Every Job I’ve Had: Indoor Bouncy House, Defense Contractor, Traveling Nerd

by Taylor Lee

Front Desk at Surprisingly Sketchy Kids Indoor Bouncy House, 2007, $8.50/hour

My first and most colorful job. Also the only time I’ve ever been fired. I remember my mom dropping me off to fill out the application while she waited in the car. I’m pretty sure I was wearing a three-piece suit at the time, because that’s totally what you do for job interviews, right? Anyway, they were looking for people and I guess I looked eager enough.

Every weekday I walked about two miles round-trip in the Southwest desert heat for my never-more-than-four-hour shift. I liked hanging out with the families and kids even though I always ended up coming home smelling like feet. Usually I opened the store, blowing up the bouncy palace and obstacle course, before calling parents to finalize their kids’ birthday party plans. (“Chocolate or vanilla sheet cake?” “Yes of course we’d be happy to book Spongebob for little Suzie.”) Most of my downtime was spent doing data entry or cleaning up the back room where every once in a while I’d hide out and eat cold leftover pizza.

Working there, I quickly learned the first rule of kid-related employment: Everyone at these jobs are super weird. It’s a universal rule, like some sort of ISO standard for hiring that makes sure only sufficiently crazy people are allowed near kids (exceptions for schools and child care, maybe). Summer camp? The cook is feeding you stray cats. Build-a-Bear employee? Shaves his leg hair right into the cotton stuffing pools. Don’t even get me started on costumed cartoon characters.

At my place, we had at least one guy who carried a pocket knife and (jokingly?) threatened a female coworker one night during cleanup. Said female co-worker had an unrequited crush on Knife Guy, and seven years later I still don’t think I’m emotionally mature enough to explain the situation. Then there was the manager who, as I filled out my application, told me her various experiences with hard drugs and spent about 90% of her time in her office, door closed, watching television and writing her “memoirs.” She and Knife Guy took smoke breaks out in front of the shop.

On my last day of scheduled work for the summer, I emotionally exploded all over my boss. It turned out she had been editing my timesheets the last few weeks (I had kept a log of when I clocked in and out) attempting to skimp me out of a couple hundred dollars pay. Of course my boss, unimpressed by my fluster-y, entitled teenager-y arguments, fired me.

My parents were livid and I was bummed out for a couple days. That is, until I saw on the news that one of my former coworkers had been arrested as part of a drive-by shooting (not Knife Guy, surprisingly enough), at which point being grounded for three months seemed like a safer bet than ever setting foot near inflatable obstacle courses ever again.

Front Desk at Defense Contractor, 2008, $2,000 for the summer

Fresh out of high school, I felt invincible. Like the world was my oyster and I was ready to devour it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I used the same overwrought metaphor when applying for this Defense Contractor Internship. Most of the time they had me at the front desk, receptionist-style, where I learned a variety of important and necessary skills for navigating professional life like: how to scratch your thigh without plunging your hands deep into your pants, what series of hallways I could walk through without people realizing I’d passed by twenty times in the last hour, and which pixel on my monitor I could stare at while scrolling up and down the screen to look like I’m really reading a document and not just killing the next three minutes until my lunch break.

Occasionally they had me on exciting “mission-critical” projects like organizing the company bowling party and matching a forty pound box filled with keys to their respective (and often times non-existent) doorknobs. Everyone was super nice though and they even had a going away party for me when the summer was over. One of the technical writers, an old Air Force guy, asked me where I was going to college. When I told him I was moving to the Northeast, he said to me, “They’re very liberal out there. Be careful.”

Purification Junkie, aka Biochemistry Lab Intern, 2009, $4,000 for the summer + housing

Loath to live with my parents after my freshman year of college, I signed up for a summer research program where I worked in a university biochemistry lab growing bacteria, cleaning petri dishes, and the like. I was pretty stoked to be paid so much for the summer, but then figured out my hourly rate was even less than the bouncy house job considering I was working nine in the morning to midnight daily. Plus Saturdays.

Using expensive, heavy science machinery was pretty intimidating at first — I still have nightmares about the time I started an unbalanced centrifuge — but overall I liked the job. And considering I didn’t have a social life, I saved up quite a bit of money too. Number one expense? Midnight Chipotle. Oh yeah. But while I’d love to be as passionate about a project as I was that summer, if I never see a micropipette again it’ll be way too soon.

University Tutor, 2010–2012, $12/hour

Starting my sophomore year I tutored math and computer science at my university. I figured the work was chill and the pay was better than dishwashing in the student café.

Note that while I consider myself a decent learner, my teaching is mediocre at best. Luckily my students seemed to like me. Most were bright and didn’t need anything more than a warm body to talk to. Which was fine by me, because if there are two things I’m good at they are nodding and pretending to listen. There were other students that needed more help, but most everyone tried hard and ended up doing decently well in their classes.

Oh, and then there was the wrestler going into economics who missed half our sessions and couldn’t figure out how many seconds were in an hour. Really, this was an actual question on one of his problem sets. I’m pretty sure he’s an analyst at some Big Consulting Group now.

Traveling Computer Nerd, 2012 — present

Nowadays I’m a consultant of sorts at a tiny company nobody’s ever heard of working on things that I could explain but would just cause your eyes to glaze over like a donut. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen.

Quick summary: I work with computers and travel a lot. Last year I spent a solid two months living out of a DoubleTree hotel room. Most of my co-workers are friendly and I’m learning a truckload of new things. Plus, in addition to a bazillion frequent flyer miles, I get full health insurance, dental, and automatic employer contributions for retirement (no match needed, score!) so I feel pretty pampered here.

That said, most days I get a little stir crazy from all the sitting and really do miss the academic environment. Two years in and I’ve succeeded in my one and only goal: to not send any inappropriately adorable otter videos to my clients. I do it for the sake of professionalism, though some days I’m pretty sure they might need it.

Given my current level of success, or relative non-failure, I’ve thought about maybe setting my sights a little higher. Management? Grad school? For now, though, I’m okay where I am and can safely say this has been my best job yet. (Knocks on wood.)

Taylor Lee is a storyteller, personal finance writer, and habitual data cruncher. Check out more of her writings on her blog Tipping Scales.

photo via Catrin Austin