My first job was typical for my generation: I worked at "The Mall." Today, Hollywood makes comedies about mall workers, but back in 1976, this was the only sure-fire way for a kid to get money for gas, Wendy's hamburgers and that very elusive thing called "a date." I started out washing dishes at the local cafeteria. My friend Charles worked at the pizza shop, right across the way. Both of us had spent the summer of '76 at Emory University in a program for high school math nerds. With part-time jobs, we became employed math nerds, the envy of the hamburger-less and one or two guys from the wood shop.
My dishwashing days were basic training for all the jobs I've held since then. Dishwashing taught me that other people will pay you to clean up nasty stuff so they don't have to. That's the same thing I did as a consultant. Dishwashing taught me that if you mess with stuff you don't understand, you'll get burned, boiled or electrocuted. That constant fear of instant death was invaluable training for my brief stint as an entrepreneur. It also helped me keep on my toes around some of those wild college students I taught back in the '80s.
I do have one lingering nightmare from my dishwashing days. When that massive food disposal clogs, you have to stick your whole arm down in the hole and clean out all the bones and fat and waste without losing a finger or two. It's a dangerous chore; you beg someone else to do it for you, but it's always you who ends up with an armpit full of potatoes. Ironically, that's also a very accurate description of what it's like to raise teenagers.
Yes, dishwashing can be a great first job, but you absolutely need to know where the circuit breakers are and which one controls the food disposal. That machine's a killer, and your first job should never be your last.
David McCoy, a notorious storyteller and proud Yellow Jacket, lives in Conyers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.