Wow! Who remembers?
My first job was as a legal receptionist.... No, wait! It was as a cashier at an Asian supermarket, a block away from my Jackson Heights apartment in NY; knowing very little English, at the tender age of 14 and a year after I arrived to US. I don't even remember how it fell on my lap; just like every other job I had during my teens. That first afternoon, I walked in the store without expectations, without knowledge of anything whatsoever, and without knowing that I was getting paid way below legal salary standards. It didn't last long; I probably started school or moved on to something else. I honestly fail to remember. Today, I thank the owner for giving me the opportunity, though. Thanks to her, I learned what it was like to earn money. However, I still didn't feel it. Who knows where she is right now, or if she is at all?
My other jobs were randomly offered, temporarily accepted and ephemerally gone. I was a teenager who wanted to roller-skate, hang out in Flushing Meadow Park with my friends, and absorb this new life I had acquired in the United States.
A few weeks later, I got another part-time job as a telemarketer, or a phone 'responder' or something. My task was solely to answer phones in a super large room full of other telemarketers who, like me, were sitting at beautifully carved mahogany desks. I distinctly remember the architectural designs of the walls that framed the rectangular space that contained us. Beneath each desk, there were large areal rugs covering the polished wood floor, and although worn-out and ancient-looking, they were designed with beautifully hand-made embroidery, where bright colors of red, burgundy and purple prevailed. I didn't find it odd at the time, and I just went on with the routine: pick up the telephone, say the company name, and write down the name and the number of the caller. Next day, same thing.
One day, after two weeks in the office, I got into a new pink and white Cadillac with golden rings around the tires. The owner of the business offered to take me home after my shift was over; it was late and I accepted not giving it too much thought. Yes! Ok, Ok! I did! Thank God the man’s chauffer delivered me right at my building doorstep, because I started hesitating and a feeling of uneasiness began to flourish in my gut as I was sitting in the back speaking with him trivial things in broken English. Oh, the things we do when we are young! Needless to say, I never went back to that place; especially after I told my friends and they did not hold back when they explicitly told me about all the things that could have happened to me, had that man been a psycho. Or maybe he was and I just got lucky.
Then, I was a clerk at a store that is no longer operating, Alexander's. My shifts ended at 9 or 11 pm., and once again I had no clue of what I was doing. All I knew was that I had to stand there for 4 hours, welcoming people into the store, and that I would get a check every two weeks. That job, however, naturally introduced me further to customer service. I learned back then that it is hard for people not to like a kind hello, a "can I help you", or a simple welcoming smile.
So, between the slight idea of dealing with perfectly strange people that I got working with the Asian market customers, the phone skills I acquired (unknowingly, I must say) speaking with people who called in that bizarre (I now think) telemarketing office, and the manners I developed with customers in the department store, I was ready to receive new cases, welcome prospect clients and open legal files for the attorneys who hired me at 17. Legan and Welsch, if you are out there, thank you for taking me in when I was so young, so inexperienced, and still so lost in little-flying-birds world. Thanks to their fair salary, I was able to pay for some of my college credits, my almond croissant and my life-saving coffee on my way to school. Once I moved to Florida I never heard from them again.
So, I'll just leave it there. Many other jobs came and disappeared from my life and my resume. Soon enough, I began to find focus and only work in my field; but that's another story. This one is to honor those employers who saw in me what I had no idea I was capable of. This story is for those teens who are working and moving from job to job. There is always a lesson, always a helping hand, always a bitter experience (or two, or three); but without realizing, you kids are growing and taking it all in, archiving each moment and lesson, every step of your way. Believe me, they will come in handy when you least expect it.
My last message to you, the young, is to remember to stay in touch, to keep a phone number, to save an email, retain an address. You will move on with your life. You will not say "Thank You" as you should (REALLY feeling it, and not just out of compromise). You are too young, too busy, too distracted, too full of energy and life, with too many things to do and places to go. There is no time for you now to think about it twice, to look back. Only after a few years you will maybe recall the first mistakes on the jobs you held, and perhaps remember that teacher, that first boss, that mentor, that supervisor who believed in you when you just wanted a paycheck to cover your daily expenses or extras.
As for those who supported me from my first job at 14 until today, I really have no articles to write, story to tell, or words to express how grateful I am.
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