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.
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 …
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 Amazon.com: 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.