Not all of my youth was misspent September 17, 2023
Originally published in my newsletter of March '23
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you become that?
People ask me where I get ideas for my stories, and so much of what I’ve done in life informs the direction my stories take. I admire people who knew exactly what they wanted to do in life by age seven. Those individuals went on to be an astronaut, baseball player, or cop. These are sturdy images for the mind of a kid, sustaining them through the high winds of career counseling that includes such nebulous titles as actuary, analyst, or gaffer.
I wasn’t a focused kid. I wandered.
Outside of my desire to be an actress, I was clueless. Even after my award-winning portrayal of Head Witch in the second grade, that vision faded.
In my teens, I was responsible enough to babysit, count inventory, or drive cars from one location to another, but these weren’t steady gigs. Nor were they going to maintain my lifetime of expensive habits like eating and paying taxes.
One job I had for a total of three days. Not my finest moment, but I gave it an honest go. The job was in a produce store that sold all manner of other delicious complements, such as nuts and dried fruit mixes pre-bagged by the pound.
Hey, I wanted to shop there, why wouldn’t I want to work there?
Three excellent reasons.
Flies. Gnats. Rotting fruit.
The store was open-air, which meant every sugar-hungry winged creature within sniffing distance made a beeline for this place.
It’s one thing to toss that overly fuzzy peach out of your own fruit basket. It’s quite another thing when it’s twenty fuzzy rotten apples. The entire job consisted of rooting through giant piles of fresh-ish fruit just to dislodge all the disgusting mushy ones from their hiding places.
For hours. Without gloves. In the heat.
Did I mention that I have a hair-trigger gag reflex?
I wasn’t sure I’d last the day, let alone my eventual three days. But suddenly, my fortune shifted.
A stern looking lady arrived from the U.S. Government, and she was there to help.
She came in carrying an oversized briefcase and asked for the manager. My fuzzy fruit filtering slowed while I watched the drama unfold.
Ever wonder what else your taxes pay for?
our multilevel marketing scheme known as the U.S. Government, we have departments for everything. Starting at the Cabinet level, we have the Department of Commerce. Next level down (those people joined later), we have the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Finally, we have the stern looking lady from U.S. Weights and Measures.
In her briefcase were the official standard weights for a pound of mixed nuts. She pulled them out and started to compare that standard to the many pre-bagged pounds of fruit and nut delectables in the store.
I wasn’t expecting a government inspector to arrive that day. Apparently, neither was the manager.
Seems the manager was shorting customers of their full pound of dried pineapples, or apricots, or almonds. Every bag this lady weighed—including the bag, label, and twist tie—still didn’t meet the advertised pound of food bits.
The lady from U.S. Weights and Measures, bless her heart, was having none of it!
Consequently, I was instructed to leave my pile of questionable pears and start adding more of whatever to each bag that weighed under a pound in the entire store.
Tedious, yes. But not icky.
I spent the next two days upping the contents in each bag.
Years later, I worked with young women who had aged out of foster care. We were discussing their goals, career choices, and one of them referred to her current job as “only” a something-or-other. She was 18 and was trying life on for size without the safety nets so many of us enjoy. I called her out on the “only” part.
All honest work has value. If nothing else, you learn that thing isn’t for you. Better to know now rather than later. Or you learn something you didn’t know before. I told them about the weights and measures lady. My three-day stint coincided with events I may never have seen otherwise.
I also learned that produce stores weren’t for me.
A tale for another time, but I got a job offer on my third day far outside the field of fruit and left the insects to their bounty. But the weights and measures lady stuck with me all these years. What the heck did she want to be when she grew up? Did she enjoy being the police for our official U.S. pound?
Head Witch might be good training for that job.
So tell me, what did you want to be as a youth? Did you become that? How’s that working for you?