In honor of Labor Day, here’s a listing of some of the stranger jobs I have worked at along the way. It’s not entirely complete and I’ve left out the more recent and “legitimate” jobs. No, this is just a listing of those odd jobs I’ve taken to make ends meet along the way.
Jerk — soda jerk, that is, at Nothing Strikes Back, the world’s only black-light ice cream parlor. Actually it was the second incarnation of said “Ice Cream and Euphoria Parlor,” the first being Nothing is Real, opened in 1968 but shut down shortly thereafter. When Cooper opened the second version it truly was ‘Nothing’ strikes back! If you wandered into this wonderland for ice cream anytime in the mid-70s, chances are pretty good I was your jerk.
Doodlebugger — seismic survey crew worker, as mentioned before, laying down (or picking up) 70-pound cables through whatever landscape the survey line crosses: pastures, roads, cornfields, woods, creeks, swamps, ponds, and, yes, quicksand.
Shooter — on one seismic crew, I set and blew the dynamite charges used to make seismic waves to measure sub-surface structures. This was a “detail” seismic survey using newer measuring equipment, so we were using much smaller charges, less than a pound per hole — but each hole was only 20 feet deep, and some had collapsed to less than 10 feet deep. Yeah, that made each shot loud and large — definitely one of the more fun jobs I’ve had, but it did not last, with the crew disbanded and detail survey abandoned after less than 3 months due to equipment issues.
Diving for Turtles — my friend Ace was helping get his family’s estate ready for sale, which included cleaning gutters and the pool. While he had promised to pay me for ‘diving for turtles” (there were indeed turtles living in the pool), he actually needed me clear the gutters on the massive house. So, kinda stretching it a bit but hey! it’s my list of odd jobs, I’ll make ’em sound as odd as I want!
Hawker — my first stint at the Texas Renaissance Festival in the early 80s, standing between 2 craft booths (they split my wages) and calling out to people walking by, seeking to entice them to come closer, come into the shop and take a look. Less lucrative than sales but more suitable for silly and outrageous behavior.
King’s Carpenter’s Helper — round 2 at the Texas Renaissance Festival wherein I once again worked for my former boss at Nothing Strikes Back, Cooper, working after the festival as the King’s Carpenter to build new booths and improvements around the grounds. This did not last, as the King banished me back to the 20th Century, much to my disappointment & dismay.
Granny-sitter — Granny moved in with my folks after me & my brother had moved out to go to college. This allowed the folks to help Granny more directly, as her health became more problematic. They would, upon occasion, pay me to stay with Granny over a weekend so they could have a break and go somewhere. This was really their way to slip me money without just giving it to me, and it did give them a respite from the daily care. For Granny, it meant a break as well, from my well-meaning parents who could be a little too controlling for her independent spirit, insisting she eat properly at every meal, for instance. Once, when they had taken off and we were left alone together, she turned to me and said, “I’m gonna have cheese & crackers for dinner tonight and I don’t want to hear one damned word about it from you.”
Okay, Granny, fine…
Journalist — yes, I’ve been a professional journalist: twice, for a total income of $12. While traveling, I wrote a couple of political analysis pieces for the Daily Californian in Berkeley. But they insisted on having me write 2 pieces gratis first, before taking any paying assignments — which they never assigned to me after the two freebies. On my return to Texas, I wrote a couple of theater reviews for the Austin Sun, where I received $12 for those pieces (paid by column inch). Unfortunately, my third review was refused because once again, I had actually liked the play.
“You can’t like everything,” I was told.
“But I did like this one,” I explained.
“Can’t use it…”
That was the end of my brief days as a theater reviewer. Guess I’m more a fan than a critic — and I’m all right with that.
Dishwasher — well, who hasn’t worked as a dishwasher? Before I got promoted to jerk, I was a dishwasher at Nothing Strikes Back. It can be quite challenging washing transparent glasses under black light). My summer in Aspen, I washed dishes 6 nights a wee, splitting those between the Motherlode, a large Italian restaurant, and the Parlor Car, a small, fine dining establishment — in a railroad car. After the King banished me from the Reni Faire, I returned to Austin and took the first job I got offered — as dishwasher at a tiny place called the Juice Factory.
Along the way, there were also some almost jobs that would have been odd, indeed — job opportunities that I either passed on, or they passed on me:
Door-to-door encyclopedia sales — every bit as bad as it sounds. I went out one sweltering summer evening with a fellow (former famous UT football placekicker) already working at it. In 3 hours of knocking on doors in a neighborhood, we got into exactly one house where the guy listened to the first 2 minutes of the pitch before interrupting to say, “I don’t want to buy any encyclopedias. But I used to do this kind of work and you guys definitely looked like you needed to step inside a house for a minute or two.”
Yeah — passed on that particular job opportunity.
Pornographer — responded to an ad for writers once in the Bay Area only to find they were searching for people to write porn books. But the informational meeting I went to weirded me out even more than the work. For one thing, to make any real money you’d have to complete at least 2-3 150 page “novels” every week. The guy recruiting explained, “Just write a lot of pages. Lots of sex scenes. Lots of variations. Lots and lots of pages every day — you should try to complete a book every 2-3 days. No need for quality, you don’t have time for it. You’ll get the hang of it.”
The other thing about that meeting: no one there (5 of us and the “veteran”) seemed remotely desirable in a sexual sense — yeah, not even me, really. Somehow, I had thought pornography would be, well, sexier, but this wasn’t even seedy so much as just dull & uninteresting — the antithesis of arousal.
No, I passed on my chance to become a porn king.
Accountant at SaferWay (later known as Whole Foods Market, yeah, that Whole Foods Market) — to be fair, I had no business applying for an accountant position since I had no accounting background, knowledge, or experience. But I knew they needed someone, and friends knew the guy hiring and got me an introduction and an interview. Within 5 minutes, of course, he knew I had no qualifications other than interest. I mean, I’m good with numbers — but, no, I am not good with money.
This time, they passed on me.
Wonder what my next odd job might be?
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I remember you, you worked at NSB in the 1970’s when I did.
what kinda jerk are you? oh, a SODA jerk…well, that’s different!
so when did you work there? was it Cooper & Benderski running it? or had Arnie taken it on?
I remember Nothing Strikes Back — It was always crowded and hot. You had to eat your ice cream fast, which I never excelled at. I thought it was called I Scream, You Scream, we all scream for ice cream.
You Scream, I Scream was actually a different shop, opened later. There was a bit of an overlap in time, I think, but NSB was only open 1972-1977 in a space above the Drag. You walked up a long straight flight of stairs to second floor where a large painted sign warned, “Please allow 60 seconds for visual decompression” before you entered the black-light zone. Interestingly enough, that space later served as the first Austin Film Society showing room after they gave up on other people’s theaters.
Thanks for the clarification! The black-lit place was the one I remembered.
Yeah, I was a teenager in austin in the 70’s. Many a night would pass that my buds and I would blow a big fat one, and before you know it, we’d be in hog heaven as we found ourselves curing the munchies at the one and only, Nothing Strikes Back. I’d say we visited the parlor enough times, to have tried at least once, every edible food item that was available at that time, which I must say… was the epitome of a Sweet Tooth Gone Wild. The pool tables were a crowning touch. I sure miss that ol place.