A Few Near Careers

“The shortest distance between two points is rarely any fun.”

I’ve explained a little before about some of the twists in my so-called career pathway. I’ve written about a few odd jobs along the way. Today I’ll share some of the missed opportunities.

Door-to-door salesman

My folks paid for my college, funding tuition and fees, books, and a living stipend. I had no real need to work during school — except to pay for all my extracurricular activities, like off-campus rent, movies, concerts, records, eating out, beer, and other indulgences.

door-to-door salesmanMy first summer away from home, though, I had to make some money. I worked about 3 weeks or so as a carpenter’s helper, but was never any good at it. I helped my roommate, Mike, with his roofing business a few days to settle house debts. And I found 2 money-making opportunities — as a door-to-door salesman.

To be fair, the first near-career was not really door-to-door sales. With Cutco knives, you worked on referrals. A second roommate named Mike had started selling these and was doing pretty well, so I decided to give it a shot. The knives were great, but selling a whole set of knives via in-home demos sounded a bit daunting. Then, the evening I was scheduled to train with a current salesperson to see how it was done, he waited till we left the office, allegedly to make a sales call, to tell me he’d rather just hang out. So, we headed to his apartment, had a couple of beers and played cards while he told he wanted to quit anyway — it was too hard.  I never did try to sell the damned knives.

The second sales opportunity really was door-to-door sales. Door-to-door sales of encyclopedias, to be specific. How the third Mike and I ever thought it would be worth checking into I don’t know. The only explanation I have is that the recruiting guy was indeed a helluva salesman and he managed to sell me and Mike on how well we would do selling encyclopedias door-to-door.

So, we went out one fine summer evening (read: long and hot) knocking on doors in a new suburban neighborhood (read: no trees or shade anywhere). We were working with a veteran of the sales group, a fellow whose name I recognized as having been a star UT placekicker. And here he was, not 5 years later, pounding the pavement with us. I guess placekicking isn’t the best job skill.

He was not very encouraging about our prospects that evening, nor how “well” he aws doing with this work. And the work itself was anything but encouraging. We went door-to-door for close to 3 hours. We finally got invited inside one house briefly by a friendly fellow. However, he stopped us after our lead salesman had barely started. “I’m not going to buy anything,” he said, “But I used to do this a while back and I could tell you boys needed a break. So, have some water, relax a minute and cool off. But don’t bother trying to sell me anything.”

Yeah, Mike & I never went back to that “job.”

Circus work

raising the Big TopAnother time, I ran off to join the circus. Well, not really, but I did spot an ad saying Circus Vargas was hiring day laborers, so my buddy, Derek, and I headed over to check it out. Sure enough, out on the outskirts of town, the circus had come to town and was in need of laborers to get set up the Big Top in this huge empty field for their shows.

We were easily hired and quickly put to work. And spent the day doing the dirty grunt work involved in getting ready for a circus. First, we helped unfold the Big Top and lay it out in sections on the ground, while some of the regular circus folks secured those together. But the Big Top itself was raised by the labor of the elephants, and they shifted us grunt workers on to the main task of the day — building bleachers. This involved moving long boards into place for several hours. Boring, hard work and not that much pay when you’re done. Yes, we were working at the circus, but one day of that was enough for me.

Derek did run off to join the circus briefly, following them for a couple of weeks as they hit a few other towns. But he quit pretty soon, saying it was basically the same every day but in a new — and boringly quiet — town. With a bunch of, well, misfits that he quickly tired of being around. Yeah, I lasted one day, Derek lasted a few weeks — but then our circus days were done.

Rock farming

After I quit the Brown Schools (the first time), I was scrambling around. Quitting a low-paying job is always easy — and difficult. Easy because you’re not giving up much, difficult because you rarely have any resources to fall back on. Me, I had friends and that made all the difference. I headed out to stay at Terri and Nancy’s place outside of Wimberly. That was a safe haven but gave me a sense of false hope, in that it provided a retreat, but I knew I would have to move on. I needed money somehow, though, even to leave. A neighbor of Terri’s offered to pay me for a day’s work of — rock farming.

rockpileSee, his land, like a lot of central Texas hill country, was quite rocky. Some of the rocks could be “harvested” and sold off as building materials, especially the large, flat stones that could be sold as flagstone. He had a front-end loader and my job that day was to load flat rocks into the scoop of the loader so he could move them over onto appropriate piles for builders to buy from. If a rock was too large to lift but flat enough to sell, I had to break that rock. Carefully break the rock, I should say, as you wanted the flagstone rocks as large as possible. Rocks that were not flat enough for consideration were piled into the scoop and removed from the area. In this way, not only was the landowner harvesting a cash crop— rocks, mind you, not easy to grow, and not particularly lucrative — but he was also clearing his rocky soil for building and growing.

In fact, this activity interested my host, Terri, so much, that after talking to his neighbor and picking me back up after a day’s work, Terri made me an interesting offer. He would buy 5 acres, let me live on the land and have me farm the rocks for him. In return, I would own the land once it was cleared. As tempting as that sounded as a way to get a foot in the door as landowner, it only took one day — in fact, closer to a half-day — to determine that I did not want to do that. Knowing that it would likely take up to 5 years to clear 5 acres, I realized it would require backbreaking work for a minimum of 5 years — and still not pay me until the end. One day of rock farming was more than enough for me.


On one of my post-college wanders, 1976, I believe, I ended up in the Bay Area, looking for work. In the Berkeley paper, I saw an ad calling for writers. Great, I thought, my big break! A phone call got me an invitation to come meet with a small group of potential writers to learn about the opportuity.

pornography: "Virtuoso Virgin"Somewhere in there — pretty sure it was before I went to the meeting — I discovered the writing involved was pornography, specifically books. Yes, folks, in the days before ad-supported free internet-porn or even VCR-porn, there was so-called “erotica.” Mind you, some of it was artful but most dirty books were straight smut, pure and simple, designed for sexual titillation leading to masturbation.

While some would-be writers might have turned up their noses at this, it sounded intriguing to me. Back in my teen years, a friend and I had discussed writing a “fuck book” just for fun. We never did it, but the discussions and speculations were fun. I figured writing pornography might be fun, too.

Actually, grueling would be the better word for what the fellow running the meeting to recruit writers described to us. There were about 6 of us, mostly guys, but a couple of women, and if you have any preconceptions about who might be a paid pornographer, I gotta tell you, you’re off. No one would have pegged any of us in that room, male or female — even the pro — as having anything remotely to do with anything erotic.

And the work? Well, he explained how the pay was per completed 150-page book, and how to make a decent income, you had to write 2 or 3, or better yet, 4 of these books every week. We all expressed incredulity at the sheer volume of pages this would require. He shrugged it off, saying, “You don’t revise, you don’t rewrite, and you just keep packing more sex in there every few pages.” None of us looked too convinced, so he continued, “Look, you just hit a pace and type a little more than a hundred pages daily (remember — no word processors back then, either).” Someone, a non-descript and decidedly unsexy woman in her late-30s, I think, asked about the sex scenes and he emphasized, go for frequency and variety in who does what to whom. He chuckled and added, “I’m certain I have described some things in those scenes that simply are not anatomically possible.” He laughed. “Who cares?”

During that meeting, I gave up any idea of a career as a writer of pornographer. Actually, writing classified ads or sales catalogs sounded more exciting.

None of these turned out to be my career of choice. That would take several more years of twisting and turning — and a few more wrong turns —along the way before I settled into my career in training and instructional design.

About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
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