>Career journey of a writer (MNA Feb. 07)

Posted: February 26, 2007 in Columns

>By CEAN BURGESON
Associate Editor

I got a phone call the other day, and in the midst of small talk, the caller asked me how I liked my job.
This took me back a little bit. So I thought about it.
I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life. And most of the time, they’ve just been a paycheck, or a way to the next step up the ladder.
Then the realization hit me. I actually DO like my job. How many times have I been able to say this over the past 21 years?
Not very many. So I started to think about the jobs I’ve held in my life.
My first job, at 15 years old, was as a busboy at a now long-gone restaurant called “Scallops.” You guessed it, they served seafood. It was a cool job, because I got tips from the waitresses in addition to my meager $2.52 an hour salary. I did that job until I went away to college. I even came back in the summers and advanced to the position of waiter. It wasn’t a glamorous job, and I can’t say I ever loved it – except there were always a lot of cute “busgirls” and waitresess that I worked with who helped me to pass the time until my shift ended each night.
While I was in college, I worked a bunch of different jobs. One was at the bookstore during “book rush,” that time of year when the students flooded the store in search of their school supplies. I didn’t mind that job too much, because, once again, there were plenty of young attractive female students who needed assistance finding a used copy of “Calculus 101” or Cliff’s Notes on “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
I did have at least one job back then that I absolutely hated. I worked for one month, just one month…at Burger King. I was desperate, the savings were almost depleted. So I worked the graveyard shift, which meant an extra 50 cents per hour, but for that extra monetary incentive, I had to break down the fryer and scrape — that’s right, I said scrape — layers and layers of grease off of all the fryer components. There were about 52 different stainless steel pieces that I would toil over nightly, and I couldn’t leave until they were spotlessly clean.
I hated that job. I hated the grease scraper. I hated the polyester uniform. I hated the little hat I wore. But I liked the manager. I even ended up dating her a few times. (I’m starting to see a pattern here with my pre-marriage jobs.)
As soon as I got the chance, I found another restaurant job. It was a brand new place on a golf course. I worked my way up from busboy, to waiter, and then to bartender. I also got to know the course pro and played rounds of golf and hit buckets of balls on the range at no charge. (Free drinks will get you a lot of perks.) It was a pretty sweet deal. I made good money, always had cash on me, and somehow was able to always barely make rent money on the last day of the month. (I was usually short with the rent because I spent some of the rent budget on beer.)
I didn’t love that job, but it was work, nonetheless, and of course there were plenty of attractive waitresses there as well. I stayed there for over five years.
One of the worst jobs I had during college was the one summer I was assistant manager of a Payless Shoesource in Pontiac. The store wasn’t in a nice neighborhood, so I didn’t have any trouble getting the job. The store was constantly shoplifted, and the one Sunday I took off all summer was the same one in which the manager was robbed at knife point. He was filling in for me on my shift so I could go to a wedding. I couldn’t wait for that summer to be over.
Back at school, I was a research assistant for a Telecommunications professor from Austria for a while. The job was boring, but he sounded a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger, so at least the position was amusing. I also worked as a production assistant for WKAR TV, working camera, audio, and floor directing live shows. That was actually fun, but there were some boring times, like when I had to work shooting MSU classes that were broadcast to remote locations via satellite. The chemistry and science classes were the most snore-inspiring sessions. We actually had camera people pass out while shooting those programs; I was never sure if it was from boredom or not.
After school I worked in advertising sales for a cable company. I hated cold calling, but I did get an account at a golf course on a trade, so we took “clients” to play free golf about three days a week. We also had a driving range set up outside the back door of our production studio. That worked pretty well, until the industrial park manager busted us for hitting golf balls into the neighboring construction site.
When my wife got a job in Washington D.C., I took a job as an editor at a place called “The Video Editor” (real original name, I know). People would bring in their home movies on video or film, and I was tasked with editing them together, adding titles, and music. I’ve edited weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, demo reels for wannabe actors, product demonstrations, and even a videotape of a woman giving birth in her home (that was a little creepy.) That didn’t last long, as I loathed doing America’s Funniest Home Videos for a living.
So I started selling production services for a TV production facility, but just wasn’t satisfied with the work. I’d yearned for my entire lifetime to do something creative with my career, and this wasn’t it. This inspired me to move to California and work in the entertainment industry. I started at the bottom rung, as a lowly assistant. I ended my career in Hollywood two years later — still as an assistant — but with three unproduced screenplays under my belt — yea!
After moving back to Michigan, I kicked around some more, working as a temp at a CPA firm, and even did one day as a construction temp. Then came work at the casino — blackjack dealer, payroll, inventory, Information Technology nerd…but I still was missing something. When I left there, I free-lanced for a year, doing a lot of writing, miscellaneous communications work, and cashing few paychecks, but I was getting closer.
Then, by accident, I saw the listing for the job at the newspaper. And the rest is history, as they say. Write for a living? I can handle that.
It took 21 years to find out what I really like, but I finally got here. I’m sure when I tell my kids this in the ensuing years, when they have their own career frustrations, they will groan.
And I don’t blame them. Everyone has to find their own way. Hopefully we all all find our bliss, eventually.
And if you’re lucky, it won’t take 21 years.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at: cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

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