Once over dinner a friend had me write down every job I had ever had on a napkin. This was close to ten years ago, if memory serves correctly. And speaking of memory, it's amazing how many of these former employment experiences had been relegated to a rarely accessed corridor of my mind, where they lied dormant until I happened upon said napkin.
As a nod to my friend Tom B. I will place this napkin in the recycling bin instead of keeping it packed in a box. I'm going to commit it to cyberspace right now, with some up-to-date additions, and a few anecdotes about each place. As I type this, I'm in my office on a Sunday, and the dog is chilling with me.
If you're one of my blogging buddies, I'd love to see some lists like this from ya'll as well. Fun times!
Amusement/ Food Place Southport, Indiana 1989
You know how every hardcore and punk kid you've ever known has hypothesized about the perceived beauty of a punk owned and operated show space/ bookstore/ vegan cafe/ comic shop/ Green Party headquarters/ PeTA local office or some other relatively incongruous nebulous fantastical entrepreneurial enterprise? Well, imagine a Midwestern Middle Aged man's version of "a place for kids" and you'll get an idea of the first place I ever worked. It was a combination arcade, jungle gym, coffee shop and fast food restaurant. I fried corn dogs, onion rings. And French fries. Or maybe I didn't even do that. It did not last long. And by "it," I mean both my employment there at age 15, and the place itself. It was on the Southside of Indianapolis somewhere.
Hardee'sSouthport, Indiana 1989
The former Burger Chef on Southport Road turned into a Hardee's at some point during my youth. It was walking distance from my family's house on Harmon Drive (albeit a long walk). I recall a high school dropout fry cook who had an India ink jailhouse "Metallica" logo tattooed on his arm. I also recall a "hood" (as metal dudes were called; I was more of an intellectual "hood" at this point, a la the leather jacket kid on "Head of the Class") from my high school whose tenure at the Southport Hardee's ended when he threw a tray of soft drinks and milkshakes at the manager. I was not there to witness that event. I did, however, wait for my dad after work one-night near the drive thru and suffered through said manager and said drop-outs talking to me over the drive through speaker saying things like, "Helllooooo there!!!" etc. as though I would not be able to discern where this "mystery" voice was coming from. Without laughing, I decided it was time to quit. And I did.
Dairy Queen Southport, Indiana 1990 - 1991
Matt Reece, the erstwhile Hardball bass player and close friend, suggested I apply at the Dairy Queen where he worked, which was near Hardee's and a shorter distance from my home (and also walking distance from Matt's; we had the same bus stop) and next door to a miniature golf course. I think it's still there. I remember going absolutely bananas in the summer of 1990 before my junior year, as I had decided to become vegan on the first day of school in the fall, and had a "last hurrah" of eating anything and everything ice cream related I could get my militant straight edge hands on. Fast food employment also provided an opportunity to interact with pretty girls from my school who otherwise didn't talk to guys like Matt and I.
Mr. D's Southport, Indiana 1991 - 1992
I bagged groceries at this local chain (now closed, I believe) and I recall a bizarre "orientation" at the corporate HQ situated in an old house, reading an article about Metallica's "Black Album" in Spin that encouraged me to become a writer, and an awkward conversation with my father outside following a morning where I had stood up to his temper for the first time in my life by displaying an Irish temper of my own. In retrospect, I think he respected it, and felt a bit ashamed himself, and our conversation outside was the first really emotional talk we'd ever had. It was only cheapened by the fact that many of my co-workers (i.e. peers!) were there to witness it. Some jock I worked with saw me reenter work with tears welling up in my eyes, but he was surprisingly sympathetic. Who knew? When I decided to quit this place, I simply called in 15 minutes before a shift and told them. I remember the manager dryly saying, "Thanks for the notice" before hanging up. It became a bad habit.
