I’ve had a pretty strange life, especially when I was younger. In the event that this whole cancer thing doesn’t end well, I’d like my two sons to know about all the dumb things I’ve lived through and poor decisions I’ve made. In the hopes that my children will learn from my many mistakes, I present: Pop Secrets.
For as long as you can remember, I’ve had a very nice and relatively stable career as a software developer. It’s a satisfying job and provides a great living, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact, I only started doing it full-time in 2004. What was I doing for the previous twenty-seven years?
Job #1: Paperboy – 1989
When I was in middle school, a man came and gave a presentation about what a great gig delivering newspapers for the Salem Evening News was. In my head I’m picturing a drunk hockey player, but I think that was a separate speech, about not being a drunk hockey player.
The paper guy (Paperman?) told us that if we worked hard, we could earn $100 over the summer. That was about the price of a Nintendo, so the man was speaking my language.
Historical Note: It just occurred to me that you’ve probably never seen a paperboy in your life, outside of those 80s kids movies I show you that always have a surprising amount of racism and boobs. There are two reasons for this:
- Newspapers are just about dead. They were pretty popular until about 1998, when the internet showed up and everyone realized we didn’t have to learn to fold cheap paper in order to get sports scores.
- Most paper delivery jobs have been taken by adults. The money that used to go to ten kids on bikes now goes to one adult driving a station wagon very slowly. Why would adults need to take on this job? Because capitalism broke some time in 1985, and we’ve all been gradually sliding into a cartoon hole labeled “Poverty” ever since.
Anyway, I did not do well as a paperboy. I think I lasted for about three weeks, during which the following happened:
- I became convinced that one of my customers was secretly Bobcat Goldthwaite.
- Someone found my account book and became very upset that, instead of using customer names, I recorded payments under names like “Fat Lady” and “Idiot”
- A middle aged man burst into my childhood bedroom to tell me I was fired and to take the bright orange bag I used to carry papers.
That was a really cool bag.
Job #2: Comic Book Store – 1991
When I was fourteen, a comic book store opened within walking distance of my house. I forget the name of the store, because it was something strange like “Legions of Heroes 2,” which I still don’t understand because there was no Legions of Heroes 1.
It was run by two fat guys whose names I forget, so I’ll call them “Larry and Barry”. Larry would spend most of the day sitting on a stool in front of the store’s display window, pretending to lift weights. Barry was married, but any time you had to squeeze past him he would say “Boop!” and thrust his pelvis into your rear end. They also owned a comic book store, so they were the coolest adults I’d ever met.
I hung around the store constantly and eventually started “working” there. Not as an official employee, because I was too young and they couldn’t actually afford to pay me. Instead I was paid in store credit, $5 an hour, which was actually a pretty great deal. I went there after school, and would sort boxes of comics for the afternoon. Then I’d take my pay in back issues of X-Men.
I spent a lot of time alone as a kid, but I always felt welcome at the comic book store. There was a side room in the store that I’d just go to hang out in sometimes and read comics or play a tabletop RPG. And for all their weirdness, Larry and Barry were always very nice to me.
I remember spending one Easter Sunday hanging out at the store (Barry was Jewish) and listening to my brand-new copy of Weird Al’s “Off the Deep End.” I also remember clogging the store’s toilet, and desperately working to move boxes of comics out of the way of the slowly growing pool of toilet water.
This was at the height of the comics boom of the early nineties, so I lucked into being there at a pretty great time. I was working the day that Superman died (the first time), and for the first issue of Wizard (you have no idea what this means, but your step-mother is impressed).
I genuinely enjoyed working at that store. Then I had some family issues and moved to the next town over. Going to work went from a fifteen minute walk to an hour long bike ride, which was too much for a lazy teenager. The store closed the next year after the comic market crashed, and I think there’s a tailor in that spot now.
Job #3: Ball Grabber (?) – 1993
Growing up, my best friend Dave was a year older than me. In the summer of 1993 he had a job at The Willows, Salem’s amusement park and boardwalk that today provides affordable living for local pigeons.
His job was in the “Casino” of the boardwalk, which was one of those places with arcade games and tickets that you can cash in to buy a lollipop or a car stereo. You remember that place on Lake Winnepesaukee where we always end up playing Deal or No Deal? Picture that.
One of the games in this casino was a sort of ball bingo*, where you got a certain number of tiny white balls and rolled them down a ramp, hoping they fell into holes that would make a line. Frequently, their balls would get stuck*, or roll to the end of the ramp and just sit there. This made people angry. Instead of having the angry customers/players/suckers climb up onto the thing to grab their balls*, they hired a teenage boy with a large stick that could be used to grab people’s balls*.
This was Dave’s job, and as far as I know he performed it well. One day, he couldn’t make it to work. I forget why, maybe he was sick or visiting family or died or something. The important thing is that he somehow talked his boss into giving me the job for one night.
Technically, I was too young to have this job, being only fifteen. But I’ve always looked older than I am, and most people around this time thought I was a college student, so nobody was concerned about that. What they were concerned about was that I appeared to be using every recreational drug known to man.
I wasn’t on drugs, because Nancy Reagan and Alf had told me they were bad, but I did have pretty severe allergies. Allergies that were going crazy due to the industrial fans at every corner of the place that blew all sorts of pollen and ragweed into my face. So each time a customer yelled out “Hey, my balls are stuck!” they would turn to see a very large man, face covered in snot and eyes watering, constantly sniffling, holding a long pole with a grabber at the end and mumbling “I’ll save your balls.”
I only worked that one night, and Dave got yelled at for recommending his obviously drug-addicted friend. I still think about that night every time I hear the classic song “Now That We’ve Found Love (What Are We Gonna Do)” by Heavy D & The Boyz, which was played on the casino loud speakers every seven minutes.
To be Continued