My very first job was as a “personal assistant” to a woman who sold candles. I was 14, a ripe old age and she had originally hoped to get a teenager with a car who could drive to her place. But all of those smart, money hungry teens wanted to work as waiters where they were tipped and could get high behind the dumpster. They were so much smarter than me!

I liked my boss at first, she seemed kind and held down two jobs. One thing I noticed about her was her nails – she had acrylics put on and she repainted them at least twice a week. They were the long, bright red kind. My first week I eagerly anticipated Friday which was pay day. I practically vibrated with happiness when she handed me my first check for $.75 less per hour than the state minimum.

“Ummmm Nails? I think this is a little short. Minimum wage is 75 cents more than this per hour.” I said tentatively.

“Well when you factor in the gas I use to pick you up and the mileage on my car, it works out.” At the time I was a young, stupid kid who was used to doing whatever an adult said. So for months I was short changed despite the fact that that had not been the agreement we had when I accepted the job.

My duties included packing gift bags for her “Candle Parties”, sorting through inventory and checking orders against invoices. All of this was located in her garage and she kept the door closed in case “a street thief” happened to wander by. Which meant I inhaled a hell of a lot of carbon monoxide while stuffing bags – I guess the high teenagers and I had a little bit in common. I would go home after a few hours of odd jobs with red, stinging eyes and an ache in my head.

Worse than the CO poinsoning was her dog. He was a shepard of some sort but he hated strangers and I was definitely not part of his pack. I worked for Nails for months but not once did that dog like me. He would sit inside the doorway between the kitchen and garage and growl anytime I moved. There were days when I was too afraid of him to go inside to use the bathroom.

Every day that I worked, Nails flitted about her house and would randomly stick her head around the door to see if I was still working. Then, she found a new project for me.

“I have a storage space that hasn’t been organized in years.” She said cheerfully, driving us to the storage facility. “This is just the job for you!”

I spent a few weeks going through each box and either organizing and restacking it, or placing it in a pile to be given away during candle parties because the particular candle had been phased out. There’s one episode of The Office where Michael Scott has a dinner party and Jan shows everyone her candle business. They all imply that the candle smell is overwhelming. Let me tell you, eight years in a small storage place causes the same thing – evergreen was competing with beach and pink blossom and each tangy smell vyed for attention until you wanted to remove your own olfactory glands with a pair of scissors.

This object will forever horrify me…

Worse, Nails actually grew to like me. She would talk while I sorted boxes describing what we would do for years to come. I would be her assistant all throughout high school, eventually getting a raise when I got my own car (in two years!?). Then at 18 I would finally be able to help with Candle Parties since anyone under 18 couldn’t participate for legal reasons (something about a fire hazard). Eventually, I could work my way up to reporting directly for her (in a pyramid scheme?). Meanwhile, I was counting the days until I turned 15 and could finally apply for a real job.

After a few months of torturing myself at her place, I decided enough was enough. What did I care if I had a job? I certainly didn’t need the carbon monoxide in my lungs. When I gave my resignation, she offered me minimum wage. That’s right – once I said I was leaving she offered me the minimum she had promised me originally. Not my favorite job, unfortunately it was not my worst…

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