Also of note about Mr. D's in Greenwood: I spent many mornings there in elementary school with my friends Guion Bentley, Alex Givens and Dave Rogers (and occasionally Jason Atkins who would grow up to become the local rapper J-Walk of the groups Know Massive and Deep Concentration Camp) playing "Dragon's Lair" and once being accused of stealing a Hostess pie because my gloves made huge bulges in my winter coat's pockets (falsely accused I might add). I guess quitting with 15 minutes notice was my revenge? Maybe.
Apartment Complex Greenwood, Indiana 1992
I don't recall the name of the place. I didn't work there long. But MAN are there some bizarre anecdotes worth sharing. My girlfriend at the time's older brother, an ex-Marine with a Led Zeppelin tattoo and an affinity for the new "grunge" movement spearheaded by Pearl Jam and soon after Stone Temple Pilots, was a maintenance man there and got me a job as the groundskeeper. That meant I walked around getting tired picking up cigarette butts and beer bottle caps.
Here's what's bizarre... The head maintenance man was this random redneck dude who was a total jackass toward me (Sean, my girlfriend's brother, rarely worked when I did). He was bossy, rude, and macho. One day he asked me to get something out of his truck and when I was inside of it, I found a greeting card addressed "To My Rapist." It was filled with graphic and sexual language about what the card's author would like said head maintenance dude to do to him the next time they met up. The card was FROM A TEENAGE BOY WHO LIVED IN THE COMPLEX.
Needless to say, this freaked me the f' out. Being a senior in high school - and despite being fairly politically educated already - for some sad reason it never occurred to me to, you know, tell someone about it.
Instead, it made me lash out in a very funny way the next time the guy was a prick to me: rather than pull the weeds he had forcefully ordered me to dig up, I poured MIRACLE GROWTH on them, emptied three full trash cans on the Volleyball courts, and stamped my time card and wrote "F--- YOU, I QUIT!" with a smiley face in sharpie and left it on my bosses desk.
As I had no car, I had to walk off the premises after doing all of that workplace sabotage. My boss (an older woman) drove slowly alongside me as I walked off and rolled down her window and said, "I assume you are exiting the property." I replied simply, "You assume correctly."
And this story gets more bizarre. After all of this, Sean (my then girlfriend's older brother) went for a dip in the pool and developed some sort of brief irritation on his skin. He concluded that I must have POURED CRAZY CHEMICALS INTO THE POOL AS WELL (I had not!) and told my girlfriend that if I ever came around again, he'd kick my ass.
This was a bum out because a. it wasn't true, b. Sean was actually a really cool guy, and c. he was more than capable of making good on his threat. I really never talked to him again much after that, his sister and I broke up, and so forth. I did see him once years later at Ozzfest, in like 1997, walking around baring his "Swansong" tattoo (and very hairy chest and back) in cutoff shorts with a pissed off look on his face. Needless to say, I avoided eye contact. Bummer!
Toys R Us Greenwood, Indiana 1992
I was a cashier for $4.25 an hour right after high school. I spent a lot of time wandering up and down Aisle 7C, which as most geeks know, is/was the action figure aisle. I hated that job. It was mind-numbing (and I had the vegan revolution on my mind primarily).
Rise Learning Center Southport, Indiana 1992 - 1995
This job deserves its own blog post. RISE is a special education school. My senior year in high school, I took a class that enabled us to act as teacher's aide's for half days during the week. They liked me there (and I liked them) and after I graduated they offered me work as a substitute teacher's aide, which developed into a full time position and allowed me to leave Toys R Us. It was something like $9.00 an hour - a luxurious and cushy salary to me - and full benefits.
As I said, there was so much that happened (including me working for a teacher my last year there who rode a motorcycle, got up to no-good shall we say on his lunch breaks, was married but hit on every chick we worked with, and clashed loudly and violently with me in front of a room full of kids over my pro-Native American and "liberal" viewpoints; he was fired, by the way) that I should really devote a blog to it at some point. Maybe I will.
