Monday, January 16, 2012

A Quarter Century: Capitalism

I've been working for since a very young age. My parents didn't give us an allowance and I don't plan on giving my kids one either. I get that the idea is to teach your kids the value of work and how to budget, but something just seems wrong about your children expecting compensation for helping out around the house. I started out as the stereotypical after-school entrepreneur around age 10 but, instead of homemade lemonade or some other pansy product, I sold quality produce harvested from the family garden.

Admittedly, it was a faulty business model. I lived on the side of a country highway where what little traffic did pass, did so at 60 mph. Still, every day for an hour or two I would set up my little card table and put out "Vegetables for Sale" on either side of my driveway. I'd get 5, maybe 10 dollars per week which was enough to make me think I was living like a king. I remember how excited I was when I started my own savings account at Key Bank. Say what you will about Nurture but I was born to be a Republican.

My second year I made a game changing discovery. People love fresh produce but they are DESPERATE for pumpkins around Halloween. Plus, since pumpkin vines reproduce like rabbits, we always had more than we knew what to do with come harvest-time.

To this day I have never found a more perfect gig. My father did most of the gardening. I was the middle man and since I had no overhead costs (and because I was a child) I sold pumpkins for drastically less than what you would by them for in the store. My clients were thrilled, I raked in nothin' but profit, and my parents felt like I was learning some grand life lesson and didn't have to worry about where to put all the darned things. Everybody wins.

I kept the pumpkin thing going for a couple more years even after I started my first "real" job. I say "real" because I had a boss, but not Real (without air quotes) because I was being paid $3 an hour under the table. Up the road from my house was a nursery ran by a friend of the family and one day I was there and the manager asked if she could buy corn stalks off of me for their decorative value. After a few weeks peddling stalks they asked if I'd be interested in coming around for a few hours a day for a little walking around money.

I weeded, watered, pruned, moved supplies around; you know, the stuff that a 12-year-old would do for money at a nursery. It was fine work, except for the days that I was in the greenhouses and would start to see spots after performing manual labor in a 110-degree environment.

The nursery was my 12th and 13th summers. At 14 I moved down the road in the other direction to the Argyle Trout Farm for a hefty pay raise -- $5 an hour, I think. Those two summers were the stuff of boyhood legend. Sure, I would probably credit that job for planting the seeds of my hatred towards my fellow man -- every day, they show up right at closing time -- and my generally negative view on illegal immigration -- every day, economy class vans, right at closing time --but on the other hand my work duties consisted of making sure no kids hooked their eyes out and burying the "gut bucket" before I biked home at the end of the day.

Oddly enough, I got really good at throwing knives. My one tool was my gutting knife which I kept good and sharp and while I waited for the customers to bring me their catches I would practice flinging it at scraps of wood around my little office. The second summer my best friend Trevor started working there and on weekends it would be the two of us. It's only now occurring to me how much like a YA novel it was. Claire, the cliched love-triangle girl, would come and hang out with us and we would just spend the summer that way, showing off for a girl, throwing knives, gutting fish and burying the gut bucket.

I would take 2 showers but even then the smell wouldn't go away.

It was all a prelude to The Oaks though. I knew, and had known for years, that once I turned 16 I would be a dish boy at The Oaks. For more than 10 years the Wood children had been working there and I, the youngest, was not about to break the chain. I remember once when I was 15 I went in with Katie and met the owner.

"How old are you?" he asked.


"Good, we'll see you in a year."

"Yes, you will."

Sure enough, 16 came and I donned my apron. I worked there all through high school moving up the line from dish boy to host to server. What little hate I felt for my fellow man was exponentially magnified at The Oaks and to this day I can't see a woman in a red hat without my pulse quickening slightly. The environment itself was great though, especially my coworkers. I was a naive 16-year-old interacting with diversity for the first time. Plus, I didn't have to gut fish.

Everyone, at some point in their life, should wait tables. It teaches you so much about the human condition, makes you a better customer, and cures you of any lingering desire to ever work in the food service industry.

Around that time I got my first introduction into the wild world of Journalism. I started working for the "Teen Examiner" section of the Ogden Standard writing truly rubbish "articles" about teenager things. Essentially, I was a columnist, but I got bit by the bug and it never went away.

Wow, this post is getting long...moving on. When I moved away to college I got the worst job I've ever had. I was a freshman living in the dorms and just needed to make a little money before I took off to Brazil for 2 years so I became a typist. I worked for a company that published children's poetry. Elementary age tots would submit their "work" and we would slap it into a book, put a hard cover on it and sell it back to the children's families. It was like the "Who's Who of American Elementary School Poets" and it was complete rubbish. Every day I would pick up a manilla folder of wrinkled 8x11 sheets of paper and transcribe their contents. We had to keep it quiet to avoid "distraction" and couldn't listen to music because it would cause errors. In other words, there was absolutely no interaction between the staff and we just sat in cubicles with nothing but the click of our own keyboards to mark the passage of time.

That same year though, I became a columnist for The Utah Statesman, writing a bi-weekly article titled...Wood's Stock.

When I got back in the states I couldn't get my column back but started writing news, thus beginning my evolution into an actual journalist (still ongoing, check back later). To pay the bills, I got a job a Great Harvest Bread Co. where I worked for the next 2 years baking bread, singing along to the radio and having inappropriate crushes on my coworkers (a personality trait I'm still trying to overcome). It was completely delicious and really cut down on my grocery bill.

At The Statesman, news writer became News Senior Writer, which turned into Assistant Features Editor and then, my best job to date, Editor In Chief.

Some people will say I got drunk with power, other people will say that I was just a nerd jealous of the "cool kids" and yet one other group will say "what? who?" Oddly, the first two groups are actually the same people and they're equally wrong. Most of the controversial articles that ran that year had nothing to do with me and even if I had tried to make the paper my personal soapbox, my editorial staff routinely disregarded my instructions.

Print journalists are a special breed. We're not interested in fame or infamy. We seek out the page, not the television screen and our names, listed next to the articles we write, disappear under the banner of the paper. Take The New York Times, it's the oldest, most respected paper in the United States, yet the average American can't name a single person that works there.

And yes, there were a number of ill-advised workplace crushes. EXTREMELY ill-advised (and some not-so-ill-advised).

From there I took 2 small steps (very small) towards legitimacy. First, as an intern covering crime and politics for The Deseret News and now, as an intern for the best entertainment magazine in the country. My only complaint of DesNews/KSL would be its short term. I would love to go back but, things are tough.

EW has been eye-opening, mostly on an existential basis. I love movies and always will, but it feels weird to write about them in a professional capacity. There are days where I feel like a 25-year-old sellout because I'm not attending city council meetings and chasing ambulances and then, of course, there's days when I watch Burn Notice and think "weird, I was just talking to him yesterday."

But it all ends on Friday. After 5 months (and 2 secret crushes) at EW I'll be packing my bags and heading home to snowy Utah where I will be unemployed and living with my parents. Not really, but at least for a couple weeks. It will be nice to be a "subscriber" again, reading the articles and feeling actual excitement for what's coming up for the megaplexes. I'll miss the private screenings, the bagels, the cupcakes, union square and seeing my name at EW. com but even if 10 years form now I'm a used car salesman in La Verkin I'll at least have some stories from my time in the big city.


  1. Great article. (I LOVE the walla walla picture by the way!). It was very nostalgic to read. Plus quite a nice variety of jobs (I like the parts about the fish farm). I'm very proud of you! Great post!

  2. Ben, write a book someday and I'll buy it.