I’ve always had weird jobs. From the outset of my working existence, I took strange gigs other people didn’t want.
As a teenager, I worked on boat docks on the Lake of the Ozarks, pumping gas into speed boats and running fritters from the kitchen to the sunburned hands of customers. I worked hard to get tips and even harder to avoid the attention of grown men who spent their days astride jet skis. I dabbled in food service, but my gift of gab — as the owner called it when he fired me — lent itself to sitting down and chatting with people at my tables instead of listening to their orders and getting them water.
In college, I had a scholarship job that mandated I spend 15 hours per week in service to my university. While most would choose tutoring or shifts at the library, I elected to spend every afternoon filming the girls basketball team so their coach could analyze each frame for holes in their defense.
This job eventually gave way to one more encouraged by my major, which was pre-med at the time — working the front desk at the student health center. The pitfall of the job was the constant exposure to pathogens and the smell of latex gloves. But the upsides were numerous, namely a brisk trade in Z-packs any time I fell ill and the popularity one assumes after friends ask, “Should I sleep with him?” and you can shake your head solemnly and sagely whisper, “You’ll thank me one day.”
On my way out of college, I decided to move to New York City and work as a paralegal temporarily, until Harvard could wait no longer for me to matriculate at their law school. Harvard had tremendous patience when it came to me, however.
So I entered into the glittery world of media and public relations, but not before a brief stint nannying for a FOX News anchorperson, whose identity I can’t reveal other than to say she looked just like Cameron Diaz — if Cameron Diaz had two children, a tyrannical tycoon husband and a job that started every day at 4 a.m. I worked for several different media agencies during my time in New York, always wondering whether I was doing the right thing. As the sort of person who is prone to existential lines of questioning, I incessantly pondered whether I was doing what I should? Whether it mattered? Were my parents proud of me? Would Oprah say I had my “a-ha” moment?
Then I began having children, and there was little time to worry about anything beyond the delivery of basic needs and no space to wonder about my place in the stars when there were babies on the floor. Writing had begun to tease my hands during the few idle moments that came at night. Those hours I spent blinking into the white light cast by the screen became a wormhole back to the stories I always loved to tell people. And like every schmuck to have had a glass or two of chardonnay before reading their manuscript to someone, I began to wonder about the long-term prospects of a career in writing.
The problem with writing, in case you didn’t know, is that it pays poorly. Unless you possess a novel knack for writing prolifically about vampires or penned a treatise about a prep school boy imbued with magical powers or your name rhymes with Schmeven Schming, it’s a tough slog. Many would argue it can’t be relied on as a job; it’s merely a pastime meant to augment a real job. The problem is I don’t really want a real job. Before anyone lambasts my lack of initiative, understand I probably worked more hours in my media career than many of you will ever work. I bear the furrows in my skin and the night terrors after anyone mentions shows such as “America’s Next Top Model” as proof.
It is because I need a job that still allows me to parent three children and also won’t grab away those restless hours to write sketches and shows that I found myself drawn to the recent job calling that sounded over the Internet: “NASA Will Pay You $170 To Lie In Bed.”
It’s rare I find a job title in which I like all of the words. Usually I find some of the words appealing, such as “writer,” but the others to be really dreadful, such as it’s frequent accompaniment, “grant.” In this case, though, all the words were very good. NASA. Pay. Lie. Bed. I already know I’m executive level at lying in bed, so why should I withhold this mastery from NASA if this is the new kind of astronaut they need? I would be a pioneer of the otherworld while under covers. I went to the website in search of a more formalized job description. There, obscured by the best-fitting role of my life, I found the fine print. The Bed Rest Study, as it was referred, promised $18,000. It pledged little to no time in an upright position. It also, however, required you to relocate to Galveston, Texas, for no fewer than three months.
I closed my laptop, let out a deep sigh and walked away from my dream job. There was a time in my life when I would have applied for the study, and I would have gone away for a few months while everyone at home scratched their heads and said, “Erin’s off doing one of her stupid jobs again.” That time has passed for me, though, so I will continue to scribble words and maintain the job that pays me no dollars to stay on my feet as much as possible.