The most stressful part of the job was that as special education classes were integrated into "regular" schools, Rise became the only exclusively special education school in the city, which meant we were given many kids (though certainly not all of our kids!) who were too violent (yes, you read that right) to make it in the mainstream system. Kids who attacked teachers with scissors, cut themselves with broken glass, threw things. As one of the few males on staff, I became more of a policeman than a teacher's aide, learning all kinds of crazy restraining/ wrestling moves and ushering kids off to "time out" rooms when they were too disruptive.
With that being said, it was staffed by some of the most amazing and hard working and caring people I have ever encountered in my life, many experiences really shaped who I am, it was my entrance into "adult" social situations (and by that, I don't mean anything racy, I mean navigating within adult social circles). Perhaps most importantly, the principal, Les Branham, was an AMAZING guy and something of a mentor to me then. I often wonder what happened to him. Also: my friend Drew Pierce and I sub-let our apartment to the gym teacher's aide (more about him below) who didn't pay rent or utilities for the last month of the lease and the apartment complex sued both Drew and me for over $1000.00. Sweet, huh?
Respite Care Indianapolis, IN 1992 - 1994
I did this for two different companies part time while working for Rise. Basically, it consisted of glorified "baby-sitting" for a couple of different single people (one of them the afore-mentioned gym teacher's aide) who were being paid to shelter and take care of teenagers with special needs. The first kid was Bryan, who was a lot of fun and cooked a mean plate of spaghetti. My friend Drew Pierce used to come over with me and we'd hang out and watch TV with Bryan and supervise his "chores" (cleaning the apartment, basically) until he went to bed. And then Drew, who had recently "sold out" straight edge, would find the weed that Mike (the gym teacher's aide) would leave for him under the couch and get high as crap. The second kid's name I forget but he was an autistic kid who didn't speak more than a few words and had a lot of behavioral problems, like hitting himself. I always left there depressed after fixing him dinner and watching him jump on his trampoline.
Tracks Records Indianapolis, IN 1993
I worked there part-time as a clerk. I remember doing a "midnight madness" sale the day Pearl Jam's second album, Snoop's debut and Eazy-E's retaliatory anti-Dre EP came out. That was crazy. Do those still happen? I don't think often, anymore. I remember we sent someone to the Karma Records down the road and told people in line, "Tracks has the new Pearl Jam two dollars cheaper and with no line" once our line ran out. Aggressive capitalism at it's finest! The manager there rarely came into work but fixed his time card in the computer in order to make it appear as though he did to the owner, who was based in Bloomington and had eight stores and a warehouse and therefore rarely came in. Terry was the manager's name. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago. I remember he looked sorta like a punk rock Ben Franklin. He was a nice guy.
Finale Dessert Cafe Castleton, IN 1993 - 1996
I worked part time at this place after leaving Tracks while still working at Rise and then I returned there after I moved back from Atlanta. We served coffee drinks, cheesecake, cake, pie, sorbet and a few alcohol/ coffee concoctions. It was near a movie theater and shopping mall. This job was my first encounter with anyone from the gay community (several of the waiters and many of the clientele) and a nice education toward undoing many stereotypes you develop growing up on the Southside of Indianapolis. The owners were a pretty cool younger couple (married male and female, not a gay couple ha-ha) to work for and the guy in particular was a great conversationalist and fan of 70s rock bands. He gave me preferential shifts and table sections because I was in a band (at that point, the band was Hurst, my D.C. inspired emo outfit).
Barnes & Noble Music Section Atlanta, GA 1995
This was my first job in Atlanta. Of many boring jobs, possibly the MOST boring. I lasted like two days.
Cafe Sunflower Atlanta, GA 1995
I moved to Atlanta in the summer of 1995 and lived there for 6 months lifting weights a lot (I went from 135 lbs. to 165 lbs. in less than a year), drinking Twinlab Vege Fuel shakes, and trying to start a band with my friend Jason Gang. He and I had discovered Korn and we were trying to do something that mixed Korn with Bad Brains and Rage Against the Machine. Needless to say, it never happened, and the world is likely a better place for that fact. I did manage to get a job waiting tables at this vegetarian restaurant in the posh Sandy Springs area.
