Since early August, there has been a trend on Facebook and Twitter that has people listing their first seven jobs. I wasn’t going to join in and do it initially, but thought it might be an interesting exercise and hoped my sons Brendan & Eric might get a kick out of it. So I posted my list on Facebook and got so into the exercise that I lost count and had to stop myself at number nine.
I’ve had some shitty jobs. No doubt about it. “Not the princess life I imagined,” commented a friend after reading my descriptive list (which didn’t include adolescent babysitting jobs that were unusually horrid and involved one particular red haired demon child and his cheapskate, hoarding mother… another story for another day).
So back to job number nine* (number nine, …number nine, …) which is significant only because it was so detestable that it led me to impulsively run out the door and into one that was in many ways worse. But the new challenge involved wine and I was seduced by the romance of the stories (and sample kit, of course).
My new job as a fresh out of college wine consultant at which I most resembled a Beaujolais Nouveau was a life changer in many ways. It was tough being on a 100% commission structure with no benefits. Even tougher was making cold calls in a sterile cinderblock room as the sole female amid a group of grey-haired men, all old enough to be my father. (One of them claimed to have survived being struck by a lighting bolt which turned his hair prematurely white – Ha!)
I hated the cold calling. I hated the up and down looks I got every day that made me worry about whether or not my skirt was too short or too tight. And I hated being told I should “just show up” at a potential client’s home without confirming a wine tasting appointment. That just seemed lame and unprofessional. And it was. The strategy backfired. But it led to my revelation. The life changing one I mentioned at the preface of this post.
So, here’s some more background info so you get where I was at this time. While I knew I had the potential to do well in wine sales, I was making frighteningly little money and my small savings was starting to run out. There was no backup, no financial support system other than moi. I lived in a apartment by myself that was more expensive than I could afford and I needed to find a way out of my lease or else starve.
I decided to make a plea to my landlord (whom I had yet to meet in person) and just be honest about my situation in hopes he would release me from my 1-year lease with several months left. So I made an appointment to see him.
Upon arrival at the landlord’s house, I was feeling rather confident that I could make a convincing case. Within a few short minutes he told me how people often mistook him for Clint Eastwood, showed off his handcrafted Italian loafers, and suggested we discuss things over lunch as he was famished. Caught off guard, I meekly agreed. He led me to the garage where he unveiled his shiny Excalibur which whisked us off to a fancy lunch at Elsa’s in downtown Milwaukee.
For over an hour I heard more Clint Eastwood doppelganger and designer wardrobe stories and couldn’t get a word in about my reason for being there. “What the hell have I gotten myself into?!” I kept thinking. UGH!
Finally, we got back to his house and I put on my assertive (yet desperate) hat and pleaded my case. In a nonchalant manner, he agreed to let me out of my lease and gave me back my security deposit. He then suggested I move into his abundant home with plenty of extra room for me and all my belongings. “My daughters would like you,” he said in a hair-raising almost-whisper. EEK!
Scared out of my wits I hightailed it out of there and never looked back, thankful I made it out of there relatively unharmed. But the creeped-out feeling lingered and I was smart enough to not leave my forwarding address and changed my phone number. Being anyone’s concubine was never going to “make my day.”
The next part sucked even worse. With no other affordable options in sight, I had to move into a tiny hole of a room on Milwaukee’s east side, sharing a house with three other young women. My upper floor bedroom was so small that my Queen size bed and dresser couldn’t fit in it. I slept on a mattress on the floor and used plastic crates to store my clothing and other belongings.
Back to the vines and rushes I went after a few miserable sleepless nights, still feeling optimistic that I could be successful selling the elixir of the gods.
But it was hard. And people were jerks. Not just the leering good ol’ boys in my cubicle kingdom decorated only with a dun plastic phone and black index card box filled with coffee stained leads. The biggest jerks were actually the phony “yuppies” (remember that term?) I dealt with who took advantage of free tastings to impress their pretentious button-up, seersucker wearing friends.
More than once I drove up to two hours as expensive gas drained out of my vehicle and expensive wine was quaffed with not a single purchase. They just wanted free alcohol, free fun, free jokes at my expense. Some were even no-shows, the ultimate of rudeness. I was living on fumes, and I was losing money with every trip to fancy homes with doorbell chimes too many times unanswered.
