At a party late last year with long-time friends from a walking group, the guests enjoyed playing parlor games. This followed the usual drinking and chatting and eating, including a delicious cassoulet made by our hosts.
Parlor games, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, are games suitable for adults to play indoors. My personal lack of knowledge of pop culture has always led to poor performance in competitive parlor games such as Trivial Pursuit, but in these games, there were no losers, just people letting down their hair, acting silly, and having a good time.
First up was the wind-up car race. It seemed that a number of the guests had spent some time researching the current fastest wind-up cars (and ducks, mice, trucks and other wheeled items) that are meant to go in a straight line. The research paid off, because there were clear winners.
Perhaps a second prize should have been awarded to the cutest wind-up toy, although Baxter the cat, looking over the proceedings with a disdainful expression, might have felt otherwise. After all, he was the cutest critter present.
Next up was the white elephant gift exchange. According to Wikipedia, the goal of the white elephant is “usually to entertain rather than to gain.” Last year I participated in this particular parlor game, and scored two beautiful vegetarian cookbooks first published in the 1970s. They were way too nice to be considered a white elephant gift. My gain.
One of this year’s parlor games was a guessing game in which the participants had to match a description of a past job experience, submitted anonymously, with the person most likely to have written it. Although I did not participate in this game at the time, I will share a couple of unlikely past job experiences that *might* have happened to me. In the spirit of parlor games, however, one or more of these stories may not be true.
My first paid work, which occurred in my early teens, was babysitting. Even way back, babysitters were in short supply, so there was plenty of opportunity right in my own neighborhood, and I earned good money; enough, in fact, to buy my first pair of contact lenses. Not every job, however, went smoothly.
One was sitting for an infant who had never had a babysitter before. This beautiful little girl was sleeping like an angel when I arrived, and the whole job looked like a piece of cake. Diapers, bottles, etc. – how easy is that? Unfortunately, when the baby woke up, she took one look at me, and started screaming. Inconsolable, she cried without respite until her mother came home. It was heartbreaking, and an hour and a half felt like eternity.
I was a little older, perhaps 15 or 16 years old, when my charge, a 10-year old boy, kept trying to kiss me, not in an appropriate way. His dog, a dachshund, also appeared to have amorous intentions, hugging and scratching my legs. Although the parents paid me well and invited me back several times, I never could bring myself to return to that house. The dog’s claw marks left itchy, painful purple streaks that served as a long-lasting reminder that I am allergic to poison oak.
My first real, fulltime job was as a college graduate, working in retail. I entered the management training program at The Emporium, a department store with a storied history (1896 – 1995). It was a grand old place, with rides on the roof during the holidays, a post office, a fabric section for sewers, furniture, clothing, housewares, and much more. I was so excited to work there, following in the footsteps of an aunt, who had worked at the same flagship store on Market Street in downtown San Francisco in the early 1940s.
Retail at “The Big E” was not as much fun as I thought it would be. My work hours were Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 9-6, and Fridays, 12 – 9, pretty much killing any opportunity for a social life on the weekends. Had department stores been open on Sundays, undoubtedly that would have been part of my schedule as well, but in the late ‘60s, stores closed on Sundays.
As the new kid on the block, my 15-minute break times were at 10 and 2, allowing just enough time to get to the restroom and back. My lunch was scheduled at 11 a.m. In short, I worked long hours without a break and was on my feet over 12 hours a day, counting the standing time on the N Judah streetcar.
Retail work is highly competitive and the bottom line, the only thing that really mattered, was the sales figures at the end of the day. The store was going through a slump, and frankly, I wasn’t bringing the youthful energy and innovation needed as the sales manager of the fine china and glassware department. Despite all of this, I received good performance reviews, but at the end of the day, my feet and toes turned numb from long hours and days of standing. I resigned after one year, without even a backup job to turn to.
It was still a long path to finding my true career and passion as a librarian. As a life-long reader and lover of libraries, it is surprising that it took another four years before I acquired a master’s degree and landed a job at the San Francisco Public Library. But the rest, as they say, is history.
Can you guess which stories are true? I have saved some additional unlikely tales of earlier jobs for the next time I am invited to play parlor games. Who knew that party games could be so much fun?