Work, Work, Work

Work, Work, Work

Now that I am three-quarters retired — downsized to 10 hours a week — I have time to ponder my career, if that is the correct term for what I have been doing for the past 55 years.

I don't know about you, but I've had a scary number of jobs. I started out at 10 years old picking raspberries for a local farmer, 15 cents a pint, so I could buy a Brownie Starflash camera. If I didn't sculpt the berries duomo-like above the sides, I'd get 10 cents. My grandmother paid considerably more for a pint from which all of my artfully mounded berries had been graded off. Camera in hand, I retired from agribusiness, having dubbed my first boss "The Old Pirate."

I went to work for myself, in partnership with brothers and cousins. We caught fiddler crabs and sold them for bait, a penny apiece to the tackle shop in town. One day, no one could drive us there: We left several brimming pails in the garage and forgot all about them, until the stench jogged our memories.

We transitioned into washing cars, sold undersized blue crabs door-to-door, and collected returnable bottles that littered the roadsides. We made our own hours. I haven't been as flush since; that summer we gorged on ice cream and jelly doughnuts, washed down with cherry Cokes, and went to the movies whenever we pleased. I saw "Psycho," which was a mistake.

Work got progressively harder. The next summer, my brother Steve subcontracted a portion of his paper route to me. I had 30-odd customers, for this very publication [the Hartford Courant], and just about every one of them had a free-range dog. I could out-peddle most of them most of the time. The real chore was collecting the money every week. Some of those old people really liked to chitchat.

The summer of my junior year in high school I graduated to becoming a day laborer. My brother worked for a builder who needed someone to lug materials about and clean up work sites. I thought my first ever nine-hour day would kill me. That evening I drank my first beer (openly, in the house) and hit the hay before eight.

My work-a-day life was just beginning. Two summers I toiled for the town highway department and learned how to look busy. After that I pounded nails, painted houses, flipped burgers (to get this job I billed myself as an experienced short-order cook, an assertion that made my mother laugh as I have never heard her laugh, until I wore her azure culottes to a barbecue by mistake).

I have waited tables, tutored disgruntled scholars, clerked in a package store (excellent fringe benefits), coached football, landscaped, and driven a cab. I sold ads for a weekly newspaper — not many, so they made me the editor (the position had been vacant for months). This was my first white-collar job after college. I earned less than $100 a week, and after slogging away for a year I would get a whole week's vacation. The paper was in New Hampshire, and I had to borrow money from my parents to pay the oil bill.

After six months I retreated to Connecticut to start my own weekly newspaper with some friends. As an August publisher and editor-in-chief, my primary responsibility, I soon realized, was to sell ads. The paper eventually crept out of the red and we bought another one; we sold the pair after eight years of working harder than I ever care to again.

Whereupon I became a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad. It was hardly work and it hardly paid. After a decade of hunting and gathering I took several day jobs, in marketing for a museum and an architectural firm (for which I still work part time).

I'm not sure at this writing what it all adds up to. Some of my articles are living yet on the Internet and have been republished in anthologies. But I won't be getting my picture on the cover of Rolling Stone. I can live with that.

Truth be told, after constant toil, free time can be a challenge. Many of us are like plow horses, more content in the harness. I am adjusting to my new situation. I am spending more time gardening, watching birds, power washing the deck, napping etc. I'm optimistic about quasi-retirement: I was always good at recess.

But I confess, if it wasn't for my writing I don't know what I'd do with myself half the time.