American Photo


Profiles of People Who Gave Me a Job
Part Six – American Photo

My first semester of college, fall of 1986, was a disaster. Then my grades got even worse in my second (and last) semester. I had discovered photography. All of my time was spent reading about it or driving around southern Idaho doing it. Returning home to California after school let out I decided to find a job in photography.
I applied for and got a job at a one-hour photo lab in the local mall. It was one of a chain of photo labs owned by a Korean businessman. It was called American Photo and the place reeked of toxic photo bleach, which, along with the other chemicals, was dumped straight down the drain.
First day on the job I was taught to cut and sleeve negatives and put customers’ prints into envelopes. You had to look at each print before stuffing them to make sure they looked good. One of the first sets of photos I saw were from a party for a woman leaving her job. Here she is unwrapping presents; A watch, a handbag, and what’s this gift she’s holding with her eyes bugging out? Oh, it’s a dildo.
Photos like that came through all the time. And it was common practice to print out an extra print of anything funny, unusual, or nude. This happens at every lab. I used to have a great collection of images: dirtbags smoking pot, a topless overweight woman raking and burning leaves, a drunk woman at an office party dancing on a pool table to the delight of men in suits.
At American Photo they kept copies of these photos in a photo album. A thick photo album with a floral patterned cover stored safely in the back room held a collection of images probably years in the making. Bachelor parties, bachlorette parties, parties, drunks, strippers, amatuer nudes and more parties. One of the guys I worked with told me about it.
Of course, you can’t keep things like this secret. And somehow one of the mall security guards heard of the photo album. He would come by several times a day begging our manager into letting him peruse the photographs. He didn’t want to bust the place and confiscate the album, he just wanted to drool over the skin pix.
Finally, after a few weeks of this guy whining, they agreed to let him look at the book. Anything to get him off their backs. They take him into the back room, and he starts gleefully going through the book. He’s getting off on seeing all of the drunk and/or naked women pictured in their amateur snapshot lack of glory. He turns the next page and anger clouds his face. He turns to the manager, shaking his finger towards one of the photos.
“That’s my girlfriend!” he shouts in a rage.
The book was quickly disposed of. I should mention this happened before I started working there, so it’s a story I got from one of the old-timers.
When I was hired, there were about eight employees, including this weird manager who kept telling me how many cameras he owned (9) and how much money he made selling his photos of Napa vineyards through stock (a lot). I bought it, though now I’d bet it was all b.s. There was also an assistant manager and a bunch of other experienced printers. Within a month, all of these people were gone.
It was like the Khmer Rouge took over. Before we knew it there were just two employees left, neither of us with any real experience. Me and an thirtysomething guy named Julius. With everyone else gone we were forced into working everyday. The store was open from 10am to 9pm every day of the week, so we were going non-stop. About this time I met the district manager, this witch who basically ignored our complaints that there was no store manager and that we were working all day, every day. I remember they brought in a part-timer but it didn’t cut down much on the workload.
We were getting behind all the time. People always expected their photos to be done within an hour but it was impossible with just the two of us. We started giving out discounts to keep people happy. We’d give somebody 10 or 15% off their order, even if they were cool about things being late. One night alone we gave out over $150 in discounts. This really pissed off the district manager. But they still didn’t do anything to help us out. With all this going on the store absolutely had to be open on time and we couldn’t close early. If the store was ever closed the mall administration would fine the store around $150 an hour.
I remember driving home late at night, getting up, going back to the mall to work the next morning. I remember listening to loud and fast punk rock in the car and driving fast with the madness of it all. The job was killing me.
One day at the end of my wits I was scheduled to work a full shift alone. I was not looking forward to this garbage continuing. A shift alone was like hell. The district manager and owner were doing nothing to fix our problems.
So I just didn’t go in. It was great. Julius and I went into San Francisco together so there was no one for them to call to fill in. And I was the only one with a key so there was no way they could even get the shop open. The store racked up over $1,200 in fines from the mall before the district manager got someone to drill the lock off the door.

