Landscaping Builds Character: What I’ve Learned From My 27 Jobs

I believe it was the summer after my freshman year at UM, when I lolly-gagged the summer along in Detroit, then decided last-minute that I needed some extra funds to pay the $20 cover at Krave and Amnesia when I went back to Miami in the fall. It was around the second week of July already, so I didn’t think ANYONE would hire me for 6 weeks- even a Target on the Eastside. Then I was introduced to the wonderful world of Temporary Agencies…

These are places where one could work for weeks at time, doing extraordinary things like stuffing envelopes, filing, or in my case, picking up trash off the side of the road and pulling weeds. My uncle set up myself and my cousin ( I wasn’t going to look dumb by myself) with a five-week job with a landscaping company that took crews around the Detroit area, doing work at large office parks, restaurants, and malls. I knew we were in for a treat when we showed up for our first shift and were the only two women there, with the exception of a questionable individual named “Lynn”. We were immediately ogled, but that admiration was quickly squashed when we were given our refried bean-colored uniforms, likening us to Luther’s Janitorial Service Crew on “Set if Off”. I know, real sexy.

We were then put on a crew of 6, led by a character we’ll call “Ricky”, who wore multiple gold chains and loved to tell stories of how he shaved ALL the hair off his body on his own. I must reiterate that the fact that we were female did not prevent these men from being disgusting, filthy neanderthals who constantly talked about women, farting, and beer. IN THAT ORDER. While actually working, we were relegated to pulling dandelions, stabbing garbage with a stick, prisoner-style off I-75, and using something called an “edger”, because they did not trust us with a lawnmower, in any form. When I told a friend about my experience once I arrived back in Miami, he hit me with this gem of wisdom: “There’s nothing wrong with landscaping. I think everyone should do it at least once in their lives. It builds character.”

I personally feel like I got nothing out of that job, besides a really bad sunburn on my forehead and an aversion to the smell of grass. Now I may not have had TWENTY-SEVEN jobs, but it’s been a definite 17 ( I worked at the JCP on two separate occasions). And I have learned so much from every last one. My first job, besides being annoying, was “Sandwich Artist” at Universal Mall in Warren, Michigan (where the term “Tramp Stamp” originated), the year I turned 16. This “mall” had nothing but a Service Merchandise, Rave, and a DEB. The real draw was the “$1.50 Show”, where you could wait 3 months to watch the latest movie for the same price as washing your clothes in the laundromat. Situated next to this Walmart of Movies was the measly Food Court, which housed  my Subway, an A & W, and some Gyro place. I did learn how to eat as many free sandwiches as I could at this establishment, but the real draw was the interaction with the customers, as well as the other food court employees. One of the most memorable characters that I can recall is a former exotic dancer who worked the register at the root beer chain’s spot, who was constantly hitting on me and trying to impress me with his Ginuwine-esque hairstyles.  Since that memorable summer of ’96, I have encountered so many individuals and experiences that have truly formed me into the weirdo that I am today. To further embarrass myself and bestow my wisdom upon my ENORMOUS audience, I give you the “Life-Lessons I’ve Learned from My Most Memorable Jobs”.


I have no idea how I ended up at JC Penney twice in one lifetime. The first time was voluntary, as it was the summer prior to me shipping off to college, the second time was not. I worked in the “Juniors” department the first time around, where I learned the value of a dollar by spending my entire paycheck on Arizona jeans with eyelet designs and plaid skirts that didn’t fit quite right. By the time I graduated to the Big Leagues, aka the Bra Department, I knew that people were crazy when it came to shopping. As a Professional Bra Fitter (not so glamorous when the majority of my “clients” were 85 year-old women from Hialeah asking “donde estan las fajas?”), I was introduced to a species of human being who felt comfortable enough to get completely naked in a fitting room, leave all the clothes OFF the hangar and on the floor, and also steal 2-for-1 Maidenform T-shirt bras. Lady, I know you came in here as a 32A. You are not leaving here as a natural 38DD under that Worthington sweater set. Give me back those bras.


I returned to Detroit one summer for a change of scenery, then thought it would be better for my life to move back to Miami with no job and living in my BFF’s spare room- which was actually a closet for his dogs. I then decided to take up the art of “mixology”, or bartending in the real world. After a strenuous two-week course learning how to drown a tequila sunrise with more Minute Maid than Cuervo, I was set up with a job at a hotel sports bar- which would have been great if the hotel side was not likened to a pay-by-the-hour establishment. The hotel was in an interesting part of town, but the craft did deliver on the dividends. I made an insane amount of money! I was astounded at the amount of money: 1. people paid for drinks and 2. people tipped if you made their drinks REALLY strong. The drunker the patrons became, the nicer they were, and the wider the wallets opened. I could have stayed in the profession, except I had this nagging $1,000,000.00 in student loans I needed to pay back and felt that my mom probably didn’t want me to pursue making DRANKS after we had to give up a kidney and someone’s unborn baby for me to go to school. I even did private bartending at one point, where the real money was. I was lucky enough to not get solicited for weird fetish acts when I posted my services on Craigslist and the like, and even made a few friends at the parties I did. My signature drink was even concocted at the 2nd annual Christmas party I bartended for a couple of doctors who insisted that I trademark my “Baja Hypnotini”. Soooo glad I was never involved any “Eyes Wide Shut” scenarios.


Yes, I worked the 11pm-7am shift at Denny’s my senior year in college. Yes, it was fun at times. It was also a nightmare in other instances. I personally feel you have not been a true waiter/waitress until you have sat in a desolate diner at 4am, with your only customer being a vampire. This assumption is pretty much verified with the fact that all he eats is a slice of apple pie, continues to drink multiple 16 oz. glasses of milk, and will not look you in the eye. His skin is also the color of college-ruled paper.

You also learn the lengths people will go to eat really cheap food. As this particular establishment was across from campus, a lot of my customers were students and friends of mine. There was a fantastic entrée known as a “Grand Slam” that would sell for the awesome price of $1.99 (regularly $4.99)- but one had to wait until the 5am hour for the price to go into effect. My friends, football players, and prostitutes, would crowd the entire dining room area and order multiple Cokes for hours on end, until the clock rang cinco, and then all hell broke loose. All this commotion for two runny eggs, questionably cooked-bacon, and soggy toast?


I’ve worked in both the collegiate and professional sport industry, and it baffles me when people turn completely insane when it comes to their teams. Although touted as a luxury purchased with disposable income, you would think people have been separated from their first-born when something goes wrong at a game. I’ve been threatened, almost set on fire (FSU/UM week, circa 2006), and attacked by children while wearing an Obie the Orange mascot costume (kids are crazy!). I understand that many live and die by their teams ( I mean, I do bleed orange and green!), but just because you don’t get to sit on the 50-yard line like you feel you deserve, the team is not going to implode. After all, the team’s not called the “Jose DOLPHINS”.  It’s the city’s team, big guy.


You would think that when people get older and begin to establish themselves in the working world, they would behave as adults. This is not always the case. After I graduated college, I have worked in several different environments that resemble the teen angst in movies like “The Breakfast Club” and “Just One of the Guys”. There are office cliques, gossip, even hesitancy on where to sit in the office cafeteria. If you talk to one colleague and they are at war with another, you can feel forced to pick sides. What is this a Zach Morris vs. A. C. Slater conundrum? Come on people, let’s grow up.


* All photographs used are courtesy of Google Images. I do not own the rights to any of these photogrpahs”

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