My one-day career

Molly Wagner on her short-lived employment as a seltzer drink seller.

Standing in an unemployment line or going through a mid-life crisis can drive a person to accept any kind of job, not only to earn a living, but to bring some much needed change into one's life.

Some years back, stricken with both of these conditions, I was driven daily to the local newspaper by my search for the job of my dreams. While I was praying to find a decent paying position, I also hoped to find a job with some challenge and excitement to it.

The newspaper didn't let me down. One day, there in large, bold print, was the ad I had been waiting for.

'PRODUCT DEMOS WANTED', complete with a phone number to call. "Hurry on this one," the ad read; "a coveted position that only few people will qualify for; an exciting new career for the person who wants everything."

I was nervous as I dialed the number, praying there would still be at least one position left. It was my lucky day; there was an opening, and I breathed a sigh of relief for my good fortune. I was a little surprised to find 20 other girls present at the orientation session the next night, but I figured they must have been on a waiting list and I had been at the right place at the right time. After a couple hours of do's and don'ts we were ready to tackle the public with the newest food products.

My first demo was for a new seltzer drink and I was excited as I started down the freeway to a city 50 miles away. It was a little far but I figured there had to be sacrifice in all new careers, and I was promised mileage on top of my pay. The ten extra dollars was the incentive I needed. I felt like a real professional with my new name tag proudly sitting on my crisp, white blouse, and my supplies neatly packed, complete with fresh cut flowers from my garden. Then I missed my exit. But I managed to find the store with five minutes to spare.

I needn't have worried about being late, as the store manager kept me waiting for 45 minutes and then informed me that the seltzer had to be counted, by each flavor. This did not seem too traumatic until I realized there were 12 different flavors of this seltzer and they were scattered throughout the entire store, all mixed up. It was obvious that some innovative, “creative” counting was of utmost necessity. I figured as unorganized as this store was, they probably didn't know what they had anyway.

At last I was ready to set up. The rude manager gave me a spot directly in front of the cooler where the temperature reached the low 40's, and a cold draft blew on my legs for 8 hours.

My first customer was an elderly lady with that special blue hair. She informed me she was a connoisseur of raspberry flavor but decided to taste all 12 flavors in different cups. She didn't like any of them.

My next customer was a lady with a little girl, who insisted that her daughter try this new soda as it would be 'healthier than regular soda pop.' The little girl put the glass to her snotty nose and grimaced as she feigned drinking the seltzer. "Yuk," she said, "this is icky." Now I had a cup of snotty seltzer and no place to put it. I put it to the side to deal with later, concerned as our table 'had to be neat and clear of debris' at all times. About then the rude manager breezed by to check on me. He swooped up the snotty seltzer and said "Well, I see you've fixed a drink just for me." As he gulped it down noisily I thought how easily that problem was solved.

An older gentleman stopped by as I started my spiel about the benefit of this brand of seltzer having particularly low sodium. He rudely interrupted me, emphatically and dramatically insisting we need more salt in our lives. At that moment I was beginning to think that vodka, not seltzer, would hit the spot.

By now my legs were numb from the cold air blowing on me and my patience was wearing thin when a 300 pound man bellied up to my table and proceeded to tell all and sundry that anyone who could afford this expensive drink was rich and it was crime to waste money on such things with all the poor people in the world.

That didn't stop the next couple from trying their free samples of seltzer, but they got into a huge fight when she put a six pack in the shopping cart and he tried to take it out, insisting they could not afford it. She got her way and I felt like I probably caused them to miss their mortgage payment or something.

The customers kept coming, all day, each with their own unique personalities. As I was getting ready to close up, congratulating myself on the kids not spilling anything all day, a 40 year old man picked up a cup of the seltzer and proceeded to spill it all over himself, me, the table and the floor. As I was cleaning this up and thinking about making my escape my final customer approached; he mostly wanted to lament the demise of lard-based pastries, and his tale of woe, repeated for the rude manager, made me almost an hour late leaving the store.

As I entered the freeway northbound to go home, I decided that this was the hardest $40 I'd ever earned -- and this was before I knew that it would take over two months and many long distance phone calls before I could collect this money (and I never did get my mileage). I decided at that point I would forego the good pay and excitement of that particular career and try something uneventful, like feeding lions at the zoo.

- Molly Wagner