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12:45 pm - Mon 8/8/05
Working For A Living...If You Call This \"Living\"

Working For A Living...If You Call This "Living"

I’ve been stuck in a bookstore rut for almost 15 years now (!), but over the course of my life, I’ve done a lot of things for money...

Many of them perfectly legal.

I was a lifeguard one summer during high school, at the Durand Swim & Rec Club (I’ve been thinking of that lately as the likely pinnacle of my physical fitness, even though I was probably 30 or 40 lbs underweight at the time).

In Lansing, when I was 26 or 27, I worked at McDonalds for close to a year-and-a-half, behind the grill.

In Texas, in the early-mid 80s, I did phone surveys (For Telesurveys Of Texas) and phone sales (For some police-related charity. Looking back at it now, I’m pretty sure this was not “on the up and up”).

For about five months in ‘86 or ‘87, I was a member of The Winged Victory Singers, a male singing group playing what was left of “The Borscht Belt”. After one gig in Atlantic City, and a week at “the fabulous Club Baba” in Queens, NY, I went with them to Miami Beach, playing hotels and condos with a laughably cheesy act, until I quit in April of that year.

For a year or so, I recorded books for the blind at Lansing Community College (That was in 1982–I remember the year because I was in Hair that winter, and recording textbooks by day and singing by night put a tremendous strain on my voice).

Years later, I was a “patient assessment model” for the nursing program at the college (Basically, nurses in training gave me physicals. Which was not nearly as cool as it sounds).

Early in my time in Lansing, I was a “Bellygram” escort (Accompanying a male belly dancer to bachelor parties and the like), then later, I tried my hand at “Gorilla-grams”, doing four or five (A couple “Gorillas”, and a couple as “Super-Chicken”) before deciding I really didn’t like it (If you can believe it, I was embarrassed by what I was doing, and at the same time, frustrated by the anonymity).

For two summers, I worked in the “scholarships” division of the Financial Aid office at Michigan State University (The most boring job I’ve ever had. Like the bookstore, but without the people contact, or easy access to reading matter).

For a time when I was with “Beth 2.0", I had a drive-around paper route.

Don’t remember the year, but sometime in the early 80s, I was a dishwasher at the Clock restaurant for a couple months (I remember getting fired from that job, but don’t remember why).

For maybe a year or so altogether, I was a mediocre waiter at the late great Sensuous Bean (I did it around seasons of summer-stock at Thunder Bay Theater in Alpena, MI).

In the summer of ‘86, I believe, I was a camp counselor at Camp Catskill, a summer camp for “developmentally disabled” adults. That led to a job at the Sullivan County A.R.C. (Association for Retarded Children) in South Fallsburg, NY, training that same population for entry into a “structured workshop environment” (For the record, I had absolutely no training for this work. And it strikes me as pretty damned funny that I was responsible for teaching “independent living skills” when I could barely take care of myself).

In Atlanta for maybe two months in ‘86 or ‘87, I worked out of a temp labor pool called Labor King Temporaries (Worst job? Working for a landscaper. Best job? There wasn’t one).

In Lansing, maybe around ‘83, I worked for a time for Kelly Services, in the “light-industrial division” (Worst job? A day at the local Coca-Cola bottling plant, unloading crates of bottles onto a conveyor belt. Best job? Probably the month or so I helped pack up books at the old State Library, when they moved into the new building. I also remember jobs that were just setting up chairs for events, which was pretty easy).

During a relatively brief stint on welfare (Back when single males could still get on welfare in Michigan), I earned my food stamps by working at the Boarshead Theater (You’d think I would have been in heaven. But other than a small role in a fund-raising “murder mystery” event, and another bit role in a school performance about Susan B. Anthony, I didn’t really act at the Boarshead till years later, when I played “Medvedenko” in The Seagull). Basically, I stuffed envelopes and worked the box office, and was jealous as hell of the actors.

I don’t even remember the time frame on this one, but I had a brief stint as a “wedding m.c.” (A guy and his wife had a business where they provided a photographer, DJ, and an M.C. for weddding receptions). I did, as I recall, maybe a half-dozen or so weddings around the mid-Michigan area; I might have done more, but I was uncomfortable with the loosey-goosey setup of the business (And I think the business went kaput when the husband and wife divorced).

Prior to coming out to L.A., I did occasionally make money acting.

My first “acting gig” was one summer during high school, when I toured around the mid-Michigan area with a production of Free To Be, You And Me, under the auspices of a government summer-jobs program (CETA, to be exact–the “Career Employment And Training Act”).

Then in the summer of 82, I think it was, I did my first season of summer-stock at Thunder Bay Theater (I went back the following summer, then was back for two more seasons in the late ‘80s, maybe ‘87 and ‘88). My longest stint at TBT was over a year, which was nice–I wasn’t exactly getting rich, but since they were providing “room” (When they moved into their own space in ‘83, there were apartments over the theater) and some level of “board”, I was able to say I was “making a living as an actor” for the first and only time in my life.

In the 90's, the only money I made from acting, that I can recall, was doing three dinner theater shows for Jane Burnham’s “Act-On Productions”--Who Am I This Time?, from the Kurt Vonnegut short story, then two really lame “interactive murder mysteries”, Frosty The Deadman and Death By Disco (And they really were lame, don’t get me wrong, but they also gave me the chance to play multiple roles, which was fun, and act with Jane B. (Who I’ve had a crush on since I first met her, over 20 years ago) and Jennifer M. (Who is the unrequited love of my life).

Looking back, I hardly know what to make of it all...

From my current mind-set (being stressed and obsessed about money), the first thing I notice is that I’ve never done anything where I made a lot of money–It was either a regular job for a low wage, or jobs that paid by the gig where there either weren’t enough gigs to live on, or I couldn’t “stick it out” for one reason or another, and quit.

I’ve certainly had some “colorful” jobs (“Belly-gram escort”? “Wedding M.C.”?), which will be great fodder for my future appearance on The Tonite Show with Conan O’Brien, but I also see jobs (McDonalds, MSU, washing dishes, phones sales, etc) that were just miserable, go-nowhere jobs that I did only because I had to do something.

It’s not hard to see why getting the job at Schuler Books in 1990 was such a big deal to me–Compared to a lot of what I’d done before, it was a “dream job”–Working around books, working with people who read books, getting a job, in part, because I liked to read and was “smart”, that was all good stuff. And while it didn’t exactly pay big money, it was a regular job, and as long as I had no dreams, and nothing ever went wrong, I could get by on it just fine (Who knew then that I’d be in L.A. 11 years later., looking on those times as “the salad days”?).

Which brings up to the hear and the now...

Working at a bookstore is something that should have been over for me years ago, but here I am.

I’ve had a taste of making decent money, doing commercials, and liked it. A lot. And now I’m trying to find some “middle ground”, with a job that will provide me an income I can actually live on, while trying to make the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do with my life actually come to pass.

But now, I’m going to head back to bed, so I can have a fighting chance of getting through a day at the bookstore without wanting to kill myself...


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