Some highlights: the owners followed a crazy sect of Buddhism that believed an Asian fashion designer was the latest incarnation of Buddha and followed her dietary restrictions, which prohibited meat and eggs but not dairy; the hostess was a femme lesbian whose butch "wife" was ex-Navy and whom asked me if I would help them make a baby "the natural way" (can't make that up; and yes, I said "NO"); I dated a girl who worked there who later became a Hare Krishna devotee; I nearly dated a girl who sold Blue Algae pills which was kind of a cult in and of itself; my regular customers included a vegan stripper who always ordered the same dish and members of Arrested Development (who told me about Goodie Mob before their first album came out and which I will always remember when I see Cee-Lo on TV or in a magazine); the head chef was a former professional sport fisherman who had collected recipes all around the world who was exceptionally talented and yet bought his lunch from fast food restaurants everyday; the "su-chef" was a Scotsman named Andrew who had a pony-tail and collected swords and clashed often with the handsome dishwashers all the waitresses swooned over, Jose and Gilberto (they were brothers), who spoke no English and hung up a gang symbol (a bull) when Andrew would piss them off and lived in an apartment packed with relatives, worked harder and longer than anyone I have ever known, and sent most of their money back to Mexico; a woman there sold cell phones on the side and I remember thinking cell phones were crazy, just like I thought the "Internet" I kept reading about was crazy and tried to save up enough money to buy a computer from Best Buy; another chef there gave me his self-released jazz CD in one of those awkward social situations where you feel obligated to take something like that and then HE MADE ME PAY FOR IT (!) and what's even more odd, I only recently got rid of that thing; I went back to eat there with Burn It Down in 1997 or 1998 and we were all treated to free dessert.
La Jolla Broadripple, IN 1996 - 1997
A Mexican restaurant. Reggie Miller ate their once when I worked there. Lenny Kravitz, too.
Middle Eastern Restaurant Indianapolis, IN 1996 - 2001
I worked there off-and-on for many years (obviously) as a waiter. The people who owned it, a Jordanian family, treated me like family, for the most part. At one point, they offered me a large sum of cash to marry one of their cousins so they could bring her into the country (I believe a couple of waitresses had said "yes" to this at one point). Or at least it was implied. I left the name of the restaurant out of this post in case anyone is reading this who shouldn't be ha-ha. I would regularly flame cheese and yell, "Opa!" The Cherry Coke there remains the best I've ever had, for some reason. Who knows why?
Kenra Indianapolis, IN 1996
My friend Mike Yinger and I worked as models for this hair product company whose corporate headquarters were in Indianapolis. They gave each of us a stack of business cards to hand out to prospective models and "recruit" them. I was too shy to hand them out at first and later had a steady girlfriend. Mike went crazy with them. He used them to meet girls left and right. The photographers joked that Mike could have opened his own modeling agency if he had wanted to. (By the way, the campaign Michael and I were part of was called "Posh Mosh," I kid you not. I should have named my company that!).
A couple of years later, when I foolishly began dating a close friend's ex, he said to her in a fit of rage, "I mean, he's a HAIR GEL MODEL! A HAIR GEL MODEL!" He later told me that he liked me so much it was the worst thing he could think of to say.
Tracks Records Castleton, IN 1996 - 1999
I worked at this location with then-manager John Zeps, who later purchased the place and renamed it Vibes Music after it moved to a new location down the road. The original location was a former Shoney's restaurant where a disgruntled former employee had come in and shot and killed people. The walk-in freezers were still in the back (we stored those plastic security cases for CDs in them) and various employees at Tracks claimed you could find bloodstains around the place, though I never saw any that I recognized as such. But that's not the most important thing for me personally: John Zeps was the guitarist for a band called Transgression who opened for all the thrash bands when I was growing up. And he played in the "power-violence" hardcore band Ice Nine, three-fifths of which (including Zeps) would form my band, Burn It Down.
