As Labor Day weekend offers our last gasp of summer, we can all recall our humble beginnings in the labor force. You know, like when Donald Trump got a “small” $10 million loan from his dad.
Well, my dad didn’t give me a “small” $5 loan. He did, however, welcome me to moving a ton of pea gravel and a cord of split wood. Failing that, I was welcome not to have the $5 after a “small” conversation about the lack of free lunches and to consider a “small” three-year commitment to the U.S. Army.
After I moved the gravel and stacked the wood, I became something of a suburban Horatio Alger story, where pluck and vim and hard work would reward me and cleanse my slacker soul. To that end, I got jobs.
1971-72: Substitute newspaper carrier, The Philadelphia Bulletin. Duties included walking in muggy heat and frigid blizzards to provide pre-internet data delivery while avoiding angry poodles. Salary: $3/day.
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1972-75: Lawn mower. Duties included pushing non-propelled lawnmowers over wet, gloppy Minnesota grass, and not deliberately shredding plastic toys for fun. Salary: $3/lawn. One client gave me $5.
1975-77: Newspaper carrier, The Minneapolis Star and Sunday Minneapolis Tribune. Duties included pulling newspapers on sleds after assembling them in my garage at 3:45 a.m. Other duties included collecting bills and riding a 1967 Schwinn Fastback with questionable brakes. Salary: $8-$12/week.
1977: Dishwasher, Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor. Duties included sticking my hands into bus tubs with broken glass, napkins used as Kleenex and touching food scraps. Other duties included wearing ugly waterproof shoes, accidentally burning my finger on the Hobart dishwasher heating coil and keeping ketchup out of open wounds. Salary: $30/week.
1977-78: Picture frame fitter, Stevens Custom Frame. Duties included constantly breaking glass, stapling myself, looking at photos of well-fed Minnesota families, messing around with a compressed air hose and getting fired for leaving a garage door open. Salary: $30/week.
1977-78: Intern, Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party headquarters. Duties included pretending to be John F. Kennedy, wearing nice ties, copying things, driving to events to deliver thousands of fliers, driving in Vice President Walter Mondale’s motorcades at 87 mph (my fave), helping with Sen. Hubert Humphrey’s post-funeral tribute and wearing more nice ties. Salary: $50/week.
1978: Driver/advance man, congressional campaign of Minnesota state Sen. Gerry Sikorksi. Duties included conducting a six-week sleep deprivation experiment, never seeing my girlfriend, falling asleep while driving in cornfields, standing quietly in the back of a hall while the candidate tried to explain why a Norwegian Lutheran farmer should vote for a Polish Catholic labor lawyer. Salary: $75/week.
1978-1981: Editorial cartoonist, The Minnesota Daily. Duties included learning how to draw in public, going to bars called The Improper Fraction and Jimmy Hegg’s. Other duties included inadvertently insulting very sensitive college students, drawing the University of Minnesota president looking like an owl, perfecting my Jimmy Carter impression and dating journalism school students.
1981-82: Editorial cartoonist, The Columbus Dispatch. Duties included drawing Ronald Reagan for a very conservative newspaper publisher, going to parties nearly every night with colleagues, and wearing even nicer ties. Salary: $425/week.
1982-83: Editorial cartoonist, Detroit Free Press. Duties included applying for other newspaper jobs. Salary: $600/week.
1983-2012: Editorial cartoonist, The Oregonian. Duties included going from a 23-year-old kid to a slightly grumpy 52-year-old man. Salary: All went to kids.
2013-present: Editorial cartoonist, The Sacramento Bee. Duties include getting convoluted emails from Trump supporters, drawing corgis obsessively and wearing flip-flops instead of ties. Salary: All goes to children.
I love this job. Happy Labor Day!