of our generation, Florence!


    • You can say that again, Debra. And she lives down here in my neck of the woods. Such a very funny and hard working woman … she has created a way to use the dead end to open new pathways for herself. I think the ethic of our generation is what we are lucky enough to take with us … retired or not … it remains the basis for all that we do in our work 🙂


  13. OMG!! I worked in a library when I was a freshman in college and HATED it. I also just wanted to read the books, not shelve them. 🙂


    • Brinda … they say great minds think alike. How can a book lover spend all day surrounding by what they love and not be tempted to dip into the magic?

      Thanks … so far we have three who worked in a library. I wonder how many more kindred spirits I’ll find as I unfold my “dead end” jobs 🙂


  14. I think I’ve been fairly lucky and only had to survive a handful of dead end jobs. I am sad that it took me so long to pursue my real dream of writing though. All the time I spent thinking I would never be able to do it, and I was right, I wouldn’t if I didn’t try!


  15. I’ve only worked in the library at my kids school as a volunteer and I always dipped as well. But quickly learned I’d rather be volunteering my time actually writing and/or creating.

    I’ve had plenty of dead-end jobs, and even now the one that’s paid my bills for sixteen years feels that way most of the time, but since it also allows me to be typing this right now while on the clock, it’s not as bad as l like to believe sometimes.


    • PK, that volunteer job sounds great. I had thought to be a volunteer reader at our local hospital, but I don’t think I could take the sadness of the place. YOu are so, so lucky to work at home. AT least you have the comfort of knowing you don’t have to trek out to the job 🙂


  16. Your post is so engaging and I related to it like everyone else here. Everyone’s comments were inspiring, as well. Definitely a group of writers! A lifetime of experiences and struggles give us the fodder and drive to write what we put off or weren’t ready to put out earlier. A wonderful community of writers here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s