I got my very first taste of the work-a-day world when I was 17. By that time, it was pretty clear that I wasn't going to be giving the valedictorian speech at my high school graduation, so it occurred to me that I should get a summer job. That is to say, the idea occurred to my mother, who made it fairly clear that it should occur to me, too. I girded myself for the long, degrading process of pounding the pavement and gathering applications when a paper was thrust into my chest. Attached to it was a yellow Post-It note with a single word: GO! The paper described a summer job program being offered by the federal government, along with directions to the FOB (federal office building) in Santa Ana, and an appointment time. I dutifully complied with the Post-It's demand.
When I arrived, the assembled group was given a brief rundown of the job (basically an office gopher), and then we were piled into cars for an agonizing one-and-a-half-hour freeway journey to the main office in El Segundo. As we headed off, I mentally patted myself on the back for being the clever bear who had packed his Atari Lynx in case of just such a situation. Twenty minutes into the trip, I was wishing to God* that I had packed a sick bag instead. I had never been carsick before. I really didn't even understand the concept; how do you get sick just from being in a car? Ride in a car with an elderly Asian man, in heavy freeway traffic, as he alternates between stomping the gas pedal and stomping the brake pedal like he's playing "Whack-A-Mole," that's how. When we finally, miraculously, arrived intact, all I wanted to do was fall out of the car, sprawl out on the grass in front of the building, and spend the next hour regaining my equilibrium.
(*Though I had problems with religion, I had yet to make the big leap.)
Instead, I shook my head, took several deep breaths, and shuffled along with the group as we were herded up some stairs, through drab white corridors, and into a small meeting/presentation room with several rows of tables and chairs. The lobby and hallways had been a bit stuffy, but this room was like a meat locker. I sat in a chair that felt like a block of ice, scooting it up to the equally cold table. It all felt wonderful. I sat back, drinking in the icy air, feeling my lingering nausea being carried away with each cleansing breath.
Once our government drone chaperon finished plodding through another summary of the job and the paperwork we were about to spend the remainder of our natural lives filling out, I dove into the inch-high pile of dead rainforest sitting in front of me. I was going to be an office clerk--making copies and sorting mail--but it felt like I was applying for top secret clearance at the CIA. I filled out my name, address and social security number so many times that I began to feel like a POW. The frosty air being spewed from the vent overhead--which had brought me such welcome relief an hour ago--had long since leeched most of the feeling from my extremities. I eventually finished it all and made a beeline for the front courtyard. The California sun never felt so good.
As the group milled around in the courtyard, waiting to be herded back into vehicles, I managed to convince another applicant, who had made the trip in a carpool van, to swap seats with me by offering him my Atari Lynx for the return trip. I enjoyed a boring--but nausea free--trip back to Orange County. So began my first job.