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40 T/D/Y #24: Floundering

When I returned from the Rome semester, I needed a new job. I put off looking for a week or two, and then after some nudging from my mom, I once again went out and took the first available position, this time in the deli and seafood department of the local supermarket where my parents shopped. I believe I went there because my mom saw a sign that they were hiring, or something to that effect. The starting pay for working in the deli was higher than what I had been earning at Bradlees after three and a half years, so that at least made me glad that I hadn’t been given a leave of absence there.

I had a bit of a rough start: on my second day, I was not careful enough about picking up a turkey from the meat slicer and I cut two of my fingers. Fortunately the cuts weren’t that deep, and I was left with just a couple small permanent scars and no greater damage. Besides that accident, I adjusted to the deli fairly quickly; it took about a month of working there before I had most of the product codes memorized and other employees who’d been there longer would ask me when they needed to know one. I also developed a good sense of weight and volume, and enjoyed for example being able to pull out an oddly-shaped chunk of feta cheese and with one slice accurately cut off a one-pound block.

I quickly grew to dislike working in the seafood section, as it was smellier and colder. But the biggest drawback to the seafood section was the lobsters. Lobsters were a nuisance to begin with, simply by being alive and occasionally troublesome to handle. They were nasty, turning to cannibalism if they stayed in the tanks too long. The store had a steamer, allowing us to cook lobsters on the spot for customers, which really stank and also was unpleasant to clean at the end of the day. But worst of all was when lobsters went on sale, and we’d have to deal with endless streams of customers asking us to fish out the biggest ones, to pick out just female lobsters, and of course to steam them. Plus setting up or breaking down the seafood display case was more of a nuisance than the regular deli cases.

I worked part-time at the supermarket through my last two years at TMC. And then, with no plans and no good idea what I wanted to do next, I went full-time. My manager and the assistant manager were generally easy-going, and although I didn’t always get along with all the other deli employees, for the most part I worked well with them and I had some good friends.

Meanwhile, I prepared my resume and periodically went through the want ads in the local paper and the Boston Globe; my obvious target was some kind of writing or editing position. However, the local paper rarely had ads of that sort, and while the Boston paper had them more frequently, I rarely heard back from the companies I sent my resume to. I did have a few interviews but no good results from them. This process dragged on for the next couple years. I tried using the job-hunting self-help book What Color Is Your Parachute? to focus my search and improve my results, but my heart was never in it; indeed, I quickly learned that I deeply loathed the entire process of job hunting, whether it was searching for want ads, sending out resumes, attempting to cold-call companies, or even talk on the phone about setting up an interview. That loathing made it a real effort to even try to do any of those steps.

Early in 1995, I learned that the US Postal Service would be opening a data processing center in Nashua, where data-entry clerks would deal with mail when the sorting computers were unable to recognize the addresses. By that point I was long since sick of working at the supermarket, and the longer I stayed there the unhappier I was with myself. The Postal Service job paid almost twice my supermarket wages, was easier work (not to mention cleaner and not smelly), and was a second-shift (afternoon and evening) job, so although it was still not a career path I wanted to follow, it was clearly going to be better for me than staying at the supermarket. I passed the application process and started when the processing center opened in June. Initially all shifts were only part-time, so I continued to work at the supermarket as well, changing back to part-time and working mornings. In October that year, as the Christmas mailing rush approached, more hours became available at the processing center and I decided the time had come to leave the supermarket behind.

I stayed with the Postal Service job for the next couple years, continuing to search for and respond to appropriate writing and editing want ads in the meantime. The Postal Service job was the nicest unskilled job I’d had: I didn’t have to dress up in a nice shirt, tie, and trousers; I could listen to music on headphones while I worked; the work was easy, just watching a screen and typing in the appropriate address information as each letter appeared; and as long as I kept up with the speed and accuracy requirements, which was easy to do, I had no trouble and indeed little interaction with my supervisors. However, I also had little interaction with the other employees, since most of the time we had to be just focused on the work. I usually kept to myself in any case, feeling that I didn’t have much in common with the others, but I was friendly with a few and actually succeeded in befriending one of my cute co-workers and going to see Blue Man Group with her, although that never progressed further into dating.

The main drawback to the Postal Service job was the unreliability of hours. Since we were considered temporary employees and worked hourly, during the summer months when there was less mail to process we would work fewer hours and thus earn less money. The corollary was that during the Christmas season, we would work long hours and getting time off was difficult. That came to a head for me in 1997*, when my friend Scott was getting married just a few days after Christmas in Philadelphia, and asked me to be one of his groomsmen. I let my supervisors know about this in advance, but when that season came around, even though I had sufficient paid leave saved up and the time I needed off was after Christmas itself, the Postal Service was still strictly limiting approval of requests. I was able to get a couple of the days I needed as paid leave, but had to find someone to trade shifts with to cover the rest. Fortunately I was able to do that, but the long hours in general and the specific hassle of getting that time off caused me to vow that that would be my last Christmas working at the processing center.

I carried on as I had been for several more months, but it was clear that responding to want ads in the newspaper was never going to get me anywhere. There just weren’t enough writing/editing positions offered that way, I had no previous professional experience to show for myself, and I was even seeing ads that I had responded to being repeated. I had actually realized the previous year that I should look into the professional recruitment/temporary worker agencies whose ads I was also seeing in the papers, but I had put that off for no good reason. Finally I made up my mind, gave my notice to the Postal Service, and left that job in June, three years to the week after I had started. My new plan was to sign up with some agencies and start taking temporary office jobs, so that I would have professional office experience to show on my resume, and also have opportunities to find a full-time professional job. Within six months, rather to my surprise and in an unexpected fashion, my plan succeeded.

*Edit: Great, I got my own story wrong. Scott's wedding was in 1996, so the difficulty I had in getting time off that year was not what precipitated my decision to leave the Postal Service job. I don't recall any specific incident from the following Christmas-time of 1997, but I do remember just something about the long hours that year made me decide I wouldn't do another one.


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