I was sick of the lack of courtesy, respect, and basic human kindness. No more unconfirmed appointments. I’d rather lose a potential sale than waste my time and precious gas money.
While milling this all over in my head one sad, late, dark night on a lonely Wisconsin country road, I became lost and was going about 10 miles over the speed limit in what I thought was a 55 zone. I got pulled over and issued a ticket that I could ill afford. When the officer pulled away, I collapsed on the side of the road and became a sobbing, mucous dripping ball of sadness.
Getting those emotions out felt good. It left me exhausted, yet determined. The next day I looked at my schedule and groaned at the thought of a drive to Burlington for another wine tasting party. I confirmed the appointment and set out on the road again.
The drive wasn’t too bad. I was encouraged to learn via billboard education that Burlington was the home of a Nestle Chocolate factory. I love chocolate, must be a good omen!, I joked to myself. But the internal hope and humor faded when I could not find the address. Driving back and forth on what should have been the destination based on the numerical address given provided no visual of a residence that I could see.
Crestfallen, I assumed the worst, that some Preppy Handbook zealot had played a mean trick on me and given me a fake address for pink and green kicks and giggles.
Frustrated, I pulled into a nearby gas station to make sure I was on the right road. The clerk told me I was on the correct street and knew the people I was scheduled to see. “They own the junkyard there, nice people.”
Junkyard owners. Dammit. Am I being punished? Should I just drink all the wine in my sample case, gorge on some Nestle chocolate bars, run out into an adjacent cornfield and give up? No. I will not lose hope, I will go into this with an open mind and see what happens, I said to myself.
What happened was beautiful. And absolutely life changing.
I found the junkyard main building and knocked on the door. A big, burly, overall wearing man welcomed me with a firm handshake, a warm smile, and introduced himself as “Bubba.” (No, I’m not making this up.)
Bubba then pulled me in to meet his clan of family and friends. His gracious, gregarious nature was infectious. Within minutes he was rolling intoxicating wine language and history off his tongue that surpassed in authenticity and depth anything I had read or learned elsewhere. The man truly loved wine, and he knew the good stuff! Bubba even brought out some special bottles from his own collection to share with me.
I soaked it all in with utter gratitude and awe. The excellent wine, the genuine, humble, hospitable people, the inherent goodness of what I was experiencing.
Bubba bought several cases of wine from me that day. It was by far my biggest sale ever. I will never forget that experience and how it taught me to never judge a book by its cover.
Cheers to you always, Bubba! Thank you for what you taught me in your glorious junkyard.
For reference, here is my initial #first7jobs post that prompted the telling of this story.
4. Mayan Dude Ranch (Bandera, TX) – lived in a tin roof shack over an entire summer, worked my hinder off as a resort worker 6 days a week doing everything from waitressing, themed costume events, dance lessons for guests, tiny bit of singing in shows, and more.
5. Schultz Pharmacy (Oshkosh, WI) – sales clerk [weird place, odd vibe, Farside-ish, but surprisingly stress-free for the most part]
6. Telemarketer (Oshkosh, WI) – Brief stint raising money for a “Beatlemania” concert to (supposedly) benefit Special Olympics (which was actually a sham… can’t remember name of the agency but I do recall that the (very nice!) guy heading it absconded with all the money and was never seen again. (Now I know why it was so easy for him to be generous treating the staff to multiple happy hours after work. Ha!) None of us callers had any idea the guy in charge was a con-artist. To this day I mistrust all telemarketers.
7. Mercy Medical Center (Oshkosh, WI) – Public Relations Intern [professional, career focused, but an unpaid summer job, sigh…]
8. Coach’s Bar & Grill (South Bend, Indiana) – food/cocktail waitress [hard work, busy place, worst part was having to wear polyester black & white striped referee outfits that resembled Foot Locker uniforms. Most of the customers were ND students and notoriously bad tippers, but many staffers were fellow students also, hence I remember mostly good times there… and lots of free dried out pizza]
9. The Wholesale Club (Milwaukee, WI) manager trainee [horrible fit, hated every second, cringed when someone mentioned forklift training, left after the orientation was over to be a wine consultant]