I’ve had a lot of odd jobs, and some of them were odder than others. I went through high school with no career ambition beyond writing, no desire to attend university (an act of rebellion against my parents, then university students, enroute to earning their PhDs and distinguished academic careers), and no concerns about job skills. After all, in my last two years of high school I worked two part-time jobs, about 30 hours a week, and made more money than I knew what to do with. Which is to say I bought the best music system I ever owned.
It didn’t take long for me to realize I needed some job skills, so I signed up for a typing course, reasoning that skill could also help with writing. I pawned the music system to pay the rent and buy groceries, and started attending university part-time for job skills and help with writing. Meanwhile, I worked whatever jobs I could get, temping for both office and blue-collar agencies when I could not find permanent jobs.
Given that I pursued a degree in English literature, it’s fair to say the degree helped more with writing than job skills. Supposedly any degree helps with employment, and after five years with one employer they were happy to give me four months unpaid leave to finish my degree. They told me they supported life-long learning. When I returned to the office, newly credentialed, I was demoted two job levels, with the equivalent salary reduction. It turned out my employer was only willing to hold a job, not the job I had before, let alone consider a promotion.
Between no credentials and credentials not recognized, work has sometimes been a challenge. In December of 1988, I was driving passenger vans for a transportation company, taking children to and from schools in situations where the school bus was not appropriate, such as ferrying children from women’s shelters to their schools. The pay was low, the hours limited, the children difficult (understandably so), and there was no work over the Christmas school vacation, so I jumped at the chance to supplement my income by delivering packages for the post office.
Most jobs where I’ve dealt with the public have involved people who have purchased something – their food, their rollercoaster ride, their delivery to the airport – and they often believed their status as a paying customer, and mine as a low paid employee, entitled them to be demanding about the ingredients, the preferred seat, the speed of my driving. Delivering Christmas parcels was delightfully different. People were glad to see me, and grateful for the service. Sometimes the package was a complete, and happy, surprise. Other times it was expected, even late, but they were still happy it arrived. And I was gone before there was any disappointment over the contents.
It’s tempting to draw some sappy conclusion about the joy of the holidays being found by delivering packages, or receiving them, or perhaps about how everyone is more cheerful at Christmas, but I know from other jobs that everyone is not more cheerful at Christmas. It’s just nice to deliver and receive packages any time – or at least delivery was years ago, when the job involved a company vehicle and an hourly rate, even if it was minimum wage. I’m aware that many folks delivering packages these days do so under less fortunate conditions.
As with every job I’ve had, odd or otherwise, from Christmas package delivery I learned tidbits of information that I find interesting and are fodder for inclusion in stories. In addition to seeing the happiness of the recipients, I learned that a surprising number of people answer the door wearing very little. Risking the sin of vanity, I was younger and fitter then. And to put that in perspective, the surprising number was something like two men and three women out of several hundred people. Also, the promised plain brown wrapper on sex toys doesn’t fool anyone. Incidentally, there was no correlation between state of dress and package, and as a package delivery person my approach to both the packages and the customers was strictly professional.
The following Christmas I was working at a better, full-time job, and I was lucky in my employment for several years after that. I wasn’t odd-jobbing over the Christmas holidays again until about five years ago. I was serving food and distributing party favours at a large New Year’s Eve bash. I’ve never seen so many people so desperately trying to convince themselves they are having fun. It was grim. At least this year they’ll have to stay home. If they’re lucky, someone will deliver a package to them.