09/06/2012 01:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Odd Jobs: Working As A Deli's Mascot


I really wanted the job because I thought scrawling my full-name and social security number on the necessary paperwork was a noteworthy step toward adulthood. I was 17, and my previous methods of money-making were getting wads of cash from babysitting and occasionally caring for a cousin’s decrepit cat who needed to be fed every four hours.

So yes, I enthusiastically signed on to hawk for a popular deli by dressing as their mascot: a pink plush pig, a bit of a local celebrity around our town. I’d dance and wave a sign on the busiest street, beseeching those stuck in traffic to buy hams and casseroles in time for Easter. This seemed a perfectly reasonable way to amp up my integrity.

“Now, we just ask that you don’t do anything stupid,” my manager said. “The last person we hired ran into the street and disrupted traffic.”

“I got this,” I waved him off. Never one to cause trouble, an abiding rule-follower, I spread the word to my friends and told them to visit me at the specific street corner. Just look out for me, benignly gyrating and advertising sweet, succulent hams.

“We couldn’t keep anything in stock! She sure brought in the customers,” upper management would collectively sigh when interviewing eager applicants trying to follow in my dirty hooved-steps. My skills as a porcine endorsement would be lauded forever and forever, repeated for years to come.

Years later, if any portion of my work that weekend has been recounted, it has been by me only, in vaguely boozy conversations with strangers. If management mentioned the 48-hour period at all, it was surely in a cautionary addendum to an HR report, I have taken stock of a few lessons that originated in at the deli for my later and more legitimate entré into corporate life.

1. Ask for help
If the CamelBak you’re given for hydration runs dry, and the ice pack, meant to keep your rising body temperature cooler, strapped around your waist leaks, ask for your break. When taking your rest in the deli’s freezer, you’ll get locked in, but actually knock, forcefully, with more than one knuckle, instead of embarrassingly hoping someone comes around to let you out.

2. Keep your head on and, at times, your mouth shut
Standing on the corner listening to lite adult contemporary on my creaky Walkman held a thrill for only so long, (3:49 exactly: the length of Jewel’s “Intuition”), so I grew bored watching cars inch alongside the train track. My breaks weren’t frequent, and April heat in Tennessee that year was particularly punishing so I removed the snouted head often. On occasion, folks stalled at the red light started shouting “you can’t take your head off in front of the kids!” when I took one of my many breathers. A mother brought her shy daughter by, and I removed my head so I could talk freely with the kindergartener. It did not go well. Only then did I then reconsider.

3. One job can lead to the next
I wrote about this experience for my college applications, and although I did not attend my first-choice school, recounting my occupational failures allowed me to understand I could parlay my affinity for embellishing my own inadequacies into an actual editorial career. I didn’t really need the Myers-Briggs to help me divine my career path after all, just an anecdote about my getting locked in the freezer.

4. Be smarter with your money
Don’t immediately run out and blow your scant earnings on the DVD of Sweet Home Alabama, even if, at the time, you really relate to a snotty Reese Witherspoon hightailing it to Manhattan. Give it a minute. Be smarter. Take another lap around Target before bee-lining to the checkout. You’re better than this.

Piper Gray’s life motto is “What would Tami Taylor do?” and you can read more of her writings over here.