birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

First Job

My first paying job was on the breakfast line at Oberlin college during my junior year. I didn’t have to work my first two years because my father refused to wade through the complexities of the parents’ financial statement needed for me to qualify for any kind of financial aid including a board job. But when my younger brother Peter begin school at Indiana University, the fiscal reality of having two children in college apparently made the form-filling worthwhile.
I am convinced that the breakfast line was the lowest job on the financial aid totem pole. I had to get up at an ungodly hour seven mornings a week, put on an ugly uniform-- including a hairnet for God’s sake. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was making toast. Serving on the food line wasn’t so bad. I got to dish up scrambled eggs and talk to other students on the other side. But making toast was another task altogether. First of all, the toaster was in the back of the serving area so there was no one to talk to, let alone flirt with.
My job consisted of putting white bread slices onto the toaster’s vertical conveyor belt and then buttering the toasted pieces when they fell out of the infernal contraption. I felt a little like Lucille Ball working the candy assembly line. It was hard to keep up the pace. If I stopped to butter the warm toast, then I wasn’t putting the bread in and if I was diligent about inserting the bread, the finished toast started stacking up and cooling off. Still I managed.
The worst aspect of the job was the butter detail. Next to the toaster I had a stainless-steel container about the size of a gallon of milk. It was filled with a substance which may or may not have been melted butter. To butter the toast, I slapped a basting brush into the oily substance and slapped the greasy stuff onto the toast all the while shoving more sliced bread into the machine. I ended up bathed in grease up to my elbows, down my apron and permeating my hair. No point in taking a shower before 6 A.M. to help me wake up. But I darn well had to shower and shampoo before I headed to class. If not, I would leave grease stains on everything I touched.

All that aggravation and the job didn’t even merit full board. I stuck with it anyway. What choice did I have? And I guess that’s how I mastered one of the adulthood’s essential skills: dependability. As much as I disliked that job – why couldn’t I be re-shelving books in the library – I believe it changed me permanently for the better. Before breakfast line I evaluated people--my peers mostly--by how cool, fun, lively and amusing they were. After breakfast line, my standards included much more important traits: Is this person a hard worker or a slacker? Does he carry his weight or shift it to others?
Don’t get me wrong, I still preferred to spend time with lively conversationalists with great shoulders and sexy eyes, but only if they were also really great at their jobs.

The Man in The Woods

Rebecca Horowitz