I’ve always been pretty interested in working and earning money. From a young age, I’ve been the kind of person who requires a steady flow of new books, music, and magazines moving through my life, and I’ve always been a big fan of eating out and seeing movies. Of course, these small-scale pleasures require a certain amount of cash flow, so from a fairly young age I’ve nearly always held some kind of job.
Cable TV: The first paid job I remember doing was for a local cable TV company where a long-time family friend worked. When I was twelve or thirteen, my dad would take us out early on Saturday mornings to walk up and down streets in northern Davis County and write down all the house numbers—why the cable TV needed us to do this, I don’t know. At first we did this for a Boy Scout fundraiser, but at some point it switched over to our own income. I remember my dad reading in his idling car and waiting for us at the ends of streets, and we’d often get donuts afterward. Later we passed out door-hangers for this same company, and I remember cleaning their offices with my mom a few times. Spending all that time walking from house to house was a preview of my mission to come.
Salt Lake Tribune: For several years, my brother Andrew and I did the early-morning paper route thing. I don’t remember exactly at what age I started or stopped, but in my memory I seem to identify this job mostly with ninth grade. At first I was a subcontractor to another carrier, and later I took over the whole route and subcontracted portions out to Dale and Roger, a couple of guys who lived across the street. I really hated waking up that early, especially on school days when I couldn’t go back to bed, although sometimes I enjoyed the walking exercise and the morning solitude, especially after an overnight snowfall. I think this job was the main reason I developed a dozing habit in school, and to this day I still doze off all too easily in meetings.
Kentucky Fried Chicken: I don’t remember what I did for money between the end of the paper route and the beginning of this job, which I held throughout my senior year of high school (1983–84). I mostly worked back in the greasy chicken-frying room, so it was really quite awful, with lots of faintly stinky raw chicken, goopy flour, and dangerous hot grease in the pressure cookers. The worst part was cleaning everything up, draining and scrubbing out all the cookers, filtering the oil, scrubbing all the trays and utensils from the whole day, dragging the heavy garbage cans out back, picking stringy bits of chicken fat out of the drains, trying to clean the floors with water that had gone cold, etc. And this job sure didn't help the fairly serious facial acne I suffered as a teen.
At KFC I started out at $3.35 an hour and finished a year later at $3.85 an hour, if I remember right. The couple who managed the place loved how I did the chicken, because I took time to flour it up really well so it would brown nicely in the pressure cooker, so they usually chose me to cook for special occasions. I took longer than anyone else to finish cleaning up at night, but I did the most thorough job, so they told me to take as long as I needed and then lock up by myself. This job helped keep me from doing my homework for my A.P. classes, but I don’t think I would have done it anyway—I didn’t become even halfway decent about doing homework consistently until graduate school. (And I passed all my A.P. tests anyway, with a 5 on English, 5 on American History, 4 on European History, and 3 on Biology.)
I’m sure I developed some discipline and character from doing these early jobs, but I probably also developed some aversions. Believe it or not, after more than twenty years I’m now to the point where I can actually enjoy KFC once or twice a year.