Tonight I finished part one (of two) of being a Willy Wonka protége. I got paid $80 to taste test dark chocolate. In the past I've rated the flavors of Alfredo sauces and canned root beer floats for the same marketing company. Basically, they put you in a room with about 19 other people, where everyone sits at a designated spot at a long table facing the wall. Bland-looking foam-board dividers create makeshift cubicles, rendering it "impossible" to let your neighbor's opinions affect your own. Do people cheat on taste tests? I wondered, as I stared at the dusty blinds covering the window.
How the survey proceeds:
1) Take a sip of water
2) Eat a piece of an [unsalted] Saltine cracker
3) Take another sip of water, being sure you swallow all the cracker remnants
4) Taste as much of the product (in this case, dark chocolate square) as you need to in order to answer all of the questions on the provided survey to the best of your ability.
Easy enough, right? All you need are taste buds to participate. I whipped through the first square (and ate the whole thing) in record time. I wanted to slam my hand down and yell, "DONE!" like an over-eager seven-year-old. But this job is not as glamorous as it sounds. Not when the remaining twelve pieces of chocolate tasted horrible and not when the guy sitting next to me over-audibly smacked his lips together so many times that I wanted to scream and request relocation. Aaaand not when I had to unbutton my jeans once in the privacy of my car in order to drive home comfortably. Anything for 80 bucks, I thought. As my car fishtailed its way through slippery streets and immense fog, I smiled thinking about all the weirdo jobs I've done since I graduated college almost
#1 would have to be my six-month stint as a dental assistant...yeah, I got to wear scrubs...but my job involved scrubbing the blood off used tools, sucking the spit/blood out of people's mouths during procedures, and listening to my only other co-worker whine about her abusive gangbanger boyfriend (who would call and demand to speak to her and I'd coldly say she wasn't available and hang up on him...probably not smart considering his recent release from jail for locking someone in a van and lighting it on fire...)...and all for a measly $8.50/hr (and on top of it, the dentist was one of my mom's high school boyfriends)...if there's any way to make a recent college grad feel like her degree was totally worthless, this would be it...but after the first six months post-graduation being unemployed and totally broke after being a bridesmaid in my best friend's wedding...I couldn't really turn down the offer.
#2 I got paid $75 to have inconspicuous chunks of my hair cut off for an "ethnic hair survey" at the L'oreal research headquarters on the South Side of Chicago. I was the only Caucasian present and I wondered if maybe "Jew Fro" counted as "ethnic." For the next eight months or so I would occasionally feel a small patch of spiky hairs, a gentle reminder, once again, of what lengths people will go to to keep their proverbial head above water.
#3 I worked for a photographer in his West Loop condo for about a year. Although I did catalog and archive his enormous negative collection spanning the past decade, I only ended up assisting him on ONE actual shoot. Here's a list of the myriad tasks I completed for a lovely, I shit you not, $8/hr.
* organized bookshelves (and wondered why I couldn't bring myself to organize my own life)
* stood in as a model for a Time Out Chicago photo shoot because his model didn't show up...i was just there to assist...and ended up on a full-page of the magazine a few weeks later...the shoot took about an hour, so I made $8...America's Next Top Model here I come!
* spent hours upon hours which turned into days after days importing his entire CD collection into iTunes (don't worry, I brought my own laptop along and got a significant amount of free music out of the project)
* he begged me to be his nephew's bar-mitzvah videographer, despite me vehemently insisting that I am horrible at using a video camera...he offered me $150, so I said fine...and got to spend four hours on the dance floor amidst rowdy pre-teenagers grinding on each other...i did drink a few glasses of wine, though, (after I proved to the bartender I wasn't a punk 12-year-old in heels) and got down with them during Kanye's "Golddigger."
* Then there was the time he paid me (i don't remember how much) to write a best-man speech for him to read at HIS best friend's wedding, a guy who lived in San Francisco, who I'd never met. And it amazingly wasn't a flop, despite my obvious concerns. (Does this count for a writing credit on a resume?)
Suddenly, the aforementioned photographer dropped off the face of the Earth...for a whole year...then one day last summer, out of the blue, he called. I'm thinking, maybe he finally recognizes my photographic abilities and wants me to help on an actual shoot. I should have known better. My girlfriend (what? you have a girlfriend?) is looking for someone to transfer her contacts from her Rolodex to her Sidekick and vice versa. Part of me wanted to act all self-righteous and accuse him of only calling when he needed someone to complete his mindless side projects. And she'll pay you, he added. Ah, those magic words. I wouldn't say I'm motivated by money, but I can't really pass up the opportunity in these unsure days to make a few extra $$. Plus, his girlfriend was the assistant for some super-rich family who LIVED on the 65th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel, so I got to see views of Chicago and Lake Michigan that I otherwise never would have have privy to. (Did you know HUGE spiders can live that high up and live in large quantities outside the windows?). Also, the second day I went there I saw Rev. Al Sharpton entering the hotel.
Also, thanks to this photographer, I received a phone call last June (after he'd been m.i.a. for a significant amount of time but before he called me himself about the above job) from a woman who asked if I'd be available for two days to help her carry large, heavy portfolio books around downtown Chicago to different high-end agencies. She was based in New York City but was branching out for the sake of the photographers she represented. So-and-so recommended you, she said. Ha! I thought. He would. Oh I know the perfect girl for you, he must have said. She's done everything I've asked her to do. And for pennies. But once again, I took the job.
I still can't get over how "New York" the whole experience was; that this woman just called up a stranger (me) and expected she could come to the Midwest and pay someone to carry her books? Hil-arious. But I ate it up. Everything's an experience, I thought, and agreed to meet her in the Loop the following day. I figured she'd be a good contact in the industry (although she never returned my "it was so nice to meet you" e-mail after our nice time together) and like the Four Seasons, I got a free ticket into many agencies I will probably never step foot in again.
(Yep. On Halloween of '06 I got paid to take a 12-year-old trick-or-treating while simultaneously walking the family's two German Shepherds. Jealous?)
And last, but certainly not least, my job the past year and a half definitely qualifies as an "odd" job, despite the fact that it's been my primary source of income since August '06. I could write a book about being a 13-year-old's personal chauffeur/dog walker&transporter to canine artificial insemination/grocery shopper/errand runner/snake charmer/70-year-old's roommate, though, so for now I'm going to sign off.
Unless someone wants to pay me (I'm cheap) to continue....
(P.S. As I'm writing this my mom informed me that she just got home from a Prius survey, which she wasn't even chosen for, but still received the $150! Like mother, like daughter...)