I've Always Been This Awkward - Eight


After a couple of false starts with working to actually support myself, my first real-ish job was “managing” Video Town. That was like 1984, which made me 18 whole years old. VHS was huge when I was 18. People loved me there because I knew about movies and stuff and remembered their names and stuff (which was awkward for the old porn gentlemen, but not me). One of my boldest managerial moves was to institute a fairly strict Rewind Fee. Two bucks for each cartridge that was not rewound. I generally pocketed that cash to supplement my lavish, collegiate, independent-living artistic lifestyle. That was something like twenty bucks a day, in 1984; spent mostly on 35mm film and photo processing fees. I watched a ton of film during those days. I quit that job in style, too. Kay, the owner, did not like the shirt I was wearing one day (she was all “I'm allergic to paisley!") so I said, “Oh yeah, you don’t like my shirt? Then I’ll take it away from you so your allergies don't flare.” I tossed her my keys and style. I never went back either. Customers were stunned. I was pretty much over it anyway. I was planning to quit soon. I figured, why not go out in a glorious display of public performance art?

Let’s see…before that I worked on my uncle’s ice cream truck and never gained an ounce. I worked at a Round Table Pizza (quit when my job description suddenly and magically involved bathroom mopping. What? Mop the bathroom? No thanks, Don!). I delivered pizza and scrubbed pots at another pizza place for one night. The “delivery” job was ostensibly more pot scrubbing than pizza delivery. My one delivery that night happened to be to a college party, so it made the pot scrubbing not so bad in the end. I worked for a summer in the back room of a fancy lighting company. I was on a crew that custom built lights and ceiling fans and shit for stay-at-home moms who were heavily into decorating. Fun times. I wrecked the van, electrocuted people on purpose, you know? The good life. Had to bolt from fancy lighting when I got the call that I was needed in Madison, Wisconsin (another story).

Anyway, after I walked from Video Town I needed to work to pay for rent, school, food, and the lavish artistic life so I worked at a Tuxedo King. That’s a tuxedo rental outfit in a mall. Classic, huh? The manager whom I interviewed with stopped mid-way through her formal, bitter interview and said, “You know, I almost didn’t even interview you. Look how you’re dressed, you’re a slob and we rent and sell men’s formal wear. But you are the most confident human being I’ve ever met. You know that, huh? I love it...I nearly offered you my job. When can you start?” We were fast friends, of course. I wish I remembered her name. Video Town was my chief reference, too. Balls! I kind of liked that job because it was so weird; renting clothes to dudes who are going to weddings and fancy events. Wives and girlfriends made all the decisions. So odd. I was working on that gig when the space shuttle blew up. That first one with the teacher and "all the nation’s eyes" watching. I was listening to bad pop radio in the back room and the guy was all, “We’ll be right back to fill you in on the Challenger accident.” I turned the radio from bad pop music to good goddamn modern rock figuring that this “accident” was like some worker breaking a collarbone or something. Whatever. I didn’t learn that the whole damn thing blew up until that evening somehow. I think I was out taking pictures.

Alas, the Tuxedo King gig came to an end when Bob Kalkofen called and “behooved” me to get my ass to Santa Clara (that's another story involving Mike, Kathy, Jess, Ralph, and a bunch of other kooks). I left that very night with everything I owned in my car listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” on cassette thinking it was “poignant.” The manager lady whose name I forgot was totally cool like a two hour notice and thanked me for working there.

[Two years in SCV - another story]

I didn’t work again until I got to Santa Cruz. I was hooked up via the work-study office with Brian the director of Audio Visual Services. Great gig. Perfect gig. Incredible gig. Best part of that gig was taking the classes that I worked. What I mean is some classes have daily A/V needs, art classes with slides, film classes with movies, media classes with TeeVee and such. So, yeah, I was getting paid to be in the classes that I got course credit for. Oh, and I often drove the A/V van to these classes which I could park everywhere or anywhere. I was Lead Projectionist. Brian and I became good friends and he broke my car's transmission once and I didn’t care because it was still under warranty and they fixed it and stuff for free. Nice guy. Honest and decent. Nice wife. They bred salukis. I had keys to stuff on campus and a van.

Being an RA in college was great, too. I had a master key to the dorms which Dave and Mac quickly made copies of, just for kicks. My friends needed master keys, though. College is a team effort. People knew that they had masters too; they’d ask Dave or Mac for lockout services before they would disturb me. I also got to teach the kids too. Ty’s Dorm Lesson #1: If you’re playing the stereo so loud that you get a noise complaint, you draw official attention to your pot and beer-fueled antics, which is then actionable by the university. I had to teach the kids how to turn the stereo down or get headphone splitters. But those lessons came with a cost. The kids had to share their weed or their beer or wine coolers or whatever with the RA, me. It wasn’t blackmail, it was education. I’m always teaching, you know that. I’m not sure if I ever went to the first floor at all that year though. I don’t remember anyone who lived on the first floor. Weird.

