Job #1: At fourteen-and-a-half years old, I received my first bona-fide paycheck from Los Alamitos Fish and Chip. Owned and operated by an ambitious Vietnamese family, LA Fish and Chip offered all the expected London fare with a South East Asian twist. My job was to fry up the orders in the back kitchen as they were shouted at me. The language barrier caused the most grief as I tried in earnest to decipher what exactly it was that I was supposed to prepare. Let’s say someone ordered one fish and chips, one shrimp/no chips, and two fish with extra chips—it sounded like this: One feesh cheep, one sheep no cheep, two feesh eshra cheep. Now say it really fast—a few dozen times, and there you have it. Thank God for Farrah, their four year old daughter, who would stand next to me and interpret.
Job #2: I have no idea what it was called, but it was a ritzy ice-cream parlor in Seal Beach, praised for their fine espressos and lattes. The owner was rarely ever there, and I worked alone most of the time. The five-mile bike ride, the loneliness, the forearm cramps from scooping ice cream, and the wrist burns from the milk steamer made me almost miss the feesh, cheep, and sheep job.
Job #3: Mr. T’s Auto Parts. I delivered auto parts every Saturday morning in a bright yellow Volkswagen Rabbit diesel truck all over the backstreets of Long Beach, Compton, Lynwood, and Watts (remember now, this is before the security of cell phones). At first I felt like a pony-tailed bimbo, but once I got my bearings (and ball-bearings) straightened out, I whipped around town dropping off axles and pistons and rack n’ pinions to macho mechanics who grew to respect me for my expert knowledge of gaskets and heads and hoses and fuses.
(this is not the actual truck, but it looked exactly like it)
Job #4: Le Polynesia. For ten years, I had the privilege of being a performer with this crème de le Polynesian crème of a dance troupe. We frequented yacht clubs, restaurants, and conventions as well as benefit shows for hospitals, veterans, and community fund raisers. Under the faithful instruction and leadership of Jr. and Ilima Montgomery, we were taught to preserve the languages and authentic dance forms of Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Samoa. My most embarrassing moment on stage caught me with a huge chunk of my Tahitian skirt missing as I turbo-danced in front of a rowdy group of military dudes. Thankfully this happened before Youtube.
Linda, Claudia, Darlene, Renee, (me), & Guy
The Dynamic Duo: (me) & Claudia
Job #5: Bookstore clerk at Cypress College. Not fun.
Job #6: Ricabob’s Restaurant. Located directly across the street from the Los Alamitos Horse Race Track, this place taught me how to carry a lot of food on one arm and how to say no to wealthy gamblers with impossible promises. I also learned how to spill a Bloody Mary on Evel Knievel’s lap.
Job #8: Disneyland. During my five years at the “Happiest Place On Earth,” I sold skulls and snakes in Adventureland, Daniel Boone hats and rifles in Frontierland, light sabers in Tomorrowland, and Matson shiploads of stuffed Mickey’s and Minnie’s everywhere else. I also personalized hundreds, perhaps thousands, of those felted mouse-ear hats. My biggest challenge was trying to fit names like “Sharayahkenika” or “Mahealaninuikealoha” in the small space on the back of those popular hats. My last two years as lead/scheduler on the east side of Main Street taught me to appreciate people who never called in sick, especially the magicians. Let’s just say, I don’t do magic—at least not on purpose.
Job #9: Travelodge—across the street from Disneyland. I worked there while simultaneously working at Disney, mainly because I needed a place to stay for a while. The funny part was driving a huge shuttle bus full of tourists to Disney, only to have them see me later in the evening, working in the park, thinking I had a twin shuttle-driving sister.
Job #10: Aloha Animal Hospital. My first job in Hawaii, where I sat behind a receptionist counter, checking in a menagerie of wealthy animals with hangnails and chipped teeth. It was there that I fell head-over-heels in love with Sam, the Newfoundlander with enormous webbed feet and enough drool to create a slip n’ slide for all the dainty-footed Pomeranians and Pekinese puff balls.
(this is not Sam, but he looked exactly like this bad boy)
Job #11: Liberty House (now unfortunately Macy’s). I managed the Christmas department while six months pregnant for my first son and continued working/waddling there until I birthed my ten-pound wonder boy, Ryan (thank God for c-sections!)
Job #12: Private nanny. ‘Nough said.
Job #13: Preschool assistant. Ditto.
Job #14: Writer for University of Hawaii’s OPELE office (see my earlier blog post Angel in the Infield).
Job #15: English teacher—15 years and counting. Almost 1,600 students later, I can still say it’s the best job ever!
Job #16: Curriculum writer for Ohana Learning Foundation. Earned loads of money creating on-line lesson plans during my maternity leave for son #2. In spite of the generous non-fiction income, I'm sticking with the poor folks of fiction.
It’s been a wild ride, that’s for sure, but worth every clocked-in hour of it.