Missing Link Records Broad Ripple, IN 1997 - 1998
John Zeps and I were offered jobs as the manager and assistant manager, respectively, of this place. Zeps said no, but I said yes, and became the manager. My focus obviously was on hardcore and metal records. It was a cool indie store. It's still around, I think, but has changed quite a bit over the years in terms of focus, clientele and attitude. I had begun freelancing for Nuvo Newsweekly (whom I had shown my 'zines) and I remember faxing my clips to Alternative Press from Missing Link.
Nuvo Newsweekly Broad Ripple, IN 1997 - 1999
I'm not sure if that's the year I quit. I was the assistant music editor, had my own weekly column called "Club Round-Up," wrote three cover stories (one of which impressed a VP at MTV News enough to offer me a job; ironically, it wasn't about music, but about one man's efforts to open a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Indy against resistance from city officials and the confusingly politically bogged down local Humane Society, whose interests often ran counter to the National Humane Society!). I quit after the Editor-In-Chief (who passed away a year or two later) asked me to write a story about "why white kids listen to rap" but balked when I suggested we include some actual BLACK PEOPLE as sources in our story. I was incredulous. Spin magazine later wrote the same story (called "Why the White Kid Says 'Yo!'") and had unsurprisingly elected to interview a few actual black people for their opinion on the topic as I had suggested would make the most sense.
My first day driving to work at MTV News in Santa Monica, I called up my old music editor, Steve Hammer, and thanked him for giving my first byline.
Amici's Broad Ripple, IN 1998
This restaurant was renowned in the waiter community for a few things: the high dollar menu, the high-dollar tips, and the INSANE working environment created by the elderly Italian immigrants who owned the place and their crazy ass buffoon kids. After being yelled at and condescended to (two of my pet peeves) multiple times and developing enormous blisters on my heels and ankles from the rapid-fire pace of the place, I retreated back to the Middle Eastern restaurant (they shared an alley) after one of the owner's kids ran the place on a Friday night and neglected to sit a SINGLE customer in my section.
Essential Edible's Indianapolis, IN 1998
This job holds really only one distinction for me. Essential Edible's was a vegetarian restaurant and market (I worked in the market) that had moved downtown. Despite being the only veggie restaurant in town, the new owners decided to add meat to the menu shortly before it closed. Derek Daniels came in there semi-regularly to shoot the breeze. We really became closer friends through that and eventually became roommates. He's kicking ass co-designing video games like "God Of War" now, and we see each other every few months. Derek rules. Read his blog.
Jeff Ware Indianapolis, IN 1998?
My brother's friend Jeff Ware (who looks like a lost member of the Black Crowes, plays a mean piano and is a heckuva nice guy) has a tile business, which also specializes in making ornate and artistic concrete countertops. I worked as a "helper" for him one winter. One time I was dropped off at a job site on a day Jeff had decided we weren't working but hadn't told me. I did not have a cell phone so I walked home - from 116th Street in Carmel to 56th Street - in work boots. Ouch. Check out Jeff Ware's band RIGHT HERE.
Ambrosia Indianapolis, IN 1998?
Mike Yinger got me this job at this semi-fancy Italian eatery downtown. The tips were great. The owner, Hank, was not.
Bleeker Street Broad Ripple, IN 1999?
A sister restaurant to the Middle Eastern joint, this steakhouse was right next store. I know, a vegetarian (vegan then!) working at a steakhouse. Har-har.
This is where the napkin's narrative ends. From there, I worked at Mod Lang Records in Berkeley in 2001, at MTV News in Santa Monica from 2002 - 2004, at E! in 2004, and at MSNBC TV in 2005. And of course, in 2003, I started my own company, which is where I'm at right now (in the office) typing all of this up on a Sunday. God is great. Life is wild and fun.
*At some point, I can write more in-depth about MTV, E! and MSNBC, but this thing is nearly 4,000 words, and leaving things off with Indiana-based jobs and saving California for later seems to make the most sense.
- Ryan J. Downey
- I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool