Roger Marolt: Work builds character like odd jobs build … ?
I was thinking the other day — if work builds character, what do odd jobs do? The proof might be in the piddling.
My first job in Aspen was at the graveyard, which may explain a few things. I was not a typical 12-year-old and there is a carryover effect. Was I scared to go to work in that place? Heck, yeah. I told my mother as much one afternoon when I was supposed to be out there polishing headstones, but she caught me eating a large bowl of chocolate ice cream in front of the tube watching “Gilligan’s Island” instead.
The understanding daughter of a Wisconsin dairy farmer that she was, consoled me by acknowledging that the cemetery gig was scary, but there were plenty of other jobs out there and I had better get one before suppertime or I would be introduced to a different fear and hunger, to boot.
I knew better than crying. I played the frugality card instead, pointing out that a heaping bowl of chocolate ice cream was a terrible thing to waste. She told me to plop it in a cone and get going. You have to admire the street smarts.
I landed a job washing and painting red stripes on range balls in the rickety clubhouse basement at the municipal nine-hole golf course. Aside from the enamel paint fumes compressed into the unventilated dark space, the frayed electrical cord to the ancient washing machine-turned-ball-scrubber perpetually submerged in 2 inches of water on the floor, and the resulting mold on everything, it was maybe the best job I ever had. As long as we got them all picked up, nobody told us how to do our work — zero supervision! And, we got our 50 cents per hour in cash without any squabbling.
My next job as a bag boy at Tom’s Market couldn’t compare, but it paid better and once in awhile I’d get a tip, which I previously had no concept of, that I got coaxed into handing over to the cashier in exchange for a “free” cold pop. It seemed like a good deal at the time.
Between jobs, I did what every local kid did — I sold copies of The Aspen Times weekly newspaper. It’s where I learned about risk. They made us buy the papers for a nickel apiece up front and told us we had to sell them for 20 cents, this at an age when it was easy to get distracted by the opportunity to crawl around in an old mine shaft and lose your stack of papers in the dark along with any chance of breaking even for the day.
Selling papers was all about location. It was a sprint to the most profitable spots. The Red Onion was the baby with a handful of candy. I look around at the newspaper boxes today and I can almost recall whose spots those were. Technology. Pffft.
When I wasn’t on the clock, I volunteered at St. Mary’s as an altar boy and sitting on my great-uncle Steve’s porch listening to his stories about things like Injun Joe, the crazy barber with a straight razor, who couldn’t handle constructive criticism of his work. It made me grateful for the opportunity to shovel his sidewalk. It felt like I was doing it for nothing, but I realized years later that wasn’t the case.
I also was a baseball coach for the city of Aspen. I freelanced as a lawn boy. I worked the yard at Bosie Cascade before I landed a plum position indoors stocking shelves. I grew muscles on Hans Brucker’s concrete crew. I painted houses for Aspen Painting. I was a laborer for Harriman Construction. I cleaned Burt Bidwell’s ski shop and I hand-tuned skis at Poncho’s, Pomeroy’s and Molterer Sports. I was a ticket-seller at Buttermilk before I got promoted to Aspen Mountain, where I was either so good or bad at that they let me be a ski instructor. I worked on the original boot-packing crew at Highlands for a ski pass. I sold clothes at Pitkin County Dry Goods. I worked at The Gant as a van driver and then the night auditor. I was a softball umpire. I landscaped at the Aspen Business Center. I was even a real estate broker one fall. I sold a couple of listings I got through the buddy system, back when that was a possibility, and then quit while I was ahead.
A lot of my former employers were really successful and, one thing for sure, it’s not because I didn’t work for them. Even at the graveyard, people were just dying to get in. Sorry.
And, there you have it — the building of a character.
Roger Marolt is a jack of all trades except bartending, but there is still time. Email at email@example.com.