Katie DeBruhl, 11/24/2014
Current Occupation: Museum Donor Relations Coordinator
Former Occupation: Music Education
Contact Information: Katie lives and works in her hometown of New Orleans. She is a lover of creative pun-usage and bad dates. This is her first piece of creative writing in the last decade.
I’ve had a lot of incredibly odd jobs in my 25 years on this planet. All were temporary, none have paid well, and though there were aspects of them I did enjoy, the stories I was left with after my departure ended up being more rewarding than any of the paychecks.
It began when I was thirteen. My dad, Steve, owned a cell phone store in Algiers that catered to a unique collection of characters. He decided that it could one day become a family empire and that I needed to start at an early age in order to appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to push a Verizon four-person family plan. He had me start small. I was put in charge of charging. I had to watch over a collection of batteries as they sat on their charging stations until they reached their maximum potential and then switch them out for another set. I did this for hours one Saturday, told Steve I felt I had bigger fish to fry at 13, and that I thought the family business could survive without me.
One of my favorite stints was a job I secured my senior year of college. Through an odd twist of fate, I became the booking intern for everyone’s favorite 90s rock band, Hootie and the Blowfish. Yes, they still exist. No, Hootie no longer plays with them. My job was to make sure that the rest of the Blowfishes would be able to make a few extra dollars playing the state fair circuit in South Carolina. I got this job because the guitarist was an adjunct professor at my college and he really liked women under 22, so demographically I was a shoe-in. It was a bizarre six months and a perfect leeway into what I believe is the strangest job of all:
After the academia high of graduating college and Blowing Hootie a kiss goodbye, I packed my things to move North. I drove to Chicago determined to make a name for myself in the arts world. I applied to record labels, galleries, theatres, coffee shops in theatres, coffee shops next to theatres, theatrical coffee shops… nothing worked. As a last ditch effort to escape the job I had transferred with, the illustrious American Apparel, I decided to tap into an old passion of mine. I had become what every recent graduate dreams of becoming, a personal shopper at the American Girl Doll Store.
For those of you who don’t know what an American Girl Doll is, it’s an overpriced tiny toy person that is used to represent different historical periods, and now represents how fucked up the economy is because you spending $150 on “Felicity of Colonial Times.”
Things at the doll store started off well. My co-workers were all in their 50s, and told me they were in it for the discount, though very few of them had children…My job was to follow 8 year olds around as they picked out everything on their wish list and dump them into the large basket I held behind them. The kids had to make sure Samantha had a new ski outfit for the upcoming family trip to Aspen, or order the new bunk bed scenario with faux popcorn and a mini magazine of US Weekly, since Molly sometimes has friends over and what are you gonna do then? Bottom line, it was bad. And I didn’t think it could get any worse.
That was until I met Donna. Donna was in charge of the Doll Hair Salon. You see sometimes, little girls don’t take good care of dolls, and their hair gets really messy, you know? There was a actual hair salon in the store, with chairs this big, that the dolls would visit, and the hairdressers would work their magic and everyone would leave with some sort of braided crown or sleek ponytail.
Donna took her work very seriously. She had just celebrated ten years at American Girl. Ten years. She ran that salon. She even had certain clients who would return to her because her work was that good.
One day, I made me the rookie mistake of telling a young soul that Depression Era Kit wouldn’t look good in a high ponytail and that maybe she should just do the half up/half down. Donna heard my suggestion and stormed over, exclaiming I didn’t have the expertise to make that call. Donna then told me that the ponytail cost $35 and the half up only $20. And we all worked on commission. I was cheating her out of a potential 50-cent sale. And she did not let me forget it.
For the next week and a half, my lunches mysteriously disappeared from the company fridge. I would look into the trash can in the break room and my Lean Cuisine was always on top, always half-eaten. Donna, who mysteriously got out for lunch a few minutes before I did, would watch me, staring longingly at my half frozen feast, and say things like “I’m helping with your diet.”
After being starved out of work, I finally decided to address the issue. I walked up to the salon on one of the slower hours, and as she was sweeping tiny fake hair, I had asked her why she was so upset at me. After taking a long sigh, she told me she needed the money. She had three kids. I suddenly realized that this wasn’t just a way to scrape up rent money for her. Donna liked her job. She was good at it. That was something I had never experienced. She found where she thought she belonged and where she could enjoy spending her days.
I knew that I couldn’t find that same kind of satisfaction Donna had while working there, but I longed for it even more so at that moment. So after making peace at the salon and surviving a brutal winter, I quit the doll store, moved out of Chicago, and I am still searching for the happiness that she had, in whatever hairstyle it comes in.