With a few rare exceptions, most authors aren’t fantastically wealthy, and at some point in their lives have probably had to work a regular job while writing on the side. Being the sort of people that they are, authors often tend to gravitate to jobs other than the typical 9-5 desk jobs to support themselves. I personally know authors who have at various times in their lives been cab drivers, self-defense instructors, and dance choreographers. Stephen King was a janitor once upon a time and J.D. Salinger worked as an entertainment director on a Swedish cruise ship. There are various lists out there of the odd jobs held by famous writers before they hit it big.
The existence of these lists prompted me to ask the authors of the upcoming Journal of Unlikely Cryptography about their experiences with odd jobs and whether any of those jobs ever inspired their fiction. We’ll be publishing their answers starting later this month over at the Unlikely Story blog .
Asking the question also prompted me to realize I have a pretty good odd job story of my own. It has yet to inspire any stories, though it really seems like it should. My deep, dark, not-so-secret-secret? My first job in the U.S., when I spent the summer living in New Jersey between my first and second years of university back home in Canada, was selling lingerie and sex toys in a little mom-and-pop boutique. It’s actually one of the better jobs I’ve ever had. The owners of the store were a couple who I’m guessing were in their early sixties. The store itself was in a strip mall in the middle of a residential neighborhood, right next to an H&R Block and a Hallmark store. It was within walking distance from the apartment I was living in at the time, and given the specialized nature of the products sold, it was rarely busy. I spent most of my time sitting behind the counter either reading or writing, and maybe one or two customers would come in during the entirety of my shift.
But of course, since it was a sex store, while the majority of the transactions probably weren’t any different from any other retail transaction, there are a few instances that stick out in my mind. There was one man from out of the country who was very concerned that our products might be illegal and cause him to be arrested at the border. There was a man who spoke very little English who said he was there to buy a dildo for his grandfather, which I assumed at the time to be a translation error, but hey, you never know. There was a woman who came in with her three(ish) year old twin boys; one was clearly the evil one and ran around the store pulling things off hangers and throwing them on the floor, while his conscientious brother followed behind him and put everything carefully back in its place. And possibly the most memorable of them all was the very polite flasher who asked me if I would be interested in seeing his penis. I politely told him no, and he politely left. It was all very civil.
Perhaps one of these days some of those experiences will find their way into a story. Even if they don’t, it’s nice to have a rather unique job in my background. How about you? What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever held, and has it informed your fiction or your current occupation?