Being a TA (teaching assistant) and an AT (associate teacher, completely different from TA) was great work. The young ladies in my study sessions were so…nice to me, as a TA. Cookies? Again? What did I ever do but teach you things and tell you all how smart and nicely groomed you are? They’d invite me to their parties and their additional “study groups” that I’d pass on. I just ignored them to death and they fucking hated that shit. They’d laugh at my dumb jokes and write great TA evaluations for me. Hugs all around.

One quarter I taught my own class on race, prejudice, and discrimination. I set it up, naturally, as a Tuesday/Thursday thing like at 3:30 or something. Just in time
to partyfor dinner. The other school work I had that quarter was “Thesis Research” and “Research Assistant” which was basically credit for breathing. That quarter generally entailed teaching a late Thursday class, driving down to 7-11 with several of my "students," loading up on beer that they'd buy, and heading to someone’s place to drink that beer and smoke out until it was time for class on Tuesday. Yes, and I did get honors on my thesis so stop judging. Phil called my class, “the Psychology of Lost Weekends.” Mark, Joey, Lisa, and Rene were in that class (a radical approach to education at the University of California). I think we were all on the same softball team too. Maybe that’s what Wednesdays were all about. Jesus Christ, the small times!

When my Ph.D. adviser and I mutually agreed that I wasn’t going to continue with graduate school, I realized that I suddenly needed some sort of moneygetting venture. I applied for a job that I was sure wasn’t a possibility for me to get. You know the type: you’re not qualified in the least, you don’t really know what the job really entails, and you are competing against people who both know what the job entails and have years of experience at doing it. The job was basically to serve as the number three administrator at one of the residential colleges at my university. A housing coordinator is in charge of all of that college’s apartments, from roommate/flatmate selection to RA and preceptor supervision to disciplining of unruly students. I don’t think I discussed Ty’s Dorm Lessons in the interviews. Even though I competed against many more deserving and better qualified applicants—I mean this was a prime campus job—Carol, the College Administrative Officer said, “There’s something about you that I just…like” and I got the job, of course. I interview well.

Carol was this 50-something ex-hospital administrator who was tough as nails with a heart of…coal (no gold there, sorry). She didn’t really like these kids either. She saw through all their acts and held them in spoiled disdain. She loved me though and again I was in possession of the keys of the kingdom including the world’s best organizational key: the grand master.

My adviser was kind of pissed that suddenly he and I made the same salary. Who needs grad school?

After two years running that scam I moved to Maryland. I could have worked as housing coordinator (sorry, Residential Life Coordinator) and lived in Santa Cruz for the rest of my life. Seriously, I could be doing that gig on autopilot right now (and maybe I am). Cushy state job with cushy state benefits on a cushy college campus in a cushy college town. But I decided to Maryland. Maryland My Maryland? Did I mention my house in Santa Cruz was a block and a half from the beach? I am so much a dumb American.

Why did I move to Maryland, a state I’d given not one thought to previously (I had to look at a map to even find Maryland)? My girlfriend at the time was admitted to a University of Maryland graduate program and she asked me if I’d be interested in moving. Who needs grad school? Here’s how I decided: I looked at my 40+ year-old autopilot, sunburned, smoked-out, housing official peers in some “team” meeting and thought, “Shit! This will be me.” Somehow I saw that as a negative thing. I believed at the time that it would somehow "benefit" me to "experience" living outside of California for a while. You know, see the rest of the nation or some shit. Besides, how long does graduate school last? Four or five years or whatever. Anyway, I could just come back home if I didn’t like it. Right? It would be cool too because Mark and Marnie were going too. What’s couple of years in a new state? Well that was 16 years ago. Mark and Marnie left like nine years ago. I'm sitting in the kitchen of my Maryland home I own right now. The home that I share with my wife of 10 years (not the woman I moved with) and my six year old daughter.

California is a place I visit now.

What is wrong with me?

OK, there I was, living in Maryland then. And since I was living in Maryland I’d probably have to pay rent to somebody and eat food and buy toothpaste and stuff. Once again I needed a job. I moved, of course, without a job and with not too much money. But I was pretty confident in those days and generally I was resourceful. A contact developed through a friend of a friend that led to two job offers at the same consulting firm, whatever that is. I’d never processed those two words together before: Consulting + Firm = ???? I had no idea what a “consulting firm” did (for the federal government or the business world) or what I could do for a "consulting firm." Alls I knew was that the office was pretty fancy and they paid money. I wore Mark’s shoes and tie to my interviews and received two offers to work there even though I didn’t know what a consulting firm did or what I would do for a consulting firm. I have no idea what I said or what they saw in me but I worked there off and on for 10 years. For some reason.

That was 1992. It’s now 2008.

["Working" will continue someday. There's a whole dimension of working in the corporate world that is so artificial yet fascinating. Besides I met some people and I did some things.]

I've Always Been This Awkward

Next topic: An Appendix