Thursday, August 11, 2016

First Seven Jobs Meme

There's a meme going around FB that asks you to list your first seven jobs.  At first, I thought, have I had seven jobs?  But I was only thinking of professional, career-oriented ones.  Because when I started to list them, I had some quirky ones.

Hmmm, my first seven (paid) jobs:
1. Camp counselor at a Girl Scout camp for children with special needs, Waring, Texas (and later at two other non-GS camps in Houston, TX)
2. Office help, my dad's printing company (one full summer and some off and on jobs)
3. Daycare worker/preschool teacher for 3s, KinderCare, Houston
4. baker's assistant (for one day! the boss was so odd that I quit), NYC
5. Library assistant, NYC--where I met Mama in 1994!!!!!
6. Hallmark salesclerk, Houston
7. emergency-certified special ed para (though I taught one class by myself), Klein ISD, Houston
Bonus: Assistant, Granger Collection (stock photo library)
There were a few others--teaching assistant, slide library assistant, substitute teacher, office assistant--before I got my first college teaching and then museum jobs. And lots of unpaid internships!!! Houston MFAH, San Antonio Museum of Art, NY Public Library, the Met . . . .

But the one that sticks out at me right now is the summer I worked at my dad's print shop.  See, right now, my dad is negotiating to sell the print shop, after some 39+ years in the business.  I remember, vaguely, when he opened the shop, when I was seven or so years old.  The first space was in a strip center for businesses down by a mall near the airport.  It was raised off the parking lot, with a series of steps, leading into a long, narrow shop.  There was a front service counter and lots of equipment behind--black, noisy printers, paper cutter, lithography machines, a giant camera, a typesetter's computer.  But no high-speed copier that I recall, no computers.  Not yet.

Things have changed in the printing business since the mid-1970s.  Back then, you went to printers for almost everything from menus and in-house manuals, to business cards and wedding invitations.  And regular photocopies.  Few people had computers to do their own design and so the typesetter did that.  Well, now I can design my own flyers and print them off on my home printer.  I can order business cards online, designing them myself; same with Christmas cards.  But for most of the life of the shop, you needed a print shop to do those things.

Pop's shop moved a few times because of flooding in that part of Houston--ugh, the floods--not good for a paper-based business.  The one I remember most, after that first one, was approximately down the street, with a big square front office where the giant high-speed copier sat, a private office for my dad and another for his sales associates, and then a big area away in back for the large presses and warehouse shelves full of paper.  There were always candies in a glass jar on the counter, jokes posted around ("You want it when?"), and free pads of paper and such with the company logo; by then, the name had changed.  I loved all the paper--different weights and colors.  That was definitely a bonus of being a printer's daughter--great paper!  I also had personalized pads of paper growing up, with my name on them, sometimes with my own artwork.  We also gave personalized pads of paper to all my elementary-school teachers for Christmas.  I even had business cards, as a lark, when my neighborhood group of friends and I formed a drama group.  Mine said "director!"  Pop's office had a big dark wood desk and a credenza behind.  There were a couple of photos of Aunt Sis and I in frames and lots of framed duck stamp prints on the walls.  Pop has always been a big supporter of Ducks Unlimited and (the then-named) Gulf Coast Conservation Association and he'd bid on art prints at their meetings so there are lots of duck prints; I think there were even a few plaques honoring his contributions.  There were always a huge printing calculator on the desk, a checkbook, and lots of business papers.

As a kid, I did small jobs for my dad--collating groups of papers to make manuals, stapling other sets of forms, stuffing envelopes full of the newsletters he once sent out.  I would do those lying in front of the tv at home.   Gommie worked off and on at the shop, but that was often a point of conflict, because they have different ways of working. 

I remember, in the beginning, taking some of our only big family vacations to the conventions of the National Association of Quick Printers--to Orlando (Disney World and EPCOT), to Los Angeles (and Disney Land and Hollywood), to Philadelphia (and we went to Ohio to see my dad's sister--was this also the trip we went to DC?  It's blurry.)  Dad would attend the sessions while we had all the fun.

Then, one summer, in high school or maybe even college, I actually worked everyday for my dad and got a real paycheck.  We would ride in together and then often have lunch together at local salad places or sandwich places; I went with him to the bank several times (Pop and banks had a tenuous relationship.)  I worked in the front area, answering phones and doing all the small jobs like collating and stapling, often listening to cassette tapes on my Walkman.  (I once stapled two fingers together, but the less said about that the better; I don't think Pop even knew that!  He does now.)  I even made some deliveries, which is amazing considering there was no GPS yet and I have very little sense of direction.  I met lots of my dad's customers and colleagues, his friends in the business.  He'd always come out of his office and shake hands when someone came in.  I believe he was fair and even generous with his customers and his employees--he goes above and beyond, never cheats anyone (which is why he gets so mad at those who are unfair or try to cheat him.  Banks again!)  He has dedicated long-time employees, many who became friends after they left (I corresponded with the daughter of one of his employees for years.)   

Owning a small business is hard--lots of ups and downs outside of your control, lots of worries when things are down, similar worries even when things are good.  Sure, in theory, you set your own hours and are your own boss, but that only means it all falls on you and you never really get a break from any of it.  I'm proud of my dad for running the company successfully for close to four decades, for the lessons of hard work and fairness he demonstrated, for taking such good care of his family through his efforts.  I know business isn't what it was twenty years ago, but there were many technological factors that changed the very nature of printing.   It's bittersweet to let this huge chapter of his life go, even if he's ready.  I think my dad might say he wasn't a great businessman, but, if we've learned anything, especially recently, it's that making money and expanding a business at all costs isn't the best definition of "successful."  My dad is a good man, fair and generous, who cares for people and does what is right--I'm proud of him and glad that one of my first seven jobs included a summer at his shop.  Dad, in my book, you're "championship!"  


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