Part Five – The Country Scoop


Profiles of People Who Gave Me a Job
Part Five – The Country Scoop

Through my friend Ted, I got a job at an ice cream shop around the corner from my house. It was a very strange situation. While the owner of the place didn’t work there, he lived right down the street in eyesight of the shop so you were always looking over your shoulder to see if he was coming in for one of his surprise visits. His name was Ed.
On my second day there I was working with two girls. In the middle of this busy Saturday they decided to take a break together, leaving me alone at the helm. I think the most instruction I had gotten up to that point was a ten minute primer you could have titled, “How to make a single scoop ice cream cone.” So when they left me all alone and the next customer ordered a hot fudge sundae, I knew I was screwed.
I can still see the sundae I made for this guy. The whipped cream looked like a dog turd sitting on top of the ice cream. It was ugly. And I guess it’s burned into my memory because right then the owner, Ed, walked in making one of his surprise visits. He comes in just in time to see my mediocre scoop-work and hear me tell the customer, “It looks ugly, but it will sure taste good!”
Ed pulled me aside and said, “Boy, you need to learn two things: how to make a hot fudge sundae and how to ask for help.”
When I started at the Country Scoop they had me doing the ice cream stuff. That was the easy job. But after I while I was “promoted” to the grill side of things- cooking fries and hamburgers. This was a good thing because you can only eat so much ice cream during your shift in the back room. If you know how to cook burgers and fries, too, you’re able to sneak a much more balanced meal into the back room. Instead of a huge oreo shake for dinner it was now huge oreo shake, fries, and burger for dinner.
Since Ed lived down the street, you had to be very careful about sneaking food. The bathroom was a good place to hide out, and if you were working with someone cool, you would take turns covering for each other.
I always thought it would be fun to work with Ted, but it didn’t pan out very well. We had too much fun. Ted would be in the back inhaling the propellent out of the whipping cream cans, or turning off the radio with a solid kick from his foot. One night we changed the radio station from its usual quiet soft rock to a cranked and frantic mexican station. Of course, this was the moment of Ed’s second surprise visit to one of my shifts. I’ll never forget it. He walked in, calmly went to the radio, turned it off, and walked right out without saying a word.
We were never allowed to work together again.
Ted had been hired by the previous manager, who knew him from church. To hear Ted tell it, she was always going on about her yeast infections. I was never around for any of that. I was hired by a pair of co-managers, Kevin and Sarah.
We were supposed to close the store at 9pm. No exceptions. Then you’d put up the chairs and start mopping. So one night, at 9:05, this guy starts knocking on the door and is begging me to let him and his kids in. They had just attended their school concert and he wanted to buy them ice cream. At first I told him no, but he wouldn’t let up. So I figured I’d get him his cones and get him out of there quick. I was all alone, so I figured if Ed didn’t look out his window no one would ever know.
The guy comes in and starts ordering banana splits- stuff that takes a lot of time to make, and now I’ll have dishes to wash, etc. Big mistake letting him in. He even starts pulling chairs down off the tables so they can eat in the shop. All in full view of Ed’s house!
Just then co-manager Kevin walks in to check on me. What a nice surprise I have for him- some jerk with his kids waiting for their sundaes. I remember Kevin being upset, but he actually rolled up his sleeves and helped me make the sundaes and hurried the guy along while I finished closing the store.
I kind of liked Kevin after that. That’s why, when I decided to get a mohawk, symbolically giving the finger to society, I did it right before I was working a shift with the other manager, Sarah. We never really hit it off, and I knew my new six-inch mohawk was going to be a big deal in the sleepy suburban ice cream shop.
Joey and Aaron cut the mohawk right before my shift. It looked awesome. I was so excited to stick it to Sarah. She was going to be so pissed off at my surprise.
I go down to the shop, walk in with a big smile on my face, and there’s Kevin. He had switched shifts with Sarah. His jaw drops and he says nothing. He just stared at me for a long, unbearable moment.
The rest of the night was very uncomfortable. All the customers who came in were seriously freaked out at my haircut. You could really feel the vibe. After an hour or so, word had gotten back to my parents. We all laugh about it now, but they loaded my sisters into the car and drove over to see my hair. They pulled up and sat in the car watching me through the window, heartbroken and bawling that they’d lost their son.
First thing the next morning my dad got me out of bed and took me to a salon and had them cut off the mohawk. The nice lady convinced him to leave a little stripe of hair, maybe a quarter of an inch high. “You don’t want him bald,” she told him. It looked ridiculous.
After the forced haircut I went in to work. Kevin gave me the news. He, Sarah, and Ed had talked it